Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Buchanan's "Boy"; Obama the "Tar Baby": Forget the Amateurish Racism Chasing, You All Need to be Reading This Piece on Tea Party Confederates Instead

Amateurs study tactics. Professionals study logistics.

Some folks have their underwear all up in a bunch over Pat Buchanan calling President Obama a "boy," and the dual foot in mouth moment in which Representative Doug Lamborn called B-Rock a "tar baby."

Let's take a moment to exhale folks. And perhaps it is because I accept the utter disrespect that the Right and the Tea Party GOP hold for President Obama (they might as well just call him THE word that runs through their collective imagination every time he comes on TV), but many of us just need to slow down.

This is all chaff. Moreover, and lightning will strike me for suggesting the following, but Uncle Pat is Uncle Pat, and his mouth utterance was just one more example of feigned brotherly familiarity with Al Sharpton. Doubling down, Representative Lamborn chose a perfect analogy to describe the debt ceiling shit sandwich Satan bill enema for everyone in America who is not rich or a corporation.

To digress, I would have greatly preferred if President Obama were a Br'er Rabbit. Alas. We cannot always get what we want.

I would suggest that our collective attention should primarily be focused on the disaster capitalism and shock doctrine policies of the Tea Party GOP, and the planned destruction their debt ceiling win will bring to the country's economy. But, if we are going to do some critical analysis let's look to something more prescient and wise, with some real explanatory power and teeth for locating the Tea Party faction in the proper historical and political moment.

Salon has a great essay from Michael Lind who simply mercs the Tea Party by combining a great interpretation of history with a compelling argument about their inherent racist bonafides (there is a dissenting argument here which is also worth considering). The Tea Party are neo-Secessionists. We/Us/You here at WARN have sounded that alarm before. It is nice to see that folks are picking up on what is in the ether, hiding in plain sight.

The most telling passage from "The Tea Party, the Debt Ceiling, and White Southern Extremism" is the following:
In light of this recent history, it is clear that the origins of the debt ceiling crisis are to be sought, not in generic American conservatism, but in idiosyncratic Southern conservatism. The goal, the methods and the passion of the Tea Party in the House are all characteristic of the radical Southern right.

From the earliest years of the American republic, white Southern conservatives when they have lost elections and found themselves in the political minority have sought to extort concession from national majorities by paralyzing or threatening to destroy the United States.

The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 and 1799 asserted the alleged right of states to "nullify" any federal law that state lawmakers considered unconstitutional. This obstructionist mentality led to the Nullification Crisis of 1832, when South Carolina refused to enforce federal tariffs. Civil War was averted only when President Andrew Jackson, a Southerner himself, forced the nullifiers to back down.

In 1820 and 1850 the South used the threat of secession to force the rest of the United States to appease it on the slavery issue. In 1861, the South tried to destroy the United States, rather than accept a legitimately elected president, Abraham Lincoln, whom it did not control.

Following defeat in the Civil War, the former Confederate states regrouped as "the Solid South," a one-party region, first Democratic and now Republican, that has tended to vote as a bloc in national affairs. The South sought to block the federal civil rights revolution by a policy of "massive resistance" to court orders ordering racial integration. Some Southern states went so far as to try to abolish their public school systems rather than integrate them. It is hard to avoid seeing a link between this racist rationale for privatization and modern conservative plans to scale back Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, relied on disproportionately by black and brown Americans and low-income whites, while increasing taxpayer subsidies to private retirement and healthcare accounts enjoyed mostly by affluent whites.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Your thoughts?

Monday, August 1, 2011

In the Aftermath of the Debt Ceiling Debacle: What if Barack Obama’s Presidency was a Children’s Fairy Tale?

Barack Obama's debt ceiling plan is a big shit sandwich an unsatisfying as well as disappointing compromise for the American people. I used to think that the President was playing a game of 3 dimensional chess with the Tea Party GOP. I still have faith that the dude I voted for will one day reappear. Alas, perhaps a chronic compromiser and thinking person simply cannot understand the type of irrational zealotry which motivates the abnormal politics of the tea bagger Right-wing in this country.

In these matters, one cannot forget a basic life principle: We teach people how to treat us. The President has taught his opposition that he will give away everything to gain comparatively little. Ultimately, there are many lessons in the debt ceiling debacle, lessons both for adults and children. Moreover, Barack Obama and his journey to this point are also ripe material for thinking through how we explain the "real world," with its ups and downs, to our youngest citizens.

As a ghetto nerd, I love a good fairy tale. They teach readers lessons about how to deal with life's disappointments, pain, hurt, loss, and sorrow. Fairy tales also teach us lessons about civility, hubris, and how to be successful while also being graceful. In sum, what are ostensibly stories that are "just for kids" can have meanings and wisdom that span the ages, helping us all to make sense of the world.

In trying to make sense of Barack Obama's presidency to this point, one year before the election, I have decided that a series of fairy tales would be the best way to creatively process the journey of a man who was heralded as a savior, but succumbed to outside forces and temptations, and to this point, has lost his way.

Each week or so there will be another installment from some of WARN's guest contributors. If you like how it is going by all means send in your own Barack Obama fairy tale, it can be a continuation of what we are starting here, or a stand alone piece.

Let us begin.
Barack Obama, the Crown Prince and Special King Who Lost His Way (and Found It Again?) Part One

Barack Obama was a special child. He grew up surrounded by a loving family who told him that one day he would do great things. He was a lad of destiny. Coming of age in lands close and far, Barack Obama learned the ways of many peoples. Even if they picked on him at first because he was different, they all came to realize that Barack Obama was a good and earnest young man. They would always teach him their wisdom.

With his mother’s love and blessings Barack Obama returned to the land of his birthright. He was told that he would one day be King...but only if he worked really hard and made good choices. How this would happen he was not sure. Raised as a humble boy with little gold, all he could do was be his own person, and strive for better things in life.

Barack Obama had an advantage over others though. He always sought out people who could teach him things that he did not know before. Barack Obama was especially bright and won all of the ribbons and prizes in school. He adventured across the land every chance that he got. Barack Obama would win every battle he fought as a child and also as a young man because he used his natural gifts and tried harder than all of the others to succeed.

Barack Obama knew that he would always find victory if he applied himself and used his special talents.

He soon grew up to be a man. One day he met a fair and beautiful woman who would be his bride. She would always tell him the truth and make him strong where he was weak. They would have beautiful children and a wonderful family together.

Sadly, there was a cloud hanging across the land. Bush the Younger had locked many people away, gave the people’s treasure to his closest friends, and used fear of war with strangers to keep the people obedient and quiet. He was also fond of lies. The farms had stopped being prosperous and the people were going hungry. Many in the kingdom were afraid. They loved their king out of fright for what could happen if the evil hoards from other places came to invade their country. Others knew something was wrong. Few people had the courage to say so in public.

Tired of his Empire, Bush the Younger chose his successor. McCain the Fallen Knight was to be the next King. He was a good man at heart. But he liked power too much and would do anything to be in charge…even if it meant walking away from what he truly believed in his heart.

The people of the kingdom reached out to Barack Obama and asked him to be their Leader. He knew his destiny and said yes. The people were gaining courage and wanted Barack Obama to be their King more and more as the days went by. Bush the Younger was such a petty tyrant, wasting their gold and killing children in foolish wars, that the people wanted nothing more than to be free of his evil rule.

