Monday, February 28, 2011

American Intervention Won't Help Libyan People

The conflict in Libya is entering a dangerous phase. I read an ominous article in the New York Times entitled "U.S. Readies Military Options on Libya." It's not only about the new tough talk from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama about the repression Qaddafi is threatening to unleash against the popular protests sweeping the country but about how American warships are steaming toward the Mediterranean nation. While the article suggested that military intervention isn't soon likely, such strategies as enforcing a "no-fly zone" over Iraq--oops make that Libya-- is being considered.

Just yesterday the American government was singing Qaddafi's praises, calling him a valuable ally in their "war on terror." All sorts of American politicians including neocons had been investing considerable political capital in rehabilitating Qaddafi's image after his change in international alignment in the last decade. And now Clinton says "It's time for Qaddafi to go."

What complete hypocrisy. Compare Qaddafi's current repression against the protest movement to Israel's repression against Gaza, especially its brutal war of two years ago. The U.S. cheered Israel on. It is not the violence that concerns the U.S. government, not the potential loss of innocent life, it is the arrangement of power. The U.S. has been arming these repressive governments for years: perhaps that's where the problem lies in the first place.

The Libyan people are taking their future into the own hands. We've seen what happens when the U.S. actively intervenes: a few hundred thousand dead Iraqis might offer their opinion of that option. And the last thing the Libyan people need is to trade in their current dictator for a U.S. puppet. Libya is not an American playground. The Middle East is not an American playground. It's the meddling that helped create the problems in the first place. Beware!

Mondoweiss has an excellent roundup of news from Libya. Strongly recommended!

Update: Check out this photo from The Angry Arab News Service:

"No Foreign Intervention -- Libyan People Can Manage It Alone." be sure to check out the accompanying article on liberals who want to commence the invading.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Night

Apparently it's Oscar night. What I want to know is why there is not also Bert & Ernie night. Or Miss Piggy night. I think it's unfair that only Oscar the Grouch gets his own red-carpet celebration.

Actually I'm a hair too old for Sesame Street. But I'm not too old (or young) to remember Emily Litella. So, "Never mind!"

Here's the sad truth. I don't go to movies much. Sure I enjoy being entertained, I enjoy the escapism of movies -- who doesn't? -- but it's so damned expensive. I realize of all the movies up for Oscars this year I've seen exactly three. And one of them was last night on video (The Social Network) and another a couple weeks ago (Inception) and a third a couple weeks before that (The Kids Are All Right). I remember extraordinary details about history and music. But I just don't care about actors and actresses. My boyfriend can attest that I am forever asking, "Who's that?" about any actor in any movie. I guess I think it's weird to watch the same people over and over again pretend to be other people. Some of them are talented, sure; some of them are even hot. But I can never help but feel that if Americans paid as much attention to what's happening in the world as they do to Hollywood gossip, we wouldn't be in such a mess. Hey wait, so who's Oscar the Grouch now?

Update: If you're coming for the Oscar picture, I hope you'll stay for the other content here. This blog is about my perspective on life in the U.S. but it's also about the necessity of fighting for real freedom and social justice around the world and here at home.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Hero of the War

This is one of my favorite anti-war songs. It's "A Hero of the War" by expat American/UK pop star Scott Walker, ca. 1969. All those wars we witness, we read about: they're fought by regular people, some by choice some by compulsion, who should all be doing something else.

This song starts out so upbeat; by the time you realize what it's about it has become darkly sardonic. The lyrics:

"He's a hero of the war
All the neighborhood is talkin' 'bout your son
Mrs. Reiley get his medals
Hand them 'round to everyone
Show his gun to all the children in the street
It's too bad he can't shake hands or move his feet

He's a hero of the war
You can see his picture in the local news
Mrs. Reiley seems the girl next door is nowhere to be found
Once you couldn't keep that boy from hangin' 'round
Never mind dear, you're with your mum once more

He's a hero of the war
Like his dad he gave his life the war before
It was tragic how you almost died of pain when he was born
With no husband there beside you through it all
Ring the bell if you get hungry or you fall

You're a hero of the war
Why those teardrops on your cheek? it's so absurd
Feelin' empty it's the emptiness of heroes like your son
And what made him leave his mother for a gun
Driven forward driven back and nothing more

He's a hero of the war"

I read Secretary of Defense Gates just gave a speech at West Point in which he expressed doubt that the U.S. should repeat its Iraqi and Afghan adventures. Better luck next time, right? The mind boggles. Bring the troops home now.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Right-wing Porn Magnate Gets Humanitarian Activists Kicked Out of Gay Community Center

Siegebusters is a local New York City lesbian and gay Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions group in solidarity with the Palestinians and building opposition to the Apartheid blockade of Gaza. It's been meeting at New York City's LGBT Community Center, and was planning an upcoming event for Israeli Apartheid Week. The people behind Siegebusters are not random disinterested parties, but well-known activists in the lesbian and gay community.

Israeli-American gay porn magnate and conservative activist Michael Lucas has just succeeded in getting Siegebusters booted out of the gay community center by falsely equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Siegebusters have mounted an online petition campaign, "Save New York’s LGBT Center! Don’t Let Wealthy Bigots Shut Down Free Speech." I urge Cahokian readers who support basic fairness to sign this petition. Disgustingly equating defenders of Palestinian rights with hate groups, Lucas said, "If the LGBT Center wants to host a fundraising and awareness party for anti-semites, they might as well go all the way and host a tea dance for Fred Phelps." The petition protesting Lucas's campaign to shut down discussion and democracy says in part, "If activists allow this decision to stand, the Center will go from being a liberated space of democracy and free speech to yet another occupied, homogenized venue where wealthy and powerful voices can squelch all the rest. Lucas’s accusation that the March 5 event and groups organizing to build it are “anti-Semitic” is not simply an odious lie, it is an attempt to manipulate hatred of anti-Semitism to draw attention away from the ongoing Israeli crimes of dispossession, systematic racism, collective punishment and wholesale warfare on a population guilty of nothing other than their own existence. An international campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel has global support, including diverse voices from queer theory icon Judith Butler and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Auschwitz survivor and International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network spokesman Hajo Mayer."

Details on Israeli Apartheid Week events can be found here.

Lucas's efforts are part of the international propaganda campaign known as "pinkwashing," using Israeli's liberal laws on homosexuality to buy support from the lesbian and gay community at the expense of the Palestinian people. Pinkwashing is usually accompanied by disgusting racist fear mongering about Muslim and Arab countries. Needless to say, when Israel attacked Lebanon and Gaza in recent years, they didn't bother to ask any of the thousands of innocent people they killed whether they were gay first. Israel's liberal laws for its gay citizens are irrelevant when the Israeli state is built on a foundation of racism, and when its Arab citizens are given second-class rights and the residents of the occupied territories are denied rights altogether.

