Saturday, December 29, 2012

Old white guy can't dance (yet) - Part 2

Advice for folks thinking about an exercise dance class:

1. Focus on the music, not the moves. They'll come.

2. To learn the moves, find a place where you can see the teacher. I recommend being toward the back of the room at a slight diagonal to the teacher. If you're near the front, get close to the center or you'll be completely lost whenever you turn.

3. If you can't see the teacher, pick a couple of students in the front rows who're good. Don't watch one student the whole time because you'll learn that student's weaknesses as well as strengths. Also, you might look like dancing isn't what's on your mind.

4. Take a water bottle and drink a lot. Dehydration makes you stupid.

5. No one cares if you sweat. That's why you're there. If you sweat a lot, keep a towel by your water bottle.

6. Don't worry about your weight. Muscle is heavier than fat, so you may gain weight while you're getting better.

7. Be aware of what you eat. Calorie-counting strikes me as an awful way to live, but it's useful to do for a few days to make you aware of how you're fueling your body.

8. Go easy. People hurt themselves badly by pushing their bodies too hard. Don't judge yourself by what you were able to do when you were younger or by what anyone else is able to do. Judge yourself by what your body is telling you. It's okay to drop out for a few moves or to leave early, so long as you keep coming back.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Old white guy can't dance (yet) - Part 1

I've been taking zumba and flashmob classes at the YWCA for a little over a month now. I'm awful, but I love it. Maybe I love it because I've embraced my awfulness. I dance being aware that if I'm the worst dancer in the room, I'm making everyone else look better, so my awfulness is a mitzvah, a small kindness for all the other dancers that costs me nothing 'cause I have fun.

It's taken a long time—57 years—for me to be comfortable with being awful in public. If I could tell my younger self anything, I would tell him to delight in looking bad, because that lets you do all the things you love.

And by doing them, you get better. Maybe not better than anyone else, but real competition is never with anyone else.

And while I'd hesitate to say I'm not still the worst dancer in the room, I do know a few steps now that newcomers take a while to learn.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

why do most women support feminism's goals and reject the name?

I found Poll: Women's Movement Worthwhile via Giving Feminism a Bad Name. The latter will infuriate middle-class feminists: it's written by a white male evolutionary psychologist. While I'm sympathetic to the occasional ad feminem 'cause ranters gotta rant, facts stay facts.

Like this:
In CBS’s nationwide random sample of 1,150 U.S. adults, 65% of women and 58% of men identified as feminist when an equal-rights definition was provided, but only 24% of women and 14% of men considered themselves feminist in the absence of a definition (Alfano, 2009, February 11).
When 17% of women think "feminist" is an insult and 12% think it's a compliment, the feminist movement has a serious problem. And blaming conservatives for what people think of feminism seems mighty silly now that most American men and women support equality for all men and women.

The problem with "feminism" are feminists. If any American dislikes egalitarians, I haven't heard about it. I'm sure there are some—the distrust of democracy by rich Americans goes back to the Founders—but my suspicion is Americans like people who identify as egalitarian because there's no ambiguity about whether you're arguing that women should be considered equal to men or better.

I often wonder if it matters whether you define yourself with adjectives or nouns. I would be reluctant to call myself a feminist, but if I ran into a macho jerk, I would happily use "feminist" as an adjective to clarify my belief. I like simple nouns that aren't ambiguous. You don't need to add "feminist" or "anti-racist" or "pro-gay" to "egalitarian". Either you believe in equal rights for everyone, or you don't.

Frankly, I think modern-day feminists are clinging to an old and noble word that's as useful today as "abolitionist". That fight has pretty much been won, but the gap between the rich and poor of all genders and hues continues to grow. Keep your eyes on the prize: a world of opportunity for all.

PS: Compare the popularity of "feminism" with "socialism", which conservatives hate also. In Democrats, Republicans Diverge on Capitalism, Federal Gov't, Gallup found that 39% of Americans have a positive reaction to socialism.

PS 2: She Can’t Sleep No More | Jacobin

PS 3: Equity and gender feminism - Wikipedia

PS 4: Shakesville: Explainer: What are Gender Feminists and Equity Feminists? is a fine example of how gender feminists claim equity feminists aren't real feminists, just like any religious sect claiming the other branches of its religion aren't real members of their faith. See The best God joke ever - and it's mine!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A bonus Christmas grab bag

I keep thinking Deborah Allen's "Rocking Little Christmas" should be more famous. I love it too much, probably because it really isn't about anything other than having fun with someone you especially like.

