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We Have to Build the Future Out of the Past

(Drew Kadel points out an omission in this piece about the need for a strength of values in comments: 

“It’s important to own our own values, to know why we hold them and to have the character to hold those values in the face of opposition… you are discussing having integrity while loving people who do bad things… love (can) become sentimentalized and involve letting people off the hook (“Give him another chance”, “He’s really a good guy underneath, he doesn’t mean to always beat me”)… in loving those who violate our values, it’s important to know those values and keep them front and center. If empathy with self-pity becomes sympathy with self-pity we spiral down into moral vacuity.” Thank you for catching this, Drew!)

Science suggests to me this article may be doomed. This is because this article is about the best supported strategies for changing people’s minds, and I’m relying on facts, which studies show may be the least effective strategy.  But there’s little more I can do than give you this truth, and hope you can make it emotionally real for you. And that idea is this: we must give love to those whom the gods put in our paths. I am agnostic about who or what you call the gods. I am fundamental about love, and that love is truth.

Amongst my friends (and family) I’ve counted people who kill for money, drug dealers, criminals living on the run, fucked up teenagers, Ren faire runaways, alcoholics, rapists, alcoholic rapists, more people who kill for money (but also get praised for it), employees who routinely break monopoly law, homeless psychotics, an FBI agent, a whole troop of gutter punks, a couple of private investigators, several delinquent parents, sex addicts, a passel of sociopaths, people cheating on their spouses, and probably a bunch more ne’er-do-wells I can’t think of right now. And, of course, a lot of idiot hackers. Almost everyone I know enacts violence on the world. As Americans, we don’t even get a choice in that. The fact of our very lives is used as a justification for endless wars and global plunder. I have a friend who moved to Spain so that he could say at least his tax dollars didn’t go to fuel that violence, even if his existence still does — a choice few have the advantages or courage to make.

Most of my more reprehensible friends hide the things that make people hate them, but I have one who flaunts his worst qualities. I know him as weev. I know him from the hacker scene, and since being jailed and released he’s become famous for publicly embracing neo-nazi ideology. I talk about being friends with weev not because I’m proud of being friends with weev in particular, but because I believe I should model publicly the behaviors that I want others to take up, and this is one of them. I want other white people to be friends with the weevs, racist relatives, and bigoted co-workers in their lives. I want people to reach out to the abusive toxic men and senior executive vice presidents in their lives, because it’s the most scientifically sound way that we fight bad ideas. White people can fight white racism, men can fight toxic masculinity, we all can oppose the evil ideas that harm us. It doesn’t stop with race and gender. I want rapists to be confronted by their friends, and alcoholics to be held accountable by people who love them. I want sociopaths to find people who can be their moral compasses when they can’t build their own. Sometimes it means you can be that compass for a broken person. Doing that means you reduce the harm they do to others by standing in the way of people you care for.

At the moment it is popular to say that the only allowable engagement with poisonous thinking is intellectual: arguments and statistics, emotions restricted to admonition and demands for better behavior. But this approach is a failure, and we see that failure on every level. Study after study show that facts, statistics, and news reports only entrench people’s existing beliefs, whether those beliefs are in truth or lies.

The engagement that works is a combination of personal connection, empathy, reciprocity, and then, only then, high quality information. If it sounds like you’ve probably got to care about the person, invest in them, then you’re right, you do. That means you can’t do it with everyone on Facebook or Twitter. For me, my community is technology and science. That means it’s largely white, male, and full of hidden and overt racism and sexism. I have three choices: leave my community, ignore these faults in my community, or engage with the people who have these terrible false beliefs. Sometimes it means marshaling facts in passionate arguments, but over dinner and drinks, not verbal sparring in front of a soi-disant audience. Sometimes you do this for months or years. Sometimes it means letting someone see how much their beliefs hurt you. I’ve walked out of the room openly sobbing because of a friend who insisted on a racist stance. I’ve confessed to my own pain and humiliation as a woman while a crowd looked on. But mostly it’s not that dramatic, it just means being a thorn, always prickly about it, just bringing up that thing you’re not supposed to talk about. Sometimes when you fight with one person, another person who cares for you watches, and something in that second person’s soul begins to shift. Sometimes you don’t know for years and a friend buys you a coffee one day, and tells you that you changed their life.

Sometimes you’ll never get to know.

Healing communities takes practicing community. Just being difficult isn’t enough on its own, or Twitter would have fixed all our social ills years ago. When you start from the point of having things in common, and build on it by giving things to each other, even if it’s no more than a meal, it becomes much harder to talk about something like sexism or racism. That feeling is key, that feeling is what you’re looking for. When confrontation becomes difficult, awkward, and distressing, it means you’re invested. That’s the moment to bring it up, that’s when it’s going to matter the most. Being genuine in that moment, and confronting false beliefs, is so much harder than making an argument online or pointing at research on its own. You need to have those things in hand, but you also need to have skin in the game. That is how you kill the racism, without killing the racist. It’s how you take the toxic out of masculinity. This — and education — are the only things that work. Even if you wanted to solve the problem by killing the bad people, it doesn’t scale. That’s a blood-soaked fantasy world, and the world has soaked in enough blood already.

