Thursday, December 31, 2009

Now I know why Prometheus 6 reads David Brooks columns

A New Year's Eve party-hat tip to Rikyrah in the Dec. 31 JJP Open Thread.

I should know by now that when a new Shelby Steele op-ed appears in the Wall Street Journal, I should treat it as a low-level crime scene, observe the police tape boundaries and just move along (as in "move along, nothing to see here folks") so I don't act suspicious and get myself pulled aside for questioning.

But there are certain writers who project themselves in a way guaranteed to hit a hot button. Steele can do that with me. As a Hoover Institution fellow, he frequents the same parts of California I do, and that means he resides in a comfortable enough universe to write things such as:
America still has a race problem, though not the one that conventional wisdom would suggest: the racism of whites toward blacks. Old fashioned white racism has lost its legitimacy in the world and become an almost universal disgrace.
Oy vey. He was obviously hibernating over the summer and fall of 2009 when birthers, deathers, and other miscreants "just wanted their America back." I refuse to further engage that exculpatory aspect of his writing until he comes up with something new.

What I found hot-buttonish and new in this piece were several references to the President that reminded me more of G. W. Bush than of Barack Obama.

The first of these was a brief retelling of "The Emperor's New Clothes," which metaphor certainly applied early on in W's first term, with press secretary Ari Fleischer's too-frequent use of the word thoughtful to describe Mr. Bush the Younger. No, them clothes won't wear, I thought at the time and still do. Steele says that Obama's emperor-clothes are a sophistication, not in the sense of complexity but in the (archaic) sense of something misleading or corrupting. He argues that this sophistication is about race.

All emphases added in the blockquotes below.
And yet, without self-disclosure on the one hand or cross-examination on the other, Mr. Obama became arguably the least known man ever to step into the American presidency.
Hm. Let's see. We don't even know where W. was for all his National Guard service, while Obama had published an autobiography (that needed no ghostwriter).
Our new race problem—the sophistication of seeing what isn't there rather than what is—has surprised us with a president who hides his lack of economic understanding behind a drama of scale.
Waitaminnit-- which previous President started this stimulus package thing anyway?
Mr. Obama's economic thinking (or lack thereof) adds up to a kind of rudderless cowboyism combined with wishful thinking.
Well, I can give Steele half a mixed metaphor (horse as ship?) here. I'm not sure W.'s cowboyism was rudderless, I just didn't like the direction he was steered in. Overall, though, I am still confused as to which president Steele's describing.
I think that Mr. Obama is not just inexperienced; he is also hampered by a distinct inner emptiness—not an emptiness that comes from stupidity or a lack of ability but an emptiness that has been actually nurtured and developed as an adaptation to the political world.
All right, if you want to go there, I guess that would differentiate Obama from the previous occupier of the Oval Office.

Steele seems more comfortable-- at least more honest-- as he resurrects one of his own metaphors, that of the bargainer's mask:
He always wore the bargainer's mask—winning the loyalty and gratitude of whites by flattering them with his racial trust: I will presume that you are not a racist if you will not hold my race against me. Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and yes, Tiger Woods have all been superb bargainers, eliciting almost reverential support among whites for all that they were not—not angry or militant, not political, not using their moral authority as blacks to exact a wage from white guilt.
At the end, amid a rare instance of seeming to blame white America for the Obama we've got ("white America conditioned Barack Obama to emptiness"), I sense an implicit dare to Obama to drop the mask. To which I would say to Steele: You first.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Shadow of the Torturer

You may be familiar with Gene Wolfe's The Shadow of the Torturer. The book takes place in a world where torture is not forbidden, not even an exception, but is a fully integrated, normal part of the culture, politics, and society. The story and its sequels follow Severian, an apprentice in the torturers' guild. In the habit of good science fiction, it forces us to rethink our assumptions of good and evil, starting with the Spanish Inquisition and working forward from there.

You may also be familiar with 24, the TV show in which self-flagellating protagonist Jack Bauer must, a few episodes into each season, resort to torture (or the threat of torture) to retrieve information vital to keep the show from grinding to a halt before 24 hours is up. It's something like a video game (after all, he must go through this routine every level, er, season), only with more angst.

I foolishly thought the U.S.-as-torture-supporter question was closed well before this blog even started, but I forgot who I was dealing with. Thanks to the latest idiot terrorist attempt to blow up a plane, the usual attack dogs are back on the job-- crusty old out-of-power Republicans, fading neocons, blowsy over-rouged pundicrats who resemble the real-estate agents you duck around corners to avoid, and all their progeny. They seem determined to ensure that America's global reputation never gets any better, thereby perpetuating the threat and guaranteeing new crops of people who don't like us.

Here's an example:

The setup, the groundwork for resurrecting and justifying the Jack Bauer approach starts at 3:15 in this video from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. The actual references to torture as acceptable kick in at about 6:15.

[Tech note: You may need to resize/zoom in or out with your browser's View menu, as Blogger and MSNBC videos aren't perfectly interactive. Click here for direct link to video if needed.]

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Reflection Meme

Ah, it's the end of another calendar year, and the reflection meme permeating the ether contaminates us all. Feel it? Which ideas, which themes to keep and which to discard? What is worth a year-end mention and what is best forgotten?

Many in the MSM are doing a decade-long review thing, 2000-2009. They are technically a bit ahead of themselves, but it may make sense if you are one of those round-number people who start a century at year '00 instead of '01, you know, "just because." (Admit it, there's no logic involved. Quick, what happened in the year 00 A.D.?) Mark my words, this decade-review ritual will repeat at the end of 2010, when they have an irresistible multiple of ten to deal with.

I expect two occasional features from my 2009 blogging at TOTF to carry forward. The first is "Why I hate the Confederacy," which no one north or south of the Mason-Dixon Line has given me any reason to abandon. I only managed a couple of installments, but I imagine that with mid-term elections there will be plenty of fodder coming up.

The other is "Quote of the Week," which was far from weekly here, but it regularly graced my academic e-mail for those lucky enough to be on the receiving end. Herewith is a little cyberpunk from a 1999 book that should get us to the end of 2009:

"That which is overdesigned, too highly specific, anticipates outcome; the anticipation of outcome guarantees, if not failure, the absence of grace."
     --William Gibson


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Smorgasbord, yum yum

So this morning (Christmas Eve) I woke up my computer just before dawn, and the horrible, spectral face of Jacob Marley stared at me from the screen, chains a-clanking. The chains were in the form of half a dozen browser windows and multiple tabs open with various couldas, wouldas, and shouldas to haunt me. With end-of-semester crunch slammed up against holiday crunch, as well as family events, certain posts just didn't happen and it's safe to say they won't. Yes, you're right, "I been there before" to quote from the late Ralph Wiley's favorite American author, but obviously I haven't learned the life lesson yet. Herewith are a few items that have piled up, with hat tips to Prometheus 6, Jack and Jill Politics, DarkStar Spouts Off, and probably a couple of others.

December 23, 2009
Latino Leaders Use Churches in Census Bid

MIAMI — Fearing that millions of illegal immigrants may not be counted in the 2010 census, Latino leaders are mobilizing a nationwide drive to urge Hispanics to participate in the survey, including an intense push this week in evangelical Christian churches.

Latino groups contend that there was an undercount of nearly one million Latinos in the 2000 census, affecting the drawing of Congressional districts and the distribution of federal money. Hispanic organizations are far better organized for next year’s census, but they say that if illegal immigrants — an estimated eight million of whom are Latino — are not included, the undercount could be much greater.