There's a great account of the recent speaking tour of Palestinian Queer Activists at the Al Qaws website of lesbian/gay/queer Palestinians. (The New York event was filled to capacity and I was unable to get in). Maggie Sager reports, "Queer Palestinians, like Afghan and Iraqi women, have consistently found their discourse co-opted by neo-conservative hawks and progressives alike in order to justify war and occupation under the assumption that such actions will ‘liberate’ the oppressed. It is this cynical manipulation that the forum’s speakers work to disparage. Claiming their own voices and movement, queer Palestinian activists are clamoring to be heard and wish for their American brothers and sisters to spread their message. So what is it they have to say? The clearest message resounding from all three speakers was that if one actually cares about LGBT rights within Palestine, one should be working to end the occupation. That Israel has cultivated a vibrant and open gay enclave is laudable, yet such accomplishments do not give the ‘Jewish State’ a free pass to violate human rights, including the rights of the gay Palestinians they allegedly care for. As Haneen dryly explained, “It doesn’t matter what the sexual orientation of the Soldier at a checkpoint is, whether he can serve openly or not. What matters is that he’s there at all.” Sami echoed the same sentiment, jibing that “the apartheid wall was not created to keep Palestinian homophobes out of Gay Israel, and there is no magic door for gay Palestinians to pass through.”

(The photos on this post are from last year's Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul, Turkey, in June. See a whole portfolio of these photos at Thanks to Joe.My.God. for making me aware of them.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sympathy for Barbarians

Defeated (temporarily?), the Roman legionaries are stripped of their armor and humiliated: they are marched naked past the sacred grove. The heads of their generals are displayed on spikes; the children are mocking the once proud legion, their pride a contrast to the defeated soldiers. The women wail and cry out over the men who didn't return from the field of battle, and sing the praises of those who did.

In truth I'm not exactly sure what this is a picture of. I downloaded it years ago and haven't been able to retrace my steps. I'm guessing it's a classic 18th- or 19th-century engraving of a "barbarian" victory over Rome in Germania or Gaul, and probably a victory that was short-lived. But I find it fascinating because it's such a romantic view of a scene that seemingly stands the usual historical narrative on its head: the invincible Romans are being mocked and the savage barbarians are jubilant. It is said both that the victors get to write history, and that he who laughs last laughs best, but I wonder about how that is interpreted.

We are taught about the glories of Rome, about the civilization, albeit at the point of a sword, that it spread throughout Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. To be sure the Roman Empire, decadent as it may have been, has had a lasting influence on our culture, our civilization. But that's not the complete story. Because ultimately, after centuries of glory, as all empires do, the Romans fell. If you, like me, trace the blood of your ancestors across the Atlantic to Europe, that last generations of effete Roman nobility, those ones they are not our ancestors: those were the people thrown to the flames, their children dashed to the paving stones or thrown under the hooves of the advancing barbarian horde. The people who survived were the peasants watching from the field as the villas burned, or the ones eking out a life in the wild hills and forests.

As near as I can ascertain, my ancestors weren't kings or queens or lords or princesses, they were just people. But they did make it into the history books: read as the frightened nobles shriek "the barbarians are at the gates!" That's us they're talking about. My people. Now I'm not suggesting running through the streets with torches and pitchforks, or looting prep schools and throwing aristocratic children into fires or arbitrarily smashing the good things about our civilization. Living in a yurt doesn't look fun or practical to me. I'm just suggesting a little change in perspective.

In this age of politicians trying desperately to make sure they and their friends get to hang on to the money, to the power, to the right to control other people and take things away from them, it's worth remembering the lessons of the past. Empires fall. We barbarians win, in the end, every time.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wave of Revolution Spreads to Libya

The stunning wave of popular protest in the Middle East continues. The latest reports suggest that the 40+ year dictatorship of Muammar El Qaddafi is about to fall. Cities like Benghazi in the east of the country are rumored to be under the control of a popular uprising; Libyan diplomats worldwide are renouncing Qaddafi; and Qaddafi's military is apparently splitting under his orders to repress the uprising with live fire and bombs. The BBC radio today claimed two Libyan jet fighters defected to Malta rather than follow their orders to fire on protesters. Hundreds of people are rumored to have been killed.

Economists are raising concern about Libya's stability, because despite Libya's one-time anti-imperialist posturing it is today a key oil supplier to Europe. The economies of former colonial powers Italy and the U.K. are intertwined with Libya's. See the always insightful Lenin's Tomb ("A Regime in Mortal Freefall") for the story of how Libya "came in from the cold" and traded in its leftwing posturing in return for better relations (lots of money) with the West. (Cahokian readers can see plenty of evidence of Libya's strained relationship with the U.S. in my "Anti-American Art" series in stamps which document the US bombing raid on Libya in 1986). European countries are freaking out at the events in Libya, worried that the flow of oil will be replaced by a flow of asylum seekers. Europe has always preferred docility in its southern neighbors.

Qaddafi came to power in a 1969 military coup that overthrew a Kingdom that had been set up in a process of decolonization following World War II. He assumed first the mantle of Arab nationalism and later Pan-Africanism. He developed a self-serving faux egalitarian ideology that accused political parties of being anti-democratic. So of course they were banned. Not officially the ruler of the country, he is the Great Man and Brother Leader, who guides the "people's authority" that has titular role of what he calls "The Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya." But his messianic ideology of mass autonomy is all for show, window dressing on a hard-fisted military dictatorship. He has of late championed African unity, and making the United Nations more representative, both of which seem completely self-serving.

In the Libyan story there's a cautionary tale for leftists. In the 1970s Qaddafi tried to use his oil wealth to buy supporters. Among various adventures supporting revolutionaries, he bankrolled the English Workers Revolutionary Party of Gerry Healey, a hitherto Trotskyist Party, which soon began to promote the Green Book, the impenetrable bible of Qaddafi's ideological pretension. (The WRP was notable at the time as home to actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave; Vanessa Redgrave's heroic defense of the Palestine Liberation Organization is sadly tainted by the corrupt relationship of her faction to this faux revolutionary dictator). Ultimately the WRP was accused of spying on Libyan (and Iraqi) dissidents in England and sending reports back to Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein. I actually remember back in the late 1970s when I was active on the left how the American supporters of the WRP, called the Workers League, started acting like complete kooks. At the same time they had a major slander campaign that the leadership of the also-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party were actually police spies and Russian agents, so the addition of Qaddafi's Green Book to their literature tables just seemed like icing on a bizarre cake.

There's an excellent blog post by David Osler that warns against taking the self-professed anti-imperialism of otherwise questionable figures too seriously: "There is one obvious moral in all this for revolutionary socialists; if you align yourself with people like this, you are reneging on the basic understanding that the emancipation of the working class is an act of the working class itself, not of any old hoodlum who espouses populism of Islamic colouration. And no matter how much money you get for it, it isn’t worth it."

