Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Newswire

October 31, 2007

New York, NY (UNS) -- The Congressional Black Caucus introduced a non-binding resolution today to censure the government of Iraq for its use of a noose, a symbol of lynching in the Jim Crow South, to execute Saddam Hussein.

"Regardless of the fact that this unfortunate act passed into history months ago, it continues to harm African Americans." Rep. Hastee Scatflinger (D-MN) said at a news conference this morning. Congressman Scatflinger explained that he decided to sponsor the bill after his own son had seen the widely circulated video of the noose, a symbol of lynching in the Jim Crow South, on the Internet. While the resolution is non-binding, the Congressman hopes to use it to pressure the government of Iraq to end the practice of execution by hanging.

"I mean, what's wrong with a firing squad? There sure seems to be no shortage of bullets over there. What sort of message is the young democracy of Iraq sending with this cavalier attitude toward the suffering of African Americans?"

"We will look into convening a delegation to go to Iraq with the intention of opening a dialogue and raising awareness." The Congressman said when asked if there were any plans to petition the government of Iraq directly. Despite the offensive nature of their government's actions, he insists he holds no ill will for the people of Iraq. "Foreigners can't be expected to have the appreciation of racial and sectarian intolerance that African Americans do."
The Congressman added that he would be unable to make the trip due to previous obligations in his district.

Still












Inland Empire, David Lynch

Monday, October 29, 2007

Racial Incident in Seattle

OCT 27, 2007
POINT DEFERENCE, WA (UNS*) -- Civil rights leaders in this Seattle suburb are up in arms over what they say is the latest incident in a nation-wide trend of hate crimes involving the public display of nooses, a symbol of lynching in the Jim Crow south.

A noose was discovered hanging from a tree in a remote corner of a wooded park early Friday morning by two children, ages twelve and fourteen. Doug Beedle, head of Seattle's NAACP chapter, said he is considering seeking damages against the city for not moving more quickly to deal with the apparent hate-crime.

"The city is engaged in a white-wash, treating this as a minor incident. If we hadn't been notified by an alert citizen, the whole thing would've been swept under the rug and treated as something other than what it was." Mr. Beedle did not rule out filing a complaint with the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. "We're opening a dialogue with the city, but if they refuse to come around to our way of thinking, we're prepared to take it to the next level. No justice, no peace."

The childrens' mother, Misty Handringer, who is white, tearfully related that she initially didn't realize the significance of the noose. "At first all I could think about was the other aspect of it. I'm not proud of this, but I was more concerned about the fact that the kids had found a dead body. I was mortified when what was gong on was explained to me. I really thought we were above that sort of thing here. I'm not very proud of my community right now. I guess nowhere is safe."

Police say it appears the man, who is white, acted alone in stringing up the noose before using it to hang himself. Officials haven't ruled out bringing posthumous charges.

"Allowing this to simply die with the perpetrator would be wrong. Suicide is just the sort of transgressive act that brings out the underlying racism inherent in our society." Tanyika Balder-Dash, professor of Afro-American studies at Northwest College and author of The Myth of Merit, said, explaining why the man chose the inflammatory racial symbol for his apparent suicide. "People feel liberated to express their darkest impulses."

The children who discovered the noose are receiving counseling. "First we have to make them aware of the trauma they've suffered, then we can begin to deal with it." Professor Balder-Dash said. "Most distressing of all is that these kids have no idea about the profound image of hatred and oppression they encountered. People don't realize that racism is in fact far worse now than it ever was, due to faltering awareness. I fear we are allowing this image of America's racist past to slip into the past."
A march is planned for this Monday. The man remains unidentified.

(*Untethered News Services; Additional reporting for this story was provided by Dennis Dale, who is white.)