I don't link much to the grumpier, more conservative corners of the blogosphere, but here's an exception from DarkStar Spouts Off (hey, it's the holidays):

Another "Acting White" Data Point

This is more for me than for you. But if you want to read it, enjoy.

A Problem We Can Agree Upon

There is a problem. On that, nearly everyone agrees. But to what forces should one attribute the black-white achievement gap? Sometimes it seems everyone has a confident opinion. Explanations for the persistent gap in education achievement between African-American and white students range from a decline in personal responsibility among black Americans, to unenlightened education policy, to lazy teachers, to entrenched poverty.

A three-click serendipitous follow-through led me to this 2006 article from Yes! Magazine's site by Van Jones, from his days prior to being a sacrificial lamb on the conservative altar, offered up by the Obama White House or at least without strong objection from there. I link here because of the continuing issue, especially visible in the West and Southwest, of Black/Latino solidarity. I mean, if such solidarity was a done deal, we wouldn't need to keep talking about it. The "common enemy" of a system that wasn't really designed for us is not enough to keep us together without effort.

Shout "VIVA!" Anyhow: On Being Black at a Latino March
by Van Jones
posted May 04, 2006

At this week's "Dia Sin Inmigrantes/Day Without Immigrants" march in San Francisco, I saw a beautiful, exciting and hopeful vision of the future of this country.

I also caught a glimpse of a familiar past, fading away. And I shed a few tears for both.

"Are we considered full people yet?" coverage from the sports world reports on the fate of the female ski jumpers. The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that the International Olympic Committee isn't subject to the Canadian Charter of Rights, no matter how much money they bring to the country. Oh, wait, let me reword that.

Female Ski Jumpers Lose Last Chance to Join Vancouver Games
(retitled from: Women Ski Jumpers Lose Last Chance to Join Vancouver Games, and yes I wish I had the screen shot but the URL reflects the original)

...and... from the local Vancouver BC paper:

Female ski jumpers lose final bid to compete at Vancouver 2010 Olympics

Back to good old traditional US-side segregation & diversity issues... especially the class vs. race debate... often framed as "can't we just say there are poor people in need of help, without acknowledging any of that nasty old racism?" Let's check Chicago:

City Schools’ New Criteria for Diversity Raise Fears
Published: December 19, 2009

The Chicago public schools’ response to a recent court desegregation ruling — a plan to use students’ social and economic profiles instead of race to achieve classroom diversity — is raising fears that it will undermine the district’s slow and incremental progress on racial diversity.

But on a positive note, you have surely heard about the Crouch quadruplets of Danbury, Connecticut, all getting admitted to Yale, the four of them, yes indeed. And if you haven't, shame on ya, but that's why you're here:

Boola Boola, Boola Boola: Yale Says Yes, 4 Times

The above-linked NY Times story by Jacques Steinberg is such a breath of fresh air that I won't quibble over the things in such articles that bloggers usually quibble over. He didn't directly go down that credit-to-their-race road, so again, no quibbles this time. NECN did comment on their, ahem, "intelligence and demeanor" in a rather Biden-esque way but their video has plenty of good footage of the quads (the embed isn't Blogger-friendly so it's a link to the page):

Enough smorgasbord for one day. Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

New to our TOTF stage: Research Studies of the Obvious

I'm adding a new category, borrowed directly from Prometheus6. (Since I suggested the category to him in the first place I don't expect to hear from his lawyer.) I didn't think I'd be using it over here but... it's a small world, n'est-ce pas?

Oh, and to be fair to the eminent scholars at the Naval Postgraduate School, let's suggest that they weren't really wondering whether there was any connection between dropout rates, unemployment, and gang violence. They were, however, applying different analysis tools to the issue. (Whether it makes sense to apply military modes of analysis to this environment is left to the reader.) They could have had faulty assumptions about crowded housing, though, hence their surprise about that variable.
NPS study of Salinas links dropout rate, unemployment to gang violence
Salinas employment another key factor, NPS study shows

Herald Salinas Bureau
Updated: 12/22/2009 01:27:46 AM PST

In a report to be released next month, researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey find that nearly 30 years of violence in Salinas has been intimately tied to education and employment levels, but not necessarily to crowded housing or police staffing levels.

"Although funding will be a problem for any program recommended to help lower violence, education pursuits should be given priority for funding," the report concludes.

One finding surprised the authors — that Salinas' crowded housing not only did not exacerbate violent crime, but was inexplicably tied to decreases.
Having volunteered in a local library homework program, I think there's a slight breakdown in logic as stated below:

But they ran into obstacles along the way. Prison recidivism numbers, for instance, were available only for the entire state. Also, there wasn't enough information about who actually uses services believed to steer kids away from gangs, such as libraries and after-school programs.

"If these programs are primarily patronized by children and adults who are not involved in violent crimes or gangs, then it is logical that these programs would not significantly impact the level of violent crime," the study said. [emphasis added]

One intent of many library & after-school programs is prevention. If people "who are not involved in violent crimes or gangs" participate in such programs, and they stay out of trouble, you can argue that it's the programs or you can argue that the same people, they or their parents being so inclined, would have found some other activity to stay out of trouble. You can also argue that the same people would contribute to the level of violent crime if there were no programs. There's no way to be sure, based on current methods. (Current methods are fairly random. Ideas, funding, and volunteers come and go with the wind.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

AXON the wrong question

"The AXON project is unfortunately a positive thing right now because the level of distrust is so high," said Raj Jayadev, director of the community organization Silicon Valley De-Bug. "But it doesn't address the more fundamental problem: What stereotypes police may carry when they see people of color on the street and make assumptions about character."
This head-mounted camera system for the San Jose police is from the Taser folks-- remember them? Actually that doesn't bother me, as someone is going to perfect and sell this as a solution. The issue is that (see below) it's officer-activated, which means it's also officer-deactivated as desired. We should also recall from the Rodney King tapes and so many other incidents that having an event recorded is no guarantee that everyone will agree on "what happened."

San Jose police test head-mounted cameras for officers

By Sharon Noguchi
Posted: 12/18/2009 09:09:12 PM PST
Updated: 12/19/2009 03:50:18 AM PST

San Jose police, under fire for interactions with the public that have turned violent, on Friday launched a pilot project equipping officers with head-mounted cameras to record contacts with civilians.

Officers will activate the cameras, about the size of a Bluetooth device and attached by a headband above the ear, every time they respond or make contact with a person. At the end of the officer's shift, the recording will be downloaded to a central server.

Friday, December 18, 2009

On Native Hawaiians: Somebody point out the down side of this

Proponents say the plan would duplicate the legal scenario set up for Native Americans, but the Akaka bill carves out new territory. Unlike Indian tribes made up of tightly knit populations that have lived together continuously, participation in the new group would be available to nearly anyone able to trace their roots back to a Native Hawaiian ancestor, no matter where they now reside.
Yeah... so? And your point is...? I'm having trouble with the WSJ editorial's premise that ethnic Hawaiians aren't indigenous in a way exceedingly similar to Native Americans on the mainland. Why shouldn't they pursue any remedy available? What is this new rule (moving goal post) saying people have to live together continuously in a tightly-knit population to pursue justice?

I'm having trouble with the editorial citing the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in a skewed way, or rather citing Bush-era appointee Gail Heriot in particular as an authority, without balance. Being an editorial and all, the piece doesn't have to be fair or balanced as it frets about the bill's impact on non-Native residents of Hawaii. Let me get out my violin. Maybe WSJ should have considered the unintended consequences of non-Native presence fifty years ago... oh, sorry, if they thought about it the consequences wouldn't be "unintended."