Barack Obama was a young man. To help govern the kingdom and to give him advice he chose an older member of the council. Biden the Outspoken was to be his advisor. Now, McCain the Fallen Knight was confused and worried. He needed help if he were to be the next King of the land.

Scared, he sat outside and looked up at a tree on the hilltop. In a flash of light a Sorceress appeared. Her name was Sarah Palin and she told McCain the Fallen Knight that she would help him beat Barack Obama. Although he did not know her, McCain the Fallen Knight listened to his friends who whispered in his ear that Palin the Sorceress would help him destroy all foes near and far.

Barack Obama and McCain the Fallen Knight fought many battles. The people of the kingdom were divided about which champion to support. One day Palin the Sorceress distracted McCain the Fallen Knight. She wanted to rule the kingdom and would do anything, even if it was wrong and dishonest, to defeat Barack Obama. McCain the Fallen Knight was upset and angry at Palin the Sorceress for such misdeeds. While they fought one another, Barack Obama came at them both in an act of great courage. Because she was a coward, Palin the Sorceress pushed McCain the Fallen Knight in front of Barack Obama just as his flaming sword came down true and just.

Barack Obama was a merciful and kind man. He looked into McCain the Fallen Knight’s eyes. He could see his sadness and weakness. Barack Obama told McCain the Fallen Knight that he would be spared. He should go home to his desert home and beg the people for forgiveness. Palin the Sorceress then cried magical tears that blinded Barack Obama. When he raised his sword to smite her, she had already disappeared. The air smelled of sulfur and smoke.

Barack Obama was made King of the Land by his people. They were excited by what they thought was change for the better.

Sarah Palin the Sorceress had other plans though. She went to the Tea Party Troll who lived under a bridge in a town far away from the capital of the kingdom. He was angry that he had been ignored for so long. To survive he ate mushrooms grown in the dark and would gobble up any travelers who came too close to his rickety bridge.

The Tea Party Troll would take their screams and put them in a magical box. He would open the box every day, over and over again, for his joy and pleasure. The voices told him that he was a good man and that everything which he did was right. He grew to love the box for all time.

The Tea Party Troll hated Barack Obama because of his bright and magical sword. He resented how smart and sophisticated the new King was. The Tea Party Troll was also enraged that Barack Obama was handsome and had traveled the world. The Tea Party Troll had never done such things and despised any person who looked different from him or knew how to speak the fancy words in those things called books. Palin the Sorceress told The Tea Party Troll that she would return soon to help him get his revenge.

She offered advice to The Tea Party Troll. Instead of eating and killing the people who crossed the bridge, he should use the magic box to trick them. If he did this, The Tea Party Troll would become popular. Everyone who listened to the box grew angry. They came to hate their new king Barack Obama even if they could not explain why.

To great applause and love Barack Obama was made King. He walked away from the joyous crowds to enter the great Ivory Tower and White House where all the Kings lived. At the door a man in gray appeared. He was the eldest of the old, and head of The Wise Men who had advised Kings for decades upon decades. Barack Obama bowed his head and was very polite. The Gray Man told the new King that he could not bring his flaming sword into the Ivory Tower and White House. It was tradition that he would have to forge a new sword from what was left to him by the King who came before him. That seemed unfair to Barack Obama. But being a respectful and confident man, he surrendered the flaming sword to the Gray Man who smiled upon taking it.

Barack Obama entered into the great place from which he would rule the kingdom. He walked up to a resplendent box that sat in the middle of the room. Here were the materials with which to forge a new sword. He opened the vessel. Bush the Younger had left him nothing but a few broken pieces of metal and a dull handle. What could Barack Obama do with such things?

The door immediately opened and The Wise Men entered. The Gray Man asked him what would be the first task. Now the King, Barack Obama closed the great box before anyone could see what was inside. The people were plagued by many illnesses. He told Biden the Elder and The Wise Men to send the land’s greatest knights to ride out on a quest to find a cure for all the sicknesses that ailed the people.

The Gray Man smiled. The Wise Men and Biden the Elder asked the new King why they would send their greatest warriors on such an errand when so many had died on like adventures before, and the people needed work and were hungry now.

Barack Obama told them that was his decision. It would stand. The people would be happy if he brought them such a gift. The Wise Men and Biden the Elder clapped in agreement as they were forever loyal and obedient.

Palin the Sorceress listened intently as her minions relayed the new King’s plan. She immediately looked into her pot of ugly poison and conjured up a vision of The Tea Party Troll. He was hungry. Palin the Sorceress told him of her evil plans and how together they would destroy Barack Obama the King. Happy and pleased beyond belief, The Tea Party Troll began to laugh so loud that villages for miles and miles around heard his bellows as the earth was made to shake...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Debt Ceiling Follies: The Tea Party is a Faction That Has Betrayed The Constitution, Why Doesn't Anyone Have the Courage to Call Them Out as Such?

An opening question: Is the Tea Party GOP trying to force President Obama's hand into using the 14th Amendment to resolve the debt ceiling morass they created? Thus, adding more fuel to their narrative that he is illegitimate and should be deposed from office?

The debt ceiling debacle is like giving yourself a prostate exam. A few years back, I fondly remember listening to Dr. Dean Edell answer a caller who asked how to perform said procedure on himself. The good doctor said it was possible, but it was not at all easy or particularly pleasant.

There are multiple levels of political mania at work in the Tea Party GOP and the free market fundamentalism jihad and suicide game they are playing with the American economy. On one hand, watching Speaker Boehner being neutered by his own zealots is great sport; the ascension of Michele Bachmann is also a fun spectacle as she lays in wait, sharpening her knives; when Conservative Right-wing low information voter populism runs amok I always enjoy the car wreck...except when I (and all of you) are potentially the collateral damage. But alas, this is serious business and the adults in the room have given in to the impetuous brats in the Tea Party wing on the Republican Party.

Normal politics is dead. The Republican Party (with the help of the Koch brothers) made the monster. Now they are trapped by it.

There are two ironies at work here regarding the Tea Party's gambit and hostage taking.

First, while the Tea Party GOP are Constitutional fetishists, they have a deep and profoundly childish understanding of said document. In fact, their policy goals are more in line with the Articles of Confederation than the United States Constitution they onanistically worship, while they sit, self-satisfied, rubbing themselves with the political feces produced from their own fat and bloated guts.

Second and most pointedly, the Tea Party brigands are acting like the very definition of a Faction as outlined by The Federalist Papers. Their policies are counter to the Public Interest and speak to how the framers were quite properly worried about the out-sized power of small groups in a democracy to work against the Common Good in the pursuit of their own narrow agendas.

I wonder if the Tea Party GOP highwaymen understand the beauty of that fact? History is a great teacher, as she always is. The Federalist Papers echo in the debt ceiling debate and I am curious, as I often am about such things, why a talking head among the pundit classes does not call out the Tea Party for the Faction they are? It would make for a clear and easy talking point that would ether those trolls.

I won't even charge--this time--for the suggestion.

Some words of wisdom from Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay from The Federalist Papers Number 10:

By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.

There are two methods of curing the mischiefs of faction: the one, by removing its causes; the other, by controlling its effects...

The inference to which we are brought is, that the CAUSES of faction cannot be removed, and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its EFFECTS.

If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. It may clog the administration, it may convulse the society; but it will be unable to execute and mask its violence under the forms of the Constitution.