In related news, the U.S. Army has retroactively legalized lynching.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the shipwright, or the carpenter?"
"The gallows-maker; for that frame outlives a thousand tenants."
"I like thy wit well, in good faith: the gallows does well; but how does it well? It does well to those that do ill: now, thou dost ill to say the gallows is built stronger than the church; argal, the gallows may do well to thee."
--Hamlet

Ladies and gentlemen. This is Gus Johnson, who you have heard of as a bad man. Some think I am a monster. My father was a colonel in the rebel army and bore a good name. I am to die for killing a negro fourteen miles down the Coosa River. I am sorry I killed him. Deputy Sheriff Sharp has been with me a good deal. I think a heap of him. He has a duty to perform, and I do not think less of him for it. His wife is a good woman, and has been a friend of mine. I have always been a bad boy. I have killed four men in my life. I can swear to two. I have friends in the crowd who would rescue me, but I want them to let me hang.
Augustus J. Johnson, from the gallows; 1878

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

West Coast Toast*

Well the universe is shaped exactly like the earth
if you go straight long enough you end up where you were
(...)
and that's how the world began
and that's how the world will end
--Modest Mouse, Third Planet

Drove home, doused everything in
the house, torched it.
Parked across the street laughing,
watching it burn, all Halloween
orange and chimney red.
Frank put on a top forty station,
got on the Hollywood Freeway headed North.
Never could stand that dog.
--Tom Waits, Frank's Wild Years

Should we talk about the weather?
--REM, Pop Song 89

As Southern California endures its regular bi-decadal holocaust, the Pacific Northwest lolls beneath a blue sky as glorious as it is placid. An unseen airplane overhead slices this frail sea; the sky bleeds water in a contrail, a fine point trailing a widening breach, as if a giant knife tip is cutting open the sky from the other side, revealing it to be stuffed with cotton. From here I can see the jumbled saw teeth of the Cascades on one side and the more remote, aesthetically as well as geographically, Olympics across the Puget Sound on the other. To the south Mt. Rainer looms out of the residual haze, a fifteen-thousand foot volcano (one of the more likely to erupt in our lifetimes) rising from the flats, in majestic isolation from the Cascades that crowd one another to form the state's broad, spiny back. Rainer looms over her surroundings like a vain, hooded god refusing to reveal just when she will reclaim the land. The city and its women are flaunting their charms brazenly in the sunshine. Work is all but impossible under these conditions.



The high pressure zone that normally resides a thousand miles down the coast occasionally slides up along the edge of the continent and settles in here. This fixture, when in its normal position, is the reason Southern California is so sunny; it boxes out the moisture coming out of the warm waters of the South Pacific, routing it north, where it cools and comes apart, spending itself in rain and some of the deepest mountain snow levels in the world. The periodic uncharacteristically wet winters Southern California experiences every seven years or so are a result of this reversal. The Santa Ana winds are caused by a similar inversion, of high pressure air between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada. The air is forced down the mountain slopes into the L.A. basin, heated by pressure and speed as it races for the cool Pacific.

Almost exactly fourteen years ago, in October 1993, these same Santa Ana winds fanned fires all about sleepy San Juan Capistrano. From near our house we could spy two of them, a distant one that looked as if it was coming down Ortega Highway from somewhere near Lake Elsinore. The faintest snowfall of ash preceded it. A nearer one was at the moment an ominous glow on the horizon; it would soon sweep through nearby Laguna Beach like an invading army trying to drive the city into the sea.
Days before the desert's bellows had kicked in; uncompromising Santa Anas had been blowing hard across the brown hills like a blast from a great oven out there somewhere, evaporating what little moisture was left in the ground after a long hot summer.
We headed north on Interstate 5 counting the fires, all safely distant but some so large they appeared to be but a few miles up the road; looking north the freeway seemed to end in one of these. Another appeared like a hellish borealis on the other side of the hills.

Little more than a year before I had taken a similar drive, skirting Los Angeles coming south on the 405, counting the lines of smoke here and there along the way, as South Central's blacks rebelled against white law and order by sacking Korean groceries, chasing down Mexican immigrants,** and beating trapped white motorists and delivery drivers, gleefully assaulting, sometimes killing, young, old and frail alike. Columns of National Guard trucks passed in the other direction. I felt like a refugee fleeing a war zone. I was working an assignment in El Segundo, just south of LAX, just safely outside the rioter's playground. By that point it had progressed from isolated racial assaults to a festival of widespread looting.
That day too there was a dry wind blowing the lung irritating residue of the fires out to sea; the landscape was tethered to the sky by scattered chords of smoke. Strangers went about the mundane with a tender, dazed deference for one another, as the catastrophe played itself out as a farcical romantic pairing of resentment and condescension in the media.