Shunning, like violence, often entrenches false beliefs. When we reject a person we’ve known, especially without any personal confrontation or explanation, it seems like betrayal. This only pushes that false belief farther into the world, where it can grow and do more harm.

What I have found is that listening, confrontation, and love are the most effective ways to fight the lies someone you care for is telling themselves.

The first part of facing another person’s false beliefs is to listen. Not quietly — actively. Ask questions, and stop them when you don’t understand and seek clarity. Be ready to hear anything, or the other person will hold back. Somewhere in their story of how they came to a poisonous perspective you will find out what scared them. That moment — or moments, is always there. There is always a toxic core of shame and fear. They’ll tell you where they got the belief, and why they feel they need it. Sometimes even that simple articulation can start to unwind that deadly core. Be honest with how you feel in the process, while remembering that this isn’t about your feelings. No matter what you hear, never lose sight of the person you’re with, their pain, and their potential to exceed it.

Don’t be afraid to connect their beliefs with consequences in their lives. Hateful beliefs very often come with shameful moments, but speaking that shame can take its power away, especially when you’re still there after you’ve talked about it. You’re still holding on, and that’s key. If you’re going to tell them their belief is wrong, be ready with the evidence, but also be ready to affirm them as worthy of love, and be ready to help them imagine other futures beyond what they could have hoped for at the beginning of the conversation.

This is very rarely a single conversation. These are threads to be woven into every conversation, and pushed on, but only rarely to the point of exhaustion or tears, as much for your own sake as theirs. Keep coming back, keep unwinding the shame, keep affirming the love. Be ready to have this process change you in ways you don’t expect.

People I have confronted have confronted me back with my own shame, my own failings, and my own fears. When I learned to listen, two great things happened: I got to confront and clarify my own thinking, and I got to show my friends an example of someone changing and growing because of our friendship. They’ve called me a hypocrite and been right. When I’ve faced that, and seen to my own pain and fear and shame, they’ve given me the chance to change for the better myself.

When you can face your bigoted friend, and thank them for calling you on your bigotry, they may not be that far behind you for long. The project of becoming better people is something we do in community.

None of this is comfortable, and it’s likely to make people angry. I know this not just because of the data, because it made me angry too. Examining my own false beliefs has never been particularly fun, be they about how relationships work, or race, or class, or my own family. But doing this, and the people who helped me do this, gave me a strength that is not fragile, a capacity to love and seek truth that carried me through hell and back.

St Augustine said, “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” translated by Gandhi as: hate the sin and not the sinner. This beautiful phrase has been so often used as a put-down in recent years, but the sentiment it reflects saves worlds. When we’ve held false beliefs, succumbed to addictions, became sick in the mind and hated ourselves or others, the people who held us up did so by loving us and rejecting the lies we were clinging to, all at once.

In the case of my friend weev, I see a tragedy. I believe he is trying to strike out at the people who hurt him, but by propping up the same white supremacy that gave them their power in the first place. What he’s doing supports the very people who ordered violence on him, who took away his freedom, and tortured him. The same power structure that hurt him pays him a wage and gives him an attaboy now, as long as he keeps hurting people, just as he was hurt. The situation of his birth primed him to fall for a trick, and he did. He is falling for a con that’s been working in my country of birth for more than 400 years, and it hurts me to see it working again, still one person at a time, long after its original inventors are dead and dust. Torturing one group and then paying them to be guard labor over an even more tortured group is the first trick in the racism handbook.

It’s an effective lie, with its own life, and it’s hurting billions of people right now. But it is a lie. This false belief not only hurts the victims of racism, it hurts the people who hold the belief as well, robbing all of us of a future. It’s an angry and broken world that doesn’t realize there’s no point to the things we were taught to hate for. This idea keeps us fighting over scraps on a planet full of stunning abundance. I have sat with this thing all my life, and I have found it empty, hungry, and meaningless.

I have no need or desire to bring more hate and anger into this world. What’s more, I have science that can help me develop techniques to diminish the anger and hate that’s here now. Science, like all forms of truth, is a form of love.

We live for barely any time in the one tiny bit of the universe where we’ve found life. There’s no great other and opposite side in our fights, there’s only entropy, waiting to swallow everything we know back up into the chaos of the unaware and unfeeling universe. That we waste even a moment of our brief time hating each other is madness. But we do, and it’s a madness we have to deal with. Stop hating people, there’s no time for it, no possible rhyme or reason to it. Fight people’s false beliefs about the world, because they threaten not only to kill us, but also to make our extraordinary existence trivial and rob the meaning from our lives.

When we sit with our white supremacists and our addicts and abusers, we sit with our own flaws. If it weren’t so then they wouldn’t be any scarier than the open sky, or gravity, or a gun on the table, or getting old. The flaws that make us so angry are the ones that seem so close to eating us, an anger that feeds on us and turns us, like vampiracism for violence. We are not afraid of the other when we look at broken people, we are afraid of looking at ourselves and seeing the other, and then tearing ourselves apart.