When a majority is included in a faction, the form of popular government, on the other hand, enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens. To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of such a faction, and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

John McCain Channels Chauncey Devega: The Debt Ceiling Holy War, Tea Party GOP Free Market Fundamentalism, and the Power of Lies

You know things are bad when John McCain agrees with Chauncey DeVega is the voice of reason. Last week I ran a featured piece on Alternet where I worked through the relationship between the Tea Party GOP's blind faith in the unprovable and how said group's delusions have colored their strategy in the impasse over the debt ceiling.

Although it feels good to have been ahead of the curve in stating the obvious regarding the brigands in the Republican Party, I do wish that I were wrong, and that reasonable and rational voices would have prevailed by now and put an end to the debt ceiling morass. Sadly, Conservatives and the Republican Party are held hostage by a monster of their own making.

How is all that "take our America back" talk feeling right about now I must ask.

Then again, chaos and economic destruction could actually be the real plan of the Right-wing and Conservatives..a little disaster capitalism shock doctrine treatment for America and its first black President served up with a little Chianti and a side of fava beans.

In the interest of sharing my piece follows. You will need to click on the jump link to read all the way through. Share and comment as always. I am working on a followup for next week and your input is always appreciated.


Debt Ceiling Holy War: Why Do Conservatives Have Unshakable Faith in Ideas That Are Totally, Demonstrably False?

The Republican Party is holding the U.S. economy hostage. While the American people overwhelmingly support a solution to the debt ceiling impasse that includes a mix of tax hikes on the rich and cuts to the federal budget, the Tea Party GOP is deaf to their concerns. Moreover, even though President Barack Obama is willing to make painful concessions on entitlement spending—a move that hands the Republican Party a practical win—the Tea Party GOP remains intractable in its refusal to support even the most minimum of tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.

The American people, the world’s financial markets and the pundit classes remain perplexed by the Republican Party’s dangerous brinkmanship. Why would they risk financial armageddon? What is the practical gain to be had from such irresponsible behavior? Is this a ploy to undermine the Democrats before the 2012 election?

Observers remain befuddled because they have failed to connect the dots between the Republican Party’s intransigent stubbornness and a populist brand of conservatism where the world of facts has been made secondary to the intoxication of faith.

Consider the following: faith is based upon a belief in that which cannot be proved or demonstrated by normal means. Faith is also immune and separate from tests of empirical proof. Not to be overlooked, the contemporary Republican Party is home to the Religious Right. Consequently, the primacy of “faith” as the decision rule in political decision-making is both a perfect and logical fit for conservative populism.

When coupled with conservatives’ penchant for authoritarianism, their adherence to simple moral scripts, and a either/or binary world view, the allures of faith mated with fiction are irresistible to the Republican Party. Thus, the idea that politics should serve the common good for all is truncated and superseded by the pursuit of a common good that is only for the faithful, the few and the ideologically pure.

This cognitive framework colors a wide range of the Republican Party’s policies.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Human Face Behind the Destruction of the Black Middle Class and the Racial Wealth Gap

The national conversation about the racial wealth gap is developing nicely across the press and these Internets. The discourse has, or will soon take a negative and predictable turn (assuming that it has not already). But for now, and as I wrote a few days back, the salon has been welcome and long needed.

To my surprise there have been some bright spots where the State's role in the systematic destruction of the black economy has been discussed. And of course, brother Ta-Nehisi Coates is hosting a good back and forth on the issue over at The Atlantic.

In the analysis of macro-level social structures and political economy, the human element is often lost or forgotten. When we discuss the housing crisis and the Great Recession, it should always be foregrounded that the millions of homes foreclosed upon are not just empty vessels and write offs on a bank's ledger sheet.

No, they are the places where people's hopes and dreams were once invested, and where said possibilities have now died. When we talk about the economic reality that white folks on average have at least 10 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos, this is a story of dreams deferred and unfair advantages accrued elsewhere: in total, an epic tale of lost human capital and trillions of dollars never earned or accumulated, a heavy drag on American prosperity and progress for all.

Ultimately, there are real people made to suffer by the evisceration of the black middle class. Here are some of their stories. Never forget, however frightening or scary the thought may be, they are you, and we are all potentially them.

Black Economic Gains Reversed by the Great Recession

BALTIMORE (AP) — Growing up black in the segregated 1960s, Deborah Goldring slept two to a bed, got evicted from apartment after apartment, and watched her stepfather climb utility poles to turn their disconnected lights back on. Yet Goldring pulled herself out of poverty and earned a middle-class life — until the Great Recession.

First, Goldring's husband fell ill, and they drained savings to pay for nursing homes before he died. Then Goldring lost her executive assistant job in the Baltimore hospital where she had worked for 17 years. The cruelest blow was a letter from the bank, intending to foreclose on her home of almost three decades.

Millions of Americans endured similar financial calamities in the recession. But for Goldring and many others in the black community, where unemployment has risen since the end of the recession, job loss has knocked them out of the middle class and back into poverty. Some even see a historic reversal of hard-won economic gains that took black people decades to achieve.

Goldring remembers her mother taping the window shades to the wall so no one could see them stealing electricity. She remembers each time she sat on the curb with her three brothers, surrounded by her family's belongings, waiting for a new place to live. Sitting on those curbs, she promised to always pay her bills on time.

Now, after finding herself poor again, "the only word I can say is devastated," says Goldring, 58.
"For me to live that life we were so comfortable in, we never had to worry about finances, we always had money where I can help my kids and my grandchildren — to go to calling my daughter to borrow $100 because I can't pay a bill …" Goldring's voice trails off as she struggles to hold back tears.

Economists say the Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009. In 2004, the median net worth of white households was $134,280, compared with $13,450 for black households, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by the Economic Policy Institute. By 2009, the median net worth for white households had fallen 24 percent to $97,860; the median black net worth had fallen 83 percent to $2,170, according to the EPI.

Algernon Austin, director of the EPI's Program on Race, Ethnicity and the Economy, described the wealth gap this way: "In 2009, for every dollar of wealth the average white household had, black households only had two cents."

Since the end of the recession, the overall unemployment rate has fallen from 9.4 to 9.1 percent, while the black unemployment rate has risen from 14.7 to 16.2 percent, according to the Department of Labor.
"I would say the recession is not over for black folks," Austin says. He believes more black people than ever before could fall out of the middle class, because the unemployment rate for college-educated blacks recently peaked and blacks are overrepresented in state and local government jobs that are being eliminated due to massive budget shortfalls.

Maya Wiley, director of the Center for Social Inclusion, says the anti-discrimination laws passed in the 1960s took decades to translate into an increase in black economic security — and that was before the recession.

"History is going to say that the black middle class was decimated" over the past few years, Wiley says. "But we're not done writing history."

Goldring was born and raised in Baltimore, and her mother was single for much of Goldring's childhood. At 16, she dropped out of school and went to work cleaning hotel rooms.

"That's when I first met white people. Some of them would stay a month at the hotel. They would have all their children with them," she remembers. "I thought, one day I'd like to hang out at a hotel."

She didn't know any middle-class people in her all-black neighborhood. "Where we lived, everyone struggled. We just struggled a little harder," she says. "If the lights stayed on for a whole year, if we didn't get put out, I thought we were doing really, really well."

At 21, pregnant with her second child, Goldring decided to get her GED. Then she went to community college, got a degree in secretarial work, and began a career.

She met her husband in 1983. He had a steady job as a heating and air-conditioning installer, and owned a brick two-bedroom home in Morgan Park, a leafy, integrated neighborhood.

With two incomes, money was not a problem. He liked to travel. She had never been out of Maryland.
"I thought, 'Is this how rich people live?'" Goldring remembers. "From where I was to where I ended up, it was way different."

