April Ramblin’

Fun Interpretation of the Google Books Settlement

What I love about my Bible study: we talk a LOT about current affairs. Part of the conversation recently, in reading the 23rd Psalm, was “What IS evil?’ One of the examples I thought of was the deliberate misrepresentation of the truth with the intent to incite.

We also were distressed about the new Arizona immigration law Two thoughts on that. Remember the Sun City (video) album from the 1980s? Sun City was the resort town in South Africa, which, during apartheid came to symbolize the difference in conditions for blacks and whites. On that album was the song, Let Me See Your ID (video).

The other thing is that famous quote by theologian Martin Niemöller
“THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
Having been profiled one or twice (yeah, right), this really disturbs me.
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MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow: FOX News, GOP further ‘the un-mooring of politics from fact’ (video)
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Gunn High School Sings Away Kansas Hate Group known as the Westboro Baptist Church (video).
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The vengeance of Bernie Goldberg on the Daily Show (Link to video). I don’t recall Goldberg being quite so wack when he was on CBS.
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Plaque in honor of activist William Moore unveiled. He was a civil rights activist from around my hometown of Binghamton, NY, who was murdered in Alabama in 1963. The local branch of the Congress of Racial Equality, with which my father worked, was named after him. It even rhymed: The William L. Moore chapter of CORE.
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Very soon, you can listen to the sounds of the cosmos yourself. All of the data from the SETI program will soon be available at setiQuest.org to download or play.
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New national park quarters unveiled: U.S. Mint debuts designs for the first five coins in its America the Beautiful Quarters Program, which will honor 56 national parks. The rest will be released through 2021. I probably WON’T collect them; still haven’t found most of the 2009 quarters.
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MAD Artist Jack Davis’ Illustrations of NBC’s 1965-66 Season for TV Guide is really cool, especially if you remember the shows, which I do.
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Angelina Jolie is in the summer movie I can’t wait to see, Salt, which was filmed in part in Albany, NY. The filming caused massive traffic delays for days.
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Siren’s Crush Receives Rave Reviews from NAMM (short video). This is my niece’s group; Rebecca is the brunette female.
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My friend Deborah, who I met in 1977 in Manhattan, and who’s been living in France for the past quarter century, recently bought a beautiful old stone house in Brittany with a plan of partly financing the loan by renting it out as a holiday home.

The Kan ar Vouac’h website and its listing on VRBO are finally done, and she’s hoping to be putting the final touches on buying the final necessaries over the month of May.

I’m told it’s a lovely and reasonable place to stay in Brittany.
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Retiree Bathtub Test

During a visit to my doctor, I asked him, “How do you determine whether or not a retiree should be put in an old age home?”

“Well,” he said, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the retiree and ask him or her to empty the bathtub”

“Oh, I understand,” I said. “A normal person would use the bucket because it is bigger than the spoon or the teacup.”

“No” he said. “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”

ROG

The Confederacy? WTF

OK, I was on the road and I somehow missed this: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell proclaims Confederate History Month, for which he later (sort of) apologizes. The President of the United States (psst! he’s BLACK, so OBVIOUSLY, he has a racist agenda) upbraids the governor for leaving slavery out of the equation. Certain right-wing pundits kvetch: “My God, they’re talking about slavery AGAIN? Why can’t they let it go?”, oblivious to the inability of others to let go of a cause that one could reasonably consider sedition. There is an article in Salon which addresses this. I was particularly fond of this comment: “History has a peculiar habit of becoming revisionist drivel when it comes to culture & politics. Romanticized to the point of nausea, even dark days are brightened with an artificial hue.”

The best discussion of this phenomenon appeared even before the McDonnell proclamation. Once more, I must point you to Bill Moyers while I still can; he’s going off the air soon. Specifically, the show broadcast on the anniversary weekend of Martin Luther King’s death, which reflected on his legacy.

“Two talented lawyers who’ve dedicated their careers to fighting inequality, Michelle Alexander and Bryan Stevenson, join Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL to examine justice and injustice in America 42 years after King’s death.”

