17 America-Related Things James Baldwin Said Better Than Anybody Else.

 

American Wise Man

Here on the Fourth of July, the day this great nation celebrates its independence with fireworks, hot dogs and collective attack of amnesia over its bloody, violent and racist past, it’s good to read some of the writings of James Baldwin.

1. “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.”

2.  “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

3. “I’m not interested in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it, and I didn’t do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, too, for the very same reason… Anyone who is trying to be conscious must begin to dismiss the vocabulary which we’ve used so long to cover it up, to lie about the way things are.”

4. “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?”

5.  “It comes as a great shock…to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you.”

6.  “It is dangerous to be an American Negro male. America has never wanted its Negroes to be men, and does not, generally, treat them as men. It treats them as mascots, pets, or things.”

7. “It is very nearly impossible to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.”

8. “Not a thousand years ago, it was illegal to teach a slave to read. Not a thousand years ago, the Supreme Court decided that separate could not be equal. And today, as we sit here, no one is learning anything in this country. You see a nation which is the leader of the rest of the world, that had to pay the price of that ticket, and the price of that ticket is we’re sitting in the most illiterate nation in the world. THE MOST ILLITERATE NATION IN THE WORLD. A monument to illiteracy. And if you doubt me, all you have to do is spend a day in Washington. I am serious as a heart attack.”

9.  “The American revolution, the terms are these: not that I drive you out or that you drive me out, but that we come together and embrace and learn to live together. That is the only way that we can have achieved the American revolution. “

10. “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”

11.  “I have met only a very few people – and most of these were not Americans – who had any real desire to be free. Freedom is hard to bear. It can be objected that I am speaking of political freedom in spiritual terms, but the political institutions of any nation are always menaced and are ultimately controlled by the spiritual state of that nation. We are controlled here by our confusion, far more than we know, and the American dream has therefore become something much more closely resembling a nightmare, on the private, domestic, and international levels.”

12.  “Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be”

13. “The American ideal is, after all, that everyone should be as much alike as possible.”

14.  “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”

15.  “I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. “

welcome to america

16.  “A big, sandy-haired man held his daughter on his shoulders, showing her the Statue of Liberty. I would never know what this statue meant to others, she had always been an ugly joke for me. And the American flag was flying from the top of the ship, above my head. I had seen the French flag drive the French into the most unspeakable frenzies, I had seen the flag which was nominally mine used to dignify the vilest purposes: now I would never, as long as I lived, know what other saw when they saw a flag.”

17.  “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

How Not To Talk About Mass Murder.

Welcome to the chalk outline. Mind the blood stains.

I’ve fed my inner right-winger pretty thoroughly with all this death penalty stuff, but along comes this month’s regularly scheduled mass shooting spree.  America averages a mass killing every two weeks which are different from shooting sprees.  By now, you already know more than you wanted to about the latest one as details about the killer (if not his victims) continue to flood out.

Here’s what I’m not going to do.  I’m not going to mention the shooter’s name.  I’m not going to watch his creepy video or read his even creepier “manifesto.”   I will the skip the armchair sleuthing for motives and amateur psychoanalysis for possible motives.  That’s the territory of the cable TV “experts” and I don’t want to horn in on their act.
This is the Internet.  You don’t need a blog to tell you more of what you already know.

This murderer was unknown to me a few days ago.  I will deny recognizing his existence a while longer.

I am confident the Bill of Rights is resilient enough to survive this latest “gutting” of it the NRA and gun fanatics fret over in much the same way it has every previous mass shooting in America. The organized stalwarts of the Second Amendment have been quite efficient in controlling the sort of conversations we the people have about mass murder and the use of firearms in these tragic, but all too common, events.

We seem to have fallen into an automatic response to these sort of things. First things first: let’s name the shooter, speculate on what his motives might be, (because it nearly always is a male).

Later we can get to the mundane little details like who our shooter killed in his rampage and much later we just might get around to what the efficacy and effectiveness is of using a gun when you absolutely positively want to kill a lot of human beings in as little time as possible.

This is how Americans deal with mass shooting events.

1. Speculate and theorize in the absence of facts.
2. Emphasize how terrible this is and how sympathetic we are to the wounded and the slain.
3. Do NOT bring up guns. It’s too soon.

Remember Columbine? Or would you rather forget?

If those three fast and easy rules to discussing mass shooting events are too much to remember, then remember this:

BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!
BLAME THE SHOOTER. DON’T BLAME THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH!

If you’re in some undemocratic country without a Bill of Rights like China reading this please translate this to read “Blame the stabber. Don’t blame the knives he stabbed people with!”

Me? I multitask. I BLAME THE SHOOTER. AND THE GUNS HE SHOT PEOPLE WITH TOO!