1959: Hawaii statehood
1990: First U.S. senator with Hawaiian ancestry (bill sponsor Akaka)

Thirty-one years to find a qualified local, no doubt. Affirmative action, no doubt. Oooh! ®

DECEMBER 17, 2009
Aloha, Segregation
The Akaka bill would create a race-based state in Hawaii.

President Obama speaks proudly of his childhood in Hawaii, so we wonder what the state's voters think of his support for a bill that would redistribute its wealth based on race. That's what would happen under the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which Congress is trying to sneak through in its final days this year.

Sponsored by Senator Daniel Akaka, the bill would transfer a percentage of public-owned lands to a native Hawaiian government within the state of Hawaii. The legislation would collect some 400,000 ethnic Hawaiians scattered across the country into a newly affiliated tribe, eventually endowed with the powers of a sovereign state, including freedom from state taxes and regulations and separate police power.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why old soldiers hang out at the VFW

There is a point at which it is unseemly to go to a bar and accept drinks from strangers. But when a nation doesn't fully recognize your service, you'll take recognition from anyone who's "been there, done that." You'll for sure take recognition from anyone who is glad you did it so they didn't have to. As a veteran, I've been on the receiving end of the old buy-them-a-round tradition and been grateful. The veterans in this article deserve the same.

Back from combat, women struggle for acceptance

By KIMBERLY HEFLING, Associated Press Writer

Monday, December 14, 2009

(12-14) 15:03 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --

Nobody wants to buy them a beer.

Even near military bases, female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't often offered a drink on the house as a welcome home.

More than 230,000 American women have fought in those recent wars and at least 120 have died doing so, yet the public still doesn't completely understand their contributions on the modern battlefield.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Well then, Arnie... Who WOULD you tolerate terrorism against?

"California will not tolerate any type of terrorism against any leaders, including educators," Schwarzenegger said.
I'm torn between feeling reassured that the governor's forces will protect my home against all invaders, and feeling concerned at the re-definition of "terrorism" to include protesting students. In this case the students-- and duly noted, rabble-rousers who weren't students-- acted a lot like the mob storming the castle in any Frankenstein movie (torches? jeez Louise), which is to say well down the road to acting like a lynch mob, if they're not more careful.

I also note that the offenses against persons are well balanced by offenses against property. They should definitely learn not to mess with property. That'll get you locked up.

8 arrested in vandalism of UC chancellor's home
Henry K. Lee, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, December 13, 2009

(12-12) 19:15 PST BERKELEY -- Eight people were in custody Saturday after a crowd of angry protesters broke windows and threw burning torches at UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau's campus residence in protest of fee hikes and budget cuts, authorities said.

As many as 75 people - some of them carrying torches - surrounded the mansion, known as University House, on the north side of campus off Hearst Avenue at about 11:15 p.m. Friday, police said.

The crowd, including a man taken into custody in a university protest a day earlier, chanted, "No justice, no peace," and began smashing planters, windows and lights. Several hurled their torches at the building, said campus spokesman Dan Mogulof...

...UC Berkeley police arrested Cal students Zachary Bowin, 21, and Angela Miller, 20, on suspicion of rioting, threatening an education official, attempted burglary, attempted arson of an occupied building, vandalism and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, Mogulof said.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Recent Films I Won't Be Seeing: The Precious Push of the Blind Side

I wring my hands. The autumn 2009 releases of two films, Precious and The Blind Side, have brought a new focus to the everyday angst of the Black Community largely writ. My own focus is no more and definitely no less authentic than any other. (Thanks to Quintard Taylor's take on authenticity of the African-American Experience in the West for "permission" to feel this way.) But it's notable that my view has remained remarkably unchanged. I've read, skimmed, listened to, and yes, fled from exegeses great and small in mainstream media, blogosphere, and everyday phone calls but I haven't budged. Add to this the fact that I'm not in the target audience for either film and-- still I wring my hands and fret about both.

A copy of Sapphire's Push (the inspiration for Precious) has been on my "black-oriented fiction goes here, sort of" shelf for several years. I have glanced sidelong at it periodically. I have riffled the pages and read a paragraph here or there. I have, over time, reached left and right for Michel Maxwell Philip's Emmanuel Appadocca (left) and Susan Straight's Blacker than a Thousand Midnights (right).

In a fit of pique a few days ago, I started and finished Percival Everett's Erasure (2001) as a further stopgap against coming to terms with the current releases. (As an aside, its themes were too troubling and close to home to cure my traditional end-of-semester insomnia. Professor Everett of USC is an African-American male in West Coast academia, a role model I've never met, so his words stared accusingly up at me even as I lost sleep reading them.) Erasure, which contains a "novel-within-a-novel" parody of the gritty, urban, street-talk genre, is about as close as I will probably come to reading Push, and you can make a case that it's not very close at all, and in a way is even set up in opposition and response to works such as Sapphire's.

If I probably won't go beyond skimming her book, will I see the movie? After all, I'm never going to read Ben-Hur, but that didn't stop me from finally watching the film version. (All that Biblical retelling for one dang chariot race.) With film, I never say never except for Gone with the Wind, which I've fallen asleep in twice and can safely say I've abandoned. GWTW is infused deeply enough in our collective culture that it rates its own acronym, and I'm more than satisfied with brief clips, famous quotations, and satire. (My current favorite is here paraphrased from its original on a summer 2009 blog I don't normally frequent, seventy years after GWTW's release: "I don't know nothin' 'bout babyin' no birthers!")

Yet, I doubt that I will see Precious in spite of my friends at exhorting all to do so. Eventually I must admit it's for the same reason I have not read the book cover to cover. It's the subject matter and the setting. Not only don't I want to live there, I don't want to visit.

As to The Blind Side, at first glance I cared not a whit that it was "based on a true story." From the poster alone, I was sure it must join the pantheon of movies in the sub-genre known as "ostensibly about black people but really about a white person saving black people." From several media interviews (e.g. with lead Sandra Bullock) and reviews, this early guess at classification was both justified and verified.

The reality check for me was a Thanksgiving Day conversation with an East Coast friend of several decades. When it's my turn to call, I endeavor to catch him in mid-bite during Thanksgiving dinner or in the lobby area of whatever loud restaurant he has gone to with his family to escape the traditional Pilgrim meme. This year, he was in the atrium of an Embassy Suites, plenty of background noise and not a turkey in sight. After the usual amenities, he noted that he'd already been dragged to The Blind Side by someone who'd gotten the wrong impression of what it was about, and they got up and left about three-quarters of the way through. I tut-tutted sympathetically over the phone, but he knows well that I was smirking as only as an escapee of such an excursion can smirk.

With The Blind Side, the decision to skip is much easier than with the former film, as there is no potential for guilt. No request to explain will come from any subset of the African-American community, not even the most bougie, and no external request need be honored. No black woman will give me the side eye over this or wonder if the little feminism I claim is real. No black man or woman will suggest that a Sandra Bullock movie is absolutely a must-see for its own sake. And there are plenty of candidates over the decades if I need two hours of "feel-good" about reaching across the American racial chasm for the betterment of the downtrodden.

