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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Leonce Gaiter/King Was Wrong: The Jewish Model

King was Wrong: The Jewish Model
THE RANTING DIES DOWN. The mists fade. Storm one is dead and gone. We all had our chance post-Katrina to hope for or hail the "new conversation on race," or the revived interest in the subject. And like all else in this America, it had its 15 minutes, and now its "Exit stage left."

For whites, this doesn't matter in the least. They held bake sales, shucksed and awwwed to the images of desperate black faces on their TV screens. But their bake sales and their car washes and their donations means that they are good people, and good people are free from prejudice. It means they are fair people; Americans look after each other; Americans come together in times of crisis; United We Stand.

Tomorrow, they will look at our black skin with the same eyes with which they've looked at it for generations--tinged with an undercurrent of suspicion, with a faint whisper of shame for the hateful, bloody history about which our very skin screams.

America has had a tenuous relationship with its black citizens since its inception. We were slaves, not citizens, and then sub-citizens, and then second-class citizens. Now we hold a nebulous status. Our rights are guaranteed like those of any American, but our access to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is still often subtly denied. The landlord who won't rent to a "black accented" voice. The employer who trashes resumes with black-sounding names. The lenders who charge more for mortgages in black neighborhoods, etc., etc., etc. The doctors who ignore pain and symptoms in black patients that they actively treat in white ones.

Yet, despite this ambivalence on the part of America toward us, we have steadfastly remained believers in the American Dream--what I've referred to as "the perfectibility of whites." We have assumed that someday, they will begin to truly adhere to their high-minded words with equally high-minded actions.

We are still waiting.

Black Americans are an historically despised minority with no homeland, severed completely from indigenous cultures, and trained and educated by the majority that has heaped contempt on them for most of their history. This is unique. What has the majority taught us? That they are... well, "perfectible." That "and justice for all" is a fundamental truth, not a distant dream; that any diversion from that truth is aberration, not norm. That the Jesus handed to us to make our enslavement less troublesome for our former slave masters--that the blonde god Jesus demands that we forgive, and by inference, forget. They have told us that we are less than they--less intelligent, less worthy, less pretty.

And with no countervailing voice of our own, we have believed them.

Other groups come here with cultures intact, self-images nurtured in non-toxic atmospheres. Afro-Americans have 400 years of breathing toxic air to contend with. The cultural lung tissue that feeds our self-image has been scarred. The question for us in the coming century is: "How do we heal it?"

THE ANSWER

America has had a tenuous relationship with us since its inception. I believe it's necessary for us to return the favor. It is necessary to free ourselves from the training that tells us that justice for us is a norm to which America will undoubtedly return. In fact, full and equal justice for us is a vision that has never been realized. We must acknowledge that.

We must free ourselves from the civil rights movement idea that the majority can effortlessly, or organically achieve "colorblindness." This suggests that being an Afro-American means nothing more than skin color. This is what has allowed conservatives to use the civil rights movement rhetoric AGAINST civil rights for us. The civil rights movement insisted that we were "just like" white Americans, except black. Subtly embedded in this is the idea that there's something wrong with being "unlike."

However, we are "unlike." During the civil rights era we did not insist that to be Afro-American was to belong to a rich, distinct, glorious, tragic subculture. We had breathed toxic air too long to see and insist upon the acknowledgment of that distinction. We only acknowledged the tragedy. By the time we began to acknowledge our distinction, we were so poisoned by our American experience that we didn't look in the mirror to find our true Afro-American cultural selves, we looked back to a fantasy of African cultures from which we'd been severed for hundreds of years.

To insist on the perfectibility of Americans is to accept America's historical judgment of us. It is to deny the majority's humanity, and our own. Only it places them on the level of demigods, and us on the level of slaves.

We must free ourselves from their judgment, and stop waiting for them to achieve the perfection that they see in themselves and have taught us to see in them. We must take control of our own culture: fully identify it, codify it, and immerse ourselves in it as an antidote to the toxins to which we will undoubtedly be exposed for a long, long time.

And there is a constructive model that we can follow in doing so: the Jewish Model.

Growing up, I had a lot of Jewish friends, and "Hebrew school" was a norm for many. Once a week or so, they went to be taught the Hebrew language, and Jewish history and culture. It helped assure that young Jewish kids never forgot what had happened in the past--that they were armed with tools to see themselves clearly--and not others' distorted visions of them--to see their history through their own eyes. It gave them a sense of their great worth as Jews and the value of Jewishness.

Afro-Americans have created forms of music, dance, speech, art and worship which are ours. They are renown throughout the world. There is a reason Sunday mornings are the most segregated hours in America. It is because our view of God is distinct. Ours is decidedly fallible. You rarely hear black Christians screaming for a Creationist curriculum. We are not ones to suggest that societal norms and prejudices should be set in scriptural stone. There is a reason Afro-American music sounds like no other, and why some of this country's greatest orators have come from the Afro-American tradition. Black folk tales tell us how our own visions of magic and death evolved. Think Toni Morrison's "Beloved."

Once a week, black children should take a seat in a back room (of the local church for instance), where they would study a standardized curriculum geared toward their age group. They would hear about Frederick Douglass from black lips, read black and white narratives from this country’s slave past, hear Mahalia Jackson sing, read Gates’ “Colored People,” and learn what a saxophone means, and how jazz can stand as a central metaphor for our way of being in the world. They should read Zora Neale Hurston’s folk tales. They should learn Plessy v. Ferguson, not as dry history, but such that they feel where we come from in America, so they can openly express the rage it engenders and then channel that rage into building from the cultural wealth their forebears bequeathed.

MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS WRONG

Face it, Afro-America, the Great Man was Great, but wrong. He preached a dream. And his dream touched the hearts of white America because it flattered the American Christian notion of white American moral divinity. Americans could be made pure; America’s sins could be washed away. And we, black Americans, could do it. To many, though, it was just an offer to clean their moral toilets—much as we had cleaned their porcelain ones. King's genius and his tragedy, is that he made the civil rights movement about THEM.

