It’s a Vast Oversimplification…

November 12, 2020 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized)

. . . but let’s entertain it for a moment: there are roughly two kinds of people in the world:

  • Those who are interested in power, money, and glory; and
  • those who are interested in something else.

Of course there is some apparent overlap, because plenty of people who are interested in, say, making scientific discoveries or writing novels, would like to get some glory, money, and power for it. But you’ll find that those also divide along the same lines: those who are primarily interested in the glory, money, etc., and those who are principally interested in what they’re doing and know that some power/money/glory will free them to do and share more of it. The latter tend to have a sense of “enough.” The absence of that sensor is an identifying characteristic of the former.

The first group of people is much smaller, but has in its favor

  • motivation, and
  • the command of material resources and the labor and “loyalty” of others. (Scare quotes because it’s the stomach kind, not the heart kind.)

The second group of people is much larger, and that’s all it has in its favor: numbers. But it’s very hard to rally those numbers, because these people are interested in a million different things and just want to be left alone to pursue them.

But the first group will not leave them alone.

Oh, one other thing the second group has in its favor: evolution. Their interests are infinitely more conducive to the long-term survival of our species, if not to its short-term bang-pow-dazzle success.

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Mom Sounds Off

November 8, 2020 at 1:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

on the post-election mood—9 days before her 97th birthday.

Hey, Annie! What doing? Got an Election Hangover? Are you – as I am – a MishMash of emotional Cross-currents: a schemear of elation, exhaustion, anxiety spread across my breakfast pumpernickel?  Am I afraid that sulking Trump will hang in the air over us like a noxious fart? Are we doomed to suffer his indelible presence because he will intone neither the magic release: “I quit”, nor choke to death on the fatal promise, “NEVER!”?

🍷♥️

Sent from my iPhone

She’s like the nonagenarian Rachel Maddow.

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Why capitalize “white”?

November 2, 2020 at 5:01 pm (By Amba) (, )

The Washington Post does it, and it drives me crazy.

Why? Why kowtow to the belief of white nationalists such as VDARE that “White” is an identity, a people?

Suppose it were an identity, what would define it? World domination?

European culture, you say? That’s pretty funny considering that European peoples fought each other tooth and nail from prehistory up through 1945 (and didn’t stop then). Here’s a list of European wars, starting only in 1112 BC. I literally don’t have the time to count them. You’ll be amazed.

You may argue, with reason, that Black people too descend from many diverse peoples and cultures—some of whom unquestionably fought each other as well. African people would have been harder to enslave had local enemies not captured and sold one another. Where there is a buyer, sellers appear. Europeans exploited traditional rivalries among Native Americans in similar ways.

Conflict and bids for dominance are a proud and shameful part of our common “human potential” (“one in 200 men are direct descendants of Genghis Khan“), but it’s a part that Europeans magnified to an unprecedented global scale, with a fevered drive to expand and exploit, more-advanced technologies for doing so, and a conviction of entitlement based on divinely bestowed superiority. In 2020, you still wanna base an identity on that? Basically, on “might makes right”?

Technology is only one field of achievement, the one that confers material power and enables its possessors, if so inclined, to overwhelm, expropriate, and even obliterate other peoples’ achievements. It’s far from Europeans’ only achievement, but technology of one kind—the technology of extraction, manufacture, and domination—is the only one in which they were inarguably superior. Technology has its wonders, but it’s a two-edged sword that eventually wounds its wielder. It makes life both better and worse. The balance sheet is a work in progress.

Ironically, “Black” is an identity Black people didn’t ask for. It was welded together out of diverse materials—genetic, linguistic, cultural—by slavery, discrimination, and a disdainful lack of discrimination in the other sense. Just as white police and passersby often can’t tell Black people apart, slave traders and owners couldn’t tell Black peoples apart—didn’t bother to.