I read, skim, and listen to the conversations about both films and wonder what's different this time. This time. Is there an Obama factor? In The Blind Side, I sense a reaffirmation for the conservative-minded that a certain flavor of charity is still needed: they can still fulfill the old roles, and black souls would be lost without their intervention. This is easy to claim from a minority perspective in anything-but-post-racial 2009. But the hype is all in the language of timeless, standard studio fare and it does not need to be filtered through the prism of mainstream (white) reaction to a black president. It may feel different in today's environment with today's expectations, but the film could have been made anytime since 1965 and found a home on the American screen.

In Precious, I am led to believe there is something new in the portrayal of the protagonist's self-awareness (not common in African-Americans in film). I realize that I picked this much up from briefly skimming Push, to Sapphire's credit, as well as from at least one blog discussion of the movie. If this aspect has made it to the screen, good for the filmmakers. The remaining argument, I think, is about the filmmakers' intent. Were they just about the money, as Ishmael Reed (for one) has suggested? If so, is their vision true in spite of this?

Monday, November 30, 2009

If this app also shows In-N-Out Burger locales, I'm for it

"You have to wonder why anyone in the U.S. would want to help someone else break the law," Nunez said. "I find that unconscionable."
Former U.S. Attorney & current immigration policy prof Peter Nunez must be talking about some other U.S.-- maybe the one in which people (like his former constituents) don't hire illegal immigrants. The one in which people don't use marijuana... the one in which people don't bootleg videos... the one in which...

REGION: Cell phone tool could help illegal immigrants
UCSD professor says his device would avoid deaths at the border

By EDWARD SIFUENTES - | Posted: Saturday, November 28, 2009 5:25 pm |

A UC San Diego professor said he has developed a cell phone tool that may help guide illegal immigrants safely across the border.

Similar to the way hungry drivers can find a restaurant through the global positioning system devices in their cars and cell phones, illegal immigrants soon may be able to plot their ways across the treacherous border between the United States and Mexico.

"It shares some aspects of the GPS systems that people have in cars," said Ricardo Dominguez, a professor of visual arts at UC San Diego. "It locates where you are in relation to where you want to go, what is the best way to get to that point and what you can expect when you reach the endpoint."

Dominguez, an activist and artist, said the reason for developing the technology, which he calls the Transborder Immigrant Tool, is to keep people safe.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Texas remains entertaining in its intolerance

Hat tip to rikyrah at

This is just too funny. Baby, meet bathwater! Whatever the intent, well, the law says what it says. I'm making popcorn for the ringside seat when this goes to court.

Texas' gay marriage ban may have banned all marriages
By Dave Montgomery
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

AUSTIN — Texans: Are you really married?

Maybe not.

Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a Houston lawyer and Democratic candidate for attorney general, says that a 22-word clause in a 2005 constitutional amendment designed to ban gay marriages erroneously endangers the legal status of all marriages in the state.

The amendment, approved by the Legislature and overwhelmingly ratified by voters, declares that "marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman." But the troublemaking phrase, as Radnofsky sees it, is Subsection B, which declares:

"This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why I hate the Confederacy, Part II: Editing Black folk out of movies

In response to outrage over the move, a Universal spokesman said the altered poster aimed "to simplify the poster to actors who are most [recognizable] in international markets."

I watch a lot of old movies-- with a strong bias toward musical comedy, film noir, and Westerns-- and in adulthood I have noticed the clever direction and editing of the films themselves, if not their marketing. Black people, especially entertainers, often appeared in segregated, self-contained scenes which could be literally cut out for showing in locales where it would have been, er, imprudent to show the races as equals.

This is most easily observed on cable nowadays, as many of the oldies have been restored to their former glory, warts and all. The most recent example I saw was just a few days ago, in Hollywood Hotel (1937). Benny Goodman conducted an all-white band practice, followed immediately by a segment with Goodman "practicing" with a jazz combo featuring Lionel Hampton. I sadly imagine the many theatergoers of the time who never even realized that Hampton was in the film at all.

The studios' process and reasons are documented in many places, but I will cite liberally from Chapter 5 of Donald Bogle's seminal work Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks (1973):

Like the servants of the 1930s, the entertainers, too, set out to delight and please without at all changing anyone's life. Yet unlike the servants, whose familiarity with the stars of the 1930s films had irritated some patrons, the entertainers syndrome was clearly a safe device. Because musical numbers were not integrated into the scripts, the scenes featuring the blacks could be cut from the films should local (or Southern) theater owners feel their audiences would object to seeing a Negro. The whole procedure now seems ridiculous and archaic; it was but another way in which motion pictures catered to audience prejudices.

Ridiculous and archaic indeed. Bogle goes on to discuss in detail the specific cases of Hazel Scott and Lena Horne, and I recommend his entire book. It is astonishing (though some would wryly disagree, saying it is no surprise) that decades later, studio executives would use similar reasoning to come to the same result-- disappeared black people! But as the pullquote at top suggests, plus ca change...

The most recent case involves Faizon Love and Kali Hawk, as seen (or not seen) in promos for Couples Retreat:

Universal's UK 'Couples Retreat' Poster Brings Cries of Racism by Removing Black Actors
by Matt Ufford
November 16, 2009

A racially-tinged advertising decision has gone awry for the movie "Couples Retreat."

Marketers of the Vince Vaughn comedy, which stars four couples in a tropical paradise, removed black actors Faizon Love and Kali Hawk from the promotional poster used in the United Kingdom after the U.S. version used all four couples.

Both posters (US and UK) were heavily Photoshopped. But I think Photoshopping someone into the ether is going a bit far. The studio spokesperson's statement contains an ironic Catch-22 (okay, that's redundant) in that the two black actors were removed so as to retain those most recognizable, yet it is unlikely that they will ever become more recognizable if they aren't in the marketing!

Oooh! ®


Monday, November 16, 2009

The British taught us everything we know about child labor

When Prometheus 6 pointed out the ABC News story about child labor used to harvest U.S. blueberry crops, I did what we so often do. I expressed momentary outrage, made a comment on his blog, and went to the next issue. Child labor as known in the U.S. would certainly go to the back burner after the Nightline video aired on October 30th.

Now, what would trump migrant child labor in the U.S.? How about the British and Australian governments doing the same to their very own kids who are British citizens?

As they were compulsorily shipped out of Britain, many of the children were told - wrongly - their parents were dead, and that a more abundant life awaited them.

Many parents did not know their children, aged as young as three, had been sent to Australia.

Care agencies worked with the government to send disadvantaged children to a rosy future and supply what was deemed "good white stock" to a former colony.

If you want a bit of irony (and I'm sure you do) I'd like you to meet Baroness Amos, Britain's high commissioner in Canberra as she explains the forthcoming official apologies from the British and Australian PMs. (I'm not great at manually embedding video that doesn't want to be embedded, so please click through below.)


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Sane Men Love Gwen Ifill

This weekend I got the rare opportunity to spend an hour and a half with commentator Gwen Ifill, who is neither common nor a 'tater. This was not in person, of course-- don't be silly.

Many Friday evenings I ensconce myself at home (those days y'all were just thinking of are mostly past, thanks). I while away the hours not conferrin' with the flowers, but kicked back in the company of three intelligent women: Rachel Maddow (her eponymous show), Belva Davis (This Week in California), and Gwen Ifill (Washington Week). Friday the 13th was such an evening.

The extra hour with Gwen happened Saturday morning because she had a live appearance on BookTV (C-SPAN2) which was at the Miami Book Fair. Usually the Miami Book Fair gives us more than our RDA of Carl Hiaasen, and nothing against Carl personally-- his shtick is entertaining and all-- but it was nice to see Gwen holding court with the appreciative Miami crowd, and actually taking questions from people of color. (If you think I'm incorrectly implying something about that particular book fair, I won't argue. I don't watch every minute of it.)