Her husband had been married before. As a condition of the divorce, his daughter's name was added to the deed of the house. After Goldring's husband died in 2007, Goldring took out a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, with a 6.5 percent interest rate, to purchase the house outright.

Everything was fine until her hospital "restructured" in 2009. Her boss, a senior vice president, was transferred to the corporate office. Executives were now sharing secretaries. A few months later, they let Goldring go.

No more family vacations. No more trips to the mall. No more filling the grocery cart.

But what Goldring misses the most is her checkbook. Her unemployment payments arrive on a debit card.
"Just being able to pull out my checkbook and pay a bill, even though there might not be much left in there," she says. "I really miss that checkbook with my name on it."

Whiteness is Not Benign (continued): Beware of the White Man!

A quick followup to my post from yesterday. Did you know that many cultures actually developed a word for the "white man" as Europeans came into contact with their own? And no, its meaning was not too flattering as "white man" spoke directly to an experience of cultural exploitation and imperialism.

These brothers are doing some truth telling. No? Are there any other songs of a like bent that you would add to the track listing on a perhaps never to released compilation entitled, "Whiteness is Not Benign"?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Reminder that Whiteness is Not Benign: Of Warnings About White, Middle Class Domestic Terrorists in the U.S. and the Norway Massacre

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly cautioned that Right-wing Conservative extremists would be among the groups most likely to commit an act of mass violence in the United States. Their most recent warnings have come in the form of a training tape which is part of the "See Something, Say Something" program.

This production has garnered much attention as Conservatives are appalled at its seeming suggestion that the person most likely to conduct an act of domestic terrorism in the United States would be a middle class white person. In an eerie coincidence, days after the release of the video a white man in Norway committed an act of Right-wing, Christian Nationalist inspired domestic terrorism that killed 76 people. What was an apparent validation of the DHS's prophetic warnings.

Each time I sat down to write something about the Norway Massacre and the DHS report, another American right-wing bloviator would produce a stupifying mouth utterance regarding the tragedy in Norway that would give me a moment of head-shaking pause. When they keep piling on, it is hard to produce something timely, as the target keeps on moving.

I routinely listen to Right-wing talk radio in order to gather intelligence on the opposition. And as expected, their commentary on the Norway Massacre has followed a predictable script in which the responses by Beck, Levin, Savage, Cunningham, et al. are, as always, no less detached from reality. In their land of make believe, Anders Behring was a liberal, he was not a Christian, and any effort to link him to the faith is an intentional smear of the Judeo-Christian community. And funny if it were not so tragic, the Right-wing deploys the same arguments used by liberal critics of profiling in the case of racial minorities, to defend themselves against such an "injustice."

And of course, Rush Limbaugh is doing a dance where he connects all evil in the world, here being the soul searching that Norwegians are doing in the aftermath of the Anders Behrings' murder spree, to President Obama because he is "an enabler" of terrorism and an "America hater."

The reaction to the Department of Homeland Security's warnings about Right-wing violence and the "See Something, Say Something" program is powerful not because of the obvious: Given the seditious political atmosphere ginned up by the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama would such worries about domestic terrorism really be that unexpected or surprising?

Rather, the response by the New Right to the Department of Homeland Security's initiatives is a damning reveal of the myopia of Whiteness and the degree that in the American political and social context, the two can be separated from one another.

If the very same warnings had been issued about Muslim Americans, a member of a different racial minority group, or even "liberals," the Right would have jumped to defend the report as necessary and to be heeded in a time of terror. There would hearings on the matter.

Following the logic of the Right-wing playbook, only traitors would boo hoo about racial profiling and the trampling of their Constitutional rights. If you have nothing to hide why be so fearful?

The Right's reaction to the DHS and the Norway Massacre speak to an additional pathology of Whiteness. The shock and awe by racism deniers and white victimologists, that a white person, a white middle class man especially, would ever be a priori suspect of a crime is a mirror for the gross narcissism of the White Soul. Whiteness never imagines itself as anything other than benign, kind, non-threatening, wholesome, and good. Criminals and terrorists are "those people." Whiteness sees itself as perennially decent, moral, and just.

By definition, Whiteness can never be the stuff of terrorism, threat, or violence.

As Toni Morrison so sharply argues in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination, Whiteness and White people have been sources of terror for black and brown people, both here and around the world.

For many, the White Man is a frightening thing; he is to be run from; he brings death and destruction; the bogeyman is not some amorphous figure, historically he was a white man brandishing a gun or whip, wearing the colors of Imperial Power, the hood of the Grand Cyclops, or donning a business suit and carrying an ID for the World Bank. The White Man's Burden was never benign...regardless of how it was framed and mythologized.

Moreover, in the American experience it is verboten and anathema to call attention to the fact that the largest terrorist group in the history of the United States was the Ku Klux Klan, a civil society organization that killed thousands of African Americans and others in its one hundred plus year reign of terror. It is equally inconvenient to call to light that white people have systematically terrorized people of color (the genocide against our indigenous brothers and sisters; the slaveocracy; Jim and Jane Crow; racial pogroms in cities such as Tulsa and East St. Louis) in the pursuit of the psychological and material wages of Whiteness, and that the Racial State's reign of terror was a central feature of American democracy, and not an aberration from it.

Whiteness finds this hard if not impossible to process. Many white folks, however benign or good or otherwise socially progressive, often have a hard time accepting that White people are perceived as dangerous by many of their fellow Americans. Liberals and others may respond to such realities with cultivated guilt and shame; Conservatives respond with rage, pleading feigned victimhood, and denial.

In these matters, I am left grappling with a set of meta level questions.

Although they are an ocean apart, are the white terrorists, the McVeighs, the Tides shooter, the Hutaree militia, the Birther Tea Party 9/12 party political thugs and seditionists, part of the same collective political subconscious, an outgrowth of the same ether and spirit of an age? Is the right-wing echo chamber in the United States, with its eliminationist "commonsense" notions that liberals are a disease to be destroyed, a cousin to the echoes and chorus which fueled the Norway Massacre?

Ultimately, are Anders Behring and the white middle class domestic terrorists that the Department of Homeland Security has warned the American people about a function of the same pathological Whiteness?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

So Old School: Michael Dawson Takes Heads as The Mainstream Media Finally Discovers the Black and White Wealth Gap

These economic trends bear potentially dire political consequences. Public opinion data collected by my colleagues and me over the past 20 years demonstrated that black disillusionment with the prospects for racial equality had grown from the early 1990s to the point that by 2005, four out of five blacks believed that racial equality would not be achieved in the foreseeable future. After two decades of growth, this percentage declined by 30 percentage points by October 2008 and the eve of the election of Barack Obama. For the first time since we started collecting data on this question, more than half of blacks believed that racial equality for blacks would be soon achieved or had already been achieved.

This relative level of euphoria was short-lived and plummeted with the onset of the economic crisis. Once again, half of all blacks believe that racial equality either will not be achieved in their lifetimes or not at all within the U.S.

The combination of blocked roads to social mobility, continuing economic crisis, the near unanimous belief among blacks that racism remains a major problem in the United States, and the consequent widespread and growing despair about the prospects for racial equality provide the grounds, if not the inevitability, for an ever more volatile and conflicted racial landscape.

It was great to see the always kind, brilliant, and gracious Professor Michael Dawson taking some heads Ghost Dog style in today's NY Times as part of its series on the perils facing The Black Middle Class.