Qaddafi is the last of the old-school left-talking military rulers in the Middle East. Hopefully he hasn't completely poisoned the well of hope that real, democratic socialism represents.

(Scan of 2010 Libyan stamp showing Qaddafi and his "people's assembly" from "Updates and Stamp News from the Middle East" blog.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Malcolm X on Violence and Hypocrisy

Today is the 46th anniversary of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X. A brilliant orator, he was killed in a moment of transition. He had left the Black Muslim movement of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and was honing his vision of the struggle for freedom. In his speches he had an amazing way of, pardon the expression, cutting through the bullshit. The world he spoke to back in the 1960s was a very different place, but it's hard to read one of his speeches and not to come away with some insight that remains completely relevant. This excerpt seems relevant to the wave of popular discontent in the Middle East and the false equivalency often made between state violence and popular resistance. While the wave of popular discontent in our own Middle West isn't quite at the same level, it's important food for thought.

"I'm not in a society that practices brotherhood. I'm in a society that might preach it on Sunday, but they don't practice it on no day -- on any day. And so, since I could see that America itself is a society where there is no brotherhood and that this society is controlled primarily by racists and segregationists -- and it is -- who are in Washington, D.C., in positions of power. And from Washington, D.C., they exercise the same forms of brutal oppression against dark-skinned people in South and North Vietnam, or in the Congo, or in Cuba, or in any other place on this earth where they're trying to exploit and oppress. This is a society whose government doesn't hesitate to inflict the most brutal form of punishment and oppression upon dark-skinned people all over the world.

To wit, right now what's going on in and around Saigon and Hanoi and in the Congo and elsewhere. They are violent when their interests are at stake. But all of that violence that they display at the international level, when you and I want just a little bit of freedom, we're supposed to be nonviolent. They're violent. They're violent in Korea, they're violent in Germany, they're violent in the South Pacific, they're violent in Cuba, they're violent wherever they go. But when it comes time for you and me to protect ourselves against lynchings, they tell us to be nonviolent.

That's a shame. Because we get tricked into being nonviolent, and when somebody stands up and talks like I just did, they say, "Why, he's advocating violence!" Isn't that what they say? Every time you pick up your newspaper, you see where one of these things has written into it that I'm advocating violence. I have never advocated any violence. I've only said that Black people who are the victims of organized violence perpetrated upon us by the Klan, the Citizens' Council, and many other forms, we should defend ourselves. And when I say that we should defend ourselves against the violence of others, they use their press skillfully to make the world think that I'm calling on violence, period. I wouldn't call on anybody to be violent without a cause. "
--Malcolm X, 14 February 1965, a week before he died.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Anti-American Art: Pride

I designed these two graphics back in 2003 shortly after the American invasion of Iraq. I regret not trying to circulate them more widely. In New York City there were a series of absolutely astounding huge demonstrations to protest Bush's plans for war. Coworkers who I would never have described as political enthusiastically attended. Of course the war happened anyway. It seems so long ago and yet, it's not really over, is it.

Bush at the time claimed to be seeding "democracy" into the Middle East. While the results are not in from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, nor the nascent struggles sweeping the Middle East, one wonders how many thousands of innocent people would still be alive if he had let the inevitable happen and let the people take what is rightfully theirs in their own due time, as seems to be happening now.

How does that old song go? "When will they ever learn..."

(This is an ongoing series of Anti-American propaganda art. Check out previous entries here)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obama Greenlights Israeli Apartheid

Disgusting. The United States has vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, settlements that are already considered illegal by international law. Knowing it would be embarrassing, the US first tried to get the vote off the table. Hilariously, as the US vote concretely aided, protected and defended Israeli settlements, President Obama's hand-picked UN representative Susan Rice said the vote should not be "seen as an endorsement of Israel's settlement policies, which the Obama administration has repeatedly denounced." She commented that the draft resolution submitted, however, has the risk of "hardening the positions of both sides and could encourage parties to stay out of negotiations." In other words, don't pay attention to what we're actually doing, pay attention to our pretty words. There are no negotiations; in fact there are no legitimate negotiators. The Palestine papers have shown the leadership of the Palestine Authority to be engaged in an elaborate three-way embrace with right-wing Israeli leaders and US politicians bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby to force the Palestinian people to accept a neutered Bantustan-like microstate instead of their actual national rights. No matter; the PA leadership stands to be pushed out of power along with so many other undemocratic "moderate" governments in the wave of revolution sweeping the Middle East.

Back in the 1980s, the United States and its ally Israel were notoriously the last nations to cling to South Africa's white-racist Apartheid regime. Ronald Reagan goes down in history believing the heroic Nelson Mandela belonged in jail. Disturbingly, Obama now joins Reagan in utter moral bankruptcy. No matter how much he says he supports the right of the Palestinian people to their own state, his government's actions now show a commitment only to the brute force of Israeli neocolonialism and racism. Israel's policies to the Palestinians in the West Bank are identical in every meaningful way to the policies of the former racist South Africa. And Israel will end up in the same dustbin of history.

Obama's foreign policy is showing itself to be an endless wellspring of hypocrisy. (The only silver lining perhaps is that President McCain or President Palin would surely have us nuking Tehran and Cairo by now.) Check out the bitterly hilarious compilation on the Zunguzungu blog of all the times in the past two months of popular uprisings and government repression that Obama snd Secretary of State Clinton have called for "restraint." Meanwhile the flow of arms to Israel and repressive Arab regimes is endless. And watch the US government forcefully shout its support of popular protests in (US enemy and quasi-democratic) Iran while urging calm in (home to US military base and authoritarian Kingdom) Bahrain. Again and again the US government is equating the defensive militancy of the people out in the streets with the repressive violence of dictatorial states.

And does the Obama administration seriously think nobody's watching them? Here's a blistering statement from Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, just denied a visit to the U.S., to the Mondoweiss site: "Ms. Clinton can sing the tunes of freedom all she wants when watching the news of Arab popular revolts from Morocco to Bahrain, but she is not fooling any average-intelligence person in the Arab world. US policy, especially after the veto cast yesterday against the most benign UN Security Council resolution, simply reiterating universal, long-held facts that Israel's colonial settlements are illegal and thwart just peace, is being exposed to the new generation of restive, fearless, freedom-aspiring Arab youth as the main cause of their oppression, of buttressing and protecting the tyrants that have denied them all freedoms for decades. It has long been exposed, too, as the key partner of Israel in its occupation, colonialism and apartheid. Without US largess, Israel's multi-tiered system of racist and colonial oppression cannot possibly survive. Freedom, from the US establishment's perspective, amounts to the "liberty" to bow to their hegemony and accepting their multinationals' pillage of the world as fate. We shall continue to speak truth to power no matter what the consequences. We shall continue to struggle for nothing less than full freedom, full justice, full self determination, and full emancipation from US imperial hegemony."

Spring is coming.