Patriarchy, genders, whiteness and blackness were born as the abused children to first aristocracy, and then colonialism. They were set to fight for centuries. This is our legacy. My life, my existence and circumstance, is the product of genocide and rape, and most likely, so is yours. We all came from victims and aggressors, from slaves and slave masters going back thousands of years. Humans have been marking time in blood very possibly from the decline of all the other hominids. Now we have smart phones and social media and regularly look at ourselves from space. We watch movies about superhero powers and fractured families, and I think it’s no mistake. This is the myth of the truth of the moment — that we are powerful beyond our own understanding, and broken and angry within our dysfunctional family.

Proceed with truth and love.


My work for Emptywheel is supported by my wonderful patrons on Patreon. You can find out more, and support my work, at Patreon.

[Photo by Piron Guillaume via Unsplash]

Another Kind of Recovery: Post-Maria Puerto Rico and Health Care Critical Infrastructure

I was away most of the last several weeks because I was recovering from surgery. I was lucky, not only because surgery fixed a life-threatening problem, but because I had IV bags and tubing for saline and pain medication.

lt doesn’t seem like this should be a big thing but it is for many critical health care situations. Imagine having major abdominal surgery, followed by days of post-surgery care. The pain could be debilitating without a continuous drip pain medication. Imagine the extra labor required to administer pain medication if automated IV drip feeds aren’t available.

Now imagine caring for an unconscious influenza patient suffering from dehydration. Imagine a ward filled with these patients, including children and elderly who may be difficult to hydrate by mouth. Imagine not having enough IV bags and tubing for a severe flu season.

No need to imagine this; hospitals have been dealing with this very shortage for more than a month. Some hospitals are administering Gatorade by stomach tube because they don’t have enough IV bags for hydration.

I hate to think of the challenges for patients in treatment for cancer and other long-term illnesses.

Why the shortage? It’s because Hurricane Maria affected the largest U.S. manufacturer of IV products. Baxter International’s three Puerto Rican plants make 44% of IV bags used in the U.S.

Most Americans aren’t aware 46% of Puerto Rico’s economy is manufacturing. Pharmaceuticals represent the lion’s share, including IV products. This industry represents 18,000 jobs, $40 billion in pharmaceutical sales, and $3 billion in federal tax revenues.

Hurricane Maria may have caused other pharmaceutical shortages. If so, production increases in other locations or substitutions remediated the effect. But there aren’t alternatives given IV products’ manufacturing concentration in Puerto Rico.

The Trump administration has done a pissy job handling post-Maria hurricane recovery in every respect. It almost looks personal, as if he’s punishing the island for a Trump-branded golf course’s failure.

But here’s the kicker: the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it’s done with emergency response in Puerto Rico. It’s pulling out though many residents are still without water and lights. Chalk it up to more bad faith on the part of this administration.

Why hasn’t the administration treated Puerto Rico’s pharmaceutical industry as critical infrastructure? The National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP) lists health care as critical.

Is it because former President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 21 (pdf) established the NIPP? Trump has systematically unwound 20 or more Obama policy directives to date.

Trump’s proven he could give a rat’s patootie about brown-skinned people. If Trump mentions Puerto Rico in his SOTU speech tonight he’ll call federal response a success. FEMA gave him a news peg with ample time for his speech writer to stuff it into tonight’s hypocritical bloviating. He counts on the mainland blowing off Puerto Rico now the way it has sloughed off the island’s thousand-plus hurricane-related deaths.

But with the IV products shortage and the ongoing flu season’s severity, this indifference isn’t affecting only Puerto Ricans. It may already have cost lives while increasing health care costs here in the continental U.S.

Heaven help the rest of us if we face a mass casualty event or a pandemic before we fix Puerto Rico — and Trump.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

Despite Bill Clinton’s famous catchphrase that he rode to two terms in the White House, and despite its echo in the 2016 campaign when Trump voters were described as acting out of “economic anxiety”, politics in the United States in my lifetime comes down, first and foremost, to racism. Yes, in Trump’s case and for most Republicans in office, there is a hefty dose of misogyny mixed in, but the animus against those who are not old, rich, white males unites their hatred.

Russia affected the 2016 contest. Clearly. But one of their primary tools was to stoke racial animus. Another huge impact on the actual outcome of the election was the outright suppression of minority votes by Republicans. It now appears that they may well have tipped the Wisconsin vote through suppression. And all those millions of votes for Trump, in the end, amount to nothing more than a huge endorsement of his outright racism. In the end, they came out on top with a little help from Republican policies expressly developed to prevent minorities from voting.

Trump is America’s racism unmasked and he would not be President if there weren’t a huge racist component to American culture today. The primary home for that racism is the Republican party.

The last few days have shown Trump revealing both his deep-seated racism and his cynical understanding that virtually his only support now is rooted in America’s racism. He tried his best to make his response to NFL protests be about the flag and patriotism. But that is most definitely NOT what Colin Kaepernick was protesting when he started this movement in August of 2016:

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has willingly immersed himself into controversy by refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.

