Thursday, January 26, 2012

Less writing online means more writing offline

That's true for me, anyway. If you define yourself artistically as a blogger or commenter or networker, go you! But I'm not, so I'm radically simplifying my online life. If I've unfollowed or unfriended you online, it means nothing about my offline relationship to you. It just means life is short, and I have stories to write.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

my mother gave me my heart

I got a call a little after 1am this morning saying that my mother had died in her sleep. It was expected, and it wasn't, because death is never completely expected, and because my mother had been told she had six months to two years to live about five years ago.

When I say she gave me my heart, I'm being purely metaphorical. She taught me how to love—none of my flaws as a pupil are her fault. She loved indiscriminately. Children naturally exaggerate the virtues or flaws of their parents, but I was always able to test my belief that Mom was a great mom by seeing how people everywhere adored her. One of the happiest periods of her life was after I had left home, when she and Dad and my sister Liz ran a trading post by an Ojibwe reservation in northern Ontario. When I think of Mom, I think of her looking like this, with this sort of smile of delighted surprise:

But when I think of Mom's spirit, I think of this picture, from long before I was born, when she was a WAVE during World War II:

And shortly after the war, when she and several girlfriends drove through Mexico for weeks:

And when she married:

I wish I had more pictures of her at Dog Land in Florida, because she taught me about courage there. She was usually the photographer, but I've found one pic of her with Ranger, our beloved Kuvasz:

Mom was not brave in the sense most people imagine when they hear the word. Now that I'm an adult, I know why: she loved people, so she worried about them. When my family became involved in the civil rights struggle, Mom answered the phone and opened the mail to more than one death threat. They left her shaking, imagining what could happen to the people she loved.

But though she was terrified, she always did what needed doing.

There's a picture that I wish existed, but since it doesn't, I'll try to describe it:

A boy about four or five years old is playing in one of Florida's springs—maybe Manatee Springs, but I don't remember which. I'm clinging to a huge red plastic baseball bat that I'm using as a floating aid. I'm not supposed to go out where the water is deeper than my shoulders, because Mom never learned to swim and Dad must've told us to go have fun while he worked.

But maybe I was having too much fun, or maybe I just got caught in a current. I'm screaming as I cling to the plastic bat. The current is taking me under a little walking bridge, and I'm terrified of what's beyond it—I have no idea now if I was afraid there might be water moccasins there, or if the area was thick with water lillies and I was afraid of getting tangled up in slimy things. All I know is I was helpless and as frightened as any kid could be.

And Mom ran into the water in her street clothes and pulled me out.

I'm sure it wasn't the first time she saved me. I know it wasn't the last. All my life, I've known that in every way that mattered, my Mom was there for me, always.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thomas Jefferson defines a real Christian

"I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials (The Gospels) which I call the Philosophy of Jesus. It is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call ME infidel and THEMSELVES Christians and preachers of the Gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature." —Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thompson

For anyone who says the comments about Jews makes Jefferson a bigot: the god or gods (Elohim is plural, after all) of the first books of the Bible approves of slaughter, rape, and slavery. For anyone who claims Jefferson's keeping of slaves proves he's a hypocrite: when you're right, you're right, no matter how many other times you're wrong.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The doll and its maker are never identical

In Diane Duane's The Affair of the Black Armbands, she shares something Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in response to a rhyming critic. I love the conclusion:
So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
The doll and its maker are never identical.

percent of US households with incomes within 50% of median

Krugman: racial wealth disparity is due to limited class mobility

How Fares the Dream? by Paul Krugman: "Think of the income distribution as a ladder, with different people on different rungs. Starting around 1980, the rungs began moving ever farther apart, adversely affecting black economic progress in two ways. First, because many blacks were still on the lower rungs, they were left behind as income at the top of the ladder soared while income near the bottom stagnated. Second, as the rungs moved farther apart, the ladder became harder to climb."

identity bigots

Yves Smith writes in Ron Paul Debate Flushes Out Gender-Baiting Right Wing Opportunists Masquerading as Progressives « naked capitalism:
...identity bigots like Pollitt apparently can’t wrap their minds around the notion that many people see themselves as citizens first and their demography second, and can and do have nuanced views based on how they weigh multiple political considerations: class, concentration of power, rule of law, civil liberties, and gender/race/sexual orientation.
To disprove the contention of identitarians that only white men could say anything good about Ron Paul, Smith links to rejections of identity politics by folks who don't fit the white male category, including Yvette Carnell in Rethinking a Rethinking – Andrew Sullivan and the Ron Paul Unendorsement |
… at the heart of the teeth gnashing are Paul’s racist newsletters and their import. For me, this would be a much tougher nut to crack if structural and/or cultural racism were still the most heinous defect in the American body politic. But in a country where indefinite detention just became the law of the land, it’s not. In a country where unmanned American drones are killing innocent children abroad, it’s not. And in a country where mortgage scammers are protected from prosecution while Americans are being foreclosed on in record numbers, it’s not. Sorry black folks, but race and racism are not the biggest issues of the 21st century and to imagine otherwise is to conflate the issue and put the needs of your community ahead of the needs of America in particular and the global community in general. In that way, it’s a selfish usurpation of the political agenda to placate the few, and it shouldn’t be tolerated by black people of conscience.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mary Gabriel of "Love and Capital" has a blog