30 yeas hence, are we willing to admit that "they" are just as human and prone to prejudice as any other human? Are we ready to admit, that they, being just human, will have to acknowledge that tendency toward prejudice and actively work to wean themselves from it? Can we admit that there is minimal interest among the majority of making that acknowledgment, and doing that work? As evidence of the latter, I point to books like "The Bell Curve," and the work of Stephen and Abigail Thernstrom, which denies the existence of prejudice among whites. I point to the controversy that arose over the display of photographs of lynchings that toured various museums. I point to the fact that we're accused of "living in the past" when we acknowledge America's racist legacy, when contiguous or much older historical truths (WWII, the Civil War) are treated as living history.

If we're ready to admit this, we are ready to move forward, sans illusions that the majority will "come around" any time soon. We are ready to take command of our own self-image, acknowledge ourselves as cultural beings, teach ourselves that culture, and make it the foundation on which we stand as we master the mainstream culture such that we are competitive with any Americans of any color. Only we will have that much more to hold onto--a self-defined culture of our own.

I'M BETTER; YOU'RE EQUAL

No self-respecting culture on earth seeks "equality." They all insist on their superiority. Through Afro-American cultural self-education, black children would learn that their race not as a burden to be "owed" something, nor that automatically condemns them to intellectual and cultural deprivation. Armed with a sound foundation in the riches of Afro-American history, speech, letters, glory, worship, music, hurt and triumph, they will be able to compete in any circles they choose. They can then surmount remaining obstacles with the fiercely unapologetic arrogance and self-assurance of a people who made nothing less than a world from the seconds and scraps of a majority who never dreamt so much brutal beauty could be wrung from so little.

When this happens, we will finally no longer be the last to leave, and the first to suffer.

Leonce Gaiter: Black Snakes, White Spiders

Leonce Gaiter's Blog

Black snakes, white spiders

  • Denying the racial aspect of the disaster is denying our history and our humanity. Acknowledging it can lead to action

  • By Leonce Gaiter, Leonce Gaiter is the author of "Bourbon Street," a novel about race and class in New Orleans.

    KATRINA"We exhibit a similar fear response to a spider, a snake, and a person of another race."

    — Arne Öhman, Science Magazine


    I WAS FASCINATED to watch white reporters and commentators tip-toeing around the taboo word "black" in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Class, not race, they said, was the reason black people were wading in neck-high water with their belongings on their heads. Class, not race, they insisted, was why these black people had to live for days in their own feces and urine in a dank hotbox of a stadium — which is akin to insisting that your right leg carried you from point A to point B and ignoring the contribution of your left.

    The reaction of whites toward blacks has been a lifelong study for me. Though black, I have spent 95% of my life around whites. White schools, white neighborhoods, white workplaces, white friends. I was raised during the '60s, and my New Orleans-bred parents insisted on living in the best neighborhoods with the best schools. They got out of the South to make that possible, and if a white Northern school or neighborhood was hostile, so be it. It was the price they, and I, would have to pay.

    Some of you are ready to wag your finger in black America's face and say, "See! His family could do it. What's your excuse?"

    But my mother was a brilliant woman, and my father possessed a Herculean will that allowed him to escape a poor, fatherless family of 15 children in a racist dung-hole of a Louisiana town and make a comfortable, decidedly middle-class life for himself and his family in an aggressively hostile military. And he did it without currying white favor by betraying or abandoning the black men and women with whom he served.

    Do you possess the brains and will to overcome so much and go so far? If not, put that finger away.

    Being raised in a sometimes hostile white world has taught me that we are all racists. Our little post-monkey brains (evolutionarily speaking) are suspicious of that which is unlike us, and to such we are more likely to assign nefarious motives and intentions.

    A recent Science magazine article describes research suggesting that fear informs the attitudes between ethnic groups in part because negative associations stick more easily and relentlessly to faces that don't look like ours. When researchers paired faces with frightening images, white participants acquired more persistent conditioned fears in response to pictures of black faces than to pictures of white faces, and blacks did the same thing with white faces. This fear response leads to avoidance, which prevents us from knowing people who aren't like us and makes them a blank slate for projections that justify our fears.

    To me, this seems a simple recitation of the obvious. However, many Americans have a deep national investment in our myth of unassailable moral rectitude. Our history and founding myths insist on a superior sense of justice as our birthright, our national raison d'etre.

    Black Americans have more license to admit our wariness and mistrust of whites. Whites cannot admit their mistrust without summoning their forebears brutal enslavement of Africans. You can't feign moral rectitude as you simultaneously acknowledge the bestial inhumanity that lurks in our American history. Many Americans look at black men and women and see an unwelcome reminder. TVs filled with scenes of black despair call forth the holds of slave ships, and so we spend days pretending that we don't notice the race of those hungry, grieving, angry, exhausted people.

    A conservative tide has worked hard to strengthen the denial of our American crime — to convince Americans that our record of race hatred is either black Americans' fault or our hysterical imaginings. Some conservatives promote the idea of colorblindness, which is akin to eyelessness as a cure for urban blight. Suggesting that you can deny what is before your eyes — insisting that you have the will and power to ignore both it and its vast historical implications — is breathtaking hubris.

    To many, blacks aren't so much citizens as threats to the majority's sense of self. In the wake of Katrina, a headline in the Economist blared "America's Shame," rubbing salt in our punctured sense of righteousness. Pundits insisted that race, not class, was the source of that shame. But history is a living thing. It didn't disappear in 1964. In New Orleans, in particular, race and class have been conjoined twins for centuries. The 9th Ward is flood- and poverty-prone — low-lying and low in the city's class structure. It's no coincidence that its people are among the city's blackest. This is where they were forced to live, and this is the only place many feel they have the right to live, anchored there by a "can't-have" hopelessness implanted in generations born to shackles.

    White people see these people standing on rooftops, pleading for help, and attach all sorts of ugly associations. That's natural — but acceptable only if they recognize it as an expression of our inescapably flawed history and humanity. Own the shame, America. It is as much a part of you as your triumphs and glories. Own it, and you might take action.