Since this was a book tour appearance for The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (just released in paperback, new afterword, blah blah) Gwen did not have to maintain her journalistic game face. This allowed her fine sense of humor and some decent mid-level snark to come through. As a bit of a curmudgeon myself, I appreciate the well-placed one-liner or clever aside, and she came through.

Gwen was also as courteous as possible, but no more so, to a woman who tried to hijack the Q&A portion to preach about a personal crusade against child labor. This was quite the professional save as Gwen let her know that a question was required if you were going to hog the mike. She disengaged the woman from the stand by accepting a brochure, and went to the next person in line, just like that. No fair security required. Well done.

The final question asked about an online project that was new to me, and would have been worth the hour even if Gwen hadn't been fascinating and snarky enough. The question gave her an opening to discuss her involvement with The HistoryMakers, which has been compiling African-American video oral histories for some years. Gwen has done a few of these interviews and you can access them directly here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Justice Scalia Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

Hat tip... Cross-posted from Prometheus 6.

“Piece of cake,” Justice Scalia said, his voice dripping with disdain. “Piece of cake. Following the ‘values.’ ” He spat out that last word as though he had just taken a spoonful of anthrax.

But Justice Scalia did not give a direct answer to how he would have voted in Brown.

“As for Brown v. Board of Education, I think I would have” — and then he changed directions. He said he would have voted with the dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, the case Brown overruled.

He would have voted to follow the founder's intent, which was to maintain a racist society.

From 19th-Century View, Desegregation Is a Test


If there is a topic Justice Antonin Scalia does not relish discussing, it is how he would have voted in Brown v. Board of Education had he been on the Supreme Court when it was decided in 1954.

The question came up last month at the University of Arizona in what was billed as a conversation between Justice Scalia and Justice Stephen G. Breyer. The discussion, between the court’s two primary intellectual antagonists, bore the relationship to a conversation that a fistfight does to a handshake. The justices know how to get under each other’s skin, and they punctuated their debate with exasperation, eye-rolling and venomous sarcasm.


Later in the Adam Liptak NYT article, Scalia says:

“The test is over the long run does it require the society to adhere to those principles contained in the Constitution or does it lead to a society that is essentially governed by nine justices’ version of what equal protection ought to mean?”

On this we agree. "What equal protection ought to mean" gave us Plessy v. Ferguson, after all, and even Scalia says he would have dissented on that one. We disagree, however, on the nature of those Constitutional principles. Scalia, after choking on his own bile, suggests: Transportation: everybody gets to ride. Education: don't worry about it.

Oooh! ®

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Avoiding blog bankruptcy with blackface

Around the time I decided to go for a broader presence online-- i.e., do more than just comment on other folks' posts, or e-mail with the more "mature" friends/family who don't thumb-type the living daylights out of each other-- I just knew there would only be the occasional day or week in which PL (physical life) would interfere. I knew wrong.

"Ha ha," the fates scoffed, as they recited the oft-misattributed maxim "Coincidence means you weren't paying attention to the other half of what was going on."

And when I'm not paying attention, I'm an easy mark. Ask and it may not be given, but it will definitely be added to my to-do list. This peaked about a week ago with a request for cross-pollination of class projects, wherein I would collaborate with two other faculty members who teach the same cohort of students. Yes, I do know that co-teaching doesn't reduce teaching time as it takes more time to plan than teaching alone. But I fell for it. So much for leisurely blogging time.

You should know that when chores, duties, commitments and over-commitments pile up on me, I gradually get curmudgeonly and start to kvetch and lose sleep until even I can say NO to new requests. I'm there. Now I'm shoveling projects back off my plate. Rather than pull the plug here at TOTF or over at The Joshua Fit while I regain my professional bearings, or maintain that nothing of import happened in the whole dad-blamed universe in the past week and nothing is happening now:

We look through the lens but not at the lens itself:
'America's Next Top Model' Creates Stir After Bi-Racial Photo Shoot
Thu Oct 29, 12:28 PM PDT

Weeks after an Australian variety show made headlines around the world after a group of white performers donned blackface to perform as the Jackson brothers, Tyra Banks is making headlines herself for turning her latest "America's Next Top Model" candidates bi-racial for a photo shoot.

I am not really outraged. Disappointed, perhaps. Tired, definitely. At the other end of the awareness spectrum, Bob Herbert chastises me for my enervation:

From Herbert's October 27 column:

Americans have tended to watch with a remarkable (I think frightening) degree of passivity as crises of all sorts have gripped the country and sent millions of lives into tailspins. Where people once might have deluged their elected representatives with complaints, joined unions, resisted mass firings, confronted their employers with serious demands, marched for social justice and created brand new civic organizations to fight for the things they believed in, the tendency now is to assume that there is little or nothing ordinary individuals can do about the conditions that plague them.

This is so wrong. It is the kind of thinking that would have stopped the civil rights movement in its tracks, that would have kept women in the kitchen or the steno pool, that would have prevented labor unions from forcing open the doors that led to the creation of a vast middle class.

All right, fair enough. A good night's sleep, then, and then get back to shoveling nice-guy ProfGeo projects off my plate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

There goes that "excluding Indians not taxed" clause again

Hat tip to Prometheus 6 for judicious quoting of the Constitution over at his place on the 2010 census issue.

October 28, 2009
California Would Lose Seats Under Census Change

A Republican senator’s [Vitter, R-LA --ProfGeo] proposal to count only United States citizens when reapportioning Congress would cost California five seats and New York and Illinois one each, according to an independent analysis of census data released Tuesday. Texas, which is projected to gain three seats after the 2010 census, would get only one.

I can't see Texas giving up two potential congressional seats (representation, $$) just to avoid the Constitutional mandate to count "the whole number of persons in each state." But the state has been known to cut off its nose to spite its face. Texas might, if properly cajoled by its jingoist inbred cousins in Louisiana, join in the attempt to leave non-citizens (oh, whoever could they mean? Our Canadian and British guest workers? Right...) out of the 2010 census. That's a lot of legal residents unsupported.

Even though the proposal to leave out certain whole persons is blatantly unconstitutional, they might get brownie points from the ultra-right for talking a good game-- just for bringing the matter up. That's sad in itself.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why I hate the Confederacy, Part I: Slave Names

Oooh! ®

Then Whitten told some employees he was changing their Spanish first names. Whitten says it's a routine practice at his hotels to change first names of employees who work the front desk phones or deal directly with guests if their names are difficult to understand or pronounce.

"It has nothing to do with racism. I'm not doing it for any reason other than for the satisfaction of my guests, because people calling from all over America don't know the Spanish accents or the Spanish culture or Spanish anything," Whitten says. [emphasis added --ProfGeo]

Hotel owner tells Hispanic workers to change names
By MELANIE DABOVICH, Associated Press Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009
(10-26) 05:57 PDT Taos, N.M. (AP) --

Larry Whitten marched into this northern New Mexico town in late July on a mission: resurrect a failing hotel.

The tough-talking former Marine immediately laid down some new rules. Among them, he forbade the Hispanic workers at the run-down, Southwestern adobe-style hotel from speaking Spanish in his presence (he thought they'd be talking about him), and ordered some to Anglicize their names.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What's next, a note from massa giving you permission to travel?