Marx2.0 – A History Lesson has three fairly short installments in "a series on the dangerous consequences of passivity, immobility, in the face of political, social, and economic challenges." The third focuses on what Marx learned from the failure of the 1848 revolutions and answers a question that may always nag at me: if you ally with liberals, will they betray you?
Marx and the workers learned a terrible lesson from the 1848 elections throughout Europe. Once the prize that had united the revolutionaries was won, and the kings were either dethroned or deflated, the unity of the revolution eroded. The lower classes, who had provided the muscle in the Springtime revolts, were abandoned. They felt betrayed. Marx never forgot that experience and his thinking changed. From 1849 on, he refused to seek political accommodation with the bourgeoisie. Instead, Marx dedicated his life to helping the numerically powerful but politically mute working class learn how to become a governing force. By having elected officials taken from within its ranks, it would not have to rely on untrustworthy and unsympathetic ‘social superiors.’
Also, she quotes one of Marx's many fine observations: “In capitalist society spare time is acquired for one class by converting the whole lifetime of the masses into labor time.”

the biggest mistake writers make?

The biggest mistake writers make is telling too much. Readers want to be intrigued.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Noam Chomsky on capitalism and anti-racism

from Big business supports anti-racism - Chomsky [Archive] - The Phora:
See, capitalism is not fundamentally racist -- it can exploit racism for its purposes, but racism isn't built into it. Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangable cogs, and differences among them, such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional. I mean, they may be functional for a period, like if you want a super exploited workforce or something, but those situations are kind of anomalous. Over the long term, you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist -- just because its anti-human. And race is in fact a human characterstic -- there's no reason why it should be a negative characteristic, but it is a human characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangable cogs who will purchase all the junk that's produced -- that's their ultimate function, and any other properties they might have are kind of irrelevent, and usually a nuisance.

Friday, January 6, 2012

the easy accommodation of the liberal bourgeoisie, or the smug solipsism of the identitarian middle class

I saw this quoted in Glenn Greenwald's Democratic Party priorities. The bolding is my variant of Greenwald's; the comment is by DougJ at Balloon Juice:
For a liberal like me, who is primarily interested in the well-being of the American middle-class and in providing opportunity for everyone in the United States, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc., I just don’t see why I should be “challenged” by Ron Paul. I understand that if you’re a liberal who is primarily interested in civil liberties and a less bellicose foreign policy, then you might be conflicted about Paul. But to me, he’s just another racist asshole who wants to fuck the American middle-class.
DougJ succinctly expresses the identitarian dilemma: Does diversity in the US outweigh the murder, rape, and impoverishment of Middle Eastern men, women, and children? Is the hope that everyone may someday be able to marry the person they love greater than the right not to be arrested or killed without due process?

Note that the war in Afghanistan is real, while the racism of Ron Paul is theoretical, as his black supporters will tell you.

Mind you, I'm a socialist and Ron Paul's a right-libertarian. In 2008, I voted for a black man who has been proving all his life that class matters more than race. In 2012, I'll cast a vote for someone who dreams of an alternative to Wall Street politics—though I haven't a clue who that may be.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Malcolm X / El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz quotes—especially for leftists

Most people know Malcolm X through the filter of two capitalists who saw him as a racial thinker: The Autobiography was edited after his death by Alex Haley, and the movie based on it was made by Spike Lee. People who think of power in racial terms like to quote Malcolm X, the man he was before he left the Nation of Islam. I'll quote some of that man's thoughts—his observations about Field Negroes and House Negroes still applies in the age of Barack Obama and Herman Cain—but while I admire Malcolm X, I love El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. His thoughts on power kept evolving right up to the moment of he was killed. —WS

on equality

"I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red. When you are dealing with humanity as one family, there's no question of integration or intermarriage. It's just one human being marrying another human being, or one human being living around and with another human being."

"The earth's most expensive and pernicious evil is racism, the inability of God's creatures to live as One."

"I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth."

"It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That's the only thing that can save this country."

"We must approach the problem as humans first, and whatever else we are second."

on the media

"If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing."

on titles

From an interview:
MALCOLM X: I never accept the term "honorable."

BASS: That's a beautiful title.

MALCOLM X: Well, I'll tell you. Most people I've seen really end up misusing it, and I'd rather just be your Brother Malcolm.
on women

"It's noticeable that in these type of societies where they put the woman in a closet and discourage her from getting a sufficient education and don't give her the incentive by allowing her maximum participation in whatever area of the society where she's qualified, they kill her incentive. And killing her incentive, she kills the incentive in her children. And the man himself has no competition so he doesn't develop to his fullest potential."

on socialism, capitalism, and colonialism

"I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think that it will be based upon the color of the skin."

