Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the Cusp of the 4th of July

This piece by Mr. Coates should be read and probably printed out. Stick it on your Christmas cards too:

We are actually witnessing a bit of national progress this week, with two great Supreme Court decisions and Mr. Obama's Pinkney Eulogy to close out the work week. I watched the whole service when I got home from work, then Rachel Maddow ran the actual Obama speech as a part of her show. Later in the night, thunderstorms came through and although the power went off, it got cooler and we could let the little window airconditioner which has been toiling all week have a little Saturday respite. The, to make matters even nicer, the power came back on just in time to get up.

My old friend Ben Jones has decided to take a big stand against removing the Confederate Flag from public places, or at least so would seem the implication of his maintaining that he will "nevah" stop selling the flag at his various Cooter Stores. Why he's felt the need to take such a public position I'm not entirely sure of. Possibly he feels the hot breath of a business issue breathing down his neck. But he might have just said nothing. It seems unlikely that anyone is going to tell him to stop selling the flags. I think even the hoped for removal of the flag from the grounds of the Columbia, SC capitol is not a sure thing. There are quite a number of SC legislators who've been vocal in their support for the presence of the flag. Ms Haley's light touch of oblique criticism was countered in her usual sledge-hammer way by Ann Coulter: "she ain't from around here."

Meanwhile, the two Duke boys lived in a Hazzard in no state, and just down the road from Mayberry. There was, as Ben says, no racism in this Hazzard Never Never Land. Also, the boys never got killed in their Charger as they lept it around the countryside as though it was Traveler himself. These days the elderly dudes might lose their current car commercial, or maybe not. None of that has much to do with anything. We already knew Ben's show was a sit-com from a by-gone era. Nobody this side of Saturday Night Live ever thought to question the politics of the show. It had no politics at all. Which one could say is the magic of white privilege, but that magic is so much more in evidence every night on Fox News, where it is proclaimed to be the gawd's no spin truth ad nauseum to the angry and fearful rubes who keep up the ratings. (I should note, here, that the musical life of Jesse James, "Diamond Studs," that put the Red Clay Ramblers on the national map in 1975, suffered from the same privileged magic. Jesse James was a racist irregular who continued his depredations for fifteen years after the end of the Civil War until he was assassinated by a government agent. He wasn't a fun lovin' good-ole boy, never meanin' no harm. That's how he was played, to full houses.)

But as you can read in Mr. Coates' piece, the Confederate Flag was always about slavery and white supremacy. It stood for that American tragedy when the war was started by South Carolina. It stood for resistance when Bedford Forrest mounted the terrorist Klan after the war. And it stood for resistance yet again when it was rehung in 1962 from the Capitol flagpole in Columbia, by the old Southern Democratic politicians who fought the Civil Rights Movement tooth and nail and who, after the various Civil Rights laws were passed in the mid-'60s, switched pretty much en masse to the Republican Party as a measure of the success of Nixon's "Southern Strategy."

You can take your pick of eras with regard to ending at a minimum the publicly sanctioned display of the damned old rag. It's all of a piece. Here's an image that puts the lie to Mr. Jones:

And cudos to the Alabama Governor who, Thursday, decided on his own and with no particular pressure, to voluntarily remove the four rebel flags from the Montgomery State grounds. Equal cudos to Dale Earnhardt Junior, by the way. It certainly is necessary and sufficient reason enough that the flag offends millions of our fellow citizens. We ought to all be offended by that. But historical amnesia is never a good idea, and in the case of the Civil War, it's really embarassing. Yes, the foot soldiers on the Southern side in that conflict mostly had not even the "hope" of owning slaves, and were probably fighting for their friends in arms and their sense of place. Same as it ever was, in all wars. But Stonewall Jackson shot deserters, which will give a man impetus to charge up the hill.

Like our recent two-week scorcher, perhaps a fever has broken.


Wednesday Update: Ben Jones' has chosen to pursue a "southern strategy," expanding the shelves at his Cooter Stores to include a vast new array of confederate flag gear. You can click over there for a look:

This is exactly Nixon's original southern strategy: you don't want the racist vote, well we'll take it. But as with the Republican Party, there are consequences. When you next drive past the lil country store that time forgot, expect to see a parking lot full of choppers and gun racked pickups. As I suggested elsewhere, Ben could expand his merchandise to include replicas of Lester Maddox axe handles, which can no doubt be produced for next to nothing in any third world sweatshop. As for the flag flip flops, you'd think there's a modicum of disrespect in there somewheres or other. One of my wife's ancestors walked home from Appomattox, and ate a dog along the way to survive. He didn't wear no confederate flag flip flops I don't think.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

In Plain Sight

You've heard the one about the guy smuggling bicycles, right? Comes across the border every day riding a red bicycle. Guards check him out but that's the deal, just a guy on a bike. He carries a little paper sack with a sandwich and a bottle of water. This is just during the week. He has some kind of job somewhere up in the hills, in the fancy part of town. So the guards speculate. Gardener. Cook. Maybe even a nanny. He's a nice man, in his late '30s. Finally after months they take him aside. What are you sneaking in, man? Hell, we don't care, we just work here. It's just hard to believe you're not bringing in something. “Bicycles,” the guy says, with a wry smile.