But for sensual secular Christmas songs, no one can top Eartha Kitt's "Santa Baby":

All I Want for Christmas Is... Jews -Faux Mariah Carey has a surprisingly profound insight: "They may have killed our savior; that's not the best behavior. That's okay, he rose three days later." Any Christian who ever heard, "The Jews killed Jesus," should've answered, "So what? He got better."

God bless us all, every one!
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

P.S. For a generally more spiritual grab bag of Christmas videos: A Christmas grab bag.

Herman Cain vs Adolph Reed Jr.

Adolph Reed Jr. is one of my favorite thinkers on race and class, maybe because he validated my more ignorant opinions on modern anti-racism and Hurricane Katrina. (And if that's proof I suffer from confirmation bias, well, who doesn't?)

But I was disappointed with The Puzzle of Black Republicans - I'd love to know if the Times encouraged him to downplay the class-based analysis I expect from him, of if he was simply focusing on a very narrow subject, so he wrote something that seems more simplistic than it is.

I wanted more of this:
But this “first black” rhetoric tends to interpret African-American political successes — including that of President Obama — as part of a morality play that dramatizes “how far we have come.”
Instead, he focused on the Republicans, so the rightwing pundocracy is frothing over the charge that black Republicans are tokens.

None of them noticed Reed's "including that of President Obama", who Reed was criticizing long before Obama became Prez. In 1996, Reed wrote this about Obama:
In Chicago, for instance, we’ve gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices: one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable credentials and vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program – the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle class reform in favoring form over substances.
Perhaps the most prominent complainer about Reed's Times piece is Herman Cain in The New York Times is a racist newspaper | CainTV.

I find myself in the very odd position of thinking this time, Cain is more accurate than Reed. Cain writes:
Since Professor Reed is also a black man, I wish him well in dealing with his obvious self-loathing. But he might learn a lot if he spent a little time moving in the circles I move in. He would meet lots of highly accomplished black men and women who have pursued their dreams in the capitalist system and have done exceedingly well. They vote Republican because they understand that free-market policies open up this same kind of opportunity for others.
The "self-loathing" is nonsense that may be Cain's dig at identity politics, but he is very right about one thing that Reed would agree with, I suspect: Race has nothing to do with the desire to be a capitalist or a king. For all the shortcomings of the Dems, who are as much a party of the rich as the Republicans, it's very true that the greediest of the rich know where their short-term self-interest lies. Rich black folks have every bit as much right to vote for Republicans as rich white folks do, and calling them race traitors for being true to their class is insulting and simplistic. If venting at rich folks makes you happy, insulting them is fine.

But if you want to understand power, don't be simplistic.

I would love to talk about this with Reed. My guess is that when he called Tim Scott a token, he wasn't doing it in the way identitarian Democrats would, to imply that black folks have an obligation to support Democrats. I think he was being more precise: Tim Scott is being used by cynical Republicans in the same way Obama is used by cynical Democrats. A political message sounds better in the 21st century coming from a dark-skinned speaker.

But when it's the same old message of giving more to the rich and less to the poor, having it promoted by a new spokesmodel shouldn't keep anyone from seeing that it's tokenism.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

it is always the season to forgive

There are petty reasons to forgive people—if you want to annoy your enemies or look like you're better than them, forgive them first and unconditionally.

There are selfish reasons—whether hating people is bad for your soul depends on your faith, but medical science says stress and anger will shorten your life.

There are practical reasons—nursing a hatred distracts you from more important things.

And there are wonderful reasons—forgiveness opens the possibility of a better world for everyone.

There are no bad reasons, so long as you know what forgiveness entails. It can't have conditions—that's a truce, not peace.

It may be the hardest task anyone can take on—every war proves that. But all great teachers know its importance.

The Gospel of Luke says, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

The Talmud says, "Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand."

The Qur'an says believers are people who "when they are angry they forgive."

Real Live Preacher on "Forgiveness":
Forgiveness does not always lead to a healed relationship. Some people are not capable of love, and it might be wise to let them go along with your anger. Wish them well, and let them go their way.

