Friday, September 28, 2007

Racist Nation

It has been a while since I've done a political post, so let's see if I can flush out a right-wing racist troll to flame on me. Like my old friend Kyle in Seattle or that freak from stop-immigration .org.

I've tried to stay away from speaking about the goings on in Jena, Louisiana because it is being covered so much in the news and on thousands of other blogs so I didn't think there would be a point. But then I saw the news conference yesterday held by Reed Walters, the District Attorney in that part of the state. Now I have to say something.

I can understand how people might be a little conflicted about how they feel about this case when Al Sharpton is involved. Well meaning people have been burned my him before, and he doesn't admit when he's wrong about a case of racism that turns out not to be that. And he doesn't apologize when he has made a mistake. So I understand the reservation on taking Sharpton at his word.


After looking at the things that have transpired in Jena over the last year, anyone who says that there is no racism problem in that town are liars, fools or both.

DA Reed says race played no part in his decision making. He has made a big stink of pointing out that he has no law available to prosecute the kids who hung the nooses from the tree at the high school. He claims that he can't prosecute with the hate crime statue because there needs to be another crime to be able to pile the hate crime rule on top of. While this is true, he is being dishonest in claiming he needs a hate crime law to prosecute the guys who did it. You do not need a hate crime statute to prosecute someone for threats and intimidation. He has also avoided answering why he did not go after the white kids who committed acts of violence against the black kids. In one of the incidents a white kid pulled a shotgun on some black kids, they wrestled it away from him. Instead of the white kid being charged with threatening them with a gun, they were charged with stealing the gun. Prior to that a group of white kids beat up a black kid that involved someone hitting him over the head with a bottle.

Almost nothing was done by the DA to go after anyone with white skin who committed an act of violence against someone with black skin. If he had done his job from the beginning it is possible that what finally came to pass in this small town may never have happened.

What irks me more than anything in this whole case is the claim by local white people and the right-wing propaganda machine that there is no racial problem in Jena. The real truth is there is a huge racial problem there

I grew up in the south, in a town not that much different in size than Jena, albeit much closer to an urban area, outside of Atlanta. I've heard the subtle racist-speak many times. And it is very pervasive in the mouths of the white Jena residents, the DA and the right-wing "press".

The biggest charge is that all of the problems in Jena are being caused by "outsiders" and that there is no problem between blacks and whites there. Check out news footage from the south in the 50s and 60s and you will see the exact same language. The translation is "uppity niggers from up north are causing these problems."

"Outsiders" has always been the code for civil rights workers in the south. The problem isn't that they are outsiders. The problem, for the white people of Jena, is that they are there shining a light on your bigoted ways and encouraging the local minorities to stand up for themselves instead of take their shit.

By the way, there not being a government imposed segregation in high school does not equal no race problem. Self-imposed segregation is still a race problem. Harder to fix than a government sanctioned one to be sure. To not even try to address why whites sit with whites and blacks with blacks at lunch shows a complete disregard for racial equality.

Local officials and the local newspaper have gone on record as saying the noose incident that happened at the high school was a prank and not racially motivated. This may be the most laughable of all the claims made by the whites citizens of Jena. Check out this page (scroll down) of the timeline of events as told by the Jena Times. They go out of their way to claim that none of this is race related and all of the problems are being caused by outsiders and that very few Jena residents are involved. They lay blame on the liberal media for fanning the flames of racism. If you check the staff page of the paper's website you see that there are no blacks represented. But there is no race problem in Jena.

Saying that there was no racial intent to the noose incident is the most offensive claim of the entire sordid chain of events. If it were actually true (which I don't believe) that those white kids didn't know the significance of what a noose hung from a tree means in America, and especially the south, then the high school needs to immediately fire and publicly flog their history teacher.

The other highly offensive thing is something that has been done by the national media, under pressure to show some sort of "other side" of the story. Trying to give some sort of credence to these claims of no race problem in Jena, CNN's Kyra Phillips did a puff piece talking to residents of Jena, including students and teachers at the high school, who claim that blacks and whites get along fine there. Funny thing is, she never showed any black people saying that. Everyone who claimed there is no black/white problem in Jena just happened to be white.

CNN also gives a voice to the vile Jesse Lee Peterson, a black man who calls the NAACP a hate group and runs an anti-civil rights organization backed almost exclusively by right-wing white nationalists. He is even supported by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white separatist group. He is a pathetic Uncle Tom tool of the white racist movement who is enlisted to give credibility to their agenda by having a black man read off their talking points. "See, this Negro agrees with us, so we can't be racists." (There's a great article about him in The Nation from a couple of years ago)

They have a female version in LaShawn Barber who they rolled out to defend Bill O'Reilly's racist comments about the restaurant in Harlem and also has said publicly that a woman shouldn't be president because they are weaker than men. (And that gay marriage is worse than slavery)

The worst came yesterday, at the press conference by DA Walters. If you haven't seen his quote yet here is what he said toward the end, after announcing he would not appeal the ruling that he never should have tried Mychal Bell as an adult. He decided to take the most mean spirited swipe at the activists who came to his town to protest:

"The only way -- and let me stress that -- the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community."