His latest refusal to stand for the anthem — he has done this in at least one other preseason game — came before the 49ers’ preseason loss to Green Bay at Levi’s Stadium on Friday night.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Making matters even worse, NFL teams and even billionaire NFL owners–the very parties responsible for Kaepernick still not being on a roster despite abysmal quarterback play on several teams–came out with what some folks saw as admirable statements and actions in response to Trump calling for owners to “fire the sons of bitches” who kneel during the national anthem. The best response to that development came from Shannon Sharpe. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the entire statement, it is a thing of beauty and something that every American needs to hear:

So what are we to do?

First, those of us who carry the advantage of being old, white males who are at least comfortable if not rich must speak up every time there is an instance of racial injustice. Especially at the local level, when the police treat minorities without respect, make it known that this will not stand. Support larger groups that are working to promote racial justice.

But perhaps it is also worth taking look at our own lives. What aspects of our own lives help to perpetuate racial injustice? Even simple actions can accumulate. The next time you reconcile a credit card statement, take a look at your choices. Do you only eat at faceless chain restaurants? When was the last time you had a meal at a locally owned restaurant with a minority owner? Those are likely some of the best eating establishments in your town if you take the time to look around and try some new cuisines.

How about schools? Do you send your kids to private schools, most of which have been established to get around integration? Worse yet, do you send them to charter schools, which are set up expressly to take money away from public schools?

How about your place of worship? Is it integrated? Does it have any activities or programs aimed at racial justice?

One small action that I’ve decided to take is that I won’t watch another down of NFL football until Colin Kaepernick has been signed by a team.

Trump is the poster child for American racism, but we could all benefit from spending a little time thinking about our own roles both in how he came to be President and what we can do to make sure his sort never gets there again.

Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram Kendi

I’m on the road, which is great for reading, but not so much for writing. I just finished Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. It won the National Book Award for 2016. The citation reads:

Stamped from the Beginning turns our ideas of the term “racism” upside-down. Ibram X. Kendi writes as a thoughtful cultural historian, aware that he is challenging deeply held, often progressive assumptions. Using a masterful voyage through the history of U.S. political rhetoric, beginning with Cotton Mather and ending with hip-hop, he argues that even the most fervent anti-racists have been infected with that resilient virus. With his learning, he dares us to find a cure.

I always assumed that racist ideas arise from ignorance and hatred, or tribalism or some other source in individuals. Kendi says that first there was slavery, and then there were people who created justifications for slavery. When slavery was abolished the racist ideas persisted. There were plenty of people who benefited from using those racist ideas to exploit newly freed people for cheap labor. The ideas also proved useful in controlling the behavior of poor white people. There were plenty of people ready and willing to provide new versions of the old racist ideas, and many new ones.

Some of those people have names. Aristotle, for example, justified enslaving Caucasians from the north because the cold temperatures made them slow, stupid and ugly, and enslaving Africans because the hot temperature made them burnt and slow-witted, unlike the perfect Greeks; therefore slavery was justified. Then there was Gomes Eames de Zuzara, who wrote the first book about African slavery in 1452, explaining that the Africans were barbarians who needed to be saved into the right religion and civilized, and slavery was therefore a good thing. Others are nameless, the preachers, newspaper writers, authors, speakers, politicians and others who used their authority to spread poisonous ideas. The book is an intellectual and cultural history of anti-intellectual ideas and culture. Kendi describes a number of racist ideas and follows their twists and turns and the usually unavailing efforts to defeat them across the centuries in the US. In one chilling aside, he shows how these ideas formed the basis of anti-Semitic laws and theory in Nazi Germany. This is the subject of a new book, Hitler’s American Model, reviewed here by Jeff Guo.

If racist ideas could be stomped out by facts and reason, the results of the study of the human genome should have done the trick. Craig Venter, who led the project, said that his work showed that it is not possible to tell the “race” of a person by looking at the genone. The genes of humans are 99.9% the same. That didn’t stop the racists though: they announced that the different .1% was obviously the source of race and the superiority of white people, and they hired people to prove it. The idea of genetic differences cannot be eradicated.

The book forced me to think about how racist ideas are buried deep in my mind; about how African-Americans have been affected by and infected with racist ideas about themselves; about the relation between racism and other forms of prejudice; about the way these prejudices are used to create anger and hostility in our society; and much more. This wide range of ideas gives a good picture of the depth of Kendi’s work.

The idea that racist policy comes before the justification for racist policy is one thread that runs throughout the book. As Kendi shows, slavery came first, then the justifications for slavery. Race-based policies were in place, then came the justifications for race-based policies. This is the way many ideas we see in the world today came into existence. In economics, for example, trickle-down economics, an idea with roots in the 1890s, came back into common usage in the 1980s just in time to justify Reagan’s enormous tax cuts for the rich. It didn’t matter that it was laughably silly; it did its job of providing cover for people who benefited from the policy. Paul Krugman calls economic ideas like trickle-down zombie ideas, dead but on the move, eating brains. After reading Kendi’s book, I now think of racist ideas as zombie ideas, wholly false and known to be false, utterly unsupported by evidence and still eating brains.