***

The year of the Laguna fire had been the most trying I'd ever known, and the fires came as its crescendo; if something wouldn't give within the world would give without. I confess to a grim moment's welcoming thought for the cruel beauty of it: go ahead and burn. I've spent most of my life out here the West's far edge; nearly every breath I've taken has been drawn from its dry, empty air. So intimate am I with it that I've come to confuse the tumult in the atmosphere outside my body with that within. I think I understand now why people go home to die. Somehow this makes it all the more cruel that this indifferent land will take no notice of my passing, its subterranean conveyor separating out the paltry base parts of my frail body, reduced until indistinguishable from the mass. All this history and pain, strife and love, this life, vapor.
___

*As in to honor, not as in burnt; warning: any of you red state resentmentarians out there bearing that moldy Christmas fruitcake of an observation about immoral California burning like Sodom will be immediately banished. Toast, in other words. And count yourself lucky you didn't catch one in the eye. Aye.

**Now that former minority/current majority in many of the same neighborhoods that were flash-points of the "rebellion" are returning the favor, ethnically cleansing their streets of the despised "mayates", whom they consider a congenitally lazy and criminal class. Of course the vitriolic, paranoid bigotry that still infuses the culture of black Los Angeles has long been intensified by the very real economic displacement of native-born blacks by Asians and Hispanics.
I myself have heard some amusing conspiracy theory explanations explaining Asian success in the years before the riots--from co-workers in an industry that used to provide thousands of quality blue-collar jobs for Southern Californian blacks and has now all but abandoned the region, aerospace manufacturing.
I can't imagine it's gotten any better--unless the process of displacement has proceeded to the point that the streets have solidified into separate racial cantons, a la Baghdad. Kumbaya.

***This view of the '93 fire is from Newport's Balboa Pier, looking east as the fire approached. Photo lifted from here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Why are you destroying everything?"
"What this? A little creative destruction, that's all. It's not really destruction, but creation. Destructive creation, if you will"
"Oh. Has all the appearance of a man burning a whole lot of work. The warmth from the fire seems a paltry pay-out."
"Work? Work produces something; work has an effect. Energetic vanity does not count."
"Must count as something. Seems you'd want to treat the blog better than that, at least. It's given you something, surely?"
Dennis stops what he's doing, smiles.
"You want to know about blogs? Let me tell you something about blogs. You've got to mistreat them. You have to be the worst sort of husband to your blog: selfish, cruel, violent, and perverted. You gotta force your blog to 'try new things', just to amuse you, no matter how degrading. You gotta come home and take out your frustrations on your blog. Submit it to your every dark mood. Throw a tantrum for no reason at all every once in a while. And yes, every now and then you have to give it good cuffing, or the damn thing will take over. Keep your foot on it or it will keep its foot on you. Because make no mistake, loving or loveless, every relationship is a struggle for primacy."
"Imagine you being single."
"Now: get the hell out of here, these links are pretty dry tinder, some of them go up in a flash..."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weapons of Crass Distraction

Lesser among the unfortunate results of the rise of the Fox News/talk-radio complex of Republican media emplacements (as I write Fox succeeds at terrifying me with its weekend war propaganda, Iran, The Ticking Bomb, though it's the spectacle of power's hand so carelessly, almost contemptuously, disguised, and not wily Persians, alarming me), is that it necessitates its corrective counter-spawn, Keith Olbermann. And make no mistake. We need Keith Olbermann. It is as dire as that.

Last Friday Olbermann's Countdown newscast led with a report on a fine essay by Andrew Bacevich in the upcoming American Conservative, and an accompanying provocative cover, critical of General Petraus. The contents of Bacevich's article, the facts of General Petraus' alliance with the Administration, and the diversionary purpose behind the phony outrage over criticism of Petraus (this canard would be denounced, and perpetuated) went unmentioned.