But that capital letter is earned. It’s recognition and reparation. It’s Black Lives Matter in one letter. White people, meanwhile, need to retire from their implicit capital letter. What bad timing to make it explicit just as growing numbers are growing sick, really sick, of having the world on their shoulders and their knee on its neck. White people need to explore the freedom of being generic, of losing themselves in the crowd, of being among, not above. Capitalizing their name, meanwhile, is not placing Black people above white people. It’s shining a light.

Maybe a day will come when we can see and speak to each other as individuals with a whole palette of skin tones and a whole panoply of ancestries and influences. We’re just not there yet, but it’s a good place to be going.

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The case that COVID-19 was lab-created …

September 27, 2020 at 11:52 am (By Amba) ()

. . . has moved from the fringe to the center of the argument. It’s getting stronger, and harder to suppress, by the day. Here is the latest analysis.

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To be as objective as possible…

September 27, 2020 at 11:24 am (By Amba) ()

  • Amy Coney Barrett is a good judge, as was Robert Bork, if you take ideological wish lists out of it.
  • If you believe that there needs to be a balance between right and left, between business and government, between striving and caring, etc., etc. (and that too much imbalance opens the Pandora’s box of corruption and cruelty), this is the WRONG time to tilt the balance further to the right.*
  • What Democrats are experiencing is the incredible frustration of watching Trump make a good move at a bad time for an evil purpose.

*The pendulum is never in more danger of swinging to one extreme than when it is at the other extreme. Those of you who dread violent revolution above all—you are guaranteeing it.

UPDATE

  • Barrett is GOING TO be confirmed.
  • For Trump to set up a Supreme Court that could then stop vote counting and reinstall him as president is using the US Government for criminal self-dealing. The confirmation MUST NOT take place until after the election. This should be the laser focus of the Democratic caucus in the Senate.
  • The best outcome that’s possible at this point: The Republicans decisively lose the presidency and the Senate. The lame duck Senate confirms Barrett. Conservatives get the Justice they most wanted; the two other branches are in Democratic hands. Some balance is restored.

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Please listen to this.

August 25, 2020 at 11:51 am (Uncategorized) ()

Nina Simone, in 1969, making Black lives matter—making life matter.

Of the 4 songs here, the first and third must be her own creations. She fills the covers to overflowing, too, but if your time is limited, don’t miss the originals.

00:04 4 women

07:23 band intro

08:16 Aretha Franklin’s “Somebody Save Me”

13:19 Ain’t got no

18:07 you don’t know what it’s like “To Love Somebody”

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The Love – Hate Election

August 24, 2020 at 6:14 pm (Uncategorized)

National political conventions are all about marketing, making the sale. They are targeted to a mass audience, not to the rather small class of political junkies, micropundits, and activists. Therefore, they are pitched to the heart, not the head; branded by emotion, not by ideology or policy.

Most people glaze over or break out in hives when confronted with isms or wonkery. They will vote for candidates who make them and their loved ones feel good and who they believe will make their lives feel better. For example, they want simple, affordable, comprehensive health insurance and they need it yesterday; they don’t care whether it’s called Medicare For All or precisely how it’s paid for.

You can say we have an ill-informed populace, or you can say that’s just how people are and there’s a wisdom to it. A naïvété too, of course. Hearts can be hoodwinked, but heads can be irrelevant. They just talk to other heads.

So, crudely put, the Democrats branded their convention Love and the Republicans are branding theirs Hate. (That’s the label, not the contents. The main ingredient inside both is Desire To Win.) I started thinking about which will prove stronger, which has the best shot at prevailing over the other. First I’ll make the case for Hate, laid out in a string of tweets I posted this morning. This is not negativity, it’s superstition. The Jewish philosophy of life is “Expect the worst, you might be pleasantly surprised.” My ancestors were sure that blithe optimism attracts the Evil Eye.