I feel like I’ve spent my life unlearning ideas I somehow picked up along the way. Some of those ideas were deeply wrong, some stupid, and some irrelevant. Maybe there are billions and billions of galaxies, but what difference does that make in my life as compared with the idea that there are billions of stars as I first learned? There are other ideas that are wrong, and I acted on them and maybe hurt other people, and I wish I never had those wrong ideas or done those things.

Either way, carrying around wrong ideas is intrinsically bad. But how do I know which ideas are wrong, especially in areas in which I have no training or expertise? Let’s make that concrete with one of Kendi’s examples. Suppose in the mid-1860s I read Charles Darwins’s On The Origin of Species, and then read Herbert Spencer, who taught that human society evolves in the same way as fauna and flora. This led him and others to formulate what we now call Social Darwinism, another zombie idea used to justify racism. It led people to believe that white people were on top because they were the fittest, and Africans were at the bottom of society because they lost the battle; some even argued that the African population would die out completely in short order.

I ask myself if I would have had the strength of mind to reject Spencer and the racist implications of his misbegotten theory. Maybe I would have, but I don’t know. And that’s a problem. Today there are people who are paid to invent new justifications for racism, and their tactics are more and more sophisticated. It’s up to all of us to recognize them as the vicious lies they are, and try to stamp them out as they emerge. I just hope Kendi doesn’t have to add new chapters to his book to cover a new set of racist lies.

Ask Uncle Ed

Dear Uncle Ed,

I feel very, very badly for the people who are very scared for their way of life. From what I’m understanding, [Trump is] only really wanting illegal immigrants that have committed crimes to be deported, which I agree with. I feel bad for the lesbian and gay and transsexual community that fear for their way of life. From what I understand, he says he’s not going to mess with that.

Somebody called me a racist because I did vote for Trump. Hold on, you don’t know me. Doesn’t that make you a racist by calling me a racist when you don’t know me? I’m looking for a brighter future for me and my children, and honestly I felt l like our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.**

Signed, K.H. in AL

Dear K.H.

Uncle Ed is glad to see you acknowledge that lots of people are likely to be harmed by the election of Trump. As to immigrants, you are right to be careful in stating Trump’s position, because he has several. As to his position on the LGBT community, again, you may be quite right. Who knows?

But you seem to think the only issue is what Trump thinks. That’s just not true. Trump was elected as a Republican, and now the federal government is controlled by Republicans. As a group, they have repeatedly promised to get rid of immigrants, as did Trump mostly, and have relentlessly opposed decent treatment of immigrants who live here and their children born here or brought here. They support laws and rules treating the LGBT community as second class citizens.

You didn’t mention the risks facing African-Americans, who are already mistreated by the police, and treated unequally in education, safety and hiring. Trump calls himself the “law and order” candidate, which is Republican-speak for even more aggressive policing and mistreatment of Black communities.

You are offended that someone called you a racist. Uncle Ed is glad you don’t want to be thought of as a racist. But, here’s the thing. Your vote empowered known racists like Steven Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now a policy adviser in the White House. The Republican party will do its best to hurt immigrants, the LGBT community, and people whose religion or lack of religion they don’t approve, not to mention Blacks and Latinos.

Uncle Ed doesn’t know what’s in your heart. Uncle Ed doesn’t care. Uncle Ed cares about how you act. If you vote for a racist, if your vote emposers racists, then there is no functional difference between you and the most rabid KKK member in terms of the political outcomes for the outgroups. You are operationally a racist.

The most that can be said is that you are willing to accept racism if it makes your life better. That’s how you defend your vote. You claim just you want a brighter future for yourself and your children. As you put it: “…our country was kind of at risk if we did elect Hillary.” Again, what makes you different from self-acknowledged racists?

What about all the other minorities who will be harmed directly by installing racists in the White House and racism in Congress? You are willing to sacrifice all of them and their children. You are willing to deny them their claims to equal dignity and equal rights in whole or in part.

Equal dignity and equal rights are a crucial part of what it means to be an American. The Declaration of Independence says that all of us are entitled to equal dignity. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that all of us have equal rights under law. Those ideas, however imperfectly we have lived up to it, are the heart of our democracy.

Now, thanks in part to you, we are governed by a party that flatly doesn’t believe in that kind of equality. They are perfectly willing to ignore some or all the rights and interests of vast numbers of Americans. the LGBT community, women, Muslims, and who knows, maybe even white male coastal elites like Uncle Ed. They don’t think we are real Americans. They expect those despised groups to follow all their laws, to respect their politicians, and to pay taxes, but they do not intend to treat us equally in rights or dignity.

You violated a core American principle. It was thoughtless of you to act this way. Uncle Ed wishes you hadn’t. Calling you a racist seems like a mild reproof when you consider the likely consequences for millions of your fellow citizens. Uncle Ed hopes you continue to think about people other than yourself in the future, and refuse to vote for any politician whose first principle is to deny any of us our rights as Americans to equal dignity, and to be treated equally by our government.

¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬+++++++++++
* This is perhaps the first of an occasional series. I’ve been trying to figure out how to respond directly to the stated reasons people give to explain their vote for Trump. It’s mostly a way for me to justify my own position. I’ve been debating whether to post this, but today I saw the movie HIdden Figures, which helped me make up my mind.

Lefties, liberals, coastal elites, all of us are constantly told we need to understand and sympathize with the concerns of Trump voters. Trump voters are never told they must work to understand and sympathize with people who voted for the Democrat. In fact, Trump voters are told that liberals are their enemies, that we hate them and want to hurt them. Of course, they don’t read my posts, and I know I won’t ever persuade anyone that they made a terrible mistake. But I do wish they were forced to think about why those they believe are The Other might be so angry.

** This is quoted from this New York Times article.

Just Another Misogynist Monday

[What's her name? How hard is it to print her name? Isn't this Journalism 101 -- get the subject's name?]

[What’s her name? How hard is it to print her name? Isn’t this Journalism 101 — get the subject’s name?]

I’m not watching the Olympics on NBC. I see more than enough of the events in my social media feed that I don’t need to turn on the television. This post is based on the observations and media content shared online, an indicator of just how much content there is about the Olympics, both corporate and personal.

And I am SO glad I haven’t bothered to watch based on the persistent anger in my timeline. NBC’s coverage has been a bunch of sexist and racist nonsense, framing female athletes not by their performance but by the men or white family members in their lives.

Like noting a particular athlete became a mother since her last competition — gee, how many of the male athletes became fathers? The narrative NBC built around each woman competitor sounds more like an observation of their performing femininity. “She’s turned in the best time and look, she can still clean house and wear a dress!” Obnoxious.

Or in the case of Simone Biles, a woman of color, about whom NBC’s Al Trautwig feels compelled to note she’s adopted. He cannot simply talk about Biles’ gymnastic performance or the family who came for her as her parents.

Other U.S. media covering the Olympics don’t do any better, like this ridiculous bullshit from The Chicago Tribune and USAToday. First this internationally-recognized athlete is not named but identified as the spouse of non-Olympic male athlete — then half-assed corrections revealing her name still ensure she’s pegged as a man’s wife. Are you kidding me with this?

[Because the Chicago Bears figure largely to the Olympics...]

[Because the Chicago Bears figure largely to the Olympics…]

The Washington Post criticized NBC’s coverage this weekend, but the columnist made her own sexist dig in doing so by calling it “paperback romance novel approach.” Can you say “internalized oppression”? This merely reinforces the marginalizing pink ghetto-ization of genre literature which for women offers subversive escape.

The rationalization for NBC’s craptastic framing as offered to WaPo:

Women don’t watch the Olympics for the live results; they watch it for the narrative. Or that’s the reasoning of NBC, anyway. As the network’s chief marketing officer John Miller explained:

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” he told Philly.com recently. “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”Women don’t watch the Olympics for the live results; they watch it for the narrative. Or that’s the reasoning of NBC, anyway. As the network’s chief marketing officer John Miller explained:

“The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans,” he told Philly.com recently. “More women watch the games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

“Less interested in the result” — yeah, that’s why so many women in my timeline were holding their breath as they waited for gymnasts’ scores, or flailing on keyboards as swimmers sped toward the end of the pool. They do care, deeply and intensely, about the results of each sport.

But they don’t care for propping up men — oh, look, this swimmer co-parents with his med student wife, and wow, this guy was responsible for this woman’s swimming medal — at the expense of women.

We are not things. We are not your wallpaper or props. We are not accessories to men’s or white people’s lives. We don’t need your white and/or male validation to affirm our existence. We are competitors who work fucking hard to meet others as committed to sports as we are. We are viewers who appreciate the competitors’ respect and commitment to sport and want to see the field strive hard and the best win.

The fact that we have been born with a vagina or different skin color should be irrelevant to corporate content.

I’ll do a daily roundup later today. Get your sports talk out here in thread. ~R

Friday: How It Begins

I was half way through a post yesterday when a friend in the UK told me a member of Parliament had been killed by a fascist.

An assassination, I thought at that moment, unable to write another word for my post. How many times has an assassination kicked off a horrible chain of events?

I hoped and prayed as best a lapsed Catholic can that the murder of MP Jo Cox by a man shouting, “Britain First!” was not the beginning of something dreadful. Research says it’s less likely than if an autocratic figure had been killed, but who can really say with certainty?

We won’t know for some time if this was a trigger event for something else, though it did set off a cascade of stomach-turning crap. So many media outlets referred to politician Cox’s death by a political fanatic as something other than an assassination. Really? Would Cox have been targeted had she not been a pro-EU unity supporter? Would the assassin — characterized by so many euphemisms as mentally ill — have killed her had he not been rabidly anti-EU and racist, impelled by ramped-up anti-EU rhetoric in advance of the EU-Brexit referendum?