And then this:

"I firmly believe that had it not been for the direct intervention of
the Lord Jesus Christ last Thursday, a disaster would have happened."

Anyone who doesn't get what he said, let me translate once again. He basically said that Jesus protected his town from all those trouble-making darkies.

And these people claim they aren't racist. But then so do the Republican presidential candidates who refused to participate in a debate hosted by a traditionally black college that focused on minority issues.

If any further evidence was needed that there is still a race problem in the south, think about a couple of things. LaSalle Parish, where Jena is located, was carried by former Klan leader and Holocaust denier David Duke when he ran for governor in 1991. Exit polls suggested that he took 75% of the white vote in the parish. A Republican stronghold, the current Democratic governor actually carried LaSalle in the 2003 race, when the Republican candidate was Bobby Jindal, the son of Indian immigrants. So much for the "big tent" party.

As for the outsiders causing all the problems in your town, well we'll make you a deal Jena. If you stop sending your stupid crackers in their pickup trucks painted with images of eagles, American flags and burning World Trade Center towers up to lower Manhattan every damn September, we'll stop sending Al Sharpton down there every time you violate the rights of your black citizens. Deal?

Monday, September 24, 2007

'Cause I'm An Adult Now

OK, I know it has been way too long since my last post, but I got a life ya know.

Anyway, over the last month my wife and I have gone to a couple of adoption seminars at different adoption agencies. Just so we are clear, yes we are talking about a kid and not a puppy.

Going to these things has been something of a surreal experience. When I've been at these things I feel like I'm in the wrong place. Like I went to the Learning Annex for the vinyl record collectors exhibit but accidentally walked in to the needlepoint circle. Or church. I just don't feel like I'm in the right place. And I feel like everyone else there is thinking the same thing. "This guy wants to be a father?!?! Dude, the Hemp Fest planning committee is meeting down the hall."

I wish they would separate these things in to different groups so that I could feel like I'm in the same place as the other potential parents there. "Excuse me, I'm looking for the group that's not the collection of fifty-something men starting new families with their thirty-something wives/secretaries due to being estranged from their adult children because, well, he bolted their mother to fuck his secretary."

I mean come on, there is no reason I should find myself in a room with those guys unless it is a baseball game or an AA meeting.

It also makes me feel like I was accidentally sat at the adult table. At some point one of the adults will realize their mistake and send me away.

Don't get me wrong, I want to do this, I really do. But what business do I have being a father? There are people out there who tell me they think I'll be a good dad and I always wonder what it is that makes people think this, my foul fucking mouth or my history of drug use?

Or that when people ask me what I do for a living I don't actually know how to answer? Now suddenly, since we want to do a foreign adoption, I'm supposed to be able to both write a biography of my life since childhood and describe my parenting philosophy. Describe my parenting philosophy? Somehow I don't think writing, "Think of how my mother did everything and do the opposite" will be an acceptable essay.

And how will I possibly answer the question of what I think will make me a good father? Ummmm, I own a lot of Robyn Hitchcock albums and like Hal Hartley movies?

See what I mean?

Before our last seminar I actually won tickets to see Jill Sobule at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park that was taking place the same exact evening. My wife offered to go to the show instead, but that we wouldn't be able to go to another one at that agency until December if we skipped it. So dammit, I actually made an adult decision and went to the meeting.

Of course I did this only after asking my wife how long it was supposed to last and figured that we could still make the show and only miss the opener. So I was looking at the time every few minutes and wanted to kill every single person who asked questions because they were making it last longer. Didn't they realize I had a concert to go to?

All in all it was an informative session, despite its mind-boggling nature. We learned a lot about the process and are now more prepared to make some educated decisions about starting a family.

But by the end of the night, sitting at the theater in Central Park, I was reminded of something.

Jill Sobule kicks ass.

Monday, September 10, 2007

No Miracle On State Street

Department store giant bought another giant department store chain, Marshall Field's, sometime around two years ago I think. One year ago Macy's put up their sign on the main Marshall Field's store in downtown Chicago, making the name change official and complete.

Yesterday at that same State Street store about 200 protesters showed up to mark the occasion. They had a moment of silence under the store clock. They carried signs of protest against Macy's. They chanted anti-Macy's slogans. Some of the chants and the signs were quotes from the man Marshall Field himself ("Give the lady what she wants," etc) as if Macy's had actually taken the store directly from the original owner rather than after years of various other corporate, often out of town, ownership.

The things that people have cherished memories of at Field's mostly all still exist. Christmas window displays, the Walnut Room restaurant, even the much loved Frango mints (which actually originated in Seattle) are all still part of the tradition at the now-Macy's Chicago State Street store. Their only real beef is the changing of the name of the store.