Republicans will point out, correctly, that Democrat Love is chocolate sauce poured over hate of Trump. Democrats will point out, correctly, that Republican Hate is really fear of demographic change. It’s natural to hate what threatens what we love (channeling Polly Chase for a moment), and the parties’ constituencies are now defined by which America they love: the diverse one of the future, or the white one of the past. That future is coming, inexorably, and the only way to slow its advance is what it always has been, brutal oppression, but on a larger scale than ever before. The best and worst of America since its founding are now fully out in the open and heading for a showdown. To beat Trump is to win a battle, not the war. To lose to Trump is to lose the war.

The video of George Floyd’s murder, coming on top of seven years’ effort by Black Lives Matter, seems to have finally opened the eyes of a majority of white Americans to what nonwhite Americans have always known. Those newly awakened, if not woke, white people now tentatively love the vision of the Beloved Community presented by the Democratic convention, especially since it was married with an older style of all-American happy talk, just with varied accents and many-colored faces. (Advertising has been test-marketing this vision for a while, and a heartwarming prototype can be found in the Paul Mazursky / Robin Williams film Moscow on the Hudson, in which my husband had a cameo.) But as much as they might come to love this feelgood vision, they also hate violence and disorder that threatens them. That is why the urban “riots” and shootings are Trump’s ace in the hole right now—the same dynamic that brought us Richard Nixon.

Now as then, you can be very sure that right-wing provocateurs are a big part of the action. The left should let them have it all. Let the Proud Boys dress up as a handful of anarchists and riot by themselves. To attract mass support and expose the opposition, protests and demonstrations for Black Lives Matter should ideally be disciplined, nonviolent, and free of ideology. (Let me dream.) It’s an uncomfortable fact that if the initial George Floyd protests had been completely nonviolent, they might not have gotten much attention. But when violence wears on, the weathervane of attention soon swivels the other way. Instead of violence pointing at injustice, it becomes fear pointing at violence—and disgust, especially when small businesses are destroyed.

After centuries of oppression and corruption, hate may be justified and cathartic. But for now, let it be the Republicans’ brand. Only that can weaken it—by diluting its fuel of fear.

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Rooting It Out

August 23, 2020 at 3:35 am (By Amba) ()

Even white people who recoil from white supremacy often harbor unexamined, reflexive assumptions of white superiority.

While less noxious on the surface, this assumption is far more pervasive and insidious. It’s the vast, nearly immortal underground mycelium from which the scattered poison mushrooms of white supremacy sprout. (The mycelium of the 2,384-acre fungus described at that link also secretes root-destroying enzymes and “kills swaths of conifers,” for an even better metaphor.)

This struck me while talking to a Trump supporter friend (yes, I have some) who told me she has Black friends, even one guy she was sweet on when she was young (he brought her to his church once; she got a side-eye from his mother that would have blistered the paint off a battleship), but—”their values are different from ours.” Although she must encounter scores of Black working people and professionals every day, she seemed to take inner-city gang, drug, and gun culture as the prototype of Black culture and to attribute it to nature or character rather than to poverty and futility. (Never mind that it took working-class white people less than two generations of unemployment and disrespect to fall into opioid addiction, spousal abuse, and family breakdown.)

She’s a bit of a straw woman because she’s been soaking up right-wing talk radio for twenty years. (If you need to know why we’re friends, ask me in the comments.) But a subtler, patronizing version of the same attitudes pervaded the liberal world I grew up in. A lot of white people kinda believe Charles Murray’s insinuations about genetics and I.Q. (Of course, white people wrote the I.Q. tests; let them try and pass the speed I.Q. test of the average rap song.) They feel that the warm dialect Black people speak among themselves is defective, inferior English. The great majority of their interactions with Black and Latino people are those of employers and “help.” Take it from an insider. The separation and hierarchy Isabel Wilkerson identifies as “caste” perpetuate these assumptions and are perpetuated by them, in a vicious cycle.