(Photo above shows a Palestinian protest in Hebron. Hebron is a city on the occupied West Bank with an overwhelming Arab majority, yet to "protect" the privileges of a small settlement of ultra-rightwing Israelis a large chunk of the town is fenced off and forbidden to Palestinians.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Up on the Roof -- in the 1940s

These two heartbreaking photos are from the late 1940s: that's my mom and her middle brother Quentin and her mother above (and my mother and Quentin below) on the roof of their Brooklyn apartment building. They lived around East New York. While there were some aunts and uncles with money, my mother's family was as poor as they come. She was born in 1932; her father died from gas gangrene in 1942. Her mother, my grandmother, died of cancer in 1949 or so, probably within a year or two of this photo.

Around that time Quentin, shown here, joined the army to stay out of trouble and was eventually shipped off to Korea. As you can see here he was a cocky young hottie, and my mother says he was pretty much a juvenile delinquent. I'm not sure who took these photos. Their older brother Hubert, my uncle (who, like my mom, is still alive) had joined the army in the last year of WW2: it could have been him unless he was still off in occupied Europe. Uncle Quentin retired from the army in the 1960s and became a college art professor. He's been gone for over a decade.

My grandmother above and my mother below look so overwhelmingly burdened and stressed out. It seems atypical for family snapshots, though grandma Olivia (called Dot, I believe) doesn't seem to be smiling in hardly any of the photos of her I've seen. My mother's father's family was all Irish; Olivia's mother's family were German Jews who (although they had come to the U.S. long before Hitler) were passing as gentiles.

The stories my mother tells of growing up poor in the 1930s and 1940s are something else. But I'm certain that my own worldview and social consciousness comes straight from what my mom learned in those hard hard times.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tahrir Square... Wisconsin

This inspiring footage is from a protest in Wisconsin's state capital of Madison, where the efforts of a new teabagger governor and Republican legislature to quite literally roll back all the gains of the labor movement have met amazing and inspiring resistance. The teabaggers are showing their true nature again and again. Their fake campaign against "big government" is just a coverup for social conservatism and old-fashioned anti-working class pro-big business policies. It's hard not to notice the similarities to Egypt. And Tunisia. And now Bahrain and Yemen and Libya. Is the class struggle returning?

Some great details and analysis over at Lenin's Tomb.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming to America

Above is a clipping from a ship's registry showing my paternal grandfather's family arriving at Ellis Island in 1902. My father's father is little "Joh. Georg" born in 1895. The ship sailed from Hamburg, Germany, but their original point of departure is shown as the village of Norka, in Russia. They were "Volga Germans" trading in one adopted country for another. A couple years ago I wrote two installments of a fictionalized version of their departure from Russia, still on the blog here. The funny thing is that until I retrieved this document from the excellent and amazing Ellis Island registry set up with the aid of the Mormon Church, my little offshoot of the family had no idea that Hamburg was not the point of my family's origin: my grandfather was as tight-lipped to his estranged son as my own father proved to be to this estranged son. When I discovered this document I managed to contact distant Horst cousins who knew the whole story and even gave me a photo (I'll put it up later) of my great-grandparents. There's an entire subculture out there of descendants of Volga Germans and they even organize occasional tours back to the motherland, even though courtesy of Stalin and Hitler very very few people of German ancestry remain in the villages of the Volga region. They keep track of which Russian villages each family came from, though there's scant information on where these families originated from in Germany back in the 17th-century. It turns out a huge part of the wave of German immigrants to the U.S. in the turn to the 20th-century were actually from Russia, with no less than Lawrence Welk counted among the famed American progeny.

My great-grandparents settled in Denver, but my grandfather lived most of his adult life in Michigan, which is where he met my grandmother Dorothy Scott, who I've posted many pictures of. I'm not sure I actually have a photo of my grandfather: I will have to look.

(I found this scan on my old computer: my veteran PC just passed away -- it's all my fault for taunting it just a few short posts ago. Never, never tempt fate! This is from a fairly clunky old mac. We'll see how it goes until a brand-new replacement computer materializes.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

American Burqa: a Night Out on the Jersey Shore

There is a place where women are forced to dress all alike. It's a kind of uniform of submission: all women are forced to wear this uniform or be shunned, whether they are young and shapely or middle-aged and chubby. Black is the preferred color, though this is not rigidly enforced. What's going on inside a woman's head, her own vision of who she is and what she thinks and what she wants is irrelevent: individuality and freedom of thought is suppressed and propaganda carefully herds women to a standard of sameness. If you think I'm talking about the Middle East you're wrong. I'm talking about Friday night on the Jersey Shore; Atlantic City to be precise. Perhaps I need to get out more, though: I'm thinking it is possible that the horror I witnessed is common throughout suburban heterosexual nightlife. Perhaps in news coverage of the Egyptian revolution you have witnessed the clucking tongues of baiting neocon pundits worrying about whether Islamist activists will somehow hijack the revolution and force Egyptian women into forced modesty. Well here's what I've realized: the concern of American culture for the fate of women in predominately Muslim countries is nothing but a big-fat crocodile tear, because American women, especially young ones, have already been sent down a path of objectification and posed hypersexuality every bit as dehumanizing as what some claim has happened to women in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

There's something fascinating about Atlantic City. The combination of wishful thinking and seediness is honed to a fine edge. The casinos are full of people and yet they're not doing great financially, just as most people spending time there -- me included -- are calculating the enjoyment of the place not in massive gambling winnings but in whether the time was worth the price. We spent a night there this past February weekend. The worst of the winter seems to have passed for now and the indoor social life of the casinos seemed to be jumping. Atlantic City isn't the setting for the MTV "reality" show The Jersey Shore, but it's in close proximity to that show's location, not only physically, but spiritually.

We arrived on a Friday night, just as the crowds seemed to shift from elderly retired people to young adults out to party. As I and my companions sat down for a late dinner we realized that practically every woman we saw was dressed identically: in uncomfortably high heels, and shockingly tight shoulderless cocktail dresses coming down a barely calculable measure below the crotch. These dresses were all about ass threatening to burst out of tight confinement. We began to play a tasteless game we called "hooker or slut." Of course there was simply no way to tell. These women had been completely absorbed into the aesthetic of prostitution.

As we walked around the casino it became almost absurd. Small groups of identically dressed women only occasionally in the escort of calculatingly-casually dressed young men moved about through the halls from bar to gambling room to club. I never saw one try to sit down, I can't imagine what would have happened to their dresses if they tried. At some point I looked at three women leaning over a counter: all had identical hair and makeup as well, the same cut, the same strange-looking false sunstreaks dyed into identical patterns. I realized that while most of these women were young and fit with curves that successfully filled out their tight little dresses, I was also seeing older women or women without such studied bodies who couldn't quite pull off the look but were doing their best to try. Sleeves and leggings accessorized those who feared the exposure of a little flab or wrinkle.

