Saturday, December 31, 2011

My New Years Resolution: I'll use "Manichean" again

I used "binarian" for a while, but it never caught on. Today, I noticed a couple of writers I like are fond of "manichean". It just sounds good: man-uh-kee-an. It makes people think you know about history and religion as well as the subject at hand. It's grand.

And, most importantly, it's a resolution I can keep.

The examples:

Glenn Greenwald in Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies: "Worse still is the embrace of George W. Bush’s with-us-or-against-us mentality as the prism through which all political discussions are filtered. It’s literally impossible to discuss any of the candidates’ positions without having the simple-minded — who see all political issues exclusively as a Manichean struggle between the Big Bad Democrats and Good Kind Republicans or vice-versa — misapprehend “I agree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I support Candidate X for President” or I disagree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I oppose Candidate X for President.”"

Adolph Reed, Jr. in The Limits of Antiracism"My position is—and I can’t count the number of times I’ve said this bluntly, yet to no avail, in response to those in blissful thrall of the comforting Manicheanism—that of course racism persists, in all the disparate, often unrelated kinds of social relations and “attitudes” that are characteristically lumped together under that rubric, but from the standpoint of trying to figure out how to combat even what most of us would agree is racial inequality and injustice, that acknowledgement and $2.25 will get me a ride on the subway. It doesn’t lend itself to any particular action except more taxonomic argument about what counts as racism."

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Ambrose Bierce on Labor and Land

From the Devil's Dictionary:

One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.
LAND, n.
A part of the earth's surface, considered as property. The theory that land is property subject to private ownership and control is the foundation of modern society, and is eminently worthy of the superstructure. Carried to its logical conclusion, it means that some have the right to prevent others from living; for the right to own implies the right exclusively to occupy; and in fact laws of trespass are enacted wherever property in land is recognized. It follows that if the whole area of terra firma is owned by A, B and C, there will be no place for D, E, F and G to be born, or, born as trespassers, to exist.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

abuse is no argument

I found "abuse is no argument" in Dot-dash-diss: The gentleman hacker's 1903 lulz. Googling the phrase brought up a similar expression I also like: "Abuse is no argument against proper use." (Bonus pretentious points for the Latin: "Abusus non tollit usum.")

Too much of the internet endorses too often the style of the Brooklyn Debating Society: "Fuck you!" "No, fuck you!" It's an old trick that politicians especially love: "When you have a weak case, abuse your opponent."

My googling also brought up ON ARGUMENT - Iftekhar Sayeed:
In the Gulistan, Sheikh Sa’di says: “Galenus saw a fool hanging on with his hands to the collar of a learned man and insulting him, whereon he said: 'If he were learned he would not have come to this pass with an ignorant man.'”

Sa’di concludes:

“Two wise men do not contend and quarrel,
Nor does a scholar fight with a contemptible fellow.”
To close, Monty Python's "The Argument Clinic":

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Learning to love Krismess

For many years of my life, I've hated Christmas and loved it and never been able to reconcile the conflict. I suspect I began hating it when I was old enough to see a greedy nation's celebration of consumerism built on sweatshops abroad and minimum wage labor at home. Then I hated it because it was presented as incompatible things, a religious holiday about a baby, angels, and a star, and a secular holiday about elves, flying reindeer, and trees with lights.

And yet, I still loved A Miracle on 34th Street and It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol. I loved "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Good King Wenceslas" and "The Little Drummer Boy" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". I loved people having traditional dinners, whether they were meat and potatoes, pizza, Chinese food, or tamales. I loved the excitement of people who were excited by the winter holidays.

So I've wrestled with a way to rationalize my love of the best of what Americans call Christmas. I tried thinking of it as Krismas, and the sprit of giving that I celebrated was Kris Kringle. I tried thinking of it as Christmas, and the spirit of giving that I celebrated was the Rebel Jesus. I tried thinking of it as Mithras' Day and the Feast of Sol Invictus and even my own holiday, World Week, when the spirit of giving was simply the best part of every one of us.

But now I've accepted that the midwinter holiday is just a mess. It's Kris's Mess or Christ's Mess or a neopagan's messy notion of Yule or an American Jew's messy notion of Chrismukkah. It isn't purely anything, and that's appropriate. Humans are a mess, and so are our holidays, and that's glorious.

