Sunday, February 28, 2010

The end of Black History Month but we go on

Today is the last day of Black History Month. Van Jones is back, better than ever. Desiree Rogers is gone, but she'll be back too.

The IRS clock is about to strike midnight, if you want to apply Haiti earthquake relief donations to 2009. Your contribution must be made "before March 1" which in plain English means do it by Feb. 28. (I made mine a few days ago.) From the February 2010 Partners in Health e-bulletin:

"Taxpayers can count charitable contributions made for relief efforts in Haiti on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.

"Under new legislation, donations that are "cash contributions made for the relief of victims in areas affected by the earthquake in Haiti" can be deducted in 2009 as long as they are made after January 11, 2010 and before March 1, 2010."


Friday, February 26, 2010

Under-the-radar racism in Oakland

To be fair, this was not under the radar for Oakland residents, just for me-- being several hours away, and darn careful when I go to the Bay Area anymore, down to obeying parking regulations. People who know me well are aware that I sometimes extrapolate from seemingly very small matters (butterfly flaps its wings) and wonder if they are indicators of larger effects (gale force winds halfway around the world).

The butterfly in this case is the selective enforcement, by socioeconomic neighborhood, of parking regulations in Oakland. Some of us may not be surprised at the practice of enforcing the law strictly in some zip codes, while treating offenses more lightly in others. (We could use drug law disparities as a prime example. There's nothing less impressive than sanctimonious pot-smoking suburbanites telling urban folk not to use drugs.) In this case... well, let the pullquote speak for itself:
Parking enforcement officers who shed light on the practice in The Chronicle on Thursday alleged that the policy of not ticketing cars in the two Oakland hills neighborhoods led to fines being leveled disproportionately against poor, black and Latino people in the flatlands.

What gets me is that someone-- say, a city administrator-- (a) thought it was a good idea, and (b) thought they could get away with it based on spurious comments at an Oakland city council meeting.

Oooh! ® ...Okay, here's the lead-in:

Oakland ends unequal ticketing, officials say

Matthai Kuruvila, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, February 26, 2010

Oakland officials said Thursday they have stopped the unequal practice of issuing tickets for certain violations in some neighborhoods while issuing courtesy notices in others.

City Administrator Dan Lindheim said that people who were cited for the violations in question during a four-month period from July 24 to Nov. 12 - when the city says the practice ended - may be able to get their tickets voided on a case-by-case basis.

The announcements came in response to an article in The Chronicle on Thursday, which exposed an internal city memorandum that directed parking officers to issue tickets to cars parked in the wrong direction or on sidewalks anywhere in the city except for two wealthy neighborhoods - Montclair and Broadway Terrace. Cars in those neighborhoods were not tagged but instead received courtesy notices when they violated either of two parking laws.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Haiti: Feb. 28 tax deadline for US contributors

The IRS clock is ticking if you want to apply Haiti earthquake relief donations to 2009. Note that your contribution must be made "before March 1" which in plain English means do it by Feb. 28. From the February 2010 Partners in Health e-bulletin:

Charitable contributions for Haiti relief deductable on 2009 taxes

Taxpayers can count charitable contributions made for relief efforts in Haiti on either their 2009 or 2010 tax returns.

Under new legislation, donations that are "cash contributions made for the relief of victims in areas affected by the earthquake in Haiti" can be deducted in 2009 as long as they are made after January 11, 2010 and before March 1, 2010.

[emphasis added]

This PIH link downloads a PDF of the actual legislation (2 pages).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My feet were on my desk when I posted this

If you're not sure why this photo is here, read the story about it at

CSU Super Sunday

This is the fifth year for California State University's Super Sunday. It's actually a few Sundays around "Big Game" season and Black History Month, in which the presidents and provosts of all the CSU campuses, including the one at which I teach, make a concerted, directed effort to visit African-American churches throughout the state.

Go to about the 12:15 point on this video from KQED's This Week in Northern California:

At first, I wasn't sure about the separation of church and state aspect, but I think the program's been well designed and vetted for that. The campus officials are basically going where they know the parents and kids will be on Sunday. This is a vast improvement over hoping our African-American potential students will just happen to drop by and apply.

Apparently, CSU Super Sunday is trending in the right direction. Many CSU programs don't last five years. Participants have an initial burst of enthusiasm and then fade away. This one seems to have legs. There's also a nascent outgrowth event, CSU Super Saturday, which was added at CSU Dominguez Hills last August.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Sorry pursuits: On attention, multitasking, reading and writing

"I cannot imagine a sorrier pursuit than struggling for years to write a book that attempts to appeal to people who do not read in the first place."
--Annie Dillard

I rarely read the fiction of Dillard or many of the literary/general fiction writers. But I know they're there, and appreciate that they prop up a significant part of the reading universe. (Otherwise, it would be turtles all the way down, right?) I like to discover what they have to impart about writing through their unique lenses. So I was curious about Dillard's 1989 book, The Writing Life. It was written before the Web, before cell phones and smart devices were ubiquitous, before the short burst multicasts of Facebook or Twitter or Google Buzz or...

The quote at the top of this post leapt off the page and wouldn't go away, so I tucked it away for eventual use in my campus e-mail's rotating sigline. It came to mind yesterday as I discussed worldly matters with my friend over at Sea Mist. We found we were in substantial agreement on many things, including the apparent foreshortening of the human attention span, and the change in what used to be called "common courtesy" in face-to-face encounters of all kinds. Attention span and courtesy have both seemed to suffer with the siren's call of distracting hip devices (hip in any sense of the word you like).

For now, I'd like to consider that aspect of attention that includes the ability to understand or make an extended argument-- for example, to be able to absorb ideas that take more than a screen's worth of real estate to express.