Now granted as a gay man I don't spend a lot of time staring at women. But I don't think my horror at what I saw was driven by prudery or disdain for female sexuality. In the uniformity of what I saw there was something so forced and un-sexy about the professed sexiness of the uniform. All of these women might as well have had signs pinned to their waists saying "you can almost see my vagina." Their outfits pulled attention away from their faces and turned them into automatons of base male gratification.

So when the media shows excessively veiled Muslim women in its condescending or fearful tone, I now have to ask: do you want women to be free to express their individuality? Their sexuality? Or are you just complaining that you can't ogle the flesh of these women? Is the issue the right of these women to live their lives in the way they choose? Or is the complaint that these women might have secret inner lives that are not available to your observation?

I think if I was a woman and a Muslim I would not choose the extreme forms of Muslim hijab like the burqa or abaya. And I do understand that in our harsh world, excessive hijab can be a form of oppression. And I think if I was a young woman looking for love, or for fun, on a night out on the town in a New Jersey beach town, I would not choose to make myself uncomfortable and identical to all my friends. But the choice is not really between covering up and dressing like a prostitute. This is a false choice: a false choice that the women of the Jersey Shore are apparently unable to see.

I was reminded of my visit last summer to an Orisha ceremony and to two jazz concerts in Brooklyn, all of which I described on this blog. At the Santeria ceremony, attended by people of every imaginable race and ethnic mix, the women radiated beauty and strength and individuality and even sexiness. Gay and straight women alike projected a spiritual centeredness and pride. Hair was worn naturally, sometimes very short or in locks. Clothes were not flashy, but neither were they shapeless potato sacks. Some wore African-inspired finery but everyone projected her own being. At the jazz concerts, the overwhelmingly African-American crowd ran the gamut from young to old. There was certainly flashiness there, but the fashion was consciousness and self-empowerment. If there was flirtation it was chosen, rather than a blatant neon sign of objectification and neediness.

It is not the lack of modesty that concerns me, nor the display of sexuality. It's something else. Oh I hear a voice in my head that sounds like the mean old man telling those darn kids to get off his lawn in some early 1960s youth culture flick. But I don't think what I was seeing was youth rebellion; on the contrary, I think it was the fruit of some kind of media hypnotism. To me it looks empty and false.

I miss feminism: when women were empowered to make choices for themselves, to be freethinkers, to be unabashedly sex-positive. Those tight little cocktail dresses strike me as the Burqas of our age: prisons of subjugation and objectification. I've read Middle-Eastern feminists criticize the abaya and the burqa because a woman must spend so much time hanging on to her clothes she couldn't possibly work at a physical job and must therefore change her orientation to the home. And so it is with crotch=length dresses: how can one even think if all one is doing is ensuring something won't pop out?

Bad television like "The Jersey Shore" is good for a laugh. But I'm starting to think it's not so funny. What happens when life starts to imitate this terrible, demeaning "art"?

(Atlantic City booty photos by me. Sorry for using your butts to make a point, ladies.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day Sentimentality

So I went looking for a good story to tell for St. Valentine's Day and came up empty-handed. It turns out that the Catholic Church barely remembers who St. Valentine actually was; and it's not even really one of those ripped-off Pagan holidays. Growing up in Chicago in the 1960s we spoke in hushed tones about the gangland "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." I remember a wax-museum tableau that haunted me, and a frightening movie I've finally seen as an adult (that turns out to be uber crappy), but that pales in comparison to today's Mexican mafia killings or random campus shootings by the mentally disturbed. Besides murder is a downer. Blogfriend Annie wrote about the pleasures of passing around Valentine's cards as children, so that's been done. My adorable boyfriend didn't like the picture I took of him this weekend in Atlantic City, so that's not going up here. So here's a picture of my cat, Henry. When my boyfriend is not over he takes up pretty much the same amount of space in the bed. And he's often trying to sleep on my mousehand when I'm at the computer (Henry, that is). So, finally, I'm lucky in love. Thanks Henry. You too Jesse. I'm grateful to both of you. Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011


That's the boardwalk at Atlantic City where I spent an evening and crisp winter day unintentionally gathering material for a new blogpost. There's nothing quite like watching a bit of the now at least partially successful Egyptian revolution on a hotel TV set. More on what I learned in Atlantic City later, but meanwhile here's a brief paragraph from the Lenin's Tomb blog about Obama's latest speech on the events unfolding in Egypt:

"Obama is speechifying in his classically elevated, sonorous fashion. He should shut up. He has nothing to say. He spent weeks first backing Mubarak, then the torturer Suleiman. He thought his man, Suleiman, had been put in charge last night. It never once crossed his mind that he would stop aid to the regime, even stop sending the bullets and tear gas that have been used against protesters. The US has been handed its arse by the Egyptian people, the vanguard of global democracy, and should at this point be feigning humility." As much as I can enjoy a good Obama speech, I think Lenin's Tomb's Richard Seymour has, sadly, nailed this one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Egyptian Revolution on the Brink

"All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest stratum of our present society, cannot stir, cannot raise itself up, without the whole superincumbent strata of official society being sprung into the air." -- Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848

Millions of people have been out in the streets of Egypt for over two weeks. Despite the daily predictions of the western media that the revolution is about to run out of steam, each day brings demonstrations bigger than the day before. According to eyewitnesses, the streets have become a huge festival of mass democracy. And yet the American-backed dictator Mubarak clings intransigently to power.

American diplomats are trying desperately to straddle both sides of the fence. On the one hand Obama claims to support democracy. On the other hand his diplomat sent to negotiate with Mubarak, Frank Wisner, turns out to work for companies with contracts with the Egyptian military and secret police: he's virtually an employee of Mubarak. After negotiations Wisner said, "Mubarak must stay in office in order to steer those changes through... This is an ideal moment for him to show the way forward." Obama proceeded to distance Wisner's position, and has been lining up behind new Vice President Omar Suleiman, head of the notorious Egyptian secret police. While Obama postures about the will of the Egyptian people, clearly he's concerned about letting things get out of control...of the American government and its Israeli allies.

So on the one side Mubarak and his massive security operation and control of the state. On the other the masses of Egyptian people of many classes and religions. In the middle is the Egyptian Army. The west seems to be desperate to find a leader it can impose on the revolution to make things nice.

And now the game has changed. Enter the Egyptian working class. I think it is no accident that today's dramatic events -- the rumor that Mubarak was stepping down, the rumor of a military seizure of power, and ultimately Mubarak's renewed intransigence -- are a direct response to the waking giant which has announced a series of political strikes. Because it is the Egyptian working class, with its hands on the gears of the Egyptian economy that has the power to push this revolution through to its righteous end. More than the rule of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood the rulers of Egypt and their sponsors in Washington and elsewhere fear the power of the conscious and self-aware majority of the Egyptian people, unbeholden to the corrupt arrangements that perpertuate the rule of the dictator and his henchmen. They are terrified by what the unchecked success of the Egyptian revolution might mean for the other despotic rulers in the region. And they are freaking out about what this might mean for the struggle of the Palestinian people held in check by sellouts and betrayals. And the working people of Egypt have the power to break the stalemate; to split the army; to prevent the revolution being derailed by a new, replacement dictator at the helm of the same old same old.