The department also wonders why Bromley's trainer, Senior Cpl. Daniel Larkin, failed to catch his trainee's mistake.
I don't wonder much at all! (Video at the WFAA link)
Dallas cop cites woman for not speaking English
10:50 AM CDT on Friday, October 23, 2009

DALLAS — A Dallas police officer, just out of the academy and still under supervised training, ticketed a woman recently for leaving her drivers license at home, making an illegal U-turn, and being a "non-English speaking driver."

"At first I thought it was a joke," said Brenda Mondragon about the ticket issued to her mother, Ernestina. "We moved from California two years ago, so I thought maybe it's a law here."

It's not, of course. (Crime blog w/ image of original citation)

I am further amused by the fact that, at the leading outlet, the Dallas Morning News, "comments have been disabled on this story" . No, I don't wonder at that either. Nor do I wonder about the 38 other illegal citations for the same thing that this incident brought to light.

Quote of the Week (a TOTF Instant Tradition)

The sheep proudly raised their heads. "Justice!" they bleated in chorus. "Justice!"
     --Leonie Swann (from Three Bags Full)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Earth to Tangipahoa Parish, LA: You need to let go

With hat tip to Julie Dermansky (jsdart) of Flickr, I found several "man on the street" video follow-ups to the Jim Crow flashback story of Keith Bardwell, the "Marryin' Sam" who, in 2009, wouldn't marry interracial couples.

This one is African-American Tangipahoa resident "John Brown":

There are a couple more by the same interviewer. Just to, uh, be complete (but not fair and balanced, thanks) I am including the following video comments of "John Green," a Ponchatoula resident. File under hoist on own petard:

Part 1:

Part 2 (has plenty of US history, Southern-style):

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Louisiana: so much for my nice post-Katrina story

Hat tip to JJP for the first post I saw about this one, "Interracial couple denied marriage license in Louisiana. It's not 2009 everywhere." Apparently it's not even 1909 in some places.
Oooh! ®

Here's the original story from the Hammond (LA) Daily Star. My first glance at the comments there was enough...
JP refuses to marry couple

A justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple last week because of concern for the children who might be born of that relationship.

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish’s 8th Ward, also said it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.

“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell said. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”

Beth Humphrey, 30, said she and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, intend to consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

Time out for a post-Katrina story

Well, if you put it that way, as a matter of fact I do want some fried chicken. Wanna make something of it?

Leah Chase: The embodiment of New Orleans determination
Many stories have been told about the devastation wrought by Katrina, and Leah Chase, who is 86, probably embodies the struggles of rebuilding as much as any other person.

It took two years, and help from friends and customers, before she could open a take-out window. And even today, her restaurant Dooky Chase is only open for lunch three days a week.
Yes, I'm glad to see people still kicking butt at 86. But I also like this part of the story, about the photos of G. W. Bush and Obama in her reconstructed, reopened restaurant:

At the end of the meal I asked about Obama and her eyes took on a joyous sheen as she practically sang his praises in her deep, rich voice.

I couldn't resist: "So you seem to be an equal opportunity cook," I said, as I drew attention to the other President [Bush II --ed.]. Her twinkle shifted a bit.

"He's a lovely man," she said. "He's invited me to the White House twice and he's such a gentleman." After a short pause she said: "However some men just find themselves in the wrong job."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some of Us Are More Equal than Others, or Hold the Dionne

Yes, it has been quiet around here. Not so quiet in real-- er, physical-- life. I think the capper was last week's passing of one of our community elders who was also one of my former students. An IT colleague's heart attack the same week was a close second. So I shifted to mostly reactive mode, commenting & composting elsewhere, as my online cohort (see sidebar) provided the regenerative fodder I needed. Thanx & a tip o' th' battered fedora to P6, Sea Mist, soulbrother v.2. Thanks even to JJP, where there is far too much mess going on in the comments, but I learned a couple things scrolling through.

If it's all right with you, at this point I'm going to catch up bit by bit, item by item, on matters of human (in)equality in current events, until the task completely overwhelms me.


In that case let's just pick one. The fact that there are so many to choose from is telling.

One should always be wary of citing a columnist whose name sounds like a boutique brand of mustard, but E. J. Dionne's Washington Post column of October 12 cuts across several current issues and is worthwhile for that reason. Here's the disease in terms of the latest symptom, the Nobel Peace Prize award to President Obama:
His opponents are describing the award as premature. The deeper problem is that the Nobel will underscore the extent to which Obama is a cosmopolitan figure, much loved in European capitals because he is the change they have been looking for. [emphasis mine]
Yes, now the President is reviled for being much loved. I will go a step further and suggest that Obama is not just a cosmopolitan figure, but is truly cosmopolitan in the sense described by Kwame Anthony Appiah in Cosmopolitanism. As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says in her review of Appiah's book, "Cosmopolitanism... provokes attacks from the left for whom it is dilettante and elitist. The right despises it because cosmopolitans make bad nationalists and patriots. All authoritarians detest the internationalist spirit."

That about wraps it up, as wrapped as it can be without bringing race directly into it. Had Dionne stayed with this theme... But no, he had to go there even as he denied the whiteness of "angry white men" (his quotes):
There is no doubt that some of the anger is fueled by racial feeling, which is not the same as saying that all opposition to Obama is explained by racism. Most Obama opponents are simply conservative Republicans who disagree with him. But there are too many racist signs at rallies and too many overtly racial pronouncements in the fever swamps of the right-wing media to deny that racism is part of the anti-Obama mix.
This is the current race-not-race meme as it has evolved across the media. No longer able to deny the racist displays, statements, jokes and diatribes that have been there since Obama announced his candidacy (thanks, YouTube) pundits seek to acknowledge and then immediately nullify them. "Most Obama opponents are simply conservative Republicans..." perhaps, but they're conservative Republicans who tolerate, support, laugh with as opposed to laughing at, and definitely fail to decry the bigots in their midst. When called on it, our angry white non-racist conservatives will briefly denounce the occasional bad apple or isolated instance, no pattern and certainly no systemic issues here, folks, and then they move on, as if that settles the matter.

Let me throw Dionne a bone. I commend him for citing the example of Australia's One Nation party. That does allow us to pick up a hint, a soupçon of a pattern across former British colonies such as ours.
Though [Australian deputy PM] Gillard diplomatically avoided direct comment on American politics, she said what's happening here reminded her of the rise of Pauline Hanson, a politician who caused a sensation in Australian politics in the 1990s by creating One Nation, a xenophobic and protectionist political party tinged with racism.
Hanson to Palin... there and back again. Hm. Go on, now.

[Editor's note: Hat tip to P6 whose earlier post on the reappearance of invisibility caused me to slow down and read and not merely skim the Dionne original. Also for the single-word linking trick.]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A brief visit to the other side

Yesterday morning I learned of the passing of one of the perennial students on my campus, Helen Jones. Helen was in her early 80s and had been taking undergraduate and graduate classes for years, dragging scores of younger students in her wake as she showed everyone what "lifelong learning" actually looked like in practice.

I have seen both joy and concern on her face, as various African American-- students, staff, and faculty-- chose to excel or not. She never let us have it with anger, always with love. She did a lot of behind-the-scenes counseling, trying to keep people on the path, but somehow everyone on campus always knew who was getting straightened out. In the past several years, we heard a little more about personal ailments and a little less about her next academic achievement or whether we were acting right, but that goes with the territory of aging. We'll all have our turn.