    Leonce Gaiter: Fags and Witches

    Fags and Witches
    Vox populi vox Dei—“The voice of the people is the voice of God.” An extremely effective means of inculcating absolute loyalty to a government “of the people,” this principle also proved fatal to persons—like Jews, gay people and “witches”—whose life-styles differed from those of the majority: a voice not in harmony with that of “the people” was ipso facto out of harmony with God and hence punishable.

    - “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, John Boswell



    In its most desperate lurch back to the 15
    th century, the Catholic Church is engaging in an Inquisition against gays in US seminaries, according to an article in the New York Times. This has put the lie to the fine distinction on which Christian rightists have relied to shield themselves from accusations of rabid hate. This has nothing to do with hating the “sin” of homosexuality, but loving the “sinner.” The Church will be purging those “with strong homosexual tendencies.” (One assumes these will be identified by record collections, underwear styles, and the décor of rooms.) No. This is not hating the sin and loving the sinner. This is burning the sinner because he IS the sin.

    This news sent me back to an extraordinary 1980 text by the late John Boswell, a professor of history at Yale. In his book “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” he examines gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the 14
    th century. He makes clear that religious belief and piety have little to do with hatred. He writes:

    If… prohibitions which restrain a disliked minority are upheld in their most literal sense as absolutely inviolable while comparable precepts affecting the majority are relaxed or reinterpreted, one must suspect something other than religious belief as the motivating cause of the oppression.

    You don’t see the Church purging straight men who may lust after women, though the Church prohibits heterosexual sex among its priests. The Church is only hunting gays. This, they will insist, is due to the biblical prohibitions and condemnations of homosexuality. However, Boswell’s exhaustive research—both textual and historical—thoroughly debunks any idea of biblical imprecations against gays. He exposes those in current Biblical texts as purposeful mistranslations of the originals, or metaphorical asides only tangentially associated with homosexuality.

    It is, moreover, quite clear that nothing in the Bible would have categorically precluded homosexual relations among early Christians. In spite of misleading English translations which may imply the contrary, the word “ homosexual” does not occur in the Bible: no extant text or manuscript, Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, or Aramaic, contains such a word. In fact none of these languages ever contained a word corresponding to the English “homosexual,” nor did any languages have such a term before the late nineteenth century.

    For instance, discussing the famous quote from Leviticus, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. [18:22], Boswell explains that the word “toevah,” which is translated as “abomination” actually means that which is ritually unclean for Jews, like the shaving of one’s beard or having sex with a woman during menstruation. It is suggestive of a ritualistic differentiator between Jews and gentiles. No more a condemnation of homosexuality than of shaving.

    He points out that the sins of Sodom were sins of “inhospitality,” not “homosexuality,” and that none of the Old Testament passages that refer to the wickedness of Sodom make any suggestion of homosexuality. Such associations were tacked on centuries later.

    As for Paul’s writings that supposedly condemn gays, two refer not to gay sex, but “wonton” or “unrestrained” individuals. These, Paul says, will be denied entrance into the kingdom of heaven. As Boswell notes, “…to assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous.”

    Paul’s passage from Romans I:26-27 states “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise, also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”

    Here, Paul’s argument is about lack of fidelity, not sexuality. He is condemning those who turn their backs on their old ways. He is not condemning gays. In fact those he condemns are NOT gay. They have rejected their calling and abandoned their wives. He is not condemning their sexual acts, he is condemning their abandonment of their usual, natural order (being straight men) for one Paul finds less appealing. It is a metaphor for the Romans, who turned their backs on monotheism.

    Boswell’s book will quickly convince the literate that there is no religious reasoning behind prejudice against gays. It comes back to the opening quote: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” For a city-state determined to subordinate private rights for the public good (like the Church, or the America of right wing Christians), any voice not in concert with that of the majority is ungodly and inherently evil. Gays, Jews, Blacks, and women (as witches) have all taken our turns over the centuries.

    The Church’s hatred toward gays has nothing to do with religion. The Church is seeking to squash that which it hates. The Church and those like it consider gay men, and gay sex, the ultimate expression of “untamedness.” Thus, they cannot believe that we live in stable relationships and make good parents. To them, freedom from the strictures of heterosexual marriage means chaos and licentiousness. If you’re straight, those bonds can be replaced by the bonds of the priesthood. If you’re gay, however, no bonds are strong enough. For no voice so different from theirs can be allowed to flourish.

    American blacks have suffered similarly. Freedom from whiteness implied chaos and licentiousness. Black men were ravenous wolves out to devour white women—utterly lacking in self-control, and therefore evil. Black music corrupted good white teenagers; a voice so different from theirs… Black women “wanted it” from white men. As Boswell said, “a voice not in harmony with that of ‘the people’ was ipso facto out of harmony with God and hence punishable.”

    Vox populi vox Dei—“The voice of the people is the voice of God.”

    As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the “people” have spoken.

    Leonce Gaiter: Katrina's Deck Full of Race Cards

    Katrina's Deck Full of Race Cards
    The first days were the most telling. Nobody mentioned it. Tens of thousands of people trapped in increasingly filthy conditions—free-flowing feces, dead bodies lying about, grounds soaked in urine—yet nobody mentioned that they were all black. It was obvious to anyone with eyes. The images made you squirm and cringe—hordes of black faces pleading for help—life, food, water—in a major American city. Yet nobody mentioned it. What were they afraid of? Were they scared that the right-wingers would accuse them of playing the race card? Accuse them of suggesting that America had not achieved the colorblind state of utopian bliss that they insist it has; that white people and the American society over which they hold sway are not as perfectly just as they claim?

    Even members of the congressional black caucus refused to “play the race card.” They focused on “class.” The fact that all the people of this particular class trapped in squalid hellholes filled with human waste happened to be black was oh, just… I don’t know… coinkydinky?

    Like it or not America, hurricane Katrina blew a deck full of race cards in our faces. Let’s pick just a few of them up.

