Saturday, August 21, 2010

Poisonous Food Comes From Poisonous Corporate Farms [Anthony McCarthy]

"How come Jack DeCoster keeps getting away with it," a relatively well informed person asked me this morning. DeCoster is infamous here in Maine and a number of other states in which he has various factory farm operations. He's been cited for horrible treatment of his employees- some of them young children, environmental violations and a host of other things* . If you want to risk being horrified, you might watch this short expose of some of the conditions in one of his operations. in Turner Maine.

New England Egg Farm Investigation

As to a possible answer to how he has gotten away with it for so long. Well, he's obviously quite wealthy and operating in a very laxly regulated area. You might expect that the federal, state and local governments would regulate the corporations producing food an enhanced level of scrutiny, but there isn't really any evidence that they do. You can see from the record in the links above, that he's managed to keep violating the law over and over again for decades.

Perhaps it could also have something to do with his "enforcer"Doucas Goranites, being Olympia Snowe's cousin. They were raised as siblings.

*In 1980, the DeCoster operation was charged with employing five 11-year-olds and a 9-year-old by the Labor department.

Prior to 1993: Even before he built his first large-scale Iowa pig farming operation, Austin J. "Jack" DeCoster had already drawn the serious attention of environmental and labor law enforcement authorities. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection had brought a 14-count action against him for activities that were polluting both air and water. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had investigated DeCoster in connection with farm workers' reports that they had been exposed to lethal asbestos in DeCoster chicken houses. There had also been a federal suit brought against DeCoster under the Migrant Agricultural Workers Protection Act, based on workers' reports of unfit housing, and of illegal threats and harassment ongoing at DeCoster plants.

Update: The violations associated with Jack DeCoster's operations being so numerous, it's hard to get them all into a blog post. Certainly not least of those is the citation of his Wright Co. operation, much in the news this week, in the sexual harassment, rape intimidation and retaliation against women employed there.

The EEOC filed its lawsuit in August 2001 against DeCoster Farms and Iowa Ag-Construction Co., which recruits workers for several egg farms in northern Iowa.

The lawsuit claimed that the women, who worked as egg packers at four DeCoster farm sites, were raped by supervisors who threatened to have them fired or killed if they did not submit.

As you can read in one of the documents cited above and elsewhere, DeCoster eventually settled.

Eva Sollberger's Stuck In Vermont [Anthony McCarthy]

I've loved Eva Sollberger's Stuck In Vermont YouTubes for a couple of months and I've loved Allison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For for ages. This interview, micro-documentary, of sorts is certainly worth seven minutes of your time.

Stuck In Vermont No. 109

Here is her first Stuck in Vermont, also about Comics from Vermont

Stuck in Vermont No. 1

And 24 Hour Comics Day

Stuck in Vermont No. 50

Here are a few other topics Eva Sollberger has covered.

Tiny Houses, No 105

Winter Festival in Johnson Vt. No. 3

Interview with a cabdriver-novelist-columnist

Hackie No. 2

Friday, August 20, 2010

Wonder Woman (by Suzie)

No discussion of women in comics would be complete without a mention of the recent reboot of “Wonder Woman.” In an introduction, Lynda Carter calls her “the goddess within us all.”

Issue 600 has brief stories and posters by different authors and artists, culminating in a story by the new writer, J. Michael Straczynski. The NYT explains:
In the reimagining of her story, Wonder Woman, instead of growing up on Paradise Island with her mother, Queen Hippolyta, and her Amazon sisters, is smuggled out as a baby when unknown forces destroy her home and slaughter its inhabitants.
Much attention has been focused on her new costume, designed by Jim Lee. My favorite headline comes from the Ms. blog: "Wonder Woman Celebrates 600 Issues By Putting On Pants." Gloria Steinem, cofounder of Ms., has written much about WW, and Jacki Zehner reports her reaction:
First, the guys doing this -- and they seem to be all guys -- cite no research from the generations of girls and women who've loved Wonder Woman ever since she was invented during World War II; an alternative to the sadism and gore in boys' comic books that were so extreme, they inspired a Congressional hearing. Instead, Wonder Woman converted her adversaries, compelled them to tell the truth with her magic lasso, and otherwise made the world safe for girls, women and democracy.