I love this song because it catches that spirit:

Bonus! Five Christmas songs a Pagan probably shouldn’t like… but feels drawn to thanks to the power of a capella.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Carol from Flanders by Frederick Niven

"A Carol from Flanders" by Frederick Niven

In Flanders on the Christmas morn
The trenched foemen lay,
the German and the Briton born,
And it was Christmas Day.

The red sun rose on fields accurst,
The gray fog fled away;
But neither cared to fire the first,
For it was Christmas Day!

They called from each to each across
The hideous disarray,
For terrible has been their loss:
"Oh, this is Christmas Day!"

Their rifles all they set aside,
One impulse to obey;
'Twas just the men on either side,
Just men — and Christmas Day.

They dug the graves for all their dead
And over them did pray:
And Englishmen and Germans said:
"How strange a Christmas Day!"

Between the trenches then they met,
Shook hands, and e'en did play
At games on which their hearts were set
On happy Christmas Day.

Not all the emperors and kings,
Financiers and they
Who rule us could prevent these things —
For it was Christmas Day.

Oh ye who read this truthful rime
From Flanders, kneel and say:
God speed the time when every day
Shall be as Christmas Day.

May we all have a Christmas Truce

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas, Film) - Singing Scene - YouTube:

Based on a true incident:

(Joyeaux Noel link via Louis Proyect)

Friday, December 23, 2011

The vast majority of people thrown in prison are poor, but the racial picture is more complex than you believe.

Incarceration in the United States has this:

Estimated number of inmates held in custody in state or federal prison, or in local jails,
by sex, race, and Hispanic origin, June 30, 2009.[39]
Note: Detailed categories exclude persons who reported two or more races. All totals include persons under age 18.
aIncludes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, and persons identifying two or more races.
bExcludes persons of Hispanic or Latino origin.

White Hispanic and Latino Americans - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "In the 2010 United States Census, 50.5 million Americans (16.3% of the total population) listed themselves as ethnically Hispanic or Latino. Of those, 53.0% (26.7 million) self-identified as racially white."

So, this is the racial breakdown of the US prison population:
white, male and female: 1,037,279
black, male and female: 905,800
non-white Hispanic, male and female: 222,921
The percentages are pretty close to our percentages for poverty (approx. 50% white, 25% black, 25% Hispanic), though the black population is disproportionately high and the Hispanic population is disproportionately low thanks to drug laws that targeted the urban poor. (White and Hispanic poverty in the US is more rural than black poverty.)

So why you want to focus on class oppression that pushes black folks into selling drugs and becoming soldiers while ignoring class oppression that pushes white folks into selling drugs and becoming soldiers, I dunno. But the result is that you fail to see half of the picture.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

does fame override taste in art?

Being told painting is fake changes brain’s response to art - University of Oxford: "When a participant was told that a work was genuine, it raised activity in the part of the brain that deals with rewarding events, such as tasting pleasant food or winning a gamble. Being told a work is not by the master triggered a complex set of responses in areas of the brain involved in planning new strategies. "

Saturday, December 17, 2011

gleeporn vs rageporn, and a goodbye to frequent blogeration

The internet is for porn, and it comes in two forms, gleeporn and rageporn. Gleeporn makes people happy; it's lolcats and babies and bands that make you want to dance for the joy of dancing. Rageporn makes people angry: it's the subjects polite people avoid with strangers, politics and religion. The human brain is stimulated by both, and humans love to have their brains stimulated.

At least, this human sure does.

I don't mean to say that gleeporn is good and rageporn is bad. Gleeporn can make people complacent. Outrage is often necessary to change the world.

But on the net, glee and rage are often only tactics to get you to return to a site, to keep being the monkey clicking that button for its fix. The net may be infinitely superior to television, but ultimately, it's no different: it doesn't care what it's doing to you. It only wants you to keep paying attention to it.

Or, McLuhan still matters: the medium is the message.

I can't eliminate the net from my life now, but I can slip its leash more often, and when I return, I can favor the places that will make me a happier and more effective click-monkey.

In consequence, I'll be cutting back on blogging. If you see me making more than a couple of posts a week, please, gently mock me for my weakness.

Friday, December 16, 2011

a boycott is a choice to remain ignorant, says Sheik Qadhi about Lowes

This short clip is mostly about Muslims and Jews visiting Dachau and Auschwitz, but Lowe's cowardly decision to withdraw from advertising on American Muslim is mentioned toward the end, and I was struck by Sheik Qadhi's comment.

There have been times when boycotts were the right response, but too often, boycotts play into the hands of the people they're directed against. This has been especially true in the cases of calls for Arizona boycotts, because Arizona's conservatives are very happy to have their opponents stay away. My take: Don't boycott; educate.