Specifically to this point about race in America:

BRYAN STEVENSON: Other countries that have confronted historic problems of racism and gross ethnic conflict have recognized that to overcome that, there has to be a period of truth and reconciliation. In South Africa, they had to go through truth and reconciliation. In Rwanda, there had to be truth and reconciliation. In this country, we’ve never had truth and we’ve never had reconciliation. And so, the day to day reality for the clients where I work, the people I work with is one that’s still hurt, angry, broken.

I keep hoping for that “conversation about race” we’ve been promised, so we CAN “get over it.” This seemed obviously to be great opportunity. Yet I’ve seen from more than one quarter that the idea about bringing up the slavery issue is merely liberals being (eye roll) “politically correct”. Not to be confused with “historically correct”, or “factually correct.”

The lawyers make some other interesting points. Much of the conversation after Obama’s election was that “we HAVE overcome”, that the struggle with racism was over, something I always thought was a lot of bunk.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER:…I think individual black achievement today masks a disturbing, underlying racial reality. You know, to a significant extent…affirmative action, seeing African Americans…go to Harvard and Yale, become CEOs and corporate lawyers…causes us all to marvel what a long way we have come.

But…much of the data indicates that African Americans today, as a group, are not much better off than they were back in 1968. When Martin Luther King delivered his…”The Other America” speech.

And interesting observation about terrorism – and some, though by no means all of these groups who idealize the antebellum South, seem to be attracted to a violent fringe element in this country.

BRYAN STEVENSON:…older people come up to me, and they say, “Mr. Stevenson, I’m tired of hearing how we’re talking about– we’re dealing with terrorism for the first time in our nation’s history.” They were antagonized by the rhetoric around 9/11. They would come up to me and they’d say, “Mr. Stevenson, I grew up with terrorism. We had to worry about being bombed. We had to worry about being lynched. We had to live in communities close to each other, because the threat of violence was constant…

Ms. Alexander has written a book about The New Jim Crow, not that dissimilar to the old Jim Crow.

MICHELLE ALEXANDER: …just a couple decades after the collapse of the old Jim Crow system, a new system of racial control emerged in the United States. Today, people of color are targeted by law enforcement for relatively minor, nonviolent, often drug-related offenses. The types of crimes that occur all the time on college campuses, where drug use is open and notorious. That occur in middle class suburban communities without much notice, right?

Targeted, often at very young ages, for these relatively minor offenses. Arrested, branded felons, and then ushered into a parallel social universe, in which they can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in many of the ways in which African Americans were discriminated against during the Jim Crow era…

The Reagan Administration actually hired staff whose job it was to publicize crack babies, crack dealers in inner city communities, in the hope that these images would build public support for the drug war and persuade Congress to devote millions of more dollars to the war.

So that it was possible to convert the war from a rhetorical one into a literal one. It was part of a larger political strategy. And once the media became saturated and our public consciousness began to associate drug use and drug crime with African Americans, it’s no surprise that law enforcement efforts became concentrated in communities defined by race as well.

BRYAN STEVENSON: The reality is, is that in poor communities, the police do raids all the time. I’ve worked in communities where the SWAT team comes and they put up a screen fence around the public housing project. They do searches. They stop people coming in and out. There are these presumptions of criminality that follow young men of color.

And whenever they’re someplace they don’t belong, they’re stopped and they’re targeted. And so– and because you don’t have the resources actually to create privacy and security, you’re much more vulnerable to prosecution… we could do the same thing, but middle class communities, elite schools in this country would not tolerate drug raids from federal law enforcement officers and police. Even if there’s drug use.

And so, there is this way in which resources and economic status actually makes you more vulnerable to criminal arrest and prosecution. And it becomes a self-fulfilling story. So that when I walk down the street in the wrong kinds of clothes, if I’m in the “wrong place,” there’s a presumption that I’m up to something criminal.