I don't have a big issue with jeans versus skirt -- though jeans give us the idea that only pants can be powerful -- tell that to Greek warriors and sumo wrestlers -- and though in fact, they're so tight that they've just painted her legs blue; hardly a cover-up. I have an issue with changing her clothes and destroying home and family on what seems to be the brainstorming of a very limited group of brains.
Steinem also criticizes the new origin story, which seems to copy Superman's.
This destroys her home, her Amazon mother and sisters, and gives her no place to go to gain strength and create an inspiring story line; something the original Wonder Woman often did.
Women in Comics has a great round-up of reactions, including one from the Women's Media Center. If you've read 600 and 601, what do you think?

This isn't funny (by Suzie)

Skim a list of syndicated comic strips, and you'll see that men write the great majority. Thus, it isn't surprising that women appear less often in the comics themselves.

Daniel Fernandez-Baca, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Florida, studied the top syndicated comics in 2008 that still published new strips: “Blondie,” “Beetle Bailey,” “Family Circus,” “Hagar,” “Garfield” and “Dilbert.” They appeared in at least 1,500 newspapers, magazines and other media. That fact alone should make you weep. A news release quoted him:
"When they do appear, for the most part, women don’t say anything funny or act humorously, but merely set up the joke and allow men to create the humor." ... While single women are portrayed as desperate to marry, once married they are often depicted as nagging housewives who berate their husbands, he said.
My thanks to the Comics Section blog, which helped me narrow the search for sexist comics before blood spurted from my eyes.

ETA: Cathy Guisewite has announced that she will retire "Cathy," the first comic strip by a woman to be syndicated nationally.

Rebecca Zapen (by Suzie)

Rebecca Zapen performed at my church last week, reminding me how great it is to hear local artists in a small venue. A classically trained violinist who also loves the ukelele, a jazz singer with a penchant for bossa nova, she can sing a touching song like "Dolores" and tap dance in another.

ETA: Sorry I had to mess with this. My embedding of "Dolores" didn't work. But I do like the video below because this is thunderstorm season. At the end of the video, she and the others ran for shelter.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Prezdent: What Religion Might He Be?

Opinions differ, as they say these days in the media. But survey respondents aren't allowed to use that excuse, sadly. So we have to take it seriously when one in five of those asked in a recent poll thought that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

That this misconception is more common among Republicans is easy to explain: The Fox News network and its excellent work in running fifteen different political untruths of varying troothiness all at the same time. Besides, Saddam so did have secret weapons of mass destruction, and he caused the 9/11 murders, too. So there.

All polls have a certain percentage of uninformed respondents, respondents who give the weirdest answers to fairly easy questions. Thus, it's not the number of wrong answers to a simple question which makes me write on the topic but two additional issues: First, the correlation with the wrong answers with Republican party affiliation and, second, the seeming increase in these wrong answers over time.

Those who gave them offered television as their main source. If this is the case, television has some serious remedial learning to do. But I suspect the cause of all this miseducamation is something slightly different than television pundits stating with a straight face that president Obama is Muslim by religion.

Glimpses on Women and Fundamentalist Religions

Interesting to read this piece on women in camps in Pakistan and then this piece on the correct way to bring up a Quiverfull daughter, one after the other. Note the stress on sex segregation and female purity in both, as well as the obvious (though not always stated) inequality between men and women.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Gender Gap in Earnings

This august body tells us silly gurlz that it's our own fault if we earn less. Honest. They know the causes of the gender gap better than researchers in the field! And it is that we choose to earn less:

On the organization's official blog, ChamberPost, Senior Director of Communications Brad Peck today makes the argument that the pay gap between men and women in the American workforce — women currently earn roughly 77 cents to every dollar a man earns — is "the result of individual choice rather than discrimination."