What is this “white superiority” and where does it come from? It’s a belief in the superiority of European culture, and it’s founded in dominance. In what, exactly, is euroid culture, as I’ve taken to calling it (because then we can say “roid rage” and get a twofer) truly superior? In the technologies of coercion, extraction, and machine fabrication. The firepower to commandeer other lands’ natural resources and the power to wrest and reshape, roughshod, the material world. The miracle of being able to mass-produce cheap, attractive kitchenware for millions while wiping out time-intensive, one-of-a-kind handcrafts. To make expropriated subsistence farmers work for slave wages (or as actual slaves) on coffee plantations built on what was their land, and create a global commodity market coextensive with empire.

What about our art, literature, and music? You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s, and you don’t have to be euroid to love and play Beethoven, or Shakespeare. They are insanely great. But the “Western canon” is narrow and provincial. Saul Bellow once notoriously asked, “Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?” To which my retort would be, “Dizzy Gillespie.” Shamefully imprecise: it’s unlikely that Dizzy’s ancestors were Zulu. But jazz, a syncretistic art form springing from a mighty African root that people of all origins love and play, has a genius that equals Tolstoy and Beethoven, and in at least one respect surpasses them: it’s created on the spot, in front of demanding witnesses, not polished before being published, or practiced, practiced, practiced, perfected, and finally performed.

I remember going through the Metropolitan Museum once, through a gallery of exquisite, finely detailed Asian embroidered silk garments, porcelain vessels, and painted screens . . . and coming out into a gallery of European art contemporary with it: dark, crudely hewn wooden Christs and Madonnas and angels. Gulp . . . we ARE the barbarians.

After that, when my friend Sachiko meticulously peeled her apple, or segmented her clementine after removing every fiber of the white pith, while I just tore into mine and made a mess, I would tell her I was invoking my barbarian privilege. (Also that I had been raised by wolves.)

Not to put down euroid culture . . . just to point out that it is not superior in anything but domination. Its arts and sciences don’t have to go under. They just have to move over. And disarm.

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Social Media Detox 2

August 21, 2020 at 8:46 pm (By Amba) (, , , )

Getting off Facebook again, and for the most part Twitter (I might use it to post links to blog posts if I have anything to share), at least until the election.

I’ve pretty much concluded that the fragile feel-good illusions about the Democratic party and ticket that they have, against all odds, managed to recreate (quite a feat, I have to hand it to them) are all that can just barely save the country and give it a last chance to make good. At full enough flood, that nostalgic resurgence of willfully innocent Kennedy-era idealism might be able to float the country an inch or two over the horrific threshold facing us. Since I recognize that but can’t join in the inspiration (though I feel its pull) or the cheerleading, I’ve decided to stay out of it. So fragile is that gossamer feeling that some of my friends freak out if I express any realism; others are so cynical they seem to think we need another Trump term to trigger revolution, a privileged, romantic idea if I ever heard one. Some other time I’ll post about why I think a revolution is a bad thing to wish for. (Teaser: Revolution was brought to Romania by the Red Army. Romania’s simmering Communist Party seized its chance. The rich were expropriated and set to the lowest manual labor. Yay! Revenge! Some very bright peasants’ and shepherds’ kids got to go to medical school. Yay! Opportunity! As soon as they became full-fledged doctors, they escaped the country any way they could and came to America, where they could make some money and have a nice house, car, and lifestyle. They listened to Rush Limbaugh and now they are all fulminating right-wingers.) Reform is unromantic, but if it’s serious enough (big if), it can actually improve people’s lives, rather than destroying them to save them.

Anyway, I’ll copy some disorganized thoughts I wrote in my journal this morning.