    Ace of spades:
    Speaking on CNN, Wolf Blitzer clumsily, but correctly stated: so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black.” So black. These are not the gichy blacks—lighter skinned, with silkier hair—that long comprised New Orleans black middle and upper classes. These were the dark-skinned folk with nappy hair. Undeniably, thoroughly, discomfitingly black. New Orleans was a slave port. This quaint city, so charming, so southern, was the scene of crimes so base, viciousness so unadorned, it takes the breath away. Human chattel came through here. Women were taken, often raped by their white masters, and their lighter skinned children were accorded privileges above the common negroes. History lives. Racial history lives longer.

    Queen of hearts:
    It just looked different when the cameras focus on white victims in Mississippi and when they focus on black ones in New Orleans. That will tell you how vibrantly, sensuously alive the subject of race remains in America. The white ones were picking up the pieces. The black ones carried the pieces in garbage bags slung over their shoulders. The white ones thought about rebuilding. The black ones had nothing on which to build. The coverage smacked of the local investigative report that uncovers a cruel puppy mill full of starved and diseased dogs. “Oh those poor black people.” Condescension threatened at every turn. It’s the same condescension with which we “open our hearts” to the victims of third world earthquakes, tsunamis and genocides. Condescension because we know that this could never happen to lighter-skinned, well-heeled folk. Such hell is reserved for “them”—the other—whomever they may be.

    King of spades:
    My parents got out of New Orleans decades before Katrina, but for the same reasons that begat the tragedy. I lived there only briefly, but even as a child I knew that the attitude among the city’s poor, black population was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My parents were 60s bourgeois strivers, and they insisted on three things: excellence to thwart the race hatred that threatened them, controlled rage to keep its memories fresh because more often than not, cultures die before they change, and finally arrogance in the knowledge that while the majority with all its power did its best to belittle us—they had failed.

    Instead of this sustaining triumvirate, in New Orleans I saw hopelessness and resignation. There was about the people a sense that they would never get but crumbs from someone else’s plate. And to make this bitter pill palatable, they had only the Jesus that white people had thrust upon them hundreds of years ago with the express goal of making their ancestor’s enslavement less troublesome to maintain. Enslavement, Jim Crow, reeking prejudice, and then malignant neglect. Yes, history lives; and racial history lives longer.

    Ace of Diamonds:
    Even conservatives are bashing Bush and his government’s and his personal response to this tragedy. Andrew Sullivan wrote:

    Real conservatives believe that the state should do a few things that no one else can do – defense, decent public education, police, law and order among the most obvious – and leave the rest to individuals. Funding FEMA and having a superb civil defense are very much part of conservatism’s real core. It’s when government decides to reshape society, redistribute wealth, socially engineer, and take over functions that the private sector can do just as well that conservatives draw the line. The reason I’m mad as hell over Katrina is precisely because I’m a conservative and this kind of thing is exactly what government is for.



    History lives. Modern conservatism was midwifed by resistance to the civil rights movement. Conservatives believed, as Sullivan states, that the government should not “socially engineer.” To many, that meant that if Mississippi wanted “whites only” bathrooms, it should have “whites only bathrooms.” For the government to interfere was “social engineering,”—not among its duties. However, if you’re willing to let someone rot and die quietly in poverty because of your ideological creed—die early from poor nutrition, poor and non-existent health care, then you’re willing to let them die in a flood. If poor people are dispensable under sunny skies, they’re dispensable in a storm. The right’s sudden concern over these peoples’ plight has nothing to do with their current living conditions. It has everything to do with conservative image management. A government controlled by white southerners oversaw a television spectacle that looked like an update from a slave ship. Their lies were exposed. Their attempt to quietly kill all mention of their society’s history of viciousness and race hatred and their part in it has failed. Overt paeans to segregation are no longer in vogue (except at select awards dinners for die-hards like Strom Thurman and Jesse Helms) but in promoting their creed of “hands off” government, conservatives deny history. They deny their willingness see the poor suffer and die under clear skies or cloudy. They deny racial history—their own racist history. And they do this because history smears dung on their vision of themselves, and America. But they’re learning the hard way that if we refuse to acknowledge the poisons in ourselves, in the culture, and address or “engineer” them, they fester. Soon there’s a riot, or a Superdome full of black people living amongst their own excrement with the whole world watching. And that’s what gets them now. It’s not the fact of the people suffering. They were perfectly happy to let poor black New Orleanians suffer in their ghettoed silence. It’s the fact of the world watching them suffer and tarnishing the image of the Last Empire.

    The Joker:
    There he is, ladies and gentlemen. Grinning about sitting on Trent Lott’s porch once again. Telling us that he’ll give the situation more than one days’ attention. Gee, thanks, Your Highness. How big of him to walk amongst the common people, and even touch them, though some surely smelled bad. And Laura wore such a sensible suit. His Momma assures us that those Negroes holed up in Houston stadium are better off than they were at home. Yes, and the slaves were lucky to have been brought to the land of the free.

    Bush didn’t dare go to the heart of New Orleans. So
    meone may have had the sense to spit.

    Leonce Gaiter: Last Mardi Gras in the City of New Orleans

    Last Mardi Gras in the City of New Orleans
    My mother was born and raised in New Orleans. My father was raised in Plaquemine, not far away. All of their relatives lived there, and my Frenchified name attests to the city's centrality to my history.

    I lived there only for a couple of years, and never learned to like it. I didn't see the New Orleans of the spring break frat boys on Bourbon Street or the quaint old buildings that reeked of southern gentility. I saw black New Orleans, a remnant of a slave past, a ghost of hatreds so rank and rampant that to this day they make you want to vomit.

    Black New Orleans was segregated from the white. It was poor. And it too often wore a plantation-style mentality like a shroud. I was an army brat, raised in D.C., Germany, Maryland, Missouri. My parents were unapologetic 60s bourgeois strivers and pert-near psychotic in their insistence on three things: excellence to thwart the race hatred they saw all around them, controlled rage to keep the memories fresh, and arrogance in the knowledge that while the majority with all its power had done its best to dehumanize and belittle us--they had failed.