"It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture…. As the nations of the world free themselves, capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely."

“Most of the countries that were colonial powers were capitalist countries, and the last bulwark of capitalism today is America. It’s impossible for a white person to believe in capitalism and not believe in racism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. And if you find one and you happen to get that person into conversation and they have a philosophy that makes you sure they don’t have this racism in their outlook, usually they’re socialists or their political philosophy is socialism.”

"Since their own economies, the European economy and the American economy, was based upon their continued influence over the African continent, they had to find some means of staying there. So they used the "friendly" approach. They switched from the old, open colonial, imperialistic approach to the benevolent approach. They came up with some benevolent colonialism, philanthropic colonialism, humanitarianism, or dollarism."

"It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of black against white, or as a purely American problem. Rather we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter."

on racism, regret, and black nationalism
I used to define black nationalism as the idea that the black man should control the economy of his community, the politics of his community, and so forth.

But when I was in Africa in May, in Ghana, I was speaking with the Algerian ambassador who is extremely militant and is a revolutionary in the true sense of the word (and has his credentials as such for having carried on a successful revolution against oppression in his country). When I told him that my political, social, and economic philosophy was black nationalism, he asked me very frankly: Well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.

So I had to do a lot of thinking and reappraising of my definition of black nationalism. Can we sum up the solution to the problems confronting our people as black nationalism? And if you notice, I haven’t been using the expression for several months. But I still would be hard pressed to give a specific definition of the overall philosophy which I think is necessary for the liberation of the black people in this country....
And, two days before his death, he said:
Leaders like Nasser, Ben Bella, and Nkrumah awakened me to the dangers of racism. I realized racism isn't just a black and white problem. It's brought bloodbaths to about every nation on earth at one time or another.

Brother, remember the time that white college girl came into the restaurant—the one who wanted to help the [Black] Muslims and the whites get together—and I told her there wasn't a ghost of a chance and she went away crying? Well, I've lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument. I did many things as a [Black] Muslim that I'm sorry for now. I was a zombie then—like all [Black] Muslims—I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, I guess a man's entitled to make a fool of himself if he's ready to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.

That was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days—I'm glad to be free of them.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

resolution update, plus change your environment to change your behavior

I'm struggling with my resolutions, but I came across something today that may help, if I can figure out how to apply it: To change your behavior, change your environment. That's what I took away from What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits : NPR.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Shakespeare on treating people as they deserve

"God’s bodkin, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who shall scape whipping? Use them after your own honor and dignity—the less they deserve, the more merit is in your bounty." —Shakespeare's Hamlet

Monday, January 2, 2012

Slavoj Žižek on identity politics

from The Believer - Interview with Slavoj Žižek:
But even worse is that what this kind of politically correct struggling for tolerance and so on advocates is basically not only not in conflict with the modern tendencies of global capitalism, but it fits perfectly. What I think is that today’s capitalism thrives on differences. I mean even naïve positivist psychologists propose to describe today’s subjectivity in terms like multiple subject, fixed-identity subject, a subject who constantly reinvents itself, and so on. So my big problem with this is the painting of the enemy as some kind of self-identified stable substantial patriarch to which these multiple identities and constant reinventing should be opposed. I think that this is a false problem; I am not impressed by this problem. I think that this is a certain logic, totally within the framework of today’s capitalism, where again, capitalism, in order to reproduce itself, to function in today’s condition of consumption society, the crazy dynamics of the market, no longer needs or can function with the traditional fixed patriarchal subject. It needs a subject constantly reinventing himself.
ETA: liberation: Identity politics vs class politics - 10: Introduction to Slavoj Žižek

Resolution #4: make your work your play

The commercial artist's curse is that play becomes work. The challenge is to keep it play. I lost that feeling somewhere along the way, so I'm taking it back now.

Bob Franke said it grandly in "Thanksgiving Eve": "Let your dreams bind your work to your play."

Alas, he doesn't have a video of his version on youtube, but there are covers. Here's Garnet Rogers:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolution #3: don't feed ragers

The internet loves outrage, but it almost never does any good. It just makes people dig their trenches deeper. When it seems to succeed, it may just mean the target will be more circumspect next time—GoDaddy backed off its public support of SOPA, but I doubt its rightwing founder has changed his politics at all.

Resolution #2: a schedule

first, do what you want to have done that day

Write 500 words or more of something. Remember, those words don't have to be good. You can't revise what you haven't written.

next, do what you need to do that day

Monday: Shadow Unit chores

Tuesday: writing chores

Wednesday: home chores

Thursday: Shadow Unit chores

Friday: writing chores

Saturday: home chores

Sunday: rest