It goes on, but the point is that the “good old days” of the 1950s, or the 1850s, weren’t that good for some. Certainly the antebellum South holds no warmth in my heart. The lawyers on Moyers also describe how poor and middle-class whites are manipulated to see blacks as, if not the enemy, then at least people to be suspicious of, a deliberate manipulation going back to Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy”, then perfected by Ronald Reagan. They argue that the huge growthin the prison population makes us less safe, not more.

I mention all of these other issues because I believe these aren’t just individual events, bloopers of a thoughtless politician or pundit, but rather a pattern of racial insensitivity that needs to be continually looked at in the broader context.

ROG

Claudette Colvin


Claudette gave all of us moral courage. If she had not done what she did, I am not sure that we would have been able to mount the support for Mrs. Parks.

–Fred Gray, Alabama civil rights attorney

When I attended the Underground Railroad Conference at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY on February 27, the participants were treated to a performance by the group the Matie Masie Ensemble, who blended spoken word and song with African and jazz music. This particular series of story-songs included a narrative about a 15-year-old young black woman named Claudette Colin, who, nine months before Rosa Parks’ act of defiance, “refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus the same and was arrested for violating segregation law, disorderly conduct, and assault.”

So, as the Matie Masie narrative asks, Why does Rosa Parks get all the credit? What about Claudette?

She wasn’t considered the right symbol. She was young, impulsive, occasionally loud, wore her hair in cornrows rather than straightening it. It didn’t help that she subsequently got pregnant from “what she said was a non-consensual relationship.”

Rosa Parks, by contrast, was a good middle-class woman of a certain bearing with the right hair and the right look who would be a much better symbol for the Montgomery bus boycott.

However Claudette is part of legal history. It was four women… — Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith — who served as plaintiffs in the legal action challenging Montgomery’s segregated public transportation system.

In their case — Browder v. Gayle — a district court and, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation on buses.

There’s a 2009 book on Claudette Colvin by Philip Hoose which tells this underreported part of the story.
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Civil Rights in America: Racial Desegregation of Public Accommodations

ROG

Two Sides to the Same Racial Rhetoric

There’s a lot of noise that’s been made this week about comments made about Barack Obama, by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over a year ago, and by former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. To my mind, they are just two sides of the same coin.

Reid, it is reported in a book, referred to Obama as a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” It’s in the same category as Joe Biden’s 2008 description of Obama as “clean and articulate.” Whereas Blagojevich suggests that he is blacker than Obama in a recent interview.

What Reid (and Biden) were saying is is that they were comfortable with Obama because he is more like them than other black people they have known. They are more comfortable with someone like that. I think they were speaking the truth, but the truth is not politically comfortable. And I dare say that much of the United States felt the same way; Obama was not a “scary black man” who sounds like – heaven help us! – Jesse Jackson, so we can vote for him and pat ourselves on the back about just how enlightened and “colorblind” we are.

Blago was questioning the AUTHENTICITY of Obama’s blackness, that there is a checklist of things that makes a “real” black man, from the way he talks to the beliefs he has. Hey, Obama plays basketball and likes jazz; shouldn’t that count for something?

It was the Blago remarks that affected me more personally. There seemed to be this notion, at least when I was growing up, that certain features signified a real blackness. My father used to make a point of my sisters and me speaking “traditional” American English, not some sort of Ebonics. This worked well in surviving growing up in my predominantly white, Slavic neighborhood. It wasn’t as successful in dealing with some of the black kids who would mock my bookish ways and my “white” way of talking. Heck, some of the white kids that hung out with the black kids would suggest that they were “blacker” than I was, because they talked “ghetto”; some of them would put their tanned arms next to mine to check THAT aspect as well.

I mean, I listened to Motown and Atlantic, but I was fans of the Beatles and folk music and classic music. There seemed to be these rules that “authentic” black people could only like certain kinds of of music. That lineage of blues, r&b, soul to hip hop and rap were OK. Classical was not. Neither was rock, which made NO sense to me, since rock and roll evolved from blues and R&B. The artists that performed the outre music like Dionne Warwick (pop), Charley Pride (country) and Jimi Hendrix (rock) weren’t considered “black enough” by some folks, and this really ticked me off.