    In New Orleans, I saw something completely different from the attitudes with which I was raised. Too often, blacks seemed to harbor hopelessness--belief that a shotgun in the ghetto was the best they could ever do until rescued from this vale of tears by Jesus. Where was the fight, I asked my young self? Where was the rage? They seemed downright frightened of white people.

    But my parents had spared me the south's pre-civil rights viciousness, and offered me tools to counter it when it reared its head. So many of these folks -- exposed to nothing but that city's and that region's unrelenting brutality for generations -- had not been so blessed.

    The Washington Post today reported a black woman in New Orleans saying, "To me, it just seems like black people are marked. We have so many troubles and problems."

    Such words enrage me almost as much as a government that dares to dream of empire, yet is so incompetent it can't get water from point A to point B. They anger me almost as much as people who gleefully suffers a smirking, so-called leader with the arrogance and gall to lie bald-facedly before a TV camera that no one had anticipated what everyone in America knew--that Katrina could breach levees and flood the city.

    Today, Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post quoted Donald Rumsfeld saying about Iraq, "while no one condones looting, on the other hand, one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression."

    I don't hear a lot of that understanding for the black people of New Orleans. They have no food, no water, but the National Guard has been given orders to shoot to kill if they see someone walking out of a store with a case of sustenance. Well, they're just nigger looters. Not people deserving of compassion. Not people with no food or water; not people with nothing but generations of nothing to lose behind them.

    The novel Bourbon Street was my hate letter to that city and all it represents to me about the worst in this country and its past. Instead of a black character desperate for acceptance, or one who destroys himself due to the vagueries of trying to live in the majority's world, I wrote one who dared to learn the majority's lessons, and gain what he wanted even if he had to destroy their world to get it.

    Watching thousands of poor, black people march aimlessly around that devastated city while its government all but ignores them, I say "All hail Alex Moreau."

    Leonce Gaiter: People Read What They Know

    I have read to enter other worlds. To enter other peoples' heads. The writers that most influenced me were those who most decidedly and deliciously showed me the insides of their heads--the way they viewed the world--with what dread or mirth or contempt they saw this life. They were Faulkner, Pynchon and Robertson Davies. Their worlds bore little resemblance to the one in which I lived. But that didn't matter. That was all to the good. It was what made them so thrillingly entertaining.

    But it doesn't seem to work like that now. People read about others who live on blocks just like theirs, who are single like them, or have marriages or kids with problems just like theirs. They read about people who buy clothes from the same designers they do, who drink the same drinks and sup at the same restaurants.

    If writers dare delve into the past or into another world, they are rewarded not for creativity, uniqueness, not for vision... but for research. I'm supposed to be impressed that the writer discovered exactly what restaurant stood on what corner in what city in 1912. Make it up, for God's sake. I don't give a rat's ass! Even in evoking other worlds, "serious" writers are now bound to this one.

    It's no wonder there's an explosion in fantasy and science fiction. It's the one respite from this desperate literary solipsism that the MFA programs seem to instill these days. And no wonder. It makes writing a paint-by-numbers excercise. "Come on, y'all. Anyone can do it!" Most importantly, though, it makes writing an imminently teachable exercise. Anyone can do it, as long as they are properly instructed to follow pre-defined character arcs and do their research by the scores of writers who make their livings by teaching aspiring writers how to write.

    So next time you're reading a glowingly reviewed "literary" novel with a scowl on your face because you can't believe the reviewers were engaged or entertained by the cripplingly dull piece of shit that's invading your lap, remember that too often, you're no longer reading what a writer could envision, imagine, elucidate. Instead, you're reading what a teacher could teach.

    I believe that books have lost their hold on the popular imagination because they became echo chamber conversations between academics and their spawn. And in this chamber, the status quo rules. Academia hates nothing like change. The more predictable the fictions, the more ensconced is academia. From agents, to editors to writers to reviewers--we are all her stunted, crippled children.

    New worlds, ladies and gentlemen. Show me people I don't know, places distorted beyond recognition by the prisms of your minds. Do not preach to me. If you're writing because, "I wanted to show how love conquers all," or "Racial prejudice is complex," then take your laptop and please beat yourself to death with it before you use it to write anything. Who are you? God? You have nothing to teach me. One of the great truisms was always "write for your best audience." Assume I know more than you do. Assume I have lived and inhabited your theme more thoroughly than you have -- now what do you have to say? If the answer is "nothing," don't write. You are not a writer.

    I don't read books as chores to garner cultural merit badges. Reading is entertainment. It's Ann Miller tapping, Duke Ellington swinging, a vaudevillian selling a song. Faulkner, Pynchon and Robertson Davies--they knew this.

    Entertain me.

    Short Around the Internets

    Fairly Wise Advice About Building Weblog Numbers

    Ohmigod its true. Google is becoming a telco. What does this mean? Your broadband choice might be cable, dsl or free Wi-Fi Broadband from google in about a year...which one would you choose? What if it was 10 dollars a month? Still a good deal. This would also, despite the best efforts of the Republicans, spur the economy, raise the intellectual opportunity for the nation and create real broadband competition.

    One of the best jazz concerts, ever. As its directed by Wynton it's a little old fashioned but still stellar performances. Thought Terence Blanchard, borrowing from the Pat Metheny compositional style, provided the highlight.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    Spoke and Argued with Green Presidential Candidate David Cobb Last Night

    Item: Did you know that Green Presidential Candidate David Cobb was sitting in a Squirrel Hill house—without shoes because that’s the house rules—Tuesday night in an effort to promote Green Mayoral candidate Titus North? I only found out through libertarian Mark Rauterkus’ site. I decided to go pay a visit. Here’s what I came away with:

    Subitem: If you’re not aware of this, David Cobb of the Green Party, and not John Kerry unfortunately, is still trying to find out what happened in Ohio. Short version: Kerry probably won but the Republican machine sabotaged the recount efforts and in effect ran out the clock. Cobb confirmed the information in the Free Press article and noted that their next goal was to take a look at the machines through the use of subpoena power. He also darkly hinted that the case could be thrown out because of there being no remedy. I would think the remedy would be sanctions, fines and jail times, not to mention that the Democracy has been thwarted—a minor thing of course.