How does Mr. Peck (heh) know this*? To see what research actually tells us, read my three-part series on the gender gap in wages at It's still relevant even if the actual numbers have slightly changed.

But if you don't care to spend this lovely day reading me, here's the gist of the argument that matters here:

1. Most well-conducted studies of the gender gap in wages manage to account for (usually a lot) less than half of the gap with variables which might be seen as having something to do with "choice", such as whether a woman has children or not and how young they are, what her educational qualifications are and so on.

Note that all of these "choices" may be affected by past discrimination (in, say, early childhood upbringing, such as being brought up into the proper female role in a Quiverfull family or, in some countries, in being banned from studying certain fields, or more obviously, in the cultural message that women should stay at home with their children).

But even this relatively lax interpretation of "choice" leaves most of the earnings gap unexplained. How does that turn into Peck's argument that the gap is due to women's choices and not discrimination?

Add to this the difficulties of both identifying what is choice-based and what is discriminatory. Note that most discriminatory acts are not advertised in cat-sized letters on television. Indeed, discriminating employers and colleagues and customers probably don't think that they are discriminating at all. So-and-so is just clearly a bad worker and her gender has nothing to do with it, nothing at all. Women who have been discriminated against may not know about it, either.

2. Laying out the choices as "individual choice" and "discrimination" is both simplistic and fuzzy. What does Mr. Peck mean by "individual choice"? Did Anne Boleyn make an individual choice when she chose the executioner's sword over the axe after Henry VIII sentenced her to die? In a simplistic sense she did. But obviously her choice was made under constraints (she probably would have preferred a longer life), like all choices, and Mr. Peck's argument manages to hide away the fact that the constraints may differ by gender.

For instance, if the culture in the U.S. thinks that mothers should be with their children full-time and that anything wrong with said children is the fault of the mothers, especially if they are ambitious and career-oriented, then women who happen to be ambitious and career-oriented may still make the "choice" of earning less, especially if no good childcare can be found and if their partners don't "choose" to participate in the rearing of their own children.

It is these kinds of "individual choices" so many women make so very "freely". Some even begin earlier by "choosing" careers which pay less but which offer both more flexibility for later childcare (teaching) and a slower rate of decay in information and skills should one exit the labor force temporarily. Whether such "choices" indeed are real choices is an interesting debate. It might also be fun to reverse this whole discussion to note that the "choices" men make to aggressively pursue a selfishly satisfying career path are usually dependent on a suitable female partner taking on the family-related obligations.

But of course there are women who freely and after careful thought choose to earn less, for all kinds of reasons. There are even men who make the same choice. And there are women and men who don't plan their working lives very carefully or who expect not to be the major breadwinners of their families (though the latter is perhaps less true for men, given the cultural hints). Of course there are, just as there are women (and men) who would prefer to stay at home with their young children or perhaps to stay at home altogether. But Mr. Peck's certain-sureness of the gender wage gap being mostly caused by "individual choice" is pure rubbish.

His use of the term "discrimination" is equally vague. Is he talking about direct labor market discrimination, i.e., unequal treatment for equal work or work of equal value in hiring, firing and promotions? Is he talking about discrimination in earnings alone or also about discrimination in, say, on-the-job training or in access to mentoring or the secret cabals which appear to determine so much in larger firms?

He clearly omits any other type of discrimination, such as differential access to education prior to the time a woman enters the labor market or the way fundamentalists of various stripes bring up their daughters so that the latter can never really earn a living wage. But it's unclear what his concept of discrimination includes.

All this means that Mr. Peck compares two undefined concepts and then declares a conclusion which proper research cannot substantiate. The whole thing is then posted on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website. Nice, eh?