The Great Recession has brought questions about the extreme wealth inequality in the United States to the forefront of the national conversation on the economy. Once the stuff of old Lefties, it is a pleasant surprise--nevertheless tragic because of the macro level changes and destroyed lives and careers which have brought these issues front and center--that a basic threat to American democracy is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Or stated as a question: When one group has such a disproportionate percentage of resources, in a political system driven by interest group politics, how does their out-sized influence in a post-Citizens United era game the system against the Common Good and the "rest of us" in the service of an increasingly narrow political agenda?

Economists have long studied the increasing gap between the haves and "the have nots" in America. While their analysis was technical, and thus mired in the stuff of gini coefficients and income percentages by cohort as adjusted for inflation, the mainstream media is finally making their work more accessible for a general audience.

Sociologists and political scientists have long thought that the public didn't "get" how extreme disparities in wealth and income were a social ill because our political culture does not have a language with which to discuss class. After all, Americans are not Europeans with all of their fancy third parties, and where "Socialism" and "nationalized health care" are not bad or evil words.

Even more vexing, it seems that a class based politics that speaks honestly about wealth inequality and the income gap remains hamstrung by a logic where voters, especially Conservatives, look at the rich (as opposed to their own families and communities) as proxies for their own immediate economic well-being and the general direction of the nation's economy. In total, the poor and working classes often choose policies that work against their own immediate economic self-interest, and that of the country as a whole.

Given the latter, I am not hopeful that America will see a radical departure from its uncritical, corporate-consumerist model of citizenship. However, perhaps the Great Recession will force a little bit more critical reflection by an occasionally attentive public on these broader economic issues.

Moreover, returning to Dawson's sharp commentary on the perils facing the black community in a time of debt ceiling hostage taking by the Tea Party GOP on the black middle class, I am pleased again that there is some public conversation about the relationship between race, wealth, and politics.

Unfortunately, this is a perennial chat among students of race and politics. Whites have on average at least 10 times the wealth of blacks and Latinos; single white women in their peak earning years are worth approximately 40,000 dollars, black and Latino women about 5 dollars; in the time of the Great Recession the black middle class has seen its average worth fall eighty-three percent to approximately 2,000 dollars. As the great Black Wealth/White Wealth pointed out, upper class blacks are just as likely to fall down the economic ladder as poor and working class whites are to move up it.

In total, the racial wealth gap has existed for decades and is the result of structural policy decisions made by white elites and the federal government. As coverage of the divide gains traction in the days leading up to the debt ceiling vote (MSNBC even had a feature on this "new" story today), how will the media's frame on the story develop?

Some questions and possibilities:

1. Will the long racist history of the VA and FHA home lending programs, as well as redlining be discussed?

2. Will the chattering classes discuss how federal policy created the ghetto and thus systematically devalued the communities which black and brown folks were most likely to find themselves? Is there going to be a mention of "sundown towns" and the efforts of whites through pogroms and other acts of violence to destroy prosperous black communities in places such as Tulsa, Oklahoma?

3. Will there be a discussion of discrimination in mortgage and bank lending practices that continue to the present, and which put blacks, Latinos, and Asian-Americans into exotic mortgages, with higher interest rates, and thus at greater risk of default, than whites with comparable credit profiles?

4. Will there be a discussion of how when Social Security was established it explicitly excluded large segments of the labor force from benefits because African Americans were concentrated as domestics, farmers, and other laborers in the Jim and Jane Crow South, a class of laborers not included in that benefits program? And even more pointedly, that because of racialized disparities in health care outcomes, blacks effectively subsidize the Social Security payments of white folks because they die earlier and work for more years of their life, unable to retire at a reasonable age?

Historically, the media frame about blacks and the economy has been a racialized one. Poor black and brown folks are depicted by the media as the undeserving poor, as lazy, or welfare queens, irresponsible, and possessed of a questionable morality. The black middle class and their accomplishments are denigrated and always under question as they are the product of "affirmative action" and are "unqualified" for the positions which they have earned.

In the Age of Obama, where white racial resentment is naked and driving the Tea Party GOP, I shutter to think that there may be a segment of the public that sees the racial wealth gap as a non-issue, and perhaps even a good thing, as "blacks" and "minorities" shouldn't be doing too well in a time when White America is struggling.

Alternatively, as Sean Hannity did on a recent radio show, the dishonest and insincere Right-wing will throw the racial wealth gap in President Obama's face as more consternation creating fuel for their perennial question: What has President Obama and the Democratic Party done lately for blacks? Why do they even support him?

Of course, the Black Conservative banjo players will be brought out to back up this chorus.

In sum, race is the modality in which class is lived in America. More evidence then why a white unemployment rate of 8 percent is a crisis, and an under and unemployment rate for blacks of some 20 or more percent is accepted as "normal." Thus, the job death hemorrhage that has afflicted blacks for several decades is not worthy of mainstream media coverage. It is the norm.

I come full circle in these reflections on wealth and race back to the late (and great) Dr. Manning Marable, a friend and colleague of Professor Michael Dawson. I was lucky to have broken bread with them together years back, just as my journey was first beginning. Trust, they made quite a positive and wonderful impression to say the least.

The late Dr. Marable powerfully suggested that the wealth and race gap in the United States was not an unlucky coincidence. It was the result of policy decisions where the racial state, what was America's herrenvolk creed in practice, systematically underdeveloped Black America.

I know that the puzzle of the black/white wealth gap will not be framed in such a way--where it is accurately portrayed as a continuation of long and deep structural policies and State policy--by a mainstream media that is just learning how to have a reasonable discussion about class.

But a brother can hope just a little bit, can't he?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger's Dishonest and Cowardly Racial Politics

Captain America: The First Avenger is a serviceable movie that captures the feeling of a 1940's and 1950's Saturday morning serial and its director's previous cult hit The Rocketeer.

In terms of narrative quality, one can forgive Captain America: The First Avenger's casual disregard for the character of Bucky and how he just drops out of play halfway through the movie. I can also overlook the uninspiring action scenes that do not really feel like a Captain America film ought to, as normative and imprecise that phrase is, until the motorcycle chase in the last third of the movie.

But when viewed in total, it is hard to overlook how Captain America: The First Avenger lacks any real weight and is missing the intangibles that separate great comic book fare (The Dark Knight; Watchmen; Iron Man; Spiderman 2) from that which is merely run of the mill (The Punisher; Ghost Rider).

To this ghetto nerd comic book fan, Captain America: The First Avenger's deepest problem is how problematic, even by comic book standards, its romanticization of the past and the recycled mythos surrounding "The Greatest Generation" really is.

The movie's story is familiar. Captain America is Steve Rogers, a puny recruit who during World War 2 volunteers to become a super soldier by taking an experimental serum that will give him enhanced strength, endurance, speed, and other amazing abilities. With his childhood sidekick Bucky and the Howling Commandos, Captain America wreaks havoc on a group of high-tech Nazis named HYDRA, and their occult obsessed leader the Red Skull.

Captain America: The First Avenger applies a heavy whitewashing (or is that a "brownwashing?") to World War 2 that is distinguished by a deep commitment and dedication to an insincere multiculturalism and a childish flattening of historical events. More than simple dishonesty, the movie's keen attention to a forced quota of black and brown faces in a Jim Crow era was a distraction that took me out of the frame: rather than watch the film and be caught up in a World War 2 serial adventure, I found myself counting the conspicuous black folks in the foreground and background of almost every scene.

