Donna Ladd

I Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident

�How is everybody?� legendary civil rights activist Bob Moses asked the congregation in his famous whisper. He paused and then added, �Say these words with me.�

�I hold these truths to be self-evident ��

On Sunday, June 22, I was tucked in a corner at Mt. Zion Methodist Church several miles east of my hometown in the Longdale community of Neshoba County. This was the church that had to be rebuilt after the Ku Klux Klan burned it in 1964. It had risen from the ashes that James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner had poked through on Father�s Day, exactly 39 years ago that Sunday. It was the last place they visited before Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price pulled them over, arrested them and hid them in the city jail until the lynch mob could gather and kill them.

The church was overflowing with Longdale residents, legendary civil-rights activists, black and white politicians from Neshoba County and Jackson and beyond, more reporters than last year. We were there to honor the memory of three men who helped pave the way for black Americans to get a piece of the American dream.

�� that all men are created equal ��

I�ve struggled with the idea of patriotism my entire life. As a child growing up in Neshoba County, a place that I then believed sucked more than anywhere on the planet, I openly scorned patriotism, especially in my rebellious, angry high school years. After I learned about the three murders when I was 14 � although they�d happened 11 years before; which says something about the ability of a community to clam up � the whole idea of pride in where I was from seemed to be squelched forever. Everyone knew who those murderers were. How could they be free among us, pumping gas, repairing birthstone rings, joining the country club? How could a people, a state, a country that claimed that it believed in justice allow those men their freedom?

I wore this burden of where I was born like a backpack filled with rocks. I wanted out of Neshoba County, out of Mississippi, never to look back. I wanted freedom, and I wanted to live somewhere where I could be proud. I wanted to be where people believed in the �justice for all� part.

So I went in search of my piece of the American puzzle, taking Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner along with me.

�... that they are endowed by their Creator ...�

Indeed, I found a lot. I learned that bigotry could take many different forms, including intense prejudice against the South. I learned that the rest of America had only paid attention to the black Mississippian Chaney because white New Yorkers Goodman and Schwerner died by his side. I also learned much more about Mississippi history than I ever had in Mississippi � including the absolute fact that our institutionalized racism, enforced by every level of our society, was indeed worse than anywhere else. In effect, both the North and the South were right, and wrong, about each other.

I learned just enough to be really damned confused about the idea of patriotism. Hoping from afar for nearly 20 years after I left that my state and county would someday criminally prosecute at least one of that lynch mob, I continued to believe passionately in the American constitutional system. As I learned more about the Red Scare, and union-busting, and spying on protesters during the Vietnam era (including the staff of the Kudzu newspaper in Jackson), my belief grew stronger that the ideals that the United States is built on, even if we have not always honored them, can weather any storm.

Along the way, even as I faced squarely the painful honesty of the dark moments of U.S. history that I didn�t learn or read about at Neshoba Central, my pride started to grow. And not only my pride in the constitutional principles of the country, but in where I came from, and how far it had come, despite its reticence to convict its own.

I returned two years ago in search of a home I could love. And I found it.

�� with certain unalienable Rights ��

The last two years have been interesting. It has felt almost surreal to watch so many of our civil liberties go under the knife, and to hear some frustrated Americans say they�d leave the country if they had somewhere else to go. I used to say that, too. Just as I couldn�t wait to leave Mississippi in 1983, I used to romanticize the idea of being an expatriate somewhere like the Scott Fitzgerald crowd in Paris during the 1920s. I always thought that if the freedom tide ever turned, and our civil liberties were at stake again, that I�d be outta here in a snap.

The tide has turned, though, and I�m still here. Not only in the United States, but back home in Mississippi, and loving it, near the place where they�ve never prosecuted that lynch mob and where state elected officials fear losing votes so much that they won�t mothball a symbol of hatred and shame. Since Sept. 11, I�ve felt no need to publicly display a flag, any flag. Right now, that flag would say to most people that I publicly support military decisions that I believe in my heart are unwise. I can't do that.

But I�ve been thinking a lot about patriotism lately: It seems that love of your country matters more when other people try to take it away from you.

�� that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.�

Maybe I finally understood my brand of patriotism last Sunday listening to the quiet voice of Bob Moses recite from the Declaration of Independence behind the pulpit at Mount Zion. We live in a country built messily on amazing principles of equality formulated by slaveholders and apologists. It is a country with a foundation of freedom so strong that Mr. Moses, a black man beaten in Mississippi for trying to register blacks to vote, would move his family here to help the next generation, and the next, continue to fight for the freedom and education that our founding fathers promised us, even though they weren�t ready to give it to us all. I now believe that the American ideals of equality, justice, pluralism, tolerance, freedom of and from religion and opportunity are worth staying here � in the state and in the United States � and fighting for.

Mr. Moses said Sunday, �One of the best things about this country is that you can live a life in struggle.� The American dream is just that: a struggle. We must continue to fight to preserve our right to be patriotic, even in dissent, and to ensure that more and more of us, not fewer, can experience what is so special about the American way. That is, after all, the point.

Donna Ladd is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the Jackson Free Press.