Is this a problem for you? If so, why? If not, why not?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why I hate the Confederacy, Part III: Literacy tests

Hat tip to JJP for spotting this Rachel Maddow segment on the Tea Party's fervor for good old-fashioned Southern-American values such as "literacy tests."

The first half of the segment has a tolerable if brief intro to the concept of literacy tests and why they were in place from Jim Crow up through the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It also shows Tom Tancredo (former Rep.-CO congressman) foaming at the mouth, or just slavering over fond memories of the old days when you didn't have to let minorities vote if you could selectively screen them out and keep white voters in.

Although elsewhere online this seems to be "Dump on Charles Ogletree Week," I am OK with his comments in the second half of the Maddow segment. Take 10% off the top for typical Maddow-interviewee banter and it's all right. He correctly states that Maddow's intro understated the real history. (She has to keep her show on the air, after all.)

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

I can see the pros and cons of this scholarship

Historically, the civil rights movement has sought out white allies, says Kenneth Nunn, a law professor at the University of Florida who teaches a course in African-American history and the law. “We have all understood that nothing is going to change in America unless the majority feels it is the right thing to do,” says Professor Nunn.

One reason the Oregon group can undertake this initiative, he says, is because they are a private group. “When you are talking about public institutions, it’s very difficult to do anything that is racially targeted,” he says.

Oregon civil rights group offers scholarships to white students
The Oregon League of Minority Voters is trying a new civil rights tactic: offering scholarships to white students to take classes in race relations.
By Michael B. Farrell Staff writer
posted February 9, 2010 at 7:21 pm EST San Francisco —

In a unique twist to the notion of using educational scholarships to improve minority representation, an Oregon civil rights group says it will offer a $2,000 scholarship to encourage white college students to pursue studies in race relations. The initiative by the Oregon League of Minority Voters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Portland, Ore., may well be the first of its kind. College scholarships have long been seen as a vehicle – albeit a controversial one – for improving the condition of minorities, but this appears to be the first time that white students have been singled out for assistance in the name of promoting civil rights.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Spiraling in the Orbit of Precious: Films We're Not Watching

Thanks to the Oscar® nominations, there is another round of discussion around the film Precious.

On February 4, critic Ishmael Reed got some play in the New York Times. He had previously discussed his views elsewhere (e.g. in the comments to a post over at NewBlackMan) but the Times has now deemed fit to give his critique wider distribution. This caught the attention of Prometheus 6 (P6), who started a thread about not giving Precious an Oscar.

Although I've previously voiced an opinion about movies of 2009 I probably won't see, including Precious and The Blind Side, I'm pulling some of my own comments from the above P6 thread for possible cross-pollination here. I said in part:
With the movie, there's the work itself, in its intended medium. And then there are the memes emanating from it across several media as to what it means to be "realistic" and "black" at the same time-- becoming and carrying the message much more than the book ever did. To judge the work itself as a work takes more than I have in this phase of my life. I can tackle movies not of this era with all their faults (with a couple of exceptions), but Precious is both too current for that and so obviously not made with me in mind.

This led to what I meant by "not of this era... (with a couple of exceptions)" and I followed with the exceptions, films of the past that I find eminently skippable:
The exceptions right off are Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind, and what I mean by "tackle" is to accept them as products of their time, study and analyze them, or maybe even refuse to analyze-- to detach just enough to watch them as is. Birth, I've seen it once and might do it again. GWTW, I've never been able to sit through.

A question we didn't get to over at P6 (although we are having a lively exchange about films, Black films, really good films, and really good Black films) is whether we can speak and write intelligently about something we shy away from or won't see. I think this is possible (I think I have a viable example besides controversial films) but I'd like opinions on it.

Friday, February 5, 2010

This reminds me of something, but I can't quite put my finger on it

Palin's campaign against the "R-word" hits snag with Limbaugh

Sarah Palin's campaign against the derogatory usage of the word "retard" collided with her campaign to maintain her popularity with conservatives today, with confusing results.
It reminds me of two things, actually. You betcha it does.

Thing #1: There are a few words you just can't use in public without causing a kerfuffle. Some of them, you can't even use in private if it turns out someone's going to drop a dime on you.* Rahm Emanuel learned a lesson (we hope he learned, anyway) a few days ago by using the "r-word" in a White House meeting.

The last time I was present for a flap over this particular term was in a homeowner's association meeting back in the early '90s. One of my neighbors referred to our landscaper/maintenance guy as a "retard" and was immediately jumped on by another neighbor. He backed right off, but you could tell he felt that he was the one being picked on. Whatever happened to America's fifth freedom anyway, the freedom to be offensive toward the less fortunate?

Thing #2: It's been less than a year since Michael Steele was going head-to-head against Rush Limbaugh for the post of GOP Supreme God-King. As you will recall, Steele was flat on the mat by the end of the second round. Palin's spokesperson is trying to avoid getting in the ring at all over this "r-word" incident, but it may be too late:
A Palin spokeswoman seemed to back away from earlier criticism of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Yesterday, when asked for comment on Limbaugh's use of the "r" word in a recent broadcast, Palin spokeswoman told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post, "Governor Palin believes crude and demeaning name-calling at the expense of others is disrespectful." Today, Stapleton claims the statement was meant generally and she was not specifically referring to Limbaugh. Still, she declined to say that Palin believes Limbaugh's statements were acceptable.
Apparently, Limbaugh still strikes fear into the heart of any Republican pretender to the throne. We continue to watch from a safe distance.

*Re: "drop a dime," just accept that I used to watch Baretta and Police Woman religiously.