Just as X-Men: First Class also presented a lie of history that ignored The Civil Rights Movement, and the rich narrative possibilities those decades presented for storytelling given the comic book franchise's core themes of diversity and tolerance, Captain America: The First Avenger trips and falls into the same trap.

In a Jim Crow military there are black soldiers fully integrated as equals in fictional white Army units without a mention of tension or conflict. There are African Americans as equal partners in the most secret Allied spy programs of World War 2. Black and white folks sit side by side in integrated recruitment centers in New York City. Black and white kids play together in the streets of Brooklyn, a Nathan Glazer ethnic melting pot dream, all the same, united in childhood and rooting for Captain America and the good guys to win The Big One.

An important qualifier: As a viewer who is both a comic book fan and has more than a passing knowledge of the Black Freedom Struggle, I am not expecting, nor would I want, Captain America: The First Avenger to offer a treatise on the Double V campaign for African American freedom and full citizenship at home, and winning with the war against Nazism abroad.

Rather, my hope is for a film that works with these realities in order to enhance storytelling by adding richness and depth to a project--moves that make a movie more entertaining and not less. These are challenges and opportunities to be embraced, not run away from.

Playing script doctor:

1. There could have been a throw away line by Tommy Lee Jones' character that "his unit is the Army we need to beat the Nazis, every man and woman is the best, without exception. This is a war. We have no time for the trivialities of race bigotry in my unit!"

2. Peggy Carter, a female spy for the Brits jokes that she has had many doors shut in her face and thus has learned the value of persistence. Push that element harder by showing some WAVES or WACs in the film who are foregrounded in roles other than those of secretaries, dancing girls, and nurses.

3. When Steve Rogers comes upon the soldiers Gabe Jones (an African American) and Jim Morita (who is an Asian American) in a HYDRA prison, the film could go beyond the cheap joke about the latter being from California. The former could have said he was part of the all African-American Triple Nickels paratroopers, the famed Tuskegee Airmen, or the 761st Black Panthers Tank Battalion; the latter could explicitly state that he is a member of the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

4. Digging into comic book esoterica, Captain America's iconic shield is made of the rare mineral Vibranium. This sci-fi cousin to "unobtainium" is mined from the African country of Wakanda, a nation that successfully resisted a Nazi invasion in the Captain America comic books. Who is the leader of this small, yet highly advanced country? The one and only Black Panther.

Filmmakers more generally, and white filmmakers in particular, are often caught between a rock and a hard spot on these issues. They are often condemned if people of color are not shown in their films. They are also criticized by conservatives and others if they go "overboard" in such efforts.

My suggestions and appeals are rooted in a desire for sincerity and honesty. One need not make up history to satisfy the political correctness police, to broaden the commercial audience for a film, or to preempt complains that a movie is not "inclusive" enough. Likewise, and although for different reasons, we should be mindful of how the intentional omission of the diversity that is the human experience supports highly problematic conservative racial politics.

For example, the great HBO series "The Pacific" showed the African American marines of Montford Point without much fanfare or heavy handed evangelizing. The brothers were simply "there," albeit in the background, at the battle of Iwo Jima. Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" by comparison--a movie that is quite jingoistic despite its superficial pleadings to the contrary--chose to omit black and brown folks from The Normandy Invasion, lest their presence disrupt the whiteness of memory and the nostalgic lie that is "The Greatest Generation."

The Captain America comic book, in both its Ultimates, and Ed Brubaker run, has been great precisely because of the sophistication with which it approaches the issues of race and gender and how Steve Rogers, a metaphor for a changing America, grapples with a world that is quite different from the one he left behind in the 1940s.

Captain America is a living anachronism. The ways that he reconciles his nostalgic memories with the country's post-imperial present is one of the true joys of the character, and why Captain America has been one of the most compelling reads in recent years.

Captain America: The First Avenger throws that richness into the rubbish pile. By doing so, the movie missed a great opportunity to be a compelling story that solidly leads the audience to the upcoming Avengers film. Moreover, Captain America: The First Avenger insulted the intelligence and maturity of viewers by playing a lazy game with serious history, and hoping that its sleight of hand would go either unnoticed, or its faux history embraced by those either too young (or ignorant) or drunk on colorblind hallucinations of the past to know any better (or perhaps even to care).

Captain America: The First Avenger also commits one final, unforgivable sin. In a movie about a war against tyranny and genocidal evil, even within the rules of comic book fare and their requisite suspension of disbelief, Captain America doesn't even fight real Nazis. The crooked swastika present only for a seconds in the movie. Moreover, while Jewish folk are coded for and signaled to by Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Roger's "mentor" Dr. Abraham Erskine being the most prominent example, there is no mention of the Holocaust or the death camps.

Politics is popular culture. Popular culture is also one of the ways that history and politics are taught to, reimagined, and understood by a people. Both do serious ideological work.

I am deeply familiar with the standard objection, that fantasy should be just that--"fantasy"--and that "the real world" should be replaced in our popular culture by an America as it "should have been"...and not the America that was and is.

The Captain America character deserves better than such a flat and dishonest depiction of history...even in a comic book universe. The audience deserves better as well.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Weekend Photoshop Challenge: Herman Cain, Tea Party GOP, Anti-Muslim American Constitutionalist Bigot Meets Jim Crow Memorabilia

It is so hot outside that my oven is sitting in the shade...

Sorry, I couldn't resist that old Vaudeville routine. I am going to see Captain America in a few hours and will post a review soon after. Next week, I hope to do a series on the Department of Homeland Security and white terrorism: which will be provocative to say the least as I got both barrels loaded. I really do love white folks. I am their best friend because as Paul Mooney says, "I tell them the truth." Hopefully, my intervention will help the White Soul have a moment of productive, critical self-reflection.

At present, my best friend Black Conservative Garbage Pail Kid Herman Cain is in the midst of self-destructing, despite what some pundits have suggested, with his foolish anti-Muslim bigotry and race baiting--trust, the latter is the script even though Cain's focus is ostensibly on matters of religion.

I used to think that black folks could not be racist. I still hold to that proposition: but Herman Cain flirts and has shameless intercourse with bigotry, in a way that is so racialized, there may have to be an asterisk next to his name if the Routledge Keywords series was to do a volume called Concepts in Social Inquiry. Moreover, because he has so distanced himself from the African American community, and rejected "African-American" as an affiliation of either kin or shared experience and struggle, he is subject to the "turn about is fair play rule."

Herman Cain is a black buffoon. Consequently, he should be treated as such.

To point: the wickedness of Jim Crow stereotyping and race minstrelsy was how it gave life to a lie--we were not incompetent fools, unfit for citizenship, more childlike than adult, and ultimately ill-suited for the American democratic project.

Be it Jumpin Jim Crow, Uncle Tom, or the Black Dandy, one of the recurring themes in the racist imagery deployed against black people was that we were "uppity" and aspired for a higher social standing and responsibility than either earned or deserved. African Americans were natural incompetents when viewed through the White gaze of Jim and Jane Crow America.

That lie is still with us in the 21 century. In the white animosity and resentment faced by Barack Obama, the basic challenges to his legitimacy as President, the assumption by the Tea Party Birther Palin populists has long been that Barack Obama is incompetent and should "know his place."

Ironically, Herman Cain is actually incompetent and not fit to be President of the United States. Could the white supremacist frames of Jim and Jane Crow apply to Herman Cain? Would the visual "work" when applied to him? Would the semiotics of Cain as lawn jockey or a happy servant be a good fit for his personhood and habitus?