And the disparity in coverage between [lone white gunman suspected of mental illness] and [armed terrorist—labeled so because they’re not white]? Beyond disgusting. The racism is all the more obvious. The public is conditioned by media’s implicit bias to expect and accept the lone white gunman, but never the dark-skinned person bearing a weapon. The accused must have sympathized with white nationalism, irrespective of country, having bought his firearm components from U.S. neo-Nazis more than a decade ago. The description of his attack on Cox is chilling — it was a cold political execution, not just some wildly insane flailing without care for the outcome.

The world lost someone very special when Jo Cox died yesterday. Someone who lived progressive values out in the open, modeling a better way for us. Don’t kid yourself this was just a crazed man acting alone when white nationalist politicians like Nigel Farage believe “violence is the next step” if angry constituents feel they’ve lost control.

And don’t fool yourself into believing this was an isolated event occurring in a vacuum.

Today’s Friday jazz is a performance of She’s Crying for Me by the Yorkshire Jazz Band, in honor of Jo Cox’s home county.

A note on hacking stories
The breach of the DNC’s computers is one of a number of stories over the last several years following a pattern: the breach is attributed to one entity and then yet another entity, while the story itself has a rather interesting point of origin. Initial reports may say the hackers were affiliated with [nation/state X] and later reports attribute the hacking to [unaligned third party Y] — or a variation on this order — a key characteristic is the story’s immaculate birth.

Try looking for yourself for the earliest story reporting the hacking of the DNC. Who reported it and when? Who were the original sources? Did the story arise from a call to law enforcement or a police report, and a local beat reporter who gathered named eyewitnesses for quotes? Or did the story just pop out of thin air, perhaps simultaneously across multiple outlets all regurgitating the same thing at the same time?

My point: Be more skeptical. There’s an adage in reporting, drummed into journalism students’ heads: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Three examples of manipulated opinion
Speaking of being more skeptical, bias manifests itself in all manner of ways and can be easily used for good or ill.

  • U.S. government and military orgs tricked into running ‘imposter code’ (Ars Technica) — Suckers didn’t perform due diligence on packages of code hosted at developer communities before running them. Gee, I wonder if any political parties’ personnel might have done the same thing…
  • GOP-led House waffles on HR 5293 surveillance bill because Orlando (HuffPo) — Ugh. Would this vote have been different this time if a lone crazed white gunman had shot up a bar? Sadly, we can’t tell based on the bill’s approval last year because the vote took place one day before Dylan Roof’s mass shooting in a Charleston church. Nor can we tell from the bill’s 2014 approval by the House because the mass shootings the week of the vote were just plain old run-of-the-mill apolitical/non-racist with too few fatalities.
  • Send manuscripts out under a man’s name = agents and publishers notice (Jezebel) — If you’re a woman you can be a great writer and you won’t get any nibbles on your manuscript — unless you submit it under a male name. Hello, implicit bias, much? This isn’t the only example, either.

Worthwhile long read
This commentary at Tor.com looks at the movie V for Vendetta, saying it’s “more important than ever,” in spite of the adaptation’s rejection by Alan Moore, author of the graphic novel on which this film was based. The essay was published this past Tuesday; read it now in light of Jo Cox’s assassination Thursday. A single event can change perception. This line alone now means something very different to me:

It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place. But for three years I had roses, and apologized to no one.

If time permits, I may slap up a post this weekend to make up for yesterday’s writer’s block. Otherwise I’ll catch you on Monday.

Reagan’s Republican Revolution and the Death of the American Dream

On August 3, 1980, Ronald Reagan delivered a watershed speech (pdf) as the presidential campaign entered its final three months. The most often-quoted passage of the speech is his siren call to states’ rights:

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

As William Raspberry noted on the occasion of Reagan’s death in 2004, both the call for states’ rights and the location chosen for delivering the speech had powerful racial overtones:

Philadelphia, county seat of Mississippi’s Neshoba County, is famous for a couple of things. That is where three civil rights workers — Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman — were murdered in 1964. And that is where, in 1980, Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan chose to launch his election campaign, with a ringing endorsement of “states’ rights.”

It was bitter symbolism for black Americans (though surely not just for black Americans). Countless observers have noted that Reagan took the Republican Party from virtual irrelevance to the ascendancy it now enjoys. The essence of that transformation, we shouldn’t forget, is the party’s successful wooing of the race-exploiting Southern Democrats formerly known as Dixiecrats. And Reagan’s Philadelphia appearance was an important bouquet in that courtship.

Raspberry rightfully notes the Southern strategy preceded Reagan, originating during the Goldwater and Nixon campaigns and he even noted that when considering Reagan, Raspberry “used to find myself almost believing he wasn’t truly responsible for the bad outcomes of his policies.” But the bottom line is that the movement Reagan catalyzed had horrific racial consequences. Even worse, the Reagan movement also initiated changes that in the intervening 36 years have resulted in the virtual destruction of the middle class and the transfer of most of America’s wealth into the hands of a very select few.

Even the pivotal Philadelphia, Mississippi speech sowed the the seeds for this destruction, as well. The very next paragraph in the transcript after the snippet quoted above shows how the process started:

I’m going to try also to change federal regulations in the tax structure that has made this once powerful industrial giant in this land and in the world now with a lower rate of productivity than any of the other industrial nations, with a lower rate of savings and investment on the part of our people and put us back where we belong.