Still, discussing Mr. Peck's ideas offers us one useful reminder: Young women should get proper training on what it means to pick a certain career path in the longer run, not only in terms of job satisfaction or flexibility but also in terms of later earnings and retirement income. Young women should be taught how to negotiate a good salary, and they should also be taught how to apply for promotions and raises and how to make sure that their hard work is properly noted by the powers that be.

*No, repeating the study the IWF always quotes is not knowing. That study compared highly educated young women and men at the very beginning of their careers and found that the gender wage gap within this group was extremely small. As I mention in my gender gap series, comparing new educated entrants into the labor market doesn't tell us much about the wage gap for the obvious reason that it hasn't had time to develop yet.

How would you manage to create one that fast, if you wanted to? Paying different salaries for the same job is illegal based on the 1963 Equal Pay Act, so earnings discrepancies would develop later, whether they are based on "choice" or "discrimination", in the form of differential raises, promotions and firings.

Thus, the study, much hailed in anti-feminist circles, tells us nothing about the real determinants of the gender gap in earnings. Though it indeed compares "like with like", as its adulators argue, it compares them in a situation which will not be repeated and in circumstances which make discrimination very difficult to achieve.


For that term alone this Guardian article is worth reading. Also because it's about time that scientists wake up and start doing the job I've been trying, in my modest way, to do on this here blog whenever I see crappy articles on the pink and blue brainz etcetera.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Invisible Elephant Sat On Me

The elephant being sexism, of course. A certain kind of sexism, a bit like ingrown toe nails, mostly hidden inside shoes, is still an acceptable form of bigotry. It is invisible because we are so used to seeing it that we don't register it as nasty and vile and harmful to children and other growing things.

The Schlessinger case below is one example of how this works. Dr. Laura could spend years (eons!) telling us that the oppressed role of women was a Good Thing, A Rightful Thing, and she got hired to speak on lots of television shows. To even spot that all this is true requires you to read some obscure feminazi such as Myself! And she didn't have to quit because of her sexism. Only when she cast her net of bigotry wider than that did she get into trouble.

Hence the title of this post. The invisible elephant romps all over this planet. It's even treasured as a form of cultural expression!

Now haven't you missed my ranting and raving, eh?

Dr. Laura Exits Right

So Laura Schlessinger (Dr. Laura!) is calling it quits:

She is a conservative talk-show host whose fame is based on her looong career of giving terrible psychological advice to troubled people without actually having any kind of degree in psychology. She is famous to me as one of the misogynist women the wingnuts roll out of their pundit factory.

But being a misogynist is not at all harmful to a pundit! It's refreshing and profitable. Being found out for misogyny doesn't make a pundit quit. Isn't that fascinating?

My experiences during my Yurpian vacation suggest that this is true all over the planet, sadly.

What I Did On My Vacation

Do teachers still assign writing topics like that? Did they ever? How does one answer a question like that honestly?

I suppose one is not to try. Because any vacation, any longer trip, is going to have one set of events happening on the surface level ("what a lovely sky!", "look at that medieval church!" "how do I get this space-age toilet to flush"), yet another set of events drifting by right under the surface of the skin, not really going on vacation at all ("that is not how we do it at home", "will they miss me at work?", "did I turn the ac off before the cab for the airport arrived?"), yet a third set moving somewhere deep inside the psyche, like clumsy dark snails slowly, slowly moving, rearranging one's worldview, strengthening or weakening those hidden basic nonverbal defenses and definitions (no examples in these parentheses as snails do not communicate in words).

Which are the bits a vacation essay should mention?

OK. None of that is very interesting.

I should probably write about the clams and mussels I observed during my vacation. I went to sit by a river on most days, at the same spot (one where a medieval harbor once was), and the shallow waters let me see the little fishes and the clams and the mussels. I could see the distance a clam traveled between two days because it left a groove in the sand at the bottom of the river. The distance was perhaps a foot or so. Do our busy lives look like that to some divine creature far above?