Bad Neighbors

Days after the Littleton school shooting I saw something in CompUSA that turned my stomach: piles of adult-rated, violent computer games such as Doom, Quake and Redneck Rampage on sale in the kids' section.My defense of the gaming industry's First Amendment right to produce all these killing-is-a-blast video games puddled at my feet. Why the hell were these games stacked in the aisles of CompUSA's colorful little kids' corner, alongside Madeline, the Learn to Read system and Sesame Street software?For a kid's perspective, I pulled up one of those tiny, cute yellow chairs a foot off the floor. Before me sat a PC loaded with dancing education software. But, turning my head to the left, I stared right at Doom III and Redneck Rampage, games with "Violence, Blood and Gore" ratings, less than three feet away. The adult games, starting inches off the floor, were stacked on a huge display literally surrounded by family software titles.I went back a week later: The violent games were in the same spot. I then popped into a nearby Media Play. Same stupidity. Violent games -- including Wargasm, Quake II and Redneck Rampage, "a blood-soaked 3-D killin' spree" -- were piled floor-up in the aisle between "Family Games" and "Kids' Entertainment." I watched a little boy, 7 or 8, pick up one of the M-rated (Mature) games after the other.Then to Target, everyone's favorite family store. More madness: violent, adult-rated games displayed at the bottom of its software aisle. I've been back to each store several times in the last several weeks; no improvement.These mega-retailers are showing their irresponsible, money-grubbing colors -- and we consumers must stop them. No doubt, parents should monitor their kids' games -- but why have a rating system no one enforces? If retailers can't see their way to only displaying violent games in adult sections, we grown-ups ought to take our business, and our kids, elsewhere.President Clinton touched on this problem this month -- although barely fingering mega-stores such as CompUSA -- when he asked movie theater owners to enforce film ratings to help safeguard kids."For rating systems to work, they must also be enforced, not simply by watchful parents, but by retailers at the point of sales, and theater owners at the multiplex," Clinton said.But these retailers aren't enforcing the ratings -- and clearly these store managers don't particularly give a damn about the role their marketing ploys might play in a violent youth culture. If they did, they'd put the games elsewhere. Period.Imagine if a children's bookstore displayed Penthouse and Hustler between Narnia and Light in the Attic. Or perhaps Camels in the candy aisle? We just toiled this road with tobacco companies. Why can't CompUSA et al. -- the smug purveyors of hip, must-have technology -- watch and learn a simple, neighborly lesson? That is: Stop marketing bad crap to kids!Yes, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a group formed by game makers, has a rating system used on most computer games. But the plan is only so useful if it's not even being applied at the point of purchase.ESRB Associate Director Lisa Schnapp said this week that her group supplies retailers with posters and a brochure (www.esrb.com/parent.html). They do not, however, advise the stores about violent-game placement. "We don't suggest how to place products," she said. "I think most stores have their own policies."The $6.3 billion entertainment software industry should take a hint from the National Association of Theater Owners, which this month agreed to require kids to show IDs for R-rated films. Self-regulation -- a favorite catchword of high-tech producers -- means just that: They must show a little intelligence, artificial or otherwise, when it comes to marketing violence to children.And our local store managers must step out of their profitable virtual reality and start acting like they live in our communities -- and aren't just pillaging us for every last, blood-soaked buck.

Rat Pack Dot-com Industry

My friend and editor, Amy Haimerl, was mortified. "Have you seen the new Red Herring?" she asked over Saturday afternoon mimosas in New York's East Village. I hadn't, but I'd read about it. It's one of the technology business magazines currently enjoying record ad sales. The June issue is 600-plus pages. I figured Amy was just dissing the competition: She's the managing editor of Silicon Alley Reporter, a glossy that is also garnering record ad sales.

Amy had a salient point, as usual. Bundled with the new Red Herring is a glossy supplement, "Going Public." Together, the two featured ads from Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston, Merrill Lynch, Lucent, the U.S. Postal Service, Oracle, Lotus, Quest, Sprint, Microsoft, eTrade, Mercedes-Benz, American Express and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, among others.

Inside "Going Public," you can snooze through another round-up of the top 25 IPOs, venture capitalists and investment bankers. But first you have to get past the cover image of a flat-chested cheerleader, complete with pompons and pigtails. Two large pieces of tape cover her mouth. "Hip, Hip, Hush!" reads the headline. Only a couple of forehead crinkles belie the fact that we're supposed to be looking at high-school cheerleader. A gagged high-school cheerleader. This might as well be "Pedophile Today" magazine.

This cover is so 1972. It is patently offensive and in recklessly poor taste. It belongs in a Ms. magazine "No comment" column. It's a poignant reminder of how naive some dot-com titans and editors are. Where were they back in the early 1970s when women were trying to break free of restraints and gags and speak out against discrimination, low pay, domestic violence, rape -- and images that used nubile, young women to sell manly-man stuff like Camaros and guns. Well, they were in elementary school and, later, locked in the basement playing with their Ataris, it seems. Then they grew up to design software, start dot-coms and/or start pseudo-intelligent magazines to hand out at silicon pep rallies.