The news item, such as it was, took the form of Olbermann challenging the Republican Party to repudiate the American Conservative for this supposed offense to Petraus, consistent with criticism of MoveOn's "Betray-us" ad. Olbermann condemned Republican hypocrisy, presumably because the magazine is one of their own. Olbermann evinced (or affected) an unlikely ignorance of the vast gulf between current Republican Party leadership and the American Conservatives' valiant insurgency, deliberately encouraging the misunderstanding that the magazine and such Republican boosters as Rush Limbaugh are intellectual and political kin. Similar to the neocon's creative categorization of Shi'ite Hezbollah along with Sunni Al Qaeda.

What Olbermann, in his haste to engage his adversaries on their terms (terms, as far as I can tell, delineating a contest of public professions of sentiment and gaffe-exploitation/evasion), did not take the time to mention (or worse, to learn) was that the small but excellent magazine was launched in 2002 in opposition to the war, when Olbermann's own inspired (and invaluable) anti-Bush campaign had yet to launch in response to his being singled out by the Administration for criticism (nothing like a personal insult and professional threat to provoke outrage at a disastrous and criminal war).

The magazine has been attacked by the Republican establishment, long before Olbermann's self-serving sideshow set up camp, and when that establishment was riding high on poll figures, intoxicated on its first taste of blood, and swinging the axe of pre-war hysterics at any who dared raise their voice in dissent, most infamously and embarrassingly in David Frum's "unpatriotic conservatives" record of public dementia preserved in National Review.

Olbermann is either so ill-informed and professionally derelict that the mere presence of the word "Conservative" in the magazine's name leads him to assume it is a Republican Party organ with not so much as a look at the masthead, or he is so corrupted by his zeal to engage in the repulsive vanity warfare that is cable news (sadly, far more likely), that he chose a minor misrepresentation of omission (minor, that is, to the advancement of Keith Olbermann and his pleasure at hearing the lamentations of his enemies' women and children) of the proud publishing record of the American Conservative.
A name made estimable by the heroic and principled stand of the last five years (and individual professional sacrifices by people enduring everything from outright slander to Olbermann's callow, lazy disregard) becomes fodder in an ego-battle between Olbermann and O'Reilly, men wearing pancake make-up and powder. Something is wrong in our time.

But there is a point to the ongoing skirmish between Olbermann and his enemies. The nation is distracted by the battle of personalities (and what sad excuses for personalities are our would-be Olympians), a proxy war sideshow to prevent the emergence of a frank debate about the coming assault on Iran. We're brawling in the stands as the war faction just keeps moving the ball, even with a little help from Hillary (imagine if she was willing to risk the White House using her stature to question the hostilities with Iran--too much to expect in America at the moment, decency will have to wait), tossing her lot in with the Iran-must-be-stopped panic (meanwhile, Olbermann and--perfect!--MoveOn.org pretend not to notice).

Olbermann would spend much of the rest of the broadcast reporting of "racist" remarks made by Bill O'Reilly (Olbermann is keen on uncovering evidence of racism in public speech, and no doubt looks forward to concentrating more on this sort of thing after the war becomes a Democratic property).
Promising more damning and relevant evidence of O'Reilly's racism, he played clips of O'Reilly in an interview making the now familiar verbal contortions of a public figure trying to free himself of the implications of an original impropriety (and even here O'Reilly manages to be thoroughly unsympathetic, and actually entirely in his element, brandishing the greatness of Bill, superior tolerance mode); and my own dull redneck racism renders me embarrassingly incapable of discerning the appalling bigotry that I'm assured is there. The ultimate importance of Bill O'Reilly's private opinion of blacks is likewise lost on me. But it must be, if the nicely dressed people on the television are so concerned.

I flipped next door to find O'Reilly making the case for his purity and persecution, in PowerPoint. The accompaniment. Oh for a net of sufficient size to cull the lot of them.