I like to play with fire. So let's find out. Consider this our American Pickers meets Photoshop meets Jim Crow meets Herman Cain game.

Don't feel embarrassed to participate: Herman Cain gave tacit approval for such acts of imagination, because as he kindly reminded us, that whole Civil Rights deal was much to do about nothing anyway because the water from those segregated water fountains "tasted the same."

My Photoshop skills are adequate. But, I know there are folks out there who have real skills.

I offer you 3 images to play with (feel free to use your own) and I will post the winners next week. By the way, a Herman Cain themed pinball machine would be a real treat.


Herman Cain as Rastus of Cream of Wheat:

Herman Cain and the White Man's Burden:

Herman Cain and Coon Chicken Inn:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pedagogical Failures: Donald Tapscott's NPR Interview on How to Better Change Colleges to Suit the Millennial Snowflake Generation

As Mr. Burns said to Homer, "dance monkey dance!" It would seem that in the twenty-first century, the college classroom is being reduced to a carnival sideshow self-help session in which instructors are ring leaders.

The great Professor Claire Potter of Tenured Radical fame has moved over to The Chronicle of Higher Education's website. Quite kindly, she also imported her blog roll which includes this humble website. Thus, We Are Respectable Negroes has some new folks who may not have discovered us otherwise.

As long time readers know, I do occasionally comment on issues surrounding higher education where my favorite posts include the following: 1) how I have used the Black Israelites as a jumping off point for discussing white privilege and 2) the greatest student email ever sent by an entitled snowflake to their professor (which ironically The Chronicle reran for its readers last year).

In welcoming some new readers, many who likely work in higher education, it seemed appropriate to return to my theme of "pedagogical failures." Last Thursday, NPR's Talk of the Nation hosted the esteem Donald Tapscott who discussed his new book Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business And The World, and its thesis that colleges and universities need to retool for the 21st century and change how they engage the 'Net generation.

It is rare that I am moved to even consider calling into a radio program, but on that day I was quite close to pulling over to the side of the road and offering a fusillade or two for the good doctor to consider as rebuttals to his overly generous and rosy depiction of the current crop of college students.

Much of what Tascott offered was nothing new to those who are knowledgeable about the pressures facing colleges and universities in the 21st century. Instructors should place materials online, democratize information for ease of access and use, professors should move from "teacher centered" to a "student centered" classroom, change their teaching styles to suit a limited attention span generation of multitaskers, and that universities had better please the customer by making information "relevant" to students.

Context matters in this discussion. We are in the midst of a broader movement to destroy tenure and to adjunctize the profession, to radically review the role of liberal arts education in light of how it provides a "service" to students entering the labor market, and an overall assault on public education where the good work that is done in the classroom is reduced to a set of deliverables, the value of which can be assessed by bureaucrats and politicians, who then in turn decide who is to be fired and (re)hired. Ultimately, it seems that there is a whole lot being asked of college and university staff without a corresponding increase in compensation or job security.

In sum, after NPR's interview with Don Tapscott I was left with a good many questions, and some initial reactions that would benefit from a good salon. There are a good many educators and others who have thought about theses issues who frequent WARN so your thoughts are invited and welcome.

Let us begin:

1. Is it so problematic that many of the techniques used in the classroom of the 21st century are none to different from those used centuries ago? Is a good lecture, seminar, or discussion not in fact timeless?

2. Are professors employees of students? Should the former be providing some "deliverable" or "service" to the latter? How does this formulation negatively impact the quality of college-level instruction?

3. There is something to be said for the experience of participating in a classroom discussion, attending seminar or lecture, and interacting with one's fellow students. The experience of online learning and downloading materials seems to be missing out on the intangibles which separate a positive and deep learning experience from a superficial one. In the 21st century is college simply to be a way of delivering facts? Consequently, it is out-priced in an era of relatively "free" information online?

4. As mentioned in the NPR interview, is Phoenix University really a model of learning that we should be striving for across the board?

5. Tapscott has high praise for the current crop of college students, calling them "the smartest generation ever." Huh? What of data suggesting that Millennials are actually learning less than previous generations and retaining even fewer amounts of what they are exposed to?

6. Second point: how can Tapscott suggest that Millenials are doing well as measured by grades, when there has been a notorious amount of grade inflation in recent years, so severe that an "A" is now expected--even for the most mediocre of work?

7. I am no Luddite. I almost exclusively use a seminar approach in my teaching. As a function of that policy, I do not play Powerpoint karaoke, nor do I provide reading summaries, handouts, or offer copies of my notes to students. I also do not allow the use of laptops in my classes (this policy has greatly improved the quality of conversation; it has also weeded out weaker students who would rather be doing something else than giving the class their full focus). Am I so wrong? Are my students "missing out" on something?

8. I>clickers that reduce classes to a game show. Tweeting questions to professors instead of raising one's hand and asking them. Social networking in the classroom. In total: What are we teaching students by facilitating a culture where basic interpersonal skills are neglected, and their semi-anonymous narcissistic predilections coddled?

9. Tapscott praises the wondrous abilities of multitasking snowflakes who get good grades, can do three things at once, and (to my eyes and as mentioned in the NPR segment) are proud of never reading a book. Help me out, I thought the research suggested that multitasking is in fact changing brain structure...but in problematic ways? And that multitaskers perform poorly on said tasks all things being equal?

10. Back to technology. I have seen some great podcasts online of master lecturers from places such as Yale (cheers to my hometown), Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere. But, what of the move to make all lectures available to any who would want to watch them? Is this in conflict with personal and academic freedom? Does the move to put classes and lectures online create the dangerous illusion that consumption by proxy is a fair substitute for having one's butt in the seat of a lecture hall?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

You Know They Put Cows on Trial For Murder? Mobs, Madness, Mass Hysteria and the Casey Anthony Trial

Excoriation! God demands blood! She is a witch! Where is her familiar! I saw her communing with Satan by the old Elm tree! The pig killed my wife! I saw Jim rise from the dead and walk the streets after his burial, he is possessed by an evil spirit!

The crowds that gathered outside of the Casey Anthony trial and heckled upon her subsequent release were the stuff of the Middle Ages (or alternatively the descendants of a lynch mob in either the old West or Jim Crow South). They did not have pitchforks and nooses. So perhaps that is a whee bit of progress as Casey Anthony was not torn limb from limb by those seeking "justice."

Frankly, the reflexive spectacle of a mania fueled moral panic in which white girls and women are forever under threat by evil moms and other villains is really nothing new or special. And moreover, the media coverage--where a desperate press is running on fumes and has resorted to talking about eerie coincidences which portend the rage of the Gods and prove that vengeance will be done--would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

Lightning strikes near the site where Caylee Anthony's body was found; lightning near the court house; "bleeding" pictures of the poor child held like almost religious relics by deranged and grieving soccer moms who were interviewed on CNN; Casey spent 1,043 days in jail, Caylee had 1,042 days of life; and other signs point to inexorable justice and astrological intervention.

From the witch hysteria that swept Salem, Massachusetts and Europe in which many thousands of "unconventional" women (and others) were killed as a way of cementing social cohesion, stealing land and property, or as acts that granted social standing to accusers, to the media circus of the 21st century, it would seem that our little monkey brains have not changed all too much over the centuries. Group think still holds purchase.

[A question: Is the allure of old habits an adaptive response for surviving in a world where big frightening monsters could gobble up our primate ancestors on the plains of the Serengeti?]