The contrasts are now starker than ever. It's all out in the open. The U.S. must cut the strings to its puppet. The Egyptian people can see that the Americans are trying to attach those puppet strings to someone else and are rightly outraged. What the U.S. can do to help is pull its support from the Egyptian security apparatus and military.

The working class is about to speak. They can bring victory to the revolution. The days ahead are more dangerous than ever, but the prize is there waiting. The following statement was issued by a group of Egyptian revolutionary socialists a fes short days before the current strikes were announced:

"Call to Egyptian workers to join the ranks of the revolution

The demonstrations and protests have played a key role in igniting and continuing our revolution. Now we need the workers. They can seal the fate of the regime. Not only by participating in the demonstrations, but by organising a general strike in all the vital industries and large corporations.

The regime can afford to wait out the sit-ins and demonstrations for days and weeks, but it cannot last beyond a few hours if workers use strikes as a weapon. Strike on the railways, on public transport, the airports and large industrial companies! Egyptian Workers! On behalf of the rebellious youth, and on behalf of the blood of our martyrs, join the ranks of the revolution, use your power and victory will be ours!"
-- Revolutionary Socialism Egypt (English translation from Lenin's Tomb.)

Many analysts predict that a massacre is brewing. There is certainly a real confrontation on the way. Who knows what's going to happen: I sure don't. But I'm inspired, and hopeful.

(According to the Angry Arab news service, the Arabic sign above reads "Down with Omar Suleiman, the Man of Israel.")

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Music & Memory

I love my iTunes. My home PC is clunky and annoying and in need of replacement (yes I am knocking on wood), but what a pleasure to conjure up so much music right from my desktop. Even with tens of thousands of songs on my iTunes it's only a fraction of my music collection, but I've organized most of it into accessible playlists and when I sit down at the puter I page through trying to match my mood.

The other day I started playing through my "ECM" playlist: it's all songs and some full albums from the German ECM label, which started in the 1970s with a vision of supremely intellectual mostly instrumental music rooted in jazz but branching far out from there in several rarified directions. As I was playing songs, mostly long introspective ones without much in the way of hooks and whose melodies are not the kind of things you can sing or dance along to, I kept having these weird half flashbacks. I know most of these records well, having carted around their records and then CDs for years before loading them into my computer. They weren't simply memories: They were angular flashes of light, of remembered instants and smells and temperatures.

It wasn't like I remembered where I was or who I was with when I heard a song repeated from some earlier decade. It was something much less distinct and both more subtle and more real. It was a weird sense memory. I remember buying Jan Garbarek's "Dis" album sometime in the very late seventies when I lived in Chicago. It's a memorable record: along with Ralph Towner's distinctive guitar and Garbarek's unmistakable soprano saxophone, Garbarek plays an instrument he calls a wind harp. I don't remember how he actually described the instrument on my long-replaced vinyl record sleeve, but I pictured some strange device set out on nordic ice causing the ceaseless impersonal arctic wind to reveal its sensitive inner vibration. It's a drone sound on the record that is unforgettable. I must have played this record hundreds of times, though certainly years have gone by (you know that makes me a certain age to be able to say that) when it was silent and untouched. But the other day when the song "Vandrere" from "Dis" came up through my computer speakers (Bose, thank you), I remembered -- no, I felt -- some particularly clear winter sunlight coming through a morning window in Chicago. I remembered not which apartment I was in but how I was standing and where the sound was coming from. It wasn't a complete enough feeling to be nostalgia. But it was like brushing a ghost from the past.

"Seriously Deep" from Eberhard Weber's "Silent Feet" album came up in the playlist. Slow bass and piano lines converge before a minor key groove kicks in, riding cymbals and a spiralling soprano horn filling the empty spaces. One would not mistake this for American jazz: it's very European. Make that very northern European. And yet there is some weird moment when I've felt this music before. A previous moment of late-night or afternoon introspection. I don't remember the thoughts this music conjured up so many years ago, but I feel the catalyst, this music, as a strangely physical sensation.

Looking over my iTunes playlist I'm reminded that I have a playlist actually called "Nostalgia." But even here, these are not the songs of a memorable concert or road trip or love affair. These are sounds, on this list mostly from albums lost to the mists reclaimed via downloads, strangely obscure and privately experienced. There's a handful of Brazilian albums I failed to convince anyone else to love (Zeze Motta!). There's a haunting lost album by Mercedes Sosa from the 1970s. There's an Aretha Franklin ballad ("As Long As You Are There") that never made it to CD. There's Grace Slick's utterly cheeseball solo album from the early 1980s "Software." There's soul songs I discovered as a little boy that my parents disdained. These songs conjure up not exactly memories but feelings.

There are certainly songs from the past that have more specific meanings and associations. The relationship bookended by Con Funk Shun's "Make It Last" and Lisa Loeb's "Stay," well let's just say the pain has drained out of those songs. The first song I heard a drag queen lip-synch (Linda Clifford's "Don't Give It Up"); the songs from the first huge concert I ever went to (Earth Wind & Fire!); the glorious song that will always reminds me of late 1970s house parties and a boy I had a mad crush on (Ronnie Laws' "Always There"). Those are nostalgia.

But a certain old disco song comes on, and there I am stepping over a threshhold in my memory, not remembering a specific night or lost or surviving friends, but feeling the air change from outside to inside, feeling again anticipation and vibrating energy, blinking color lights in another room, a familiar beat beat beat, strings sweeping me up in a moment of transcendence.

Jarringly I return to earth. The light shifts in sound.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

We have Al Jazeera in my neighborhood...

The Al Jazeera news network is providing indispensable coverage of the events in the Middle East with voices and perspectives quite different than the American media. Not surprisingly, Al Jazeera TV is not offered by American cable or satellite distributors. I've been reading that Al Jazeera is hopeful that the current events might motivate American cable to carry them, which would be a great thing.

I stepped over this flyer on the sidewalk yesterday on my way to work; it caught my eye and I thought...WOW, Al Jazeera is coming to my neighborhood! Then I actually read the flyer. God bless multicultural Sunset Park. That would be the Al Jazeera Vivero, where you can get cute little bunnies for $2.49 a pound, and have their, um, heads chopped off for tasty stew meat! Plus guinea hens, chickens, goats and, um, bulls. Fresh!

Monday, February 07, 2011

U.S. Trying to Derail Egyptian Revolution

According to the New York Times, "Vice President Omar Suleiman of Egypt says he does not think it is time to lift the 30-year-old emergency law that has been used to suppress and imprison opposition leaders. He does not think President Hosni Mubarak needs to resign before his term ends in September. And he does not think his country is yet ready for democracy."