    Subitem: I also wanted to air out my 5/25 plan in front of the dozen or so Green Party members in attendance. I think the goal of a legitimate progressive third party certainly shouldn’t be to help the Republicans. But they don’t have to win every seat to help, they just have to take away Republican majorities. That means 5 senate seats (And yes, if Chuck Penn isn’t nominated then Pennsylvania should be a state that’s targeted—but only if the candidate has a decent budget of 2 million or more.) and 25 house seats. By the way, this would be a serious effort that would require the funding of the Hollywood left and big time contributors like Peter Lewis and George Soros. You would need 2 million to contest US Senate seats and 1 million to contest 25 house seats. That’s a total of 35 million, which is doable. That’s about how much Act was funded. And here’s the rub: you would run against both parties, run on class issues and use Hollywood talent not only to run for some of these seats but to create emotionally powerful ads that are memorable and trenchant—unlike the current dreck usually produced by the DNC campaign elites, who need to be fired and replaced. This requires the Democrats to be smart enough not to run or complain because they know that 30 or more Bernie Sanders types helps the party.

    Cobb countered that the DNC really really really doesn’t like the Green party and noted that they spent 2 million in 2000 just to thwart the Greens from reaching that 5 percent threshold in California. I countered his counter by noting that the DNC had legitimate reason to hate the Greens then because their only real result was throwing the presidential election to the Republicans, the most evil party on the face of the planet. Now is different. I’m of the opinion that a fearless well funded outsider campaign would work because, frankly, the democrats have never shown us what that looks like. It would be fun to see. You could run as an independent or as a Green. Again, I’d say the plan got mixed reviews from the crowd but I think that would do more to turn the Greens into a viable national party with control of house and senate committee seats than, say, winning the Pittsburgh’s mayor race. They would get a lot of support from grassroots dems as well.

    Subitem: Speaking of the Pittsburgh mayor’s race, Titus North seemed like a decent enough fellow. I liked his platform. The only thing that I would add is that somebody needs to become the party of small business or small c capitalism as I call it. It’s a way to encourage moderate capitalism and provides a nice contrast to the Walmart nation that we’re becoming. He doesn’t think he’s going to win and I’m inclined to agree, unless the democratic nominee is struck by lightening or something and even then…I wish the Greens would go after the black vote. Black voters could use another choice and it can’t be the Nazi Republicans who seem to smile and act ever so slowly when it comes to saving drowning black people—at all levels actually. You can check out North’s site here.

    Monday, September 19, 2005

    Yet More Fraudalent Election News

    Item: As you may know, my fave not covered enough story has to do with the fact that the last presidential election was kind of, you know, fraudulent. That means that quite possibly, all those people who died in New Orleans might not have died had they been under even moderately competent leadership. Not to mention the Gulf War. Or competent handling of various probable hells to come such as Avian flu or mad cow disease...so sleep tight. So, here's your stolen election update and yes I'm the only publisher in Pittsburgh who talks about it, unless the City Paper does their annual 25 most censored stories edition...
    Subitem: The case against the Ohio fraudsters continues apace. You know, it would be nice if the Greens and the Libertarians weren't the only parties contesting this. Isn't the Democratic Party the official "opposition" party...No?Observation: I believe the Multi Medium guy made this point:

    "Election reform has the added virtue of being a political no-brainer: There is no way to oppose it without tacitly admitting that you're anti-democracy and have something to hide. If the Republicans insist that there's no need for electoral reform because the 2004 elections were completely legit, the Democrats point out that they should have no objection to reform, and why wouldn't they want to be able to prove how legit the elections are?"

    You're absolutely right, Why wouldn't they? Well, there could be several reasons and none of them are good. One, they're too ashamed to admit that they've been robbed and refuse to acknowledge the possibility. Two, and here's the horror show part, they're a part of the fix. They really are the Washington Generals and they don't mind being a minority party. They're paid to lose and they're good at it. Or at least the DLC contingent doesn't want to win and that's enough in the senate to mean that the filibuster is never used. What do the Democrats have to lose by pushing for voter verification? Nothing, and yet they don't...how well are the Washington Generals paid?

    Subitem: Ohio is fighting back and they're putting a reform effort on the ballot. This is big news. It means it will be harder for them to pull off what they did in 2004, which is allow GOP partisans to sabotage the recount...

    Subitem: Proof that one disgruntled Diebold worker can hack the machines. Sleep tight...

    Subitem: Speaking of hacking the Diebold machines, the best show I've heard on this issue was the August 28th edition of Politically Direct. Bev Harris is interviewed and she revealed that it takes a team of hackers about 5 minutes to hack into Diebold machines and alter results. Cost: about a couple of hundred dollars. Also: I was introduced to the idea of parallel voting. Best summary I've heard of these issues.

    Around the Internets: Featuring Cindy Sheehan and Online Vids

    Item: There are photo roundups of the Cindy Sheehan speech here and here, at Progress Pittsburgh and 2 Political Junkies respectively. I wish she would take a run at Feinstein...

    Item: I've decided that I'm very close to giving up on my cable television. I like a lot of shows but I can get them through bit torrent now. I'm also a huge fan of BET on Jazz but they play mostly repeats. As for what I mean, try here and here, the latter is a listing of all the downloadable science shows that are online, including what looks to be a straight out hackerz show. My broadband is becoming more important than my cable.

    Item: New online song I kinda like called "Fuck and Spend". The song is a C but the video is an A. Nicely animated. I think an "A" punk song is "Gangsters and Thugs" ("Some of my friends sell records, some of my friends sell drugs..".) You can see the latter vid on MTV once a year if you're lucky. I"ve never seen Fuck and Spend for obvious reasons. Broadband: better than teevee.

    Item: Even if I wasn't a consultant whore for Chuck Penn, I would have to state that his blog is well done. I'm adding it to the permalinks.

    25 Most Censored Stories

    Item: Here are the top 25 most censored stories. Top ten here. I listed them all over at Pittsburgh Progressive. (freely stolen links from American Samizdat.) When I have time I'll comment on number 3.