And the dried stem of a Queen Anne's Lace plant which had dropped into the waters gave the mussels a feast which lasted for weeks. They sometimes moved along it fast enough for me to see the movement!

All the time the little fishes darted and darted among the clams and mussels, at speeds so high to perhaps appear invisible to the latter. Which means that we might not see all the ghosties and such darting around us!

Above these communities the dragonflies hovered, in their shining purples and electric greens. Their mating flights looked hilarious to a spectator which suggests another comparison to human behavior. Then, of course, a hawk was observing the same waters, introducing the necessary smell of impending doom.

What I observed there was life, in short, and it took but a few minutes each day. Most of my vacation was spent with people, my family and so on, and I will write more about feminist impressions later on. But sitting by the river can sometimes be a whole vacation by itself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Back

And I have missed you! I don't have anything exciting to say right now (except that I don't recommend twelve-hour travel bouts), though I'd like to point out that this blog has been listed among the most influential fifty blogs by women (just squeaking into that list) in a study which I refuse to criticize, except to note the unintended error it made by giving no extra points for divinity.

We are so excellent because of Suzie and Anthony and the excellent readers. And of course because of my superb sense of humor.

Heartfelt thanks to Suzie and Anthony for their extra work during my absence.

Oldies But Goodies: Seventeenth

I do not regret this series which has been about music which speaks to me in other than intellectual ways. Hope that you enjoyed some of it.

Edith Piaf, Non, je ne regrette rien

The Armpit Wars

This is a re-posting. The original link to the wingnut cartoon no longer works so I removed it.

A wingnut cartoon adventure story (read: incitement towards civil war) has the picture above depicting the horrible enemies of all right-thinking wingnuts: animal rights activists and I guess the animals they protect. They're coming to get you and your Bible!

But look at the stubble on the woman's legs. That is a signifier that she is a feminist, a feminazi, a woman who will probably eat her children. She's having leg hairs! Eek. She probably has hairy armpits, too. Pardon me while I vomit.

The history of the armpit wars is an interesting one. To understand why feminists focused on the womanly body hair requires first understanding how absolutely necessary it was deemed for a woman not to have hair except on her head and in her genital region. All other body hair was deemed as masculine and unnatural. Which is really weird, because women in fact grow hair on their legs and arms and in their armpits.

Now that I re-read the above paragraph I realize that the armpit wars are not at all over. Indeed, they have intensified, because now the only place where women can legitimately have hair is on their heads. The genital area is supposed to be waxed to look like that of a little girl or a porno star.

It is all very weird, because women do naturally grow hair on their legs and arms and in their armpits. The body does this, even in a good wingnut woman, and usually it is the wingnuts who argue that women are ___________ (insert some negative female characteristic here) naturally, biologically and unavoidably, and that the Bible decrees it so, too. But when it comes to the perfectly natural and possibly god-given body hair on women, these wingnuts and many other Americans go bonkers. Shave, you slut!, they screech. Because those who don't shave are Evil.

From a thinking angle the armpit wars are part of the war on accentuating sex differences. Women must somehow look more like women should look if women had been designed properly in the first place: bigger breasts and more torpedo-like breasts, more bare, smooth and hairless skin. And men are supposed to go to the other extreme with body-building work. There are even studies which show that women tend to use a higher voice in societies where femininity is prescribed, and of course we all know how a real man will not wear pink (in this culture and time period) or lace (in this culture and time period) or skirts (in this culture and time period).

Hence what is "feminine" has been socially decreed to include hairless legs and arms and empty armpits, even if Mother Nature disagrees. These things happen. But it is very fascinating that the societal decree is so often interpreted as the real truth, that somehow women indeed are hairless like little Easter eggs and that it is only the evil feminazis who manage to sprout hair everywhere.

