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Oct 13 13

Of Confederate Flags And Other Bullshit

by Editor

A rally on the National Mall, led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, and former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, was intended to show that Tea Party activists — supporters of the House Republicans who forced the shutdown over their opposition to the new health care law — were in no mood to give in. Some waved Confederate flags and called for President Obama to be impeached.

Senate Leaders Talk but Fail to Reach Deal on Shutdown,” Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times, October 14, 2013

Is it OK for Southerners to carry a Confederate flag at a rally of like-minded people, the same way it’s OK for African-Americans (but only African-Americans) to call each “nigger”? I don’t think I approve of either of these things.

Oh, sure. The presence of the Confederate flag at this rally on the National Mall? Just a sign of “states’ rights.” No doubt! The linkage between the Confederate flags and calls for impeachment proceedings against President Obama? Surely just a reflection of these people’s anger that the Affordable Care Act imposes actual healthcare on millions of people without it.

If you believe all this, I have a bridge to sell you; please do get in touch.

The Affordable Care Act was deemed Constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. Note that no one is calling for five Justices to be impeached. After all, this is the same court that has loosened gun regulations, loosened rules on money in politics, and transmogrified incorporated businesses into individuals for the purposes of Constitutional rights. Was their decision about “Obamacare” just an aberration?

I digress. Here’s the thing: that flag–the Confederate flag–has connotations as clear as a swastika. Just like the symbol of the Nazis also embodied the German’s desire to get out from under the thumb of repressive post-World War I sanctions, and to re-arm and re-establish themselves as a true, powerful, independent European country … the connection to virulent anti-Semitism and the holocaust is hard to escape. In the same way yes, sure, the Confederate flag represents an era of very specific politics. And that flag also represents a war fought over the enslavement of millions of people and (following the Civil War) a century long, multi-generational period of sustained and often violent discrimination.

It is pathetic that people like Senator Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin do not denounce such activities. To do so would actually elevate the Tea Party and make clear that theirs is a movement not driven by racism–by a deep-seated racist hatred of an African-American president. But alas they cannot and do not repudiate such things, either because they, too, share those sentiments, or because they value too much the support of such people. Equally pathetic is our national news media which reports such details in passing, but fails–out of fear?–to delve too deeply into the underlying issues.

I’m no fan of President Obama. I admire his oratory, but frown on much of his politics, from the vast limitations of the Affordable Care Act to the vast increases he has sustained in our national “security” infrastructure. Still, I am not afraid to call out racism when I see it. And these people–people marching on the National Mall, demanding the president’s impeachment and waving the Confederate flag? These people are racists, and their motivations are of the most base variety. We must resist this behavior and the intellectually impoverished faux-ideology behind it.

Oct 8 13

Whack Him Back & Walk Away

by Editor

It’s 6:35am, I am in the kitchen making coffee, and NPR has just confirmed that the government remains shut down (as I think to myself, yes, and Speaker John Boehner is still ineffective; #LetsTalk about that), the US is still holding a freshly captured alleged terrorist on a boat, and that it’s going to be a lot cooler today than yesterday. The radio is also, apparently, screaming at me.

Oh, that’s not the radio. That’s my children. “Mommmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyy!” Well, they’re not calling me.

“Mommmmmmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! He’s hurting me!”

She’s 6, he’s 4. And Mommy is apparently indisposed since after two minutes of screaming….the 6 year old is still screaming.

It’s now 6:38am, and my blood pressure is elevated.

I locate the children. I say: “Stop screaming. Mommy is not available right now. Why are you screaming?”

“He’s hurting me,” she says. The two of them are in their pajamas, in our bed, under the covers. It’s a big bed. There’s plenty of room for the two of them. There is no need for this.

“So get up and walk away,” I say.

***

My intelligent, beautiful, sophisticated 6 year old daughter has a problem. Contrary to the indicators above, the problem is not her 4 year old brother. They love each other, and most of the time they play nicely together.

My daughter’s problem is that she has no sense of self-preservation, no instinct for self-defense. And this worries me. Screaming? Screaming is good in some situations, can attract attention and alert people that something is wrong. But these days, at home, it’s hard to discern the degree of seriousness that goes with the scream.

I have been trying to teach my daughter self-preservation and self-defense. “If your brother is bothering you, hurting you, tell him firmly to stop. If he doesn’t stop, remove yourself from that spot–the bed, the couch, the floor, wherever. And if he still doesn’t stop hurting you, whack him hard on the shoulder and then walk away. Eventually, he will learn that if he hurts you it will result in him getting hurt, and he will stop.”

Whack him back, and walk away.