So let's see now. Thousands are dying every month in Iraq and Afghanistan. AIDS is devastating South Africa and their president is advocating the use of garlic to treat HIV while saying that antiretroviral drugs make you sick. The president of our own country is trying as hard as he can to shred the last remaining rights out of the Constitution. Genocide is still happening in Darfur. The military junta in Burma continues to hold democratic reformer and the legitimately elected leader of that country, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest.

But what got these people out of bed on a Sunday morning and fired up enough to take the time to make a bunch of signs and chant slogans for a few hours? They don't like the sign on their favorite department store.

And my friends wonder why people tend to annoy me so fucking much.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Help Save The Youth Of America

Help save the youth of America
Help save them from themselves
Help save the sun-tanned surfer boys
And the Californian girls

----Billy Bragg

One of my wife's friends from her residency days came in from Chicago and stayed with us for the weekend. She brought her daughter, who is twelve. After spending a weekend with a twelve-year old girl I think I have a few less brain cells than before. I'm also much more worried about the future population of this country and I was already concerned about that.

It wasn't talking to a twelve year-old, middle-class white kid that made me feel this way, as you might expect. Though it did make me cringe when she said that you "have to" have a car to be able to live in Chicago. She seemed shocked when I told her I lived there without a car for years. But my argument that automobiles make people lazy and stupid is an argument for another day.

No, what did it was Disney Channel. Her mother doesn't subscribe to cable at home (a choice I applaud any parent for making) so when she was here she asked, every night, if we could watch the Disney Channel. No problem, sure.

Wow. I had no idea. Not having a kid I haven't actually had a reason to even check out the Disney Channel. My family had it for a while when it first came out when I was a kid myself, it was a premium channel back then like HBO, and it was pretty much just Disney movies and old episodes of Wonderful World of Disney. If you had a hankering to watch Old Yeller on any given day you probably could. But after we got caught stealing cable we didn't have it anymore, and after it became a part of basic cable I never turned it on. I had to look around to find it when the girl asked if she could watch it.

Has anybody out there seen this shit? People actually let their kids watch it? It is not just horrible it is mind-numbingly stupid. During the course of the weekend that we were watching it just about every night, there were the same few sitcoms on every night. Yes, sitcoms. The whole Disney Channel thing seems to be modeled after the artistic genius of Saved By The Bell, with the same exact jokes. Seriously.

This is between commercials for High School Musical, full of pretty acne-free cool kids all being nice to each other. These poor kids who watch that are in for a rude awakening when they got to real high school and see what it is actually like.

There were three main shows I saw while having to endure this torture. First there is a show called Life With Derek, which is just a modern day rip-off of The Brady Bunch. Then there is this silly show The Suite Life With Zack & Cody, about twin brothers with (as my wife pointed out) hair that for some reason is styled after Nicholas from the 70s/80s sitcom Eight Is Enough. They for some reason live in the penthouse suite of a luxury hotel in Boston. Supposedly they aren't rich, their mother works as a singer at the hotel. I hate to break it to you kids, but if they've been given the penthouse suite singing is not the only service mom is providing, wink wink nudge nudge.

Then there is Hannah Montana. Now I had heard of this show, how could you not. I heard her talked about as a good role model by my sister-in-law, at least when compared to Britney Spears, because she apparently dresses "wholesome." I wonder if she actually watches the shows she lets her kids watch on Disney Channel. Because if that little idiot girl is supposed to be a role model for young people we are all doomed.

I sometimes think that parents like my brother and his wife see something that is full of white people and doesn't have rap music in it so then assume that it must be OK for their kids to watch.

The fact that these shows are full of really bad, very dumb lowbrow jokes with bad laugh track sound effects straight out of 70s sitcoms isn't even the worst thing about them. The lead characters in these shows, including Hannah Montana, are assholes. These kids are shallow, petty, vengeful, vain, materialistic, disrespectful, impudent little fuckheads. These are supposed to be the "good role models" to the parents of three of my nieces and one nephew?

Perhaps it is because they are as clueless as the way parents are portrayed on these shows. Really, just one example of the brilliant parenting skills on Hannah Montana is when her father punishes the son by pretending he doesn't exist and not speaking to him. Send that suggestion to Dr. Spock!

I swear, why parents let their kids watch this shit I'll never know. Why is it that we think that entertainment for children has to be stupid? Why does the alternative to a Britney Spears have to be an annoying little twit like Hannah Montana? There are brilliant singer-songwriter women out there like Jill Sobule, Tegan and Sarah, Bjork, Amanda Palmer (Dresden Dolls) and the list goes on and on.

Heck, there is even a group called Smoosh, a couple of sisters aged 15 and 13, that make brilliant indie-rock music that they actually write and perform themselves.

Can't we introduce our kids to real stuff made by real people instead of shoving media conglomerate manufactured nonsense down their throat?

Treat them stupid and they will be stupid.