Clementa Pinkney was a remarkable leader by all accounts. He was a State Senator. He had the ability to convince his cohort, mostly very right wing folks the state being South Carolina, that police body cameras were a good idea. This was just after the policeman in North Charleston who'd shot and killed a black man who ran after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. We all saw that. Shot at him eight times as he ran, in the back. Then handcuffed the body, no interest in even checking to see if he was dead or might be saved. Pinkney took the tack of arguing via Doubting Thomas. Sometimes we must put our hand into the wound. It was effective.

Reverend Pinkney was a man who stayed humble. He drove home from Columbia to Charleston to lead a prayer meeting in the most historic black church in the whole South, his church. His attendees were all community leaders, solid folks. They probably got a lot out of the cool drink of water that was Reverend Pinkney. He was showing the world how to live righteous. He was the absolute opposite of, for example, Donald Trump. And in a different way, of his Governor of the moment, Nikki Haley. There were testimonials about him from white Republican senate colleagues. It's possible that his murder will have the result of finally getting the odious Confederate Battle Flag off the Capitol grounds in Columbia. The affront of the damn thing—someone called it the American Nazi Flag on a blog I read—still flying high when both the state and American flags were at half-mast the day after the massacre in the church was possibly too much for whoever still imagines themselves in South Carolina to still be within the pale of civilized society. Some Southern Baptist leader called for its removal yesterday, the day after the murders. This was some step forward from Chris Hayes' interview with former Governor and now Congressman Sanford, who said “I didn't have anything to do with it, I was in Washington.” A brave stand, that, from the former Lothar of the Pampas. Sanford would be a great running mate for Gov. Perry. I'd laugh at that ticket all the way to the bank.

Pinkney was a significant black leader in South Carolina. He had national promise surely, although whether he was interested in such a path is not clear. He stayed connected to people, real people. But he was an elected leader, he was articulate and capable, and could bring different factions together such as on that camera bill. That's a skill. That's a force to be reckoned with.

Why is it that in every one of these cases, from John F. Kennedy forward, the press and the powerful always run immediately to the “lone nut” theory? That's all I've been hearing since the massacre happened. That and “he was pure evil.” Pure evil is actually a cypher, a place-marker for “we have nothing at the present time.” There are already public calls for his execution, from Gov. Haley, from Senator Graham, who also suspected the guy was out to kill Christians. That was another theme from the Right wing media. He was a Lone Wolf said David Brooks last night to Judy Woodruff. We have a societal problem with these young men, unconnected, living in trailers, no job. I waited to hear “let's bring back the Draft,” but Brooks cannot bring himself to offer any real policy. Lone Wolves must assuredly be of both parties, or none. Another one of those things that comes with the decline of the apogee of American Civilization that happened, in retrospect, at the end of Dwight Eisenhower's first term, same year Mantle hit 56 untainted homers and Larsen pitched that perfect game in the Series. This was like Shakespearean comets, we just didn't know it then, it takes Brooks' hindsight.

Someone on a comedy show said, well if he wanted to kill Christians he drove by a lot of churches to get to Charleston, 100 miles of churches. And if he wanted to kill black people, he drove by plenty of black people. It amazes me that no one can manage to put any of these dots together, at least on the media coverage. One hopes that behind the scenes some real investigation is going on, that someone is actually sitting in a quiet friendly room with Mr. Roof and talking gently and quietly to him about what he was doing. Dostoyevsky's insight is still true.

Because it's pretty obvious that Mr. Roof might as well have been a guy with a dynamite vest on, or a guy with a sword and a black hood. He was an arrow, that's surely the case isn't it. How would he even know the remarkable history of that particular AME Church, to pick it out and go to the trouble. But he knew that church, and he knew Rev. Pinkney was there. According to one witness, he asked for Reverend Pinkney, and sat near him for an hour before starting the murdering.

I'm sorry. Mr. Roof was an assassin, first and foremost. He hid his assassination amongst the bodies and the very understandable emotions elicited by such horror. But he must have gone to that church, on that night, to kill Mr. Pinkney. The task of the authorities is to find out who sent him. Someone did. Maybe they're on line, in some racist chat room on the IRC network. Maybe they're somewhere else, with a murky website full of nazi gear or Rhodesian gear. Roof was a lost boy and he found a cause somewhere, and we have to know about that. He will talk to the right person too, and not some monkey with a water board. He will talk to a friendly voice. We need to know who sent Roof, and we should be very happy to trade him his life behind bars for that information. The victims' families, in this regard, are way ahead of the people who are, in effect, screaming for all of it to be covered up, to be buried and never spoken of again. ISIL isn't the only group who recruits lost boys.