We have to be saved from the abyss if at all possible, and it’s the naïve enthusiasm of the simple (white liberal) folk that will do it. Black people spotted this early on, and it’s why they wisely pushed Joe Biden to the fore. He’s perceived as safe and kindhearted enough for a wide spectrum of frightened constituencies to accept—from the masses of voters to the dollars of donors—and so he, or his handlers, could just barely hold this improbable coalition, with the tensile strength of Jell-o, together just long enough to squeak through the door. Okay, so it’s the same old coalition of the comfortable-enough to be complaisant while the plutocrats fleece us. The difference is that the voters now want to shoehorn the diverse new America into the crude fairness and opportunity of the old (pre-Reagan) America. It was pretty good for them, and they’ve belatedly realized that it wasn’t for everybody. It’s all necessary to survive and to inch forward another half-millimeter toward such justice as glorified chimpanzees are capable of.

The rich must realize they are rich on sufferance, that the only way to enjoy their wealth in peace, without becoming murderers to avoid being murdered, is not to leave the rest of the community behind. To recognize that they are still part of humanity, with reciprocal bonds and obligations, not untrammeled demigods. They have to earn the right to enjoy their wealth in peace, and they can’t be trusted to do it voluntarily. They have to be required to pay the rest of us to grant them that limited license.

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Fall of the Conquerors

July 24, 2020 at 2:20 pm (By Amba) (, , )

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot had two statues of Christopher Columbus removed from Chicago parks and neighborhoods last night. The immediate rationale was public safety: the statues have become flashpoints for confrontations between police and demonstrators; and, in improvised attempts to pull the heavy statues down, people could get hurt. But, after “an inclusive and democratic public dialogue about our city’s symbols,” in the mayor’s words, you can bet those patriarchs will not be back on their pedestals.

I am totally down with seeing these statues disappear from literally lording it over the public square (yes, I’m aware that there have been ignorant excesses of iconoclasm as well as instances of payback targeting monuments to abolitionists). I would be happy to debate anyone who disagrees.

If we are serious about making this the inclusive and equitable country that it potentially is, about fully extending the promises of the Founders to everyone whose ancestors were drawn here by those promises or driven off or dragged here in violation of them, then yes, we DO have to rewrite history from multiple points of view, and we DO have to stop being unquestioningly presided over by the “heroes” of conquest, colonization, and genocide.

We can’t expect historical figures to have had our perspective,* [see UPDATE below], but it’s time to take an unflinching look at their perspective, and to admit that for most of them, racism was an inextricable strand in it that qualified and tainted whatever noble traits they may have had or deeds they did.

Yes, this change is disorienting when you’ve been taught standard American mythology since you were a little kid. The resistance to it is as intense as if we were losing our civic religion and identity. We are! I am all for it. We’re coming into a bigger-hearted one, and the spirit of the old one is being reborn in unexpected ways as a living part of it (see Hamilton, or AOC invoking the dignity of Congress to call out the fellow representative who insulted her).

I hope the statues reappear in dedicated sculpture gardens where their value as artifacts of history, educational aids, and, in some cases, works of art is preserved.

*UPDATE: This made me think again about that statement:

These ‘historical figures’ were significantly outnumbered by their dead. They were a tiny minority of their own population. Yet we treat them as if they are the only people in history.

When people say, “we can’t judge historical figures by the standard of our time’ what they mean is ‘the monsters did not think themselves monstrous”. What they mean is ‘colonized lives don’t matter’. Because these human beings, living at the very same time, certainly knew that these were monsters. I don’t mean in an abstract political-issues-of-the-day sense, I mean in a very real sense of ‘They’re killing me and selling my children’.

It’s as if we write about serial killers, but only from the perspective of serial killers. . . .

A few thousand Europeans colonized millions of people across the world. They laundered this theft by simply rendering the victims subhuman, an injustice we continue to this day.

We talk about historical figures and historical standards as if these millions of people simply did not exist. . . .

These perspectives matter. All of the lives that were silenced by the whip or the noose before, they are silenced by armchair historians today. People talk about a whites only history where only white feelings mattered, and because white people didn’t feel bad, it simply wasn’t bad.

This simply isn’t true. It was bad. The people living it knew.

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