Going back to look at the historical record on several fronts shows how these basic tenets of Reaganism from his Philadelphia speech resulted in massive institutional racism and the destruction of the middle class.

Racism

The powerful Republican dog-whistle of states’ rights was implemented in the Reagan era on many fronts, but is illustrated most succinctly when we look at data on imprisonment of Americans.

The figure below, from the Prison Policy Initiative, has been making the rounds recently as the Sanders and Clinton camps have argued over the effects of the 1994 crime bill passed during Bill Clinton’s first term: Read more

Hollywood Illiberal: The Entertainment Industry’s Misogyny and Society’s Broken Mirror

BrokenHollywoodIn a recent heated discussion I was told, “Hollywood is liberal.” That’s bullshit, I said.

“But the themes they use in their stories—they’re liberal,” they rebutted. Again, bullshit.

The proof is in the numbers. Hollywood is a backward institution, the leadership and ownership of which are overwhelmingly white and male.

Entertainment looks as bad if not worse than most other industries in the U.S., when diversity measurements are compared. The entertainment industry in no way resembles the public to which it sells its wares, whether in front or behind the camera.

For women, a majority of the population at 51%, the numbers are grim:

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
  • From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

[Source: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media]

Boldface above is mine; the numbers are beyond absurd when it comes to female directors. The Directors’ Guild of America has a folder (binder, if you’d rather) with the names of 1200 female directors. The Director’s List has collected the names of 1800 female directors, even larger than the DGA’s binder full of women.

But the number of women contracted by the major studios to make films is in the single digits?

That’s far from liberal by any stretch of the imagination.

The lack of women behind the camera distorts what the public sees before it:

  • Only 15% of all clearly identifiable protagonists were female (up 4 percentage points from 2011, down one percentage point from 2002), 71% are male, and 14% are male/female ensembles (see Figure 1).
  • Females comprised 29% of major characters, down 4 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.
  • Females accounted for 30% of all speaking characters (includes major and minor characters) in 2013, down 3 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.

[Source: It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013, Martha M. Lauzen, PhD, Center of the Study of women in Television and Film, San Diego State University (White paper, PDF)]

Nor does it appear to matter whether film or television, when looking at the composition of directors. White men hold nearly identical percentages of directors’ slots in either media.— roughly 70%.

What does a crowd with realistic, or even equitable representation of women look like? We can’t rely on Hollywood to show us, based on this data. Our societal mirror is broken, at the expense of our mothers, daughters, sisters, ourselves. Read more

“Stand Your Ground” Just Tip of Iceberg for Baxley’s Racism, Religious Intolerance and Gun Fetish

Dennis Baxley

The tragic murder of Trayvon Martin has focused attention on Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law sponsored originally by Representative Dennis Baxley, who is serving for a second time in a district just south of the one in which I reside. Baxley has long been a symbol of all of the wrongs that ultra-conservative Republicans in Florida represent.

During his first time in Florida’s House from 2000 until he was term-limited out in 2007, Baxley distinguished himself with his outright racism:

Baxley is currently a lonely voice opposing efforts to drop the state’s official song, “The Old Folks at Home.”

A compromise eventually revised the lyrics to remove the most offensive portion and added a state anthem. Here is what Baxley didn’t want removed:

Oh! darkeys, how my heart grows weary,

Far from de old folks at home.

As if that were not enough, Baxley had another racist project at the same time:

Baxley is also advocating a new specialty license plate that would showcase the Confederate flag, with proceeds going to a group he belongs to, the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Baxley, NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer and the NRA teamed with ALEC to spread “Stand Your Ground” to 21 states. But “Stand Your Ground” is just one of several gun bills Baxley has developed. On his website he also touts a bill that ” eliminated the prohibition on firearms in national forests and state parks”. He also sponsored a bill that would have allowed employees to bring their guns to work, but it was defeated in committee in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Baxley’s image among Florida Republicans is that of an upstanding Baptist Sunday School teacher. He even spent his time out of the House leading Florida’s Christian Coalition, a position from which he spoke out in 2008 about Barack Obama’s exposure to Islam when he was younger:

“He’s pretty scary to us,” he said. “I think his Muslim roots and training — while they try to minimize it — it’s there.”

Asked what he meant, Baxley pointed to Obama’s childhood stint in Indonesia and his Muslim relatives.

/snip/

“That concerns me particularly in the period of history we are living in, when there’s an active movement by radical Muslims to occupy us,” Baxley said of Obama’s background. “That whole way of life is all about submission. It concerns me that someone rooted in those beginnings, how it might have affected their outlook. That’s what scary for me.”

Baxley’s fear of Obama’s potential “submission” to Islam is particularly ironic, given his complete submission to a distorted radical Christian fundamentalism and gun worship. Back in 2005, Baxley was especially deranged in trying to help David Horowitz fight against fictional persecution of fundamentalist conservatives in academic settings. In the process, Baxley’s bill would have set academic freedom back immensely (garbled formatting in article left as is): Read more