ETA: For more on ways boycotts can backfire, see How a boycott meant to save Arizona is hurting it - White Knighting -

what Jesus would tell Tebow and Tebowers

Inspired by N.Y. teens suspended for Tebowing in school hallway:

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." —Matthew 6:5-6

Thursday, December 15, 2011

racism at Racialicious, or Florence + The Machine and Bali

 I suspect antiracists are more obsessed with racial purity than racists are. Racists, at least, will happily eat fried chicken and not worry about whether they're appropriating a black thing.

Which doesn't really have anything to do with this post. For once, I'm grateful to Racialicious because one of their writers' accusation that Florence + The Machine had made a racist video taught me something about Balinese religion that I hadn't known.

In the comments at ‘No Light, No Light’: White Supremacy all dressed up in a pop video is still White Supremacy | Racialicious, SFFSzmutko writes:
What is shown in the video is not blackface, nor is it representative in Voodoo. The faith that is represented here is Balinesian (spelling?) and the ritual, which they actually brought in a shaman dancer of the faith for those scenes. The body paint is part of the ritual, it is a dark green body pain with red flashes on the face, to mirror the frogs of the region. To call it blackface is actually exceptionally offensive to the Balinese faith, and I hope the writer of this article apologizes. That is the equivalent of calling a Catholic Deacon Robe a Klan Robe. It is offensive and transferring the meaning of one onto something completely different and feels as if research was not done in the writing of this article. The immediate assumption of blackface and accusations of thus actually seem to be racially based against Miss Welch (an artist who has taken forefront involvement in many Aretha Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald Tribute concerts) caucasion roots.

Also the Dog Days video, the Gospel Choir is used to represent Florence's Gospel roots in terms of her music. Its like why the 60s mod women are there, because the 60s inspire her. Also she does not make herself "whiter" in the video, whe is dressed in Japanese Kabuki Garb complete with Kabuki Makeup. The reason everything blows up at the end is that it is the removal of inspiration until only Florence is left. It is a representation of her roots in music.

Also, maybe it is because I have research the Balinese Faith, but the ritual's meaning is similar to the song the choir is singing. I took the video to be ABOUT running from the unfamiliar and taking shelter in the familiar. I thought that it was ABOUT ignorance.
Other commenters dismiss that, because antiracists have a powerful streak of US imperialism which says other cultures don't matter. If something makes antiracists think of something that had racist connotations in the US, those connotations matter more than, well, the truth.

When antiracists waved away the Balinese origin of the imagery, Ohmansteve wrote:
I find the insinuation that the Balinese body paint used to become the frog in the ritual dance that the shaman in this video is showcasing is blackface, and that it is a representation of Voodoo, instead of the Balinesian faith, to be racist and to reek of poor research. Shame on this site for not doing research, and jumping to the conclusion that body paint in a white person's video must be blackface. Thank you for the bald faced racism here, go research the Balinese religion.
Sunmelive added:
RACISM? WHERE?! Flo is a woman who has just gotten out of a relationship. She still loves this person so she holds on to his memory and all the negative energy that came with their relationship. It is making her self destructive, the asian man painted dark green with bright red lips tries to help her through a Balinese ritual dance called a sanghyang but she refuses because that's all she has at this point. So he uses the doll to weaken her and force her to see reason.
ETA: Sanghyang - Wikipedia

Sanghyang dan kecak 1926 (Silent) - YouTube :

ETA 2: The existence of Balinese voodoo.

wisdom of John (Fire) Lame Deer

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn’t have any kind of prison.
Because of this, we had no delinquents.
Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.
We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.
When someone was so poor that he couldn’t afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.
We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.
We didn’t know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.
We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another.
We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don’t know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society.”

— John (Fire) Lame Deer

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

read charitably; or, what you read in a story vs. what you read into one

A few truths about reading:

1. Everyone thinks they read well.

2. No one reads as well as they think.

3. Criticism of a writer says more about the critic than the writer.

4. What characters believe may not be what their writers believe—and, for many writers, should not be what their writers believe.

All of which is to say, please, in life and art, read charitably.

my Christmas story: "Oldthings"

"Jeffy got silver bullets, Jill got a matched pair of big golden crosses, and I got a lousy wooden stake. I sat crosslegged on the floor, looking at this three-foot-long pointed stick, and said, “What’s this? A carve-your-own-cane kit?”