Guest who the U.S. is lining up behind!

All of a sudden Hillary Clinton's State Department is all concerned with order more than democracy. American diplomats are huddling with Mubarak and his government. What's wrong with this picture?

(I first saw the above cartoon on Brother Peacemaker blog, though obviously it's from the Buffalo News)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Foreign Policy Expert Sarah Palin Will Decide Who Can Rule Egypt

In a creepy interview with David Brody at the Christian Broadcasting Network, right-wing quitter and publicity whore Sarah Palin has offered her bizarre views on the situation in Egypt: "We want to be able to trust those who are screaming for democracy there in Egypt, that it is a true sincere desire for freedoms and the challenge that we have though, is how do we verify what it is that we are being told, what it is that the American public are being fed via media, via the protestors, via the government there in Egypt in order for us to really have some sound information to make wise decisions on what our position is. Trust but verify, and try to understand is what I would hope our leaders are engaged in right now. Who’s going to fill the void? Mubarak, he’s gone, one way or the other you know, he is not going to be the leader of Egypt, that that’s a given, so now the information needs to be gathered and understood as to who it will be that fills now the void in the government. Is it going to be the Muslim Brotherhood? We should not stand for that, or with that or by that. Any radical Islamists, no that is not who we should be supporting and standing by, so we need to find out who was behind all of the turmoil and the revolt and the protests so that good decisions can be made in terms of who we will stand by and support."

And she's miffed that Obama hasn't told her who's going to be the next president of Egypt: "It’s a difficult situation, this is that 3am White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House it it seems that that call went right to um the answering machine. And nobody yet has, no body yet has explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak."

Read the whole interview. It's a remarkable exercise in paranoia, arrogant presumption and pretending to know what she's talking about. She also brags about being a journalist. (!) And it's clear she has no idea that leading American politicians are not actually supposed to be saying they have the right to determine who will rule other countries.

Sadly, it is true that, lest things get out of control, President Obama and his diplomats seems to be settling on pushing out Mubarak in favor of the head of the secret police, Omar Suleiman, now appointed Vice President. (The AngryArab is priceless on the subject: "So basically, if you take Mubarak and his head of the secret police, `Umar Sulayman, the US would have been satisfied if only Hitler had appointed Himmler as his deputy."

Note to world: It is the Egyptian revolution and that means the Egyptian people get to decide what happens next.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Love Letter to Ronald Reagan: Butcher, Murderer, Criminal. Not Dead Enough.

Dear Ronald Reagan:

Tomorrow is your 100th birthday. You know, we thought, back when you were alive, when you were the president, we wouldn't survive you. In fact many of my friends did not actually survive you; and I miss them. I don't miss you. It was a terrible time, those Reagan years, no matter what they pretend now. No, we are not nostalgic for that time. It was a dark time, a painful time, an awful time knowing someone so genuinely evil had so much power.

I remember your disdain for us. In April 1987, you said: "Let's be honest with ourselves, AIDS information can not be what some call 'value neutral.' After all, when it comes to preventing AIDS, don't medicine and morality teach the same lessons." We knew what you meant. You meant we deserved to die. You couldn't even bring yourself to say the word gay in polite conversation. That health crisis you were being so smugly self-righteous about happened on your watch and you did.... nothing.

Some people thought it was funny when you joked about starting a world war. "We begin bombing in five minutes," you said. Your lackeys laughed. I remember the chill down my spine. How dare you joke about obliterating millions of people when your finger is actually on the button.

Ronnie, you were a big fucking fake. You were a terrible actor in bad movies when you worked in Hollywood, and you were a terrible actor in a bad nightmare when you were picked by the military industrial complex to work in Washington. It comes as no surprise to me that your son -- remember him, the GAY one? -- he said you showed signs of senility and dementia in the late 1980s. Trust me, he was being kind. You showed those signs in the early 1980s. But somehow they wanted to believe you so badly, those people who voted for you. They hoped you were a kindly old grampa, miraculously adding one plus one and coming up with three.

I remember the way you tilted your head, the way you laughed at your own jokes, your honed sense of Hollywood timing. Your smugness. Oh I give you credit for remember a few actor's tricks.

A lot of people were burned out by the 1970s, seeing the scabs picked off the open wound that was America. When you lied and said you would make it all better people ate that shit up. All you had to do was keep lying. Oh yes, we remember the lie of "trickle down economics." We remember who got rich. We're still paying for that now.

We remember what you did to the people of Nicaragua. Of Guatemala. Of El Salvador. Of Grenada. Of Libya. We remember who you tried to kill. Who you actually killed. We remember who your friends were. We remember that you thought Nelson Mandela belonged in jail and that you thought apartheid made South Africa a great American ally. We remember how much you loved Ferdinand Marcos. We remember that you gave money to a nascent Islamist movement so it could fight communism for that could never come back to bite the U.S. in the ass, could it? We remember your double dealing, your criminal cronies like Oliver North.

I survived you. I remembering hearing Maya Angelou's poem at Bill Clinton's inaugural in 1993 after 8 years of your rule and 4 more of your CIA crony George Bush the elder. I cried today rereading this poem, like I cried when I heard it the first time, the catharsis of knowing your nightmare was over. She spoke for all of us back in 1993:

"A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers--desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot ...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours--your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning."

Fuck you Ronald Reagan. Stay dead. Liar. Monster. Burn in hell.


A Survivor

(Top graphic is a legendary poster from the AIDS activist organization ACT-UP. Maya Angelou's poem is called "On The Pulse of Morning," and seems to be generally reprinted in full on the net but of course it's her copyright.)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Happy Black History Month?

I first saw this extraordinary video on the terrific blog "We Are Respectable Negroes" last year. The moderator of that blog asked in posting it, "Am I dark and twisted as I laugh at the predictable outcome of Black rage, white fear, white denial, and the inevitable power of white women's tears in this video? Well actually they were rendered ineffective by said brother's verbal Kryptonite. Being a bit more provocative: Is there anything that he said regarding whiteness as property, power, and privilege in the U.S. that was (generally) untrue?"

I repost this video of a confrontation between a young white woman and representatives of the Black Israelites sect, and quote provocateur Chauncey De Vega's introduction not to endorse the Black Israelites (which in point of fact he wasn't exactly doing either). Over the years I've heard them preach terrible hateful things in Times Square about "faggots," and their love of the worst parts of the old testament is particularly unappealing to me. Their orientalist fantasy of what real Israelites must dress like -- they routinely show up in harem pants and studded leathers -- is at least naive and silly. And well, as a white person it's not my business but their separatism and virtual black Zionism is just a disaster. But the exchange recorded here on video is indeed powerful, revealing and thought-provoking. (It's also worth checking out the discussion on the original blogpost; it's linked above.)