Maybe the right wing lives so deeply in denial that that's all they can do. O'Reilly last night was nearly hysterical, shouting over and over again, “Roof was psychotic.” The calls for the death penalty resound. I hope they keep him safe in custody. Jack Ruby heard those calls and acted straight away. Ruby was a better assassin than Oswald. The Lone Wolf moniker seems to work endlessly, like a hall of mirrors. But it's not reality.

We had better learn from the past, even if that's not what the media wants from us.


A few years back Juan Cole published the following list( ):

1. White terrorists are called “gunmen.” What does that even mean? A person with a gun? Wouldn’t that be, like, everyone in the US? Other terrorists are called, like, “terrorists.”

2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners.

3. Doing a study on the danger of white terrorists at the Department of Homeland Security will get you sidelined by angry white Congressmen. Doing studies on other kinds of terrorists is a guaranteed promotion.

4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.

5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.

6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.

7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.

8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.

9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane.

10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.

The media coverage of the Charleston massacre follows this list of dicta with remarkable accuracy.

Update the 2nd:

Sunday Update:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Curious Shoes

When I came back from my adventure in San Francisco in the spring of 1970, I needed a job. I applied at the Durham County Social Services Department, thinking that as a person with a masters degree I might be qualifed for the opening as case worker that they were advertising. Not that I knew anything much about case working, but still... I was told, after making 100% on the screening test, that I was over-qualified. The interviewer, who was also as I recall the director of the agency, also told me that in future interviews I should not wear “curious shoes.”

The phrase has stuck with me. The shoes were suede boots, nothing all that mindblowing to me. It wasn't as though Merle Haggard had interviewed me for the gig: “beads and roman sandals won't be seen.” Actually, the Hag recommended boots as I recall, but Durham was not Muskogee. I shortly got a job editing books at Duke University Press. I enjoyed the work and stayed there until I found myself in an accidental hit off-Broadway play in the Spring of '75. A long strange trip.

One of the first books I worked on was Shelton Smith's “In His Image But.” It was a work of historical theology, and analysed how the slave-owning South justified the “peculiar institution” with scripture and scriptural interpretation. That is, Dr. Smith noted that it wasn't as though the antibellum South was steeped in some devil religion, which you might expect (coming from Mars) if all you knew about my ancestors was that they were owners of human slaves. Nope. They were Christians, with the many protestant denominations: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians. Not for the most part Quakers I would say, although out here in the depths of far western Chatham County, where almost all we have are little Quaker churches, if you do bother to go to a service you'll find something much more like the Southern Baptist way that you might predict. This, according to my good wife, who grew up in the Southern Baptist church some 100 miles further to the east.

At any rate, Dr. Shelton Smith and other scholars have worked this field well. It is a fact that many odious policies and practices have been succored and embraced by portions of the Christian religion, as a matter of historical record. This phenomenon is understandable as a matter of psychology and sociology, and occurs not only in the South of the United States, but in Nazi Germany as well. And it occurs across religions too. The depredations of ISIL and the Taliban are grounded in Islam, not offered as brave new worlds.

In this factual context then, and with the further fact that Duke University, in North Carolina, has done some of the relatively recent scholarship showing this phenomenon, I report with great disgust that yesterday the Republican NC Legislature over-rode the Republican Governor's veto of a bill which has thus become law, and which allows magistrates serving the North Carolina public and salaried by the North Carolina taxpayers to opt out of performing duties which they self-report to be “against” their religious beliefs.

The goal of this odious and hopefully unconstitutional bit of legislation is yet another spanner in the spokes of the movement to expand the "institution of marriage" to include couples of the same sex. But it is plain and obvious that any number of obnoxious beliefs might be grounded in “sincere” religious belief, since in plain historical fact slavery and the murder of six million European Jews was grounded in and succored by “religious belief.” This is not to deny that some of the horrors humanity has visited upon itself haven't come with the more modern flavor of science and enlightenment. See, e.g., Revolution, French; Revolution, Russian; Revolution, Chinese. But the man who beheaded the journalist on your TV just last summer held the severed head aloft with the words, “God Is Great.”

How sad for my state, and for all those people who worked so earnestly to end the racism which infected us to the core in my youth. How sad for the good couples of the same sex who hope only to establish a loving union, and find this bitter, nasty broken glass thrown in their path. As one of the dissenting Democrats in the Legislature said last night, this will now have to be undone in the courts, at North Carolina's expense. We have in the past few election cycles allowed the incipient racism and general prejudice which will probably always fester to some degree in our body politic to drive the voting for some of the worst politicians available to this generation to victory. We have a legislature of Louie Gomerts here in NC, men and women who almost every day find some new way to tear down the small achievements of the last fifty years. Yesterday, as well as the veto-override, bike paths were made more difficult to establish. No doubt the Honorables view cyclists as likely homosexuals, what with their curious shoes. It is the politics of Dumb, driven by the likes of our own Franklin Graham.

“Sincere religious belief” is a talisman for anything goes, a foundation of sand. The people we have elected have apparently learned absolutely nothing. Apparently they never even noticed that the Klan burns Crosses! That would of course be the Christian interpretation of their remarkable amnesia.