One should not forget that the "supernatural" was commonplace during the Middle Ages of Europe: It was something to be explained through the logic of empiricism and procedures of law. Thus, a historical detour on a Monday to an era when witches and warlocks were burned at the stake, pigs were tried for murder, and church authorities had to offer logical proofs of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

As we watch the crying, hysterical mouth-breathers who have been suckered into the Casey Anthony spectacle and are now forced to find another drug, such echoes of the past sound none too unfamiliar in the present, do they not?

Medieval Court Cases: Animals on Trial?

One of the most bizarre human-animal trends of all recorded history took place in Europe during the Middle Ages. This was the formal prosecution of animals accused of committing crimes against people. Animals charged with such crimes (usually murder) were brought to court, appointed a lawyer, and tried, just as a person would be. Records show that hundreds of animals were found guilty and then executed by hanging.

In the 1994 article “The Law Is an Ass: Reading E. P. Evans’ The Medieval Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals” (Society & Animals: Journal of Human-Animal Studies, published by the organization Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Piers Beirne described the practice in detail.

The article reviewed books on the subject by several authors, focusing on one written by E. P. Evans in 1906. Evans described 191 animal trials, mostly from the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Most of the trials took place in France, Italy, and Germany. There are also a few historical records of trials in other European countries and in the United States, Canada, and Brazil. Animals were tried for a variety of offenses besides murder, mostly fraud and theft. Records show that many were tortured for confessions (just as humans were) prior to the trial. It is not clear how animal confessions were interpreted, considering that animals cannot speak human languages.

Criminal proceedings against animals were handled with the utmost seriousness by medieval legal authorities. Animals that harmed humans were considered servants of the devil because they had violated God’s directive in the Bible that humans should have dominion over animals. A particular Bible verse, Exodus 21:28, was often cited as the grounds for executing an animal convicted of murder: “If an ox gore a man or a woman that they die, then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten.” The penalties for offenses less serious than murder matched those given to humans for the same types of crimes.

Evans listed a variety of domestic and wild animals, as well as rodents, sea creatures, birds, and insects, that were tried at various times by government or church courts. Those that could not be physically brought to court were tried in absentia. In general, only the larger domestic animals, such as pigs, bulls, cows, horses, sheep, and dogs, actually appeared in court and were subjected to punishments. A few animals were found innocent or granted pardons or reprieves by authorities. Many wild animals found guilty by church courts were excommunicated (exiled from the church).

The vast majority of criminal defendants were pigs, probably because farmers allowed them to roam free much of the time. In 1386 a pig accused of murdering an infant was tried and convicted by a court in Falaise, France. The pig was hanged at the gallows by the village hangman. Her six piglets were charged with being accessories to the crime but were acquitted “on account of their youth and their mother’s bad example.”

A lawyer could establish his reputation by performing well in animal trials. In France in the early 1500s, a lawyer named Bartholomé Chassenée was appointed to represent some rats that had eaten and destroyed some barley (a felony). Chassenée used a series of clever legal maneuvers to delay the trial as long as possible. At one point he convinced the judge that it was too dangerous for his clients to come to court on the appointed day because of the many cats in the neighborhood. Chassenée became famous throughout France for his excellent legal skills.

It is not clear why medieval courts went to the trouble to formally try animals before executing them. Some historians believe that these trials were intended to be warnings to animals and people about the consequences of their actions. Others believe the trials represented a philosophical desire to exert some human control over nature.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Introducing President Barack Obama, "Space Coon"

As a ghetto nerd, I love some good science fiction. As a ghetto nerd military history buff grognard I am a sucker for a good counter-factual or "what if?" scenario. Much of the latter is pure pablum--although I have to admit that I have a soft-spot for Harry Turtledove's  epic Civil War/World War 1/World War 2  alternate universe series. Nevertheless, various examples of the sci-fi "what if?" genre often hit a a sweet spot when one is looking for some late night at the bar drinking some Stella reading.

I recently stumbled upon the book Weapons of Choice which takes 21st century military technology, adds some The Final Countdown elements, and puts the U.S. Navy of the year 2021 in the middle of the Battle of Midway (I won't give away any more details). Weapons of Choice is also great fun because the author doesn't shy away from exploring how the social norms of the 21st century, especially those surrounding race and gender, would befuddle many Jim Crow era white Americans.

Weapons of Choice features a great moment where one of the white bigots in the World War 2 era U.S. Navy is shocked by the people of color he encounters and how they have mastered the stuff of Amazing Stories and Flash Gordon. In an inferiority laced moment of frustration said character utters a priceless phrase, "space coons," to describe these near-alien Americans from the future.

As a ghetto nerd, and connoisseur of racial slurs, "space coons" leaped off of the page and instantly into my mental Rolodex. Space coons also triggered a series of connected thoughts on the whiteness of science fiction.

Historically, classic sci-fi was embraced as a site of imagination that freed readers and authors to envision a world that was radically humanistic and progressive. While wonderfully imaginative and inclusive (in their best instances), in its worst iterations the genre was quite literally a "white" space where robots and aliens stood in for people of color and the Other.

In classic science fiction the protagonist was often a white man encountering an untamed world that represented the various colonial and imperial projects of the West. Alternatively, he was a time traveler who arrived in a world where a peaceful White civilization was under siege and its members were quite literally consumed by savages coded as non-white. At its heart, so much of golden age science fiction was satisfying to the the White gaze precisely because black and brown folks were not present. The race problem was solved, and thus a Utopia created, by removing what was understood to be the root of the trouble.

Never to be rendered silent or excluded, there is a rich tradition of African American speculative fiction--the Delanys, Mosleys, Schuylers, Butlers, Ellisons, and Morrisons of the world--that stand as rebuttals against the whiteness of science fiction. In parallel, there is also a growing critical literature on the role of race in the sci-fi genre.

For example, Isiah Lavender makes a great point in his book Race in American Science Fiction where he smartly suggests that Barack Obama is quintessentially the stuff of science fiction because for most of this country's history the bounded nature of racialized citizenship deemed an African American President an impossibility.

When considered from this critical framework (with policy preferences and partisanship placed aside) President Obama is a figure of The Fantastic.

Some have been suggested that President Obama is a bound man because of his role as a racial triangulator. Echoing Isiah, I would double down and add some additional nuance to his sharp observation: the figure of President Obama was/is the stuff of fantasy and wish fulfillment. He should not exist. Yet, he does.

As a fantastical figure his very personhood frightens so many because given the weight of history a black man could not (and should not) be President of the United States. As a figure that is the stuff of speculative fiction and sci-fi (or perhaps more rightly Afrofuturism and Black Science Fiction), Obama is also a vessel for the hopes and dreams of many Americans. Thus, the tears when he was elected...and an impossible standard which he cannot hope to reach as the first black President of The United States of America.

Thus, my suggestion that President Obama is a space coon. He isn't alone. For any negro or negress who turns up where you least expect them and in defiance of Whiteness and the White Imagination is one too.

That isn't a bad thing per se. His status as a space coon goes a long way towards explaining the virulent and hateful antipathy faced by President Obama from embittered Right-wing, White racial reactionary populists. President Obama's identity as a space coon also explains the frustration felt by many who seek a savior amd hero in the form of a black man who happens to be President. In total, confronting the unbelievable and heretofore unimaginable can generate no small amount of either cognitive upset and/or wild eyed dreaming.

Ultimately, space coons are people too. They both inspire and amaze. And they cannot help but to disappoint.