    #1 Bush Administration Moves to Eliminate Open Government#2 Media Coverage Fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the Civilian Deathtoll#3 Another Year of Distorted Election Coverage#4 Surveillance Society Quietly Moves In#5 U.S. Uses Tsunami to Military Advantage in Southeast Asia#6 The Real Oil for Food Scam#7 Journalists Face Unprecedented Dangers to Life and Livelihood#8 Iraqi Farmers Threatened By Bremer’s Mandates#9 Iran’s New Oil Trade System Challenges U.S. Currency#10 Mountaintop Removal Threatens Ecosystem and Economy

    More Classy Nudes (yoga gal) and Cartoon Hijinks at Red Light District

    Item: I decided to update my porn section for I am a sad lonely man who hasn't had a legitimate date since...well, I literally can't remember. Or, to steal the Patton Oswalt joke "You know the difference between girls and porn? I can get porn..." And thank gawd for yoga girl. So that's what people see in yoga. I always thought it was dandified stretchin' but I was wrong. Between shots of yoga girl's contorted thighs are profane illustrations of cartoon characters doin' it. It features the scooby gang ("Zoinks" indeed and that look of quizzical befuddlement on Scooby's face...priceless), Jessica and Roger Rabbit, and, no, not you Tinkerbell...!? Not you...Have I mentioned lately that those toons are clearly parodies that have artistic merit and that I simply point these things out as a part of my "news gathering"...? Thought I should mention that..

    My Cousin Leonce Gaiter Has Published His First Novel!



    Item: The above novel was written by my cousin Leonce Gaiter. I didn't even know he had written it and published it. I discovered it when someone else linked to it--I think it was Steve Gilliard. Looks like its in a Walter Mosley vein. I wish he would send me a copy.
    He also has a blog where he writes about New Orleans and his family's past, which also happens to be my past. Leonce also happens to be gay, not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Here's an excerpt:

    King of spades: My parents got out of New Orleans decades before Katrina, but for the same reasons that begat the tragedy. I lived there only briefly, but even as a child I knew that the attitude among the city’s poor, black population was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My parents were 60s bourgeois strivers, and they insisted on three things: excellence to thwart the race hatred that threatened them, controlled rage to keep its memories fresh because more often than not, cultures die before they change, and finally arrogance in the knowledge that while the majority with all its power did its best to belittle us—they had failed. (More over at Pgh Words, Sounds and Pictures. And I'm adding Cousin Leonce to the blog links.)

    Very Old Post About Last Week's Steelers Game and US Open

    Item: And somebody break up the Steelers. Of course, that might be the worst defense they'll look at all year. I had no idea Willie Parker = College era Tony Dorsett. Man o man. Feelin' good about the Stillers. But its only one game.


    And now: 100 words about the US Open. I'm glad that Kim won her first slam, but I think Mary Pierce got a raw deal. Her timeout in the seminfinals was within the rules. Federer really is that good. He's the first man to consistently track down and return 120 mph serves. He's also highly intelligent. Still, I wonder if that racquet of his is juiced...? With a carbon nanotube mesh and adjustable tensions...what if it really is the shoes? Federer could win a Grand Slam. The Sampras slam record is in jeopardy. I hope the men's tour can catch him...Need Marat back and a more versatile Andy Roddick to give him a game. The Europeans will give him a run on clay...

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Cindy Sheehan Will Be Here This Weekend

    Item: Cindy Sheehan coming to Pittsburgh this weekend.

    From the Thomas Merton Center's Anti-War Committee:

    UPDATE: CINDY SHEEHAN WILL MAKE A PITTSBURGH APPEARANCE ON SUNDAY"On Wednesday, August 30, 2005, the last day of the anti-war encampment started by Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas, the Bring Them Home Now Tour launched three buses of military and Gold Star families, veterans of the Iraq War, and veterans of previous wars. These buses will travel different routes across the country, including a stop in Pittsburgh on September 11th-13th, before converging in Washington, DC for the United for Peace and Justice March on September 24th. Pittsburgh events include Camp Neil : A Picnic/Speak-Out followed by a Candlelight March on Sunday, Sept. 11, a Press Conference and a Public Gathering to discuss conscientious objection and counter-recruitment. Others tba. Download flyer."

    More here

    Interesting Perspective About Journalistic "Objectivity"

    Item: This is an older Daily Kos item but I'd thought that I would repeat it.

    "There's been some inspiring reporting coming out of the shattered towns of Louisiana and Mississippi -- reporters showing their humanity on their sleeves, reporters not afraid to ask the impertinent but possibly live-saving questions, reporters more than willing to call out politicians on live camera when they spin away from or flatly lie on known facts. It's been shocking to see, and a credit to them and their industry.But why is that the exception? Why does it take day after day of reporting on struggles for food, struggles for water, searches for loved ones, searches that ended badly, and a lake full of bodies to wear a reporter down to the point where their voice shakes, their hands tremble, and they call out the officials who are lying to them right there, on the air, and make sure the whole world knows the actual truth?Shouldn't that be the default position of any journalist actually doing their job? Shouldn't the search for the truth, and the outrage at the lie, be the very basis of actual reporting? Why should it take that momentary loss of control, that sudden spark of anger caused by unimaginable disaster, to get to that point of brilliance and duty?How have we come to this point, where neutrality of journalism meant neutrality to the truth itself, meant reporting fact and lie alongside each other, in equivalence, without emotion, without remorse? Where reporting that an official has flatly lied is not even considered, by the top reporters of the top news outlets in this country, unless you are one of those few reporters knee-deep in a swirling eddy that contains the disintegrated remnants of a hundred thousand families, and of ten thousand lives?"