***

Certainly–certainly!–when the 4 year old hurts the 6 year old, it isn’t the 6 year old to blame! We take all the right steps with the 4 year old. He loses toys (especially if they’re the whacking object) or his dessert or a bedtime story. He gets quiet time by himself or with one of us. But I say, without making excuses: he’s a 4 year old boy. This is, alas, what many boys do, especially younger siblings.

And granted, I grew up with a younger brother (whom I love very much) who also spent time in childhood bothering me in much the same fashion. As boys, we would wrestle and fight, whack each other and whack each other and whack each other and … eventually move on. I wasn’t an older sister, and I know–know–that girls can be differently wired on these matters. I understand that.

But still, I say: whack him back and walk away.

***

When it comes right down to it, life is not always so simple. Things you want need to be fought for, obstacles need to be overcome. Mostly–hopefully–these are not physical obstacles, these should not be obstreperous (or, worse, sociopathic) people standing literally in your way. But conceptually, the instincts are the same. Self-preservation and self-defense are key life skills, whether with bullies of either gender in school or on the playground, or with a date with wandering hands [gulp; hopefully many years away], or against colleagues who try to thwart you or people who try to rip you off. It is not always about physical retaliation; in fact, mostly it is not about physical retaliation, but some other form of self-preservation, from arguing your point all the way down to counting your change in a store. Life requires a little bit more than just waiting for someone else to help you out.

Screaming? Screaming can be good. But sometimes, you just need to whack ‘em back and walk away.

Apr 21 13

“Separating Islam From Acts Of Terror”

by Editor

Danger In Conflation: Separating Islam From Acts Of Terror.” That’s the headline from an NPR piece tonight in which the host interviews Omid Safi, a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (fuller bio here) about reactions to the Boston Marathon bombings and accused bombers, and their apparent identification with Islam.

It is worth a listen. It is a clear-headed defense of Islam, yes. More importantly, Safi provides a very coherent rebuttal of racial, ethnic, or religious profiling.

The Onion, ever brilliant, published an item last week titled: “Study: Majority Of Americans Not Informed Enough To Stereotype Chechens“. Sadly, this is probably true. But while it points to a specific weakness (our “exceptionalism” tends to lead to an exceptionally weak understanding of geography) it also highlights rather clearly the problems with trying to profile people and make assumptions about behaviors based on stereotypes and only the weakest understanding of world geography and other cultures.

Between Safi and The Onion, we can learn a lot. And that’s no joke.

Apr 16 13

Historical Confluence

by Editor

In the last 24 hours, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been rich with posts on three separate historical events. The first is the tragic bombing at the Boston marathon yesterday. The second is the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” And the third is the anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence.

While I am not normally prone to tears, all three made me cry today.

The first chink in my armor came from the myriad postings about the 65th anniversary of Israel’s independence. I find this a difficult moment to “celebrate” because 46 of those 65 years have been overshadowed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the domination and destruction of Palestinian lives and livelihoods. Alas, too few Americans (Jewish or otherwise) really seem to care. Worse, the American Jewish community has suffered a terrible kind of gaslighting, wherein our identity has been confused and conflated with that of the Jews of Israel, our co-religionists but not for the most part our co-citizens. All of this made me sad.

Then, hearing the amazing recording of King reading his “letter” from 1963, I found myself even more mournful: at the loss of King, but also at the seeming loss of moral courage in our society. Who among us today has the combined strengths of conviction, poetics, and oratory? In a nation where political considerations override human lives in debates about everything from guns to healthcare, where a president who has the poetics and oratory seems to lack the conviction to stare down a government program of assassination or to push firmly for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed around the world (c.f., Palestinians), what is there to do but cry?

Run, of course. The answer is to run in a marathon, an experience that I can only imagine must be fundamentally life-affirming. Except that this year, it was anything but that. And so I cried, several times today, as I listened to and read news reports of the young boy who was killed, and the young wounded woman seeking out the man who helped her, and the many others hurt, and the many more searching for ways to help. That the tragedy of the Boston marathon also has such a life-affirming feeling to it should not be lost. But it is also hard to ignore the broader context of terrorism in America, from Oklahoma City to New York City, while recalling too how fortunate we are in comparison to some (e.g., Iraq, Syria). And hard to ignore the broader context of all the ways in which we inflict harm on ourselves and our moral standing by failing to promote peace and freedom, failing to stick up for the poor and oppressed both at home and abroad, and the very poor ways in which we handle the grievances we stir up around the world.

For anyone following the news, it’s been a long day. So let’s end this day, and try to work harder for peace tomorrow.