Full story: "Oldthings"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Phil Ochs on liberals

"In every political community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. Ten degrees to the left of center in good times. Ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally" —Phil Ochs

From the beginning of "Love me, I'm a liberal":

Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon updated it:

Capitalism turns tribes into racists

The Cherokee aren't the only tribe who now use concepts of race instead of culture to define tribal identity. From California Indian Tribes Eject Thousands of Members:
One of Mr. Roan’s daughters, Ruby Cordero, is also considered a cultural pillar of the tribe because she is expert at basket weaving and among the last native speakers of the Chukchansi language. But at 87, she, too, has been disenrolled.

Monday, December 12, 2011

David Ben-Gurion answers the lie that Palestinians were "invented"

"Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul, Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta, Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis, and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population." —David Ben-Gurion, one of the most important inventors of contemporary Israel

Emphasis mine.

When was Palestine "invented"? Edward Said answers that in "The Question of Palestine":
Palestine became a predominately Arab and Islamic country by the end of the seventh century. Almost immediately thereafter its boundaries and its characteristics — including its name in Arabic, Filastin — became known to the entire Islamic world, as much for its fertility and beauty as for its religious significance...In 1516, Palestine became a province of the Ottoman Empire, but this made it no less fertile, no less Arab or Islamic...Sixty percent of the population was in agriculture; the balance was divided between townspeople and a relatively small nomadic group. All these people believed themselves to belong in a land called Palestine, despite their feelings that they were also members of a large Arab nation...Despite the steady arrival in Palestine of Jewish colonists after 1882, it is important to realize that not until the few weeks immediately preceding the establishment of Israel in the spring of 1948 was there ever anything other than a huge Arab majority. For example, the Jewish population in 1931 was 174,606 against a total of 1,033,314.
Highly recommended: The Origin of the Palestine-Israel Conflict by Jews for Justice

race, class, and Glee; or, how the rich see diversity

We've been Netflixing Glee for the last few weeks—we're through Season 2. We'll probably wait for the official release of Season 3 before we watch more, so please, no spoilers. For those who haven't seen it, don't worry about me spoiling it. This post is about race and class, not plot.

Much as I enjoy the show, I'm struck by its bourgie idea of diversity. Here's the racial, ethnic, gender, and class mix of the glee club through Season 2:

Rachel Berry: white, Jewish, middle/upper class
Tina Cohen-Chang: Asian-Jewish, class unknown
Quinn Fabray: white, middle/upper class
Mercedes Jones: black, class unknown
Santana Lopez: Hispanic, lesbian, working class
Brittany S. Pierce: white, lesbian, class unknown
(2nd season) Lauren Zizes: white, class unknown
Artie Abrams: white paraplegic, class unknown
Blaine Anderson: white, gay, upper class
Mike Chang: Asian, class unknown
Finn Hudson: white, working-class
Kurt Hummel: white, gay, working/middle class
Noah Puckerman: Jewish, class unknown
(1st season) Matt Rutherford: black, class unknown
(2nd season) Sam Evans (2nd season): white, working-middle class (homeless)
That inspired my recent post, wealth in the USA by race, religion, and gender. If the cast of Glee "looked like America", there would be more working class kids, more black and Hispanic kids, and a Muslim or Hindu kid. There would be fewer Jewish and Asian kids, and fewer gay kids.

Now, it's a glee club; it's not supposed to "look like America." The arts traditionally attract a high percentage of GLBT folks, and extra-curricular activities reflect class privilege in America because they usually come with extra expenses. Glee shouldn't look like America.

But if you want to know the disproportionate nature of privilege in the USA, Glee reveals it. It's white, Jewish, and Asian. It's concerned with ending oppression within the class system, so civil rights matter, but it doesn't question the class system itself: note that Glee is set in a high school where no one's politics are more extreme than right-of-center Obamaism.

That said, it's a fun show within its mainstream broadcast limits. I may be tempted to catch up on Season 3 before Netflix gets it.

ETA: Considering where Glee's set, Wikipedia's article on Ohio demographics suggests its percentage of Hispanics may be reasonable, but its percentage of black folks is still off. (Not that Hollywood cares about local demographics, mind you. Where were the Hispanics in Roswell, a show set in a town that's nearly half Hispanic?)

ETA 2: In the comments, serialbabbler adds, "According to the internet, Glee is set specifically in Lima, Ohio sort of.

So this would be the demographics you'd be looking at."