Whatever happens, forgiveness is good food for your soul.
Sufi teacher Hazrat Inayat Khan said, "The lover of goodness loves every little sign of goodness. He overlooks the faults and fills up the gaps by pouring out love and supplying that which is lacking. This is real nobility of soul. Religion, prayer, and worship, are all intended to ennoble the soul, not to make it narrow, sectarian or bigoted. One cannot arrive at true nobility of spirit if one is not prepared to forgive the imperfections of human nature. For all men, whether worthy or unworthy, require forgiveness, and only in this way can one rise above the lack of harmony and beauty, until at last one arrives at the stage when one begins to reflect all that one has collected."

The Sikhs' Adi Granth may say it best: "Where there is forgiveness, there is God Himself."

Maggie and Suzzy Roche - "Anyway":

"Bring em all in: - the Waterboys:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Chief Justice Roberts on the First Amendment and noblesse oblige

"The First Amendment protects against the Government; it does not leave us at the mercy of noblesse oblige." —Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court

John Ralston Saul on the weakening of democracy

"Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens."

Saturday, December 15, 2012

when Spike Lee called Samuel L. Jackson a "house slave"

Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' Reignites Debate Over N-Word In Movies - The Hollywood Reporter:
In 1997, Spike Lee took issue with the heavy use of the term in Jackie Brown, which was Tarantino’s homage to the blaxploitation films, as well as in his earlier works. 
“I have a definitely problem with Quentin Tarantino’s excessive use of the N-Word. And let the record state that I never said that he cannot use that word - I’ve used that word in many of my films - but I think something is wrong with him,” the director, one of America’s pre-eminent black filmmakers, said in an interview. Lee also compared the angry response of Samuel L. Jackson -- Tarantino’s lead in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown -- to his comments as "the house slave defending the massa." Incidentally, in Django, that is exactly the role Jackson plays, as the conniving slave looking out for DiCaprio.
There's something hypocritical about objecting to "nigger" and then calling a black man who does not shy away from the word a "house slave." I wonder if Lee's apologized, or if Jackson just continues to think of him as a twit.

As for any artist's use of any word, if the people you're writing about would've said something, let them say it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

One reason I love Sitting Bull

When Sitting Bull was touring with Buffalo Bill’s wild west show and talking to a crowd of visitors that included ragged adults and barefoot children, he said, "I know why your government hates me. I am their enemy. But why do they hate you?"

Monday, December 10, 2012

Upton Sinclair on art and propaganda

"All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda." —Upton Sinclair

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Upton Sinclair's advice to socialists is still good

"The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to "End Poverty in California" I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them." —Letter to Norman Thomas (25 September 1951)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

oppression vs exploitation, and the liberal limit on "classism"

From When we say "class", what are we talking about? |
The resolution of problem of “classism” is essentially liberal. This isn’t necessarily a criticism. In the here and now, I don’t want gay people to be discriminated against. But I’m basically demanding that liberal democracy does what it says on the tin and treats everyone as equal, sovereign subjects. The same goes for racism, sexism, etc. The culmination of these politics is formal and informal equality as liberal citizens and on the labour market. This is perfectly possible within capitalism.
But when we understand “class” as describing a relationship with capital, the implications are very different. We’re talking about an exploited class, not an oppressed one. I.e. the class has surplus value extracted from it, it is not discriminated against. This cannot be resolved by granting the working class equality with capital. It must result from a resolution of the struggling interests of workers and capital through the expropriation of capital and the construction of a society based on human needs.
This difference has been correctly described as a politics of oppression as opposed to a politics of exploitation. The resolution of oppression is liberation, the resolution of exploitation is expropriation. Only one necessarily points beyond capital.
This is an extremely useful distinction for me, because it explains the well-paid people who are contented to be exploited—they don't feel oppressed. The worst that will happen to them is they'll be fired. Wise capitalists try to keep the obviously oppressed far away from the contentedly exploited, and when they can't, they make the contentedly exploited feel superior—they're house slaves, not field slaves, and they admire Master, and they know that if they get the chance, they'll become just like Master some day—see the long history of slaves in US history who became slavers after they won their freedom.

Friday, December 7, 2012

two experiments with free books

We made Shadow Unit #1 free at Smashwords and Amazon (and would've made it free at B&N if we could figure out a way). So far, that seems to have been the right choice. For example, in September, the month before #1 went free, we sold 16 copies of #9 at Amazon. In October, we sold 26. In November, we sold 59. It's too early to generalize, but it's promising.

To test Amazon's KDP program (which I really wish didn't call for a three month exclusive on any book in the program), I entered Dogland and made it free for a day this week. Last month at Amazon, it sold 4 copies; this month, it's already sold 11.

I'll do an update on the experiments in a month or so.