The dot-com industry mounts self-consciously "hip" television ads that are, as my boyfriend puts it, "devoid of a moral center." They employ lots of 20-somethings and turn out the graying stodgies to pasture. (Economist.com recently ran an ad for "young reporters." Age bias is in, it seems. No wonder these boys tend to forget the women's [and civil] rights' movement.) The dot-com style is to flatten the management structure (inbreeding inefficiency), give everyone "equal," conflated titles, ignore labor rules and work the young guns so hard that they collapse from sheer exhaustion. And yell a lot, then go to parties thumping with bad techno. (So 1987.) Talk about revenge of the nerds.

Back to Red Herring. Granted, the top 11 editors and designers on the masthead are men -- no qualified women have applied, they'd likely say -- but what kind of quick-witted analysis brought the frat broes to this cover concept? (Maybe the four-martini Darren Stephens kind?) When my initial disgust at this cover subsided, I thought perhaps at least the sentiment behind it was decent: I've been saying for years that real journalists must stop cheerleading the sacred tech industry. No illustration needed. Nope, not the point of this cover: "How Webvan's IPO is changing the quiet-period rules" was the actual story. No surprise: Red Herring isn't about to piss on its own rich grave. Maybe a dribble every now and then.

This image is a layer cake of problems: "young" girl as sales tool; silenced woman; gagged cheerleader sexual image. This is the point I'm labeled an uptight, P.C. dyky type who doesn't get the droll wit oozing out of the Red Herring pad. That's when I'm tempted to fly to San Francisco in my black leather halter, platforms and red lipstick and start slashing them with a bull whip. But I won't. (They'd just snap digital shots to promote online used-car sales, anyhow.)

So I'll just respond: Grow the hell up. Try thinking. Be creative and original. Live in the world you sell to. And leave a legacy beyond some cheap male fantasy. And rejoin the year 2000. Dumb cheerleading, indeed, needs to end.

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

Secret Service Says Teen Profiling Software is Useless

A decade ago, when I edited a paper in New York City, the commander of the Village's 6th Precinct would call me up and tell me to bring a photographer and meet him near Washington Square Park. There many people liked to casually smoke pot, hidden in the crowd. When he gave the signal we'd watch vanloads of police officers swoop into the park, block the exits and arrest anyone caught with a joint.

It was an exercise in futility. Most of the arrestees -- who at one point included aging rocker Deedee Ramone -- were taken to the stationhouse, and usually given desk-appearance tickets, akin to a slap on the wrist. They were often back in the park with a joint by the next weekend.

Everyone involved, especially the police, knew this was a press event to show the community that the police were trying to stem the tide of "drugs," although the real drug activity -- crack, junk, murders -- took place blocks away. Those were harder nuts to crack.

The same thing is now happening in U.S. schools. I complained last November about Mosaic 2000, a student-profiling software program invented by a Hollywood celebrity bodyguard. The software, currently being tested in schools nationwide, asks questions of seemingly "troubled" students and their parents to determine which kids fit the profile of likely criminals. I complained that administrators would use this taxpayer-funded, for-profit operation (assisted by the CIA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) to violate the privacy and rights of students, based on subjective criteria (black clothing, access to guns, shyness). Yet lots of adults could say they tried should another violent incident occur.

Now entering the fray is the U.S. Secret Service, a group most of us will agree are bona fide security experts. Earlier this month, the group's National Threat Assessment Center released results from an ongoing study of 40 school-violence cases over the last 20 years. The conclusions, reported April 7 by USA Today, are not surprising: Like political assassins, school shooters do not share a single profile. They do not usually make explicit threats. And many of the students had been harassed, and had sought help (fruitfully or not) from school officials.

This Secret Secret study is motivating civil libertarians and children's advocates who condemn blanket profiling such as Mosaic 2000 as a PR effort, not likely to allay many, if any, crimes. Thankfully, these opponents cut across political lines, from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Rutherford Institute (the same group that defended Paula Jones against President Clinton), a group that is vocally fighting for students' rights.

"Mosaic 2000 and its proponents ignore a simple life lesson: You can't judge people by outward appearances," wrote Rutherford head John W. Whitehead on the group's Web site (www.rutherford.org). "Human beings are complex and complicated. They simply cannot be profiled as if they were machines."

Whitehead is rightly concerned about how school officials will use the data. He worries that administrators may share the information with other schools, with police, or even upload it into online databases. This concern has precedent: the gang databases that target youth using subjective and highly inconsistent criteria. In many states, local authorities feed already-subjective information into statewide databases, ensuring these labels follow kids from place to place -- although much of the information may be unfair.

"Once school officials have targeted a specific student, either because he or she dresses differently or appears withdrawn, the door is opened for further intrusion," Whitehead adds. He also worries that parents who dare to speak out against repressive school policies -- already treated as trouble-making pariahs by many school boards -- will be targeted by state intrusion.

"The truth is that people cannot be categorized as if they were digital chips in a machine," he continues. "Each student is a unique individual. Neither the students nor their parents should have their rights threatened by intrusive social science."

I'm with Whitehead on this one.

E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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