Friday, December 9, 2011

US electoral racism drops to 3%

From What's Race Got to Do With Herman Cain? | The Nation:
In 1958, 53 percent of voters said they would not vote for a well-qualified black candidate for president; in 1984 it was 16 percent; by 2003 it was 6 percent; now it stands at 3 percent.
Except for that bit, I can't recommend the article. The writer confuses institutional classism with institutional racism: Yes, there are still racists in the world and yes, black and brown folks are disproportionately poor because they had no wealth or wealth was taken from them, but today, their main problem isn't racism; it's the same problem that twice as many poor white folks suffer from: economic inequality.

It's a little surprising that the writer didn't figure that out, as he does give an example of bourgie black prejudice against poor folks:
The poorer the woman, the more vulnerable she was to these attacks. Sharon Bialek, the first to go public with accusations of sexual harassment, was dismissed by his campaign primarily because she was broke. Cain’s opponents, his spokesperson claimed, “have now convinced a woman with a long history of severe financial difficulties, including personal bankruptcy, to falsely accuse the Republican frontrunner of events allegedly occurring well over a decade ago for which there is no record, nor even a complaint filed.”
(Thanks, DSD!)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Record inequality between rich and poor: video

Record inequality between rich and poor - YouTube:

plagiarism parade: St. Martin's and Lenore Hart's The Raven's Bride

This seemed interesting: Publisher says Poe novelist did not lift material. So I followed the link to the source of the charge: The Debrief.

I try to keep from rushing to judgment, but in the case of Lenore Hart's The Raven's Bride vs. Cothburn O'Neal's The Very Young Mrs. Poe, I'm inclined to go with "Guilty, guilty, guilty". St. Martin's must assume they don't have to pull a book when a dead writer, who is not likely to sue, has been plagiarized.

A CBS account has this:
In an interview in May with the online magazine, Hart acknowledged reading O'Neal's book, but only after she had turned in a "corrected draft" of her novel."I was engaged with it in some places and bored in others," she said, adding her "apologies to the late Mr. O'Neal."
I'm guessing she was bored with the parts she didn't use in her own book.

Accents, Class, and White Singers Black Folks Thought Were Black

People's class assumptions often have more to do with accent than skin color; there were hotels and restaurants in the segregated South that would not serve African-Americans, but they would serve Africans. I remembered that when I stumbled on this, and realized accent and vocal style affects people's assumptions about race, too: 10 White Singers We Once Thought Were Black | Madame Noire.

Friday, December 2, 2011

fictional Benjamin Franklin on treason

"Treason is a charge invented by winners as an excuse for hanging the losers." —Benjamin Franklin in the musical, 1776, by by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

quote: Oliver Wendell Holmes on courtesy

“Don't flatter yourself that friendship authorizes you to say disagreeable things to your intimates. The nearer you come into relation with a person, the more necessary do tact and courtesy become.” -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

where even debt is a privilege

I think all education should be free, but I still eyeroll once at people in debt to extremely expensive schools. Their debt is a form of capitalist privilege—poor kids from places with underfunded schools won't get loans to attend the universities of the ruling class.

But after I eyeroll, I'm completely sympathetic. No one should be blamed for believing the American Dream. I tossed and turned in my sleep for forty-some years and didn't truly wake until I fell into the American Nightmare of deep debt. That woke me the hard way.

Which may be the only way most dreamers wake.

class is not identity

Richard Seymour makes a valiant effort to define a sensible form of identity politics in LENIN'S TOMB: Cultural materialism and identity politics, but he doesn't succeed for me.

In the comments, Evildoer claims, "Socialism is also identity politics. When Marx described the process as moving from a class "in itself" to a class "for itself", isn't that exactly "the politicization of identity"?"

I replied:
Socialism is not identity politics. Identity politics describe the world in terms of being: people are male or female, black or white, Californian or Welsh, Coke drinkers or Pepsi drinkers. Socialism describes the world in terms of doing: the capitalist class controls the world's wealth; the working class works to survive. That many people do not recognize their role under capitalism has nothing to do with identity. It only has to do with ignorance that is promoted by the ruling class.

Identity politics see the world in fixed terms: race and gender cannot be changed, and their concept of class is feudal, so birth is very important to what you are. But socialists see the world in mutable terms, tribal rather than racial.

Mind you, this view of capitalism is not unique to socialism. Many capitalists recognize that under capitalism, what matters is your relationship to capital. Which is why socialists and capitalists see Obama as being true to his class, but identitarians see him as a traitor to his race.