Because the truth of the matter is that so many decades after what we remember as the classic transformative period of the civil rights movement, and even two years into the term of the country's first African-American president, the fundamental tension of racism in American society is really only papered over. Talking about race and racism directly is upsetting to many people. It quickly reveals gulfs in assumptions and culture that are like stark, unhealable and infected wounds. It seems we can try to act civil, putting on friendly faces, but so much of the underlying injustice and mistrust in society remains.

What better example of modern racism is there than the "tea party" movement? And yet that movement's white racial resentment is largely bottled up there behind a quivering lip, a locked jaw, and shifting eyes, by people who know better than to say what they are actually feeling. Only occasionally does that racism bleed off into a crudely worded sign or a tragic little monkey ragdoll. You can't prove the tea party is a racist movement, but everybody knows it is. Everybody's playing nice. Or at least, pretending they're playing nice. So in this video, nobody's playing nice, and tears ensue.

On the one hand it's nice that Black History Month is so officially recognized. Heck, the cafeteria at work today even had a Black History Month themed buffet. The smiling plastic talking heads on TV offer up historical tidbits like the past is all forgiven: hey we're all friends now. But maybe what we really need is a lot more yelling and crying. Cause pretending that there's no problem, well, it just doesn't seem to be working out so hot.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Republicans to Rape Victims: F**k You

Everybody knows that the Republicans believe in individual rights for "we the people." Except, of course, when it comes to rights for people other than rich white men, who, as we all know, are the only people who count. It was good enough for the framers of the constitution, right?

High on their list of rights to roll back is the right of women to control their own bodies, which puts legal abortion front and center. Hoping to further erode the landmark Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in the U.S., Republicans have come up with a shocking and disturbing plan of attack: they want to redefine rape, in effect decriminalizing "nonviolent" rape so that even fewer poor women who are victims of crime can count on government assistance to terminate the resulting pregnancies. The laws now on the books -- which I disagree with -- try to limit federal funding of abortion; hypocritically these laws recognize that pregnancies resulting from violence should be special cases. But even that level of sensitivity is too much for the Republicans. If it's not "violent rape," hey, it's no big deal! That woman has no right to have her insurance pay for abortion!

Mother Jones spells it out: with legislation introduced in Congress "last week by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Republicans propose that the rape exemption be limited to 'forcible rape.' This would rule out federal assistance for abortions in many rape cases, including instances of statutory rape, many of which are non-forcible..." It's called the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," it has 173 Republican co-sponsors and weeper of the house John Boehner says it's a priority.

According to Planned Parenthood: "Republicans took control of Congress on a promise to create jobs, but instead, one of their first acts is to take away health insurance benefits that the majority of women currently have. The true intent of Congressman Chris Smith’s bill is to end insurance coverage for virtually all abortions, including private insurance coverage that Americans pay for with their own money, even in cases involving the most severe dangers to a woman's health."

The issue is simple. The Republicans want to turn the clock back to the days when abortion was illegal. To do so they are willing to redefine rape to make some of it, in effect, less criminal. All those "mamma grizzlies" notwithstanding, this legislation just goes to show their blatant disregard for the fundamental humanity and equality of women. This legislation is part of a broader assault on legal abortion itself, and ultimately on the constitutional civil rights that protect all of us non-rich-white-men.

Back in the early sixties my parents were part of a network that took in single unwed mothers who knew they would be unable to keep their children. The network placed these young pregnant women in settings that would allow them to safely get away from their lives, have their babies, give the children up for adoption, and then return to their lives without stigma from their communities. It was one of the many work-arounds to abortion being illegal, the worst of which of course was the back-alley coat-hanger abortion which often resulted in death or serious injury to the pregnant woman. Those days must not be allowed to return.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egypt's Mubarak Clinging to Power ... and American Lifeline

Today besieged Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak returned to the airwaves and said he would step down....after serving out the remainder of his "term" until new elections are held in September. This closely matches a "suggestion" made to Mubarak by a diplomat sent by Secretary Clinton and President Obama.

But what is really happening? I noticed something fascinating about the coverage of this turn of events. Note the New York Times page above, "Mubarak Won't Seek New Term" with the almost after-thought subhead of "Opposition Demands He Leave Sooner." Now compare this to the front page of the Al Jazeera English webpage, the Qatar-based newspaper that helped ignite the wave of unrest sweeping the Middle East:

"Defiant Mubarak vows to finish term." What a difference of emphasis! So who's right? Is the NYT insinuating that diplomacy is successful -- or are they expressing the ambivalence of a historically pro-Israel newspaper which is fearful of an Egypt breaking free into uncharted territory? And Al Jazeera -- sensationalist? Or are they being more truthful, calling Mubarak's maneuver a last-ditch attempt to cling to keep his own ruling clique in power?

President Obama spoke today after Mubarak: "Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people....Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear -- and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak -- is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now."

As'ad abu Khalil of the Angry Arab News Service is having none of this: "As soon as I saw the defiant tone and substance of Mubarak's speech, I realized that he is not speaking for himself but for the US/Israeli sponsors. Israel erred before the Arab people by exposing her intense panic and fear from the prospect of an Arab democracy next door. Of course, Obama would take note and he consulted with his key adviser on the Middle East, Netanyahu. I just read the speech by Obama: it confirmed my suspicion, that basically Mubarak was permitted by the US to do with the Egyptian people as he would like... The speech by Obama was a not-so-coded language that let Mubarak do what he wish: the talk about transition means that he was basically told to stay in power, because Israel really freaked out at the prospect of Egypt without Mubarak."

So Obama says he abhors violence, and that the upcoming elections should be free and fair. But does this mean anything at all if Mubarak is allowed to remain at the helm for the next seven months? What does it mean that American aid will continue to flow to the military machines of the region: to Egypt, to Israel, to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia, to Yemen. The trail of money and weapons is visible to all: it's certainly visible to the protesters in Egypt. Isn't it hollow of Obama to say he abhors violence if he continued to fuel the threat of violent repression against the region's protesters?

According to AP, Mubarak's "speech was immediately derided by protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Watching on a giant TV, protesters booed and waved their shoes over their heads at his image in a sign of contempt. "Go, go, go! We are not leaving until he leaves," they chanted. So maybe there's the answer.

[By the way I have alluded to the role of Israel in all this. From an article by Reuters about the reaction of the Israeli media to the Egyptian events: "One comment by Aviad Pohoryles in the daily Maariv was entitled "A Bullet in the Back from Uncle Sam." It accused Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of pursuing a naive, smug, and insular diplomacy heedless of the risks. Who is advising them, he asked, "to fuel the mob raging in the streets of Egypt and to demand the head of the person who five minutes ago was the bold ally of the president ... an almost lone voice of sanity in a Middle East?" That's pretty clear!]

It might not be clear who will emerge out of the protests to challenge Mubarak for leadership -- but it's certainly clear that the tightrope being walked by the U.S. is getting thinner and thinner.