    Funky Dung Loves Battle Pope

    Item: I'm not exactly certain, but I'm pretty sure this is Funky Dung's fave comic. Pretty sure. Speaking of Ales Rarus watch (because someone needs to watch the crazed theocrats who talk to God), let's give him credit for, at least once, denouncing a crazed Christian person. Then again, let's not give him credit for not denouncing how the Pope wants immunity for his alleged actions of protecting priests who commit child rape. And let me guess, if this ever so Un Christian president were to grant those pardons the Catholic Church would remain impartial in terms of its political choices. Of course, in the vein of that immortal Star Trek 5 line of why does God need a spaceship, why does a pope need to ask for criminal immunity? Doesn't he have a higher power that he communes with? Or is he just another corrupt right wing political hack? I'd say the latter...Afterall, you give me poor kids then I'll give you Christians, or radical Islamic fundamentalists, or Mormons, whatever. Same buncha crazy. I, myself, am praying that o mighty Odin will strike Eric down.

    Adding Doug Ireland to permalinks

    Item: I'm adding Doug Ireland to the permalinks. He has some good links about Roberts (Dems thrown in the towel, again. What opposition party?) and how we destroyed socialism in Iraq. I guess Iraqis will get the same kind of free market that New Orleans residents have gotten.

    Robot Wisdom Writes! (And not just links..)

    Item: World Class blogger Robot Wisdom, one of the best headline writers in the world by the way (here's a sample:" Mr FEMA had negative-infinity track-record (Boston via Ag)")has a new weblog where he does some writing. Well, I know he'll be well informed. I wrote him an email asking for a comments section.

    Saturday, September 03, 2005

    More Good Old Fashioned Erotica at the Red Light District

    Item: I've moved away from hurricane pron to my old fashioned porn. Features artistic nudes from Jeff Jones and a funny Frazetta illustration. Here's an aside: "Who knew Lenin had such a nice ass?"

    Let Us Praise Kanye West.

    Item: And let us praise Kanye West for saying the truth we were all thinking. Video here and I'm adding Crooks and Liars to the blogroll.

    Item: Here's a mockup of Three Rivers Online magazine. It's sort of what you expect.

    Item: Here's a mockup of Three Rivers Online magazine. It's sort of what you'd expect.



    Shortish Friday Around the Internets

    September 2

    Couple of highlights: Calpundit nails it.

    "Actions have consequences. No one could predict that a hurricane the size of Katrina would hit this year, but the slow federal response when it did happen was no accident. It was the result of four years of deliberate Republican policy and budget choices that favor ideology and partisan loyalty at the expense of operational competence. It's the Bush administration in a nutshell."

    And before that quote he gives you a timeline of how competent people were turned out and no nothing cronies were put in. A nutshell. Indeed. Both Atrios and Calpundit have been must reading concerning the crisis.

    Guest commentator Amy Sullivan also has an interesting post:

    LEFT BEHIND....Don't miss Joan Walsh on Salon today, putting into words the frustration so many of us have struggled to articulate.

    These are desperately poor people who've been deliberately left behind, in so many senses of the word — left behind by society, shut up in housing projects and hideous poverty, and now truly left behind by local and federal officials who failed to come up with an evacuation plan for people too poor and isolated to leave on their own....

    ....Why didn't we send a caravan of buses into the city's poorest neighborhoods on Saturday or Sunday, when the dimensions of the disaster were already predictable?....Sure, Houston's got electricity and running water, but tens of thousands of scared, angry people packed into an abandoned sports stadium — we couldn't come up with a better symbol of how little we care about the poor, how little we've thought about what to do with them, for them, if we tried.

    We've heard the warning "this isn't about politics" over and over in the last few days. The hell it isn't. And I don't mean kicking Bush while he's down, just for the fun of it, although there are surely liberals eager to do that. For the rest of us, however, we're seeing the awful real world consequences of conservatism play out on our television screens. This is why we're liberals. We don't yell about poverty and racial disparities for kicks. An evacuation plan that consists of telling people to get out on their own is not an evacuation plan.

    More later, after I've digested all of this...


    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Frell you Glenn Reynolds. Frell you.

    "I hope people don't play politics at this time of a natural disaster the likes of which this country has never seen."

    Oh, I'm touched. Utterly touched. After 9/11, the entire Republican Party went en masse to get Twin Towers ass tattoos. The Republican convention was a wholesale tribute to crass exploitation, the sets themselves designed to evoke the aftermath of the attack. Every domestic and international policy this administration -- no, this entire Republican government -- has produced has been heaved up before the public while waving the spectre of 9/11 as the catch-all vindication of every administration whim. Every tax cut, every civil rights issue, every budget cut, every budget expansion, no matter how tortured the logic must be, has some Republican senator standing on the Senate floor and proudly raping the corpses of that day as justification for their particular agenda item.

    --Hunter, Daily Kos

    Recently our good friend Mr. Reynolds--proud founding member of the League of Evil Bloggers and a man who won't proudly claim his GOP heritage yet repeats the party's talking point mantras over and over and over again--has told us to not to politicize this hurricane thing. Right. This from a man who can't help commenting on our Dear Leader's Glorious War of Liberation, or links approvingly to a guy who wants to turn dissent into treason, or smears every pop star who points out the incompetency, idiocy and outright evil of the Bush administration. He's so above the fray and all.

    With this history in mind, let me state: Fuck you Glenn Reynolds. Fuck you. And your treasonous ilk. And visit the new same named blog here.

    Here are a list of links that point to the Bush administration's incompetence. And, unfortunately, bad policy kills. We need to remember that Glenn and Michele and Pejman and the Powerline folks supported this evil incompetency. We must never forget. Never.

    Bush bungles it again: Federal government wasn't ready for Katrina, disaster experts say
    Category 4 Hurricane Determined to Strike U.S. -- Cont
    Spin and Lies
    "[No One] Anticipated the Breach of the Levees"
    Even the corporate media gets it
    Molly Ivins: 'Why New Orleans is in deep water'
    Sidney Blumenthal: 'No one can say they didn't see it coming'
    The Difference Between Democrats and Republicans (Bankruptcy relief)
    Atrios on that unbelievable shoot the looters WH Press Conference
    New Orleans as a casualty of the war in Iraq

    One more thing: the kind of talk that we saw before the hurricane hit is the kind of talk we get about global warming, about mad cow disease, about the possibility that terrorist groups would have nothing to lose by unleashing wmds, about the futility of the Iraq war and etcetera onward to infinity. Worst president, ever.