When it comes right down to it, I don’t care why these guys go off.   Their backgrounds and motives and reasons are only interesting as far as understanding their crimes.  But understanding why mass murderers commit murder doesn’t seem to be preventing or stopping them from murdering.  There are a lot of dudes just like this one who have poor self-image issues who can’t attract the ladies who don’t go out and slaughter innocents.  ALL and I do mean ALL of the attention is given over to the killer and his issues, motives sad feelings and staggering narcissism and days later we get a blurb or two about the victims.

It’s no wonder so many of these loners/losers lash out this way. At long last the world is finally paying attention to them. It shouldn’t.

We learn a lot about these killers. less about their victims and nothing about how to prevent the next mass killing.   We’ll be back here again and sooner, rather than later.

jaredloughner

Different names. Same kind of crazy.

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A Real American Horror Story

is this the face of a criminal? Or a victim?

A woman should not leave two children in a truck in the sun with the window partly open and the keys left in the ignition. Not even if she’s homeless, has no one to watch her kids and chooses to take an awful risk so that she can make the job interview that just might be her path out of poverty and desperate decisions.

When you’re faced with nothing but bad or terrible choices who wouldn’t try to choose the least awful option? Shanesha Taylor shouldn’t have done it, but she did it and all it got her was a week behind bars, her children taken from her and the scorn of every morally superior idiot who never committed a sin and is armed and ready with a pocketful of rocks.

So much cynicism. So little heavy lifting to prove this story isn’t every bit as tragic a damning indictment of both bad personal decisions and an American society that doesn’t give two slimy shits about poor people as long as they stay out of sight and die quietly in their hovels.

Is anyone really giving Shanesha Taylor a pass for the bad decision to leave two infants in a locked car? No, but nobody has nominated Taylor as Mother of the Year material either.   There are plenty of creepy politicians like Paul Ryan happy to exploit the most helpless while accepting back-slapping praise for guns, not butter budgets.

Contemporary conservatives like Ryan  backhand away any concern for someone like Taylor. His ilk are determined to punish people like Taylor for her sins. The sin of being a poor Black woman with children who probably doesn’t vote the right way.

Shanesha Taylor without tears.

I understand Ryan’s lack of compassion for and inability to identify with Taylor’s plight. They have never been an impoverished, homeless and desperate Black woman with two kids facing a bad choice and a worse choice.    Any indignation I feel for Taylor’s irresponsible decision is tempered by sympathy for the dilemma that drove her to make it.

“I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.” Malcolm X said that. I second it.

Like me, he was a Black man who could see the connections and contradictions of Shanesha Taylor’s story and those whom self-righteously penalize her for being too weak to carry the weight of a system that fails poor women and children with disgusting certainty.

How many Wall Street executives are sleeping on a thin mattress with their backs to the wall lest they receive a midnight visit from a Nazi skinhead with a swastika face tattoo? Think of all those corrupt Congresscritters who resign to “spend more time with their families” as well as their mistresses and boy toys on the side. If leaving infants in a truck in the heat of the Arizona day is grounds for legal sanction then what should be done with a president, vice-president, National Security Adviser and Secretary of Defense who lie an entire country into a phony war and kill nearly 5,000 U.S. troops and possibly a million Iraqi citizens?

If George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld don’t deserve to be arrested for war crimes, can’t they at least have the goddamn decency to hide in their holes like the criminal scum they are? Why hasn’t someone performed a citizens arrest yet and marched the lot of them into The Hague or at least a Supermax prison?

This is what real criminal behavior looks like.

Putting Taylor behind bars may satiate the need to make her pay for her bad judgment, but it glosses over how states like Arizona balance the books on the backs of their least affluent and most needy citizens eventually creating “solutions” as dire as the original problems.

Criminalizing poverty is insane. Conservatives have made it their mission to slash and gut social programs designed specifically to assist women like Shanesha Taylor. Welfare, daycare and childcare, food stamps, homeless shelters, jobs programs, WIC, and anything else that isn’t a sacred cow like tax cuts and military spending.

A tax cut wouldn’t have helped Taylor and neither will Paul Ryan’s latest punish the poor Congressional budget. The Republican Party wants people to learn how to catch their own fish instead of sitting around and waiting for someone to give them fish to eat. They forget how hard it is to catch a fish when you can’t afford to buy a pole or bait.

Probation, jail time, and the other suggested corrective measures for Taylor show the disdain of the well-fed and markedly unsympathetic for a woman who doesn’t look like them, doesn’t belong in their circles they travel in and whose circumstances they can’t begin to conceive.

Conservatives like the idea of poor people working, but they want them to suffer a bit for whatever little help they receive and if they can be humiliated and have their dignity peeled away from their body in strips, that’s always good for a laugh.

When they actually break down in tears as Shanesha Taylor did, then it’s downright hilarious.