I last saw Helen about two weeks ago, sitting in our campus library regaling one of the reference librarians with some tale or other. She was big on regaling. I've asked around, and she was busy on campus as recently as last Thursday. Friday, she went into the hospital.

She developed a quilt project for her Master's degree that reflected her Southern upbringing and aspects of Black history that most of us don't choose to remember most of the time. I'll post a photo if I can find one.

One of my colleagues wrote the following yesterday, and I don't think she'll mind if I reproduce it here:
So many of us will remember this woman of vision, determination, and courage.
I will miss her stories, her wisdom, our travels and unexpected errand running.
Her untamed guidance and ways of modeling how to be an extraordinary Student
has rubbed off on all of us who studied.
She gave us a greater purpose of being,
and in so many ways defined a Strong, Independent, Black Woman.
We'll never forget you Mrs. Jones.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I suspect FEMA will be on top of this one

Tsunami in South Pacific islands kills nearly 100
By KENI LESA and FILI SAGAPOLUTELE, Associated Press Writers
APIA, Samoa – A massive tsunami hurled by a powerful earthquake flattened Samoan villages and swept cars and people out to sea, killing at least 99 and leaving dozens missing Wednesday. The toll was expected to rise.

...[American Samoa] Gov. Tulafono said that because the closeness of the community, "each and every family is going to be affected by someone who's lost their life." He spoke to reporters before boarding a Coast Guard C-130 plane in Hawaii to return home. The plane, which also carried officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and aid, was scheduled to arrive at about 7 a.m. local time (2 p.m. EDT; 1800 GMT). The U.S. disaster agency said it was also preparing supplies stored in Hawaii for transport to the island chain.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Tune in, turn on, drop out" remains popular

"Interventions pay for themselves," [CDRP Director Russell W. Rumberger] said, noting that the state will see $2 in savings for every $1 invested.

The latest iteration of the California Dropout Horror Story (rivaled only by the Texas Dropout Horror Story, which tends to involve creationists and chainsaws) is focused on correlations between high school dropout rates and juvenile crime costs. Not juvenile crime exactly, but the costs. That seems fair in the climate of a depressed economy, as it can get people's attention. For example, the story containing the pullquote above:
Dropouts costing California $1.1 billion annually in juvenile crime costs
Study finds that cutting the dropout rate in half would save $550 million and prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes a year. Law enforcement urges more dropout-prevention programs.

By Seema Mehta
September 24, 2009

High school dropouts, who are more likely to commit crimes than their peers with diplomas, cost the state $1.1 billion annually in law enforcement and victim costs while still minors, according to a study being released today.

The California Dropout Research Project at UC Santa Barbara found that cutting the dropout rate in half would prevent 30,000 juvenile crimes and save $550 million every year.

There are similar stories around the state right now. The similarities are possibly due to a nonprofit's letter that is making the rounds and getting law enforcement signatures-- as well as legislature attention. It's apparently one of those letters that a police chief or county supervisor would have to explain not signing. In any case, California has a relatively low-cost bill in the pipeline, Senate Bill 651, that would focus on dropout trends-- the kind of bill you'd think was already in existence.

The original research behind the stories (and the above chart that triggered my writing this post) is by UC Santa Barbara's California Dropout Research Project. I find this project of interest well beyond the immediate story. For example, I already knew the trend shown in the chart for African American students but appreciated their particular focus. Now that I've convinced my online colleague Prometheus 6 to add a "Research studies of the obvious" category I hope I won't have to apply it to this group.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two fifths forward, one fifth back

Over the weekend I was fortunate enough to get a pass to the Carmel Authors & Ideas Festival, so I shoved other work aside and attended most of it. Just to get it out of my system (and because it's on topic) I want to comment briefly on Shelby Steele's few minutes of fame on Sunday morning as one of the speakers.

From my comments elsewhere you may be aware that I'm not a fan and I don't think he makes sound arguments, but I went to as many of the main hall events as I could, and I would have had to walk out in an obvious way to miss his portion. He was embedded on Sunday morning between Frances Dinkelspiel and Richard Lederer, a useful juxtaposition, as we needed Lederer's life- and language-affirming humor to recover.

There were no surprises, except perhaps Steele's lack of preparation for the specific audience. Oh, he had brought notes, but I had the distinct sense he was mentally phoning it in, as he wasn't really in tune with the program or what had preceded him over the previous day and a half. Y'see, most of the authors were around all weekend, mingling with the readers (that's us) and attending each others' presentations. The authors appearing later often adjusted their remarks accordingly, making it a very "organic" weekend. Steele was one of the several who basically showed up, made canned remarks, and quickly disappeared.

This is coming out to be mostly about the content of Steele's character and not the color of his remarks. Well, point taken. He didn't say anything I hadn't heard from him before. OK, one exception. He claimed that the Holocaust was worse than the genocide in Rwanda not because of the number of people killed, but because of the high state of the German civilization. Apparently the Germans should have known better. No argument on that, but he left the implication that Rwandans didn't or couldn't know better. I'm not sure where he was going with this except to give a broad outline of the kind of things he believed-- Western civilization good, others not so much.

His theme otherwise was to attempt to make the case that conservatives are unfairly stigmatized (his word) by nasty liberals who keep dragging down the conversation on current issues by bringing up historic injustices (e.g. racism) and associating otherwise fine citizens with them. I think that's a fair summary of his focus. He also blamed Great Society programs for just about everything he could: Welfare broke the black family. Busing broke the public education system. Etc. My eyes glazed over.

Now, you might think he set race relations back two steps just by being black and talking this way to the mostly white, somewhat tony audience. In a way, I think we only regressed one step. This was not a friendly, conservative audience à la the usual at Hoover Institution gatherings. I'd guess most of it wasn't that kind of conservative. Sure, everyone was well-dressed and well-spoken (like Obama on vacation) and skewed older, but there was only mild, polite applause when he was done. And there was some tension in the room.

And on the next break, after the well-scheduled Richard Lederer, two people came up to me separately, each somewhat appalled, to ask what I thought of Steele. I used the words disingenuous and ill-formed a lot and did not curse. Two others checked with me later.

Friday, September 25, 2009

This was a no-brainer but they could have messed it up

I'm thinking the Cal State system could have begged off, claiming state budget issues, but honorary degrees don't cost anything except for the printing and the refreshments. (Been there, and yes, call me anything but late for lunch.) One might ask why the system waited until 2009, as there really was no down side... anyway, I'm glad they got to it.

CSU Grants Honorary Degrees to Japanese American Internees

The CSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously to grant honorary bachelor's degrees to Japanese Americans who were enrolled at CSU campuses and forced to internment camps during World War II. The first degree was awarded Sept. 23, 2009 to Aiko Nishi Uwate, a Japanese American woman who was removed from San Francisco State University and sent to Gila River relocation camp in Arizona. The posthumous degree was accepted by Uwate's daughter, Vivian Uwate Nelson, a resident of Los Angeles County.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Oliphant in the room

There's a 1995 compilation of Pat Oliphant editorial cartoons, most of which could have been done this year. How quickly we forget. The book is Off to the Revolution (Andrews and McMeel, 1995). Let me point you to a few pages in my very first Google Books embed below.

For health care, Michael Jackson, and gun nuts around abortion clinics, see pp. 7, 18, 19, 21, 23, 28, 32. There are a lot of tragic Haiti cartoons (however you want to read that) in the book but not in the preview.