There was this Red Cross training event at Manlius, NY near Syracuse. I went as my high school’s representative. On the penultimate evening, there was a talent show. I got on stage with a pick-up band, and everyone thought I was going to sing. Instead, I got out a comb and a piece of paper and played a couple minutes of blues riffs. I got a standing ovation; it was one of my favorite moments in my life. The next day, everyone was signing photos and booklets. This one young woman signed my booklet,m on the back, “You’re a nice guy, but you’re no soul brother.” You could have taken a baseball bat and hit me in the solar plexus, then hit me again, and again, and I doubt it would have hurt as much as that one sentence did. I probably looked at that piece of paper periodically for the next couple years, and if it has left my possession, it’s because I lost it, not thrown it away. The ultimate lesson, I suppose, was that I couldn’t worry myself with being “black enough”.

My (condescending, black) godmother died about a decade ago. A year or two before that, I saw her for the first time in many years at the (black) church in which I grew up. She asked me what church I was going to in Albany, and I told her. “That’s a WHITE church, isn’t it? ” I said, “predominately.” There was a point when her disapproval could, and did, really wound me, but not by thast point, fortunately.

There seems to be these periodic calls for “racial dialogue in America”. Yet the Reid comment, which seems to me like a pretty good opportunity, was was largely quashed with an apology and “let’s move on.” I found it particularly interesting to hear conservatives like Lynn Cheney trying to make the most hay about this, and me ending up largely agreeing with George Will. Premise: almost certainly, the color of his skin and the way he speaks made some people more comfortable with Obama. Discuss.

That said, I’ve become increasingly convinced that what’s made Obama “not scary” has also made him possibly less effective as President. I’ve heard those on the left say he should be cracking heads to get the Democrats in line on health care, and those on the right say he should be taking names over the Christmas near-airline disaster. I think it’s not affectation but self-training that has made Obama preturnaturally calm. He HAS the office; maybe it’s time, if he can, to get just a little bit scarier.

ROG

Truth, or a Variation on the Same

This is one of those breakfast blogs Dan VanRiper said I write.

The New York Times recently ran a story about how Rosa Parks WASN’T =the first black person to protest treatment on the bus. How did these others get ignored by history? Because history is arbitrary and not generally 100% accurate. And as a friend of mine put it, “Food for thought about figureheads…Teenagers don’t get respect!”

Jackie Robinson was not the first black to play major league baseball, only the first one in several decades, which does not at all diminish his breakthrough. Meanwhile, the black players who reintegrated the NFL, friends of Robinson, BTW, are all but forgotten, or were until this recent Sports Illustrated story. Even if you’re not a sports fan, read it, if you haven’t. One writer has suggested these players ought to be in the football hall of fame.

My wife, who teaches English as a Second Language, tells me that sometimes only the primary teacher in a classroom is considered the “real” teacher by some students, whereas the specialists (ESL, speech) are though of more like teachers’ aides. This is particularly true when the primary teacher is a male and the specialist is a female, and all of the specialty teachers in her schools are women. Stereotypical gender roles, even in our “enlightened” 21st century, come creeping back.

I’ve mentioned that when I was my daughter’s age and in the hospital for an uncontrollable bloody nose, I was slackjawed to discover a male nurse and a female doctor; even at five and a half, I could be surprised that the world wasn’t as I expected it to be.

I was listening to the podcast KunstlerCast #90: The Demise of Happy Motoring this week. The host, Duncan Crary, didn’t know that “Happy Motoring” was a catchphrase of Esso gasoline (later Exxon). Duncan told Jim Kunsler said he’d Google the phrase, and I ended up doing the same. Apparently, Esso tried to be culturally diverse in its ads. Here are the Esso logo morphing into folks from the British Isles, and, showing some real stereotypes, these American folks.

Here’s 18-and a half minutes of sharp political commentary. Eighteen-and-a-half minutes? Shades of Rose Mary Woods!

There seems to be no clear consensus on the meaning of Boxing Day.
ROG