Taylor is, we are told, a bad mother. A loser. A dope who probably made dopey and bad decisions all her life so we must hold her up to contempt and compare her to welfare cheats and con artists.

But race has nothing to do with it. Gender has nothing to do with it. Poverty has nothing to do with it and how do we know this? We don’t. We just say we do because then its all of the individual’s fault and society is blameless.

American Injustice.

Taylor lives in an America most Americans don’t see because she cannot claim “affluenza” to escape responsibility.  Pleading she would not fare well in prison  is not a defense available to her.  Any society that has no fairness, understanding or compassion in it for desperate people is a society with no goodness or mercy in it and is not a society that can be defended.

“This is America’s opportunity to help bridge the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.”

One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.

It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, “That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me.” That’s the question facing America today.”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break the Silence” delivered on April 4th 1967

 

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“If They Take You In The Morning, They Will Be Coming For Us That Night”

Jordan Davis is Dead. But not murdered?

I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery.

Jordan Davis had a mother and a father. It did not save him. Trayvon Martin had a mother and a father. They could not save him. My son has a father and mother. We cannot protect him from our country, which is our aegis and our assailant. We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.

Ta-Neshi Coates/”On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn”

James Baldwin (photo credit ReciteThis.com)

One might have hoped that, by this hour, the very sight of chains on black flesh, or the very sight of chains, would be so intolerable a sight for the American people, and so unbearable a memory, that they would themselves spontaneously rise up and strike off the manacles. But, no, they appear to glory in their chains; now, more than ever, they appear to measure their safety in chains and corpses.

The American triumph—in which the American tragedy has always been implicit—was to make black people despise themselves. When I was little I despised myself, I did not know any better. And this meant, albeit unconsciously, or against my will, or in great pain, that I also despised my father. And my mother. And my brothers. And my sisters. Black people were killing each other every Saturday night out on Lenox Avenue, when I was growing up; and no one explained to them, or to me, that it was intended that they should; that they were penned where they were, like animals, in order that they should consider themselves no better than animals. Everything supported this sense of reality, nothing denied it: and so one was ready, when it came time to go to work, to be treated as a slave. So one was ready, when human terrors came, to bow before a white God and beg Jesus for salvation—this same white God who was unable to raise a finger to do so little as to help you pay your rent, unable to be awakened in time to help you save your child!

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

We know that we, the blacks, and not only we, the blacks, have been, and are, the victims of a system whose only fuel is greed, whose only god is profit. We know that the fruits of this system have been ignorance, despair, and death, and we know that the system is doomed because the world can no longer afford it—if, indeed, it ever could have. And we know that, for the perpetuation of this system, we have all been mercilessly brutalized, and have been told nothing but lies, lies about ourselves and our kinsmen and our past, and about love, life, and death, so that both soul and body have been bound in hell.

Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.

If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis by James Baldwin/November 19, 1970

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.

Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words “acceptance” and “integration.” There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.

A Letter to My Nephew by James Baldwin/ December 1962

James Baldwin. Right then. Still right now.

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Barack Obama Into Darkness?

When the “news” broke last week that the National Security Agency under the Obama Administration was harvesting telephone records made within the United States the reaction was as predictable as it was swift.   One big, huge WTF????

Those of us who did not choose to tear out our hair, rend our garments and demand Barack Obama be frog-walked out of the Oval Office in chains were exorcised as fools for surrendering our liberties without a peep of protest.

This conclusion is as fallacious as it is ridiculous and some of you really need both a laxative and a good night’s sleep.  Not necessarily in that order.
I never said the government gathering information on the public was “OK.” But I’m not going to lose it now when I didn’t see all you outraged civil libertarians demanding George Bush’s impeachment when he did THE EXACT SAME THING without Congressional oversight or judicial warrant.

Sure we do. I do. You do too. Everyone does and yes, I am including all of you who couldn’t wait to crow  “See! I toldja the government was listenin! I toldja Obama is no different from Bush. I toldja.”

Correct me if I got it wrong, but how did you get here? Was it via the Internets? Do you have an Internet Service Provider? Did you post on your laptop, smart phone or I-Pad?

Thanks for sharing with the the National Security Agency (which has only been around for 60 fucking years so I really don’t get why everyone is acting like they were just dreamed up by Dubya and now operate with the blessings of Barry).

Nobody is stealing your information about your next booty call, idea for the Great American Novel or your favorite porn bookmarks. You gave that information away. Yep. You left the door unlocked and now that it’s your shit getting peeped and not just some Muslim taxi driver in New Jersey you want to get all bent out of shape?

It is to laugh.

Let’s not do this dance. There is NO privacy on the Internet and there certainly is none on Facebook, or Word Press. Unless you believe founder Matt Mullenweg has 1000 lawyers on retainer ready to spring into action to quash any government subpoena from the Obama Administration for my complete posting history.   I can assure you he does not.