I can't see them saying no to THESE honorary degrees

CSU Trustees Consider Granting Degrees to WWII Internees

Honorary degrees may be issued to hundreds of former CSU students of Japanese ancestry interned under presidential order in the 1940s

Nisei students, interned during WWII, to receive honorary CSU degrees. Call 562 951-4723

(September 10, 2009) - The California State University Board of Trustees will consider granting hundreds of honorary degrees to former students forced from their academic studies due to the internment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II.

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Federal Executive Order 9066, clearing the way for military leaders to set up an "exclusion zone" which encompassed all of California. More than 120,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants in this zone were forcibly relocated to camps.

By some historical accounts, nearly 250 Americans of Japanese descent were students attending CSU campuses when the order for removal was issued. Campuses established by 1942 include Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Pomona, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, San José and the California Maritime Academy. While records show some students went on to receive a university degree, many did not.

"Hundreds of students were removed from colleges and universities, forced to delay or abandon their dreams based solely on their ancestry," said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed. "The internment of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants during WWII represents the worst of a nation driven by fear and prejudice. By issuing honorary degrees, we hope to achieve a small right in the face of such grave wrongs."

On September 23, 2009, the Educational Policy Committee will vote on conferring the honorary degrees. The item will then be considered by the full CSU Board of Trustees. All former CSU students whose studies were interrupted due to the internment may be eligible for the honorary degrees. Surviving family members may receive the honorary degree in recognition of a deceased student.

The California State University is asking for public assistance in identifying individuals who qualify for the honorary degree. Former CSU Students (or families of students) whose studies were interrupted due to the internment are urged to call (562) 951-4723,


IMF: We can only succeed in a world where others fail

Whether you prefer the IMF press release or the AP story that lifts from the press release, it comes out the same.

IMF Approves Sale of Some of Its Gold
Published: September 18, 2009
Filed at 6:12 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The International Monetary Fund approved on Friday the sale of a limited amount of its gold to help provide loans to poor countries and shore up its finances.

Why would the IMF need to sell gold in the first place?
In recent years, some countries with thriving economies managed to pay off their IMF loans ahead of time, reducing income the IMF derived from loan interest and putting a strain on its finances. The IMF is expected to be running a deficit of $400 million in 2010.

Strauss-Kahn instituted some belt-tightening measures when he took over in 2007 by reducing staff amid suggestions the organization was becoming increasingly irrelevant because of its shrinking loan portfolio.

Friday, September 18, 2009

David Brooks and His Glorious Eternal Blinders; or, Jogger Revelations

Upon reading his September 17 NY Times column, I immediately thought, David Brooks is professing such ignorance of race matters he is (1) a split personality, (2) lying, or (3) wearing blinders. Then I realized I couldn't be the first to come up with that, so I googled "david brooks" and blinders. Then I searched again, adding -blinds to reduce the references to window coverings and the "other" David Brooks. Sure enough, plenty of instances floated to the top.

Apparently people have for some time been accusing Brooks (the columnist) of the specific sin of going through life with blinders firmly in place. Is there room on the bandwagon for one more?

In his latest, Brooks describes jogging in Washington, DC, between the September 12 "tea party" protests (his quotes) and the Black Family Reunion Celebration. He apparently caught on to the difference by noting "mostly white" at one, and "mostly black" at the other.

When he stopped at the, uh, black end, there were some white people (to him, obvious tea party protesters, since they couldn't possibly have black relatives) buying lunch from the food stands and listening to a rap concert. He took note of the lack of tension. Based on his own media immersion, I suppose he expected some. But he missed the point. Let me sum it up: food and entertainment.

Teabaggers are fine with black folk providing food and entertainment. The people running the food stands were fine with money coming in for church coffers and non-profits (might I add, especially considering the source?). I will go out on a limb here and suggest the same teabaggers would not have been fine with the same black folk in a counter-protest, just as they are apparently not fine with a black President.

Supplementary material:

Daily Kos addresses the Brooks "jogger revelations" column with a bit more vitriol, as is their wont.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Congresswoman defies Pelosi, deals with elephant in room

It's official: Laura Richardson (D-CA) is my candidate for role model of the week.
Concerns of Black House Members Helped Spur Rebuke of Wilson
By James Rowley and Brian Faler

Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) -- A plea by California Representative Laura Richardson that House Democrats respond after Republican Joe Wilson shouted “you lie” at President Barack Obama last week helped spur her party’s leaders to action...

It was “the elephant in the room that we had not dealt with,” and “I didn’t think it was OK to think it would go away,” she said yesterday in a telephone interview after the House vote.
As reported in the same article, Nancy Pelosi and Michael Steele seem to have a rare instance of bipartisan agreement.
...Noting that the South Carolina lawmaker had apologized, Pelosi told reporters Sept. 10 that “it’s time for us to talk about health care.’’

...Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, in a statement, called the Democrats’ rebuke “a stunning example of hypocrisy.” Steele, the first black to head his party, said the Democrats “don’t want an apology. They want a side show” to deflect attention from the health-care debate.[”]
I don't have all the ground rules for the blog set in stone, but I'm seriously considering a zero-tolerance policy against Michael Steele. The above was just too silly. Your opinions welcome.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Under the circumstances, I'll yield the floor for the first time

Didn't think I'd do it this soon, but the remarks are by a former President with street cred on the issue of what white Southerners have to say about race. Hat tip to Prometheus6.

Friday, September 11, 2009

British PM passes the ultimate Turing test

I went back and forth with this for about 0.68 seconds, but it's on topic if I'm to live up to my charter. Also, Brown sets a new benchmark for how politicians should say they're sorry if they're gonna say it at all, a necessary lesson after Congressman "Joe" Wilson's pseudo-apology the other day.

PM's apology to codebreaker Alan Turing: we were inhumane
Caroline Davies
The Guardian, Friday 11 September 2009

Gordon Brown issued an unequivocal apology last night on behalf of the government to Alan Turing, the second world war codebreaker who took his own life 55 years ago after being sentenced to chemical castration for being gay.

Describing Turing's treatment as "horrifying" and "utterly unfair", Brown said the country owed the brilliant mathematician a huge debt. He was proud, he said, to offer an official apology. "We're sorry, you deserved so much better," Brown writes in a statement posted on the No 10 website.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Naughty, naughty

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) has already apologized for calling President Obama a liar during the latter's speech to Congress Wednesday night. Fine. But it would have been smarter not to do it in the first place. Below is a screenshot from his home page at

Oh, and as with certain equally-credible plumbers, apparently his name's not really Joe.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

When you're handed Van Jones, make lemonade

The Van Jones resignation continues to rub me the wrong way, as I posted over at P6. Let me be a bit parochial-- I'm biased in favor of Jones because of his former James Rucker/Color of Change connection, only two degrees of separation here in central California. I understand that people who work for Obama are supposed to be more respectful to the opposition than Rove and Cheney were, so Jones had to go.

Of all the post-resignation Van Jones stories, the one that whines the least is this one from AlterNet:

5 Reasons Why Van Jones and Progressives Are Better Off with Jones out of the White House
By Don Hazen, AlterNet. Posted September 7, 2009.

Here are the reasons, long version at the linked article.

1. Now He's a Household Name
2. He's Been Rescued From Obscurity [meaning an obscure wonky job]
3. He's the Leader Progressives Need
4. He Has a Renewed Charge to Speak the Truth
5. He Can Provide Real Vision and Organizing Framework

Oh, and the story that seemed to generate the most illiterate, racist comments per column-inch was Zennie Abraham's blog at