There is no “right to privacy.” It is a fantasy and was bought by Disney and will be part of the next expansion of Mickey’s Toontown.

There is only the illusion of privacy. Your internet provider has your ISP. Your credit cards have your information. You use a loyalty card at the grocery store to get 25 cents off a loaf of bread and you’re handing over more information. You lose your shit when a phone call drops because you’re out of range of a cell tower.

When Verizon asked, “Can you hear me now?” didn’t you know it was a purely rhetorical question? Of course they can hear you now. They have always been able to hear you.

It’s not just Big Brother watching. Little Brother and Sister are too and we gave them permission to do so a looonnnnng time ago.   Am I happy to have confirmed what I already suspected, that President Obama is continuing what President Bush started?   Not really, but I never assumed any differently because I knew when giving a choice between protecting privacy rights and the nation from another 9/11 event,  security is probably going to trump privacy.

This does not make be a blind Obamabot.  I simply don’t see the reason I’m supposed to be freaking out.

I know it’s the default position for many of us on the Left side of the aisle to lose our shit and start dust off 1984 when this kind of story jumps off, but the reality about American life is unless you’re living in a cabin in the woods with no electricity, running water and totally cut off from civilization and living completely off the grid you give away your personal information and privacy EVERY DAMN DAY.

But now y’all want a cop an attitude and act like the piano player in the cathouse who claims he didn’t know there was fornicating going on upstairs?  Please stop and look at the facts.

  • The government is not listening to your phone calls.
  • This is a program implemented with Congressional oversight and with judicial review.
  • It is neither unlimited in what information can be data mined or extended into perpetuity.

You didn’t care when it was happening to Muhammad and Ahmed. Why so serious now?  Because your boring little phone conversations flying through the air are being intercepted?

…a computer will sort through the millions of calls and isolate a very small number for further scrutiny. Perhaps one of the numbers was called by one of the Tsarnaev brothers before the Boston Marathon bombings. Or perhaps a call was placed by a Verizon customer to a known operative of Al Qaeda. The Supreme Court long ago authorized law enforcement agencies to obtain call logs — albeit on paper rather than from a computer database — without full probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.

Civil liberties are not something easily retrieved once given away, but little-by-little, bit-by-bit, Americans have surrendered their liberties and frankly, I find the hand-wringing and caterwauling both too little and too late. When you cede your power to politicians and bureaucrats you can’t come back later and shriek, “This isn’t what I wanted.”

If you want to maintain your taste for sausage you probably don’t want to see how the sausage gets made.

obamabush-obama

Then Came the Last Days of May

A big winner on the field and a big loser off it.

As the last few hours of May 31 tick away, my assessment is it was a rough month for a lot of folks.

Rough for Ohio State University head football coach Jim Tressel.  He was forced to quit under a cloud of scandal and lies.   Shed no tears for him as this is a mess he put himself in trying to clean up after star quarterback Terrelle Pryor.  The NCAA is now turning their investigation toward Pryor as they look into whether he got the hook-up from a local car dealer.

The NFL announced they will hold a supplemental draft in July before the first training camp opens (IF any training camps open) giving Pryor a potential escape route provided he can find a team willing to take a chance on a college QB with a rough skill set, tremendous potential and character issues.

Rough for the folks of Joplin, Missouri where tornadoes ripped through the city killing 139 and leaving hundreds more injured.

Rough for President Obama who had an uncomfortable meeting with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  over the president’s call for Israel to return to the 1967 borders, a request Netanyahu flatly rejected.

Rough for the ex-Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger as it was revealed he had fathered a “love child” with a housekeeper some 14 years ago and the child was born less than a week after Schwarzenegger’s son Christopher was born to his wife, Maria Shirver.   Shriver and Schwarzengger have separated ending their 25-year marriage.

"Remember when I said I'd impregnate you last? I LIED!"

Rough for the GOP who lost a special election in New York in a district which had been drawn to be a stronghold rejected the Republican candidate and sent a Democrat to Washington instead.   The key issue was Medicare where Kathy Hochul pounded Jane Corwin for her support of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize the program.

Rough for Cornel West who gave an interview where he ripped President Obama as having a problem with “free Black men” and a “mascot for Wall Street.”  West also came off as a clueless and entitled elitist when he whined how his “dear brother Barack” hadn’t thanked him personally for working for his election and how he hadn’t been invited to the inauguration but a hotel bellhop had.

Rough for my family as my wife Vanessa lost her dear mother Delores who passed away at the age of 81.

But Osama bin Laden had it roughest.   He finally lost his world champion Hide and Seek title. His hiding place was besieged by a Navy SEALs  team who shot him in the head, dragged his corpse away and dumped his corpse in the ocean.   That was both rough and well-deserved.

Wonder what June will be like?  Guess we’ll know in 30 days.

Gotcha!