Is this enough background to explain why the armpit hair became an issue in Serious Feminist Circles? Because women do naturally grow hair in the armpits and the society states that this should not happen, even though it does happen, and quite innocently, too? And that this is the reason why all woman are expected to spend money and creams and razors on themselves on a regular basis. To refuse to do any of that shaving was a statement that women are just fine as they come, that women don't need to be shaped into totally alien life forms to be acceptable, that even after all that reshaping and plastic surgery and shaving, shaving, shaving, women were still not acceptable in most places.

Besides, making the non-shaving statement cost something to the maker. Unpleasant attention, at a minimum. And this was a way of trying to change the society and to make a sacrifice. Then of course many women just liked the idea of cutting back on all that shaving.

I seem to be telling this story both in the past sense and in the present sense, and perhaps that is the correct way to tell the story. Here comes the twist to the story: The reactions to the armpit hair revolution were swift and of the expected type. The hairy armpit wearers were condemned as ugly (why not talk to Mother Nature about that?), as manly (ditto) and as unable to attract men and therefore giving up on the fight. But the hairy armpit wearers were also labeled as focused on a trivial matter, on something that has to do with body grooming, on something that was so silly as to endanger the whole feminist movement. You may have read the sort of thing I'm thinking about here: Someone writes about the horrible plight of women in some other country and then points out that all American feminists do is to stare into their armpits, and besides, armpit hairs are yucky.

And so this became one of my pet peeves: Because the gesture did not make the point it was supposed to make. Because women are still expected to reshape their bodies to be closer to some fictional (and extreme) ideal of womanliness. And because very few people point out how the whole concept of women's bodies as so faulty is the really ridiculous one and the one that we should discard. After that discarding has taken place, who cares if some women would still shave or not?

I would love to stop discussing the "to shave or not" topic in feminist circles and to start focusing more on what the ridiculing opposition is really saying. Just think about it for a few seconds. Their message is that it is not nature that defines what a woman is, but they, the namers and deciders. And they have decided that a woman in this culture should be without body hair but with very large and perky breasts and basically no hips. It is not some historical or theological concept of womanliness but a purely cultural one, and it is based on the accentuation of gender differences, with a few cultural quirks thrown in.

I see an analogous case in the discussion about cognitive differences between men and women. The anti-feminist point is always to try to make women and men into two quite different species, two "opposite sexes" as the saying goes, whereas the evidence I've studied and my life experiences all suggest that men and women are like two overlapping Venn diagrams in almost everything. Partly different and partly the same. This messiness, like armpit hairs on women, is unacceptable to the patriarchal mind.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Oldies But Goodies: Sixteenth

This is a Finnish poem by Eino Leino set to music. The poem is familiar to most every Finn. It's a beautiful use of summer as the metaphor for life. A translation of the words can be found below the song with a few impertinent comments by me.

Nocturne sung by Vesa-Matti Loiri

Nocturne - translated by Aina Swan Cutler

I hear the evening cornbird calling.

Moonlight floods the fields of tasseled grain.

Wood smoke, drifting veils the distant valleys.

Summer evening's joy is here for me.

I'm not happy yet no sorrow shakes me,

but the dark woods stillness I would welcome.

Rosy clouds through which the day is falling,

sleepy breezes from the blue gray mountains,

shadows on the water, meadow flowers...

out of these my heart's own song I'll make!

I will sing it, summer hay-sweet maiden,

sing to you my deep serenity,

my own faith that sounds a swelling music,

oak-leaf garland ever fresh and green.

I'll no longer chase the will-o-wisp.

Happiness is here in my own keeping.

Day by day, life's circle narrows, closes.

Time stands still now ... weather cocks all sleeping.

Here before me lies a shadowy way

leading to a strange, an unknown place.

Eino Leino

It's a good translation but misses something from the original. The last line is about a shadowy road leading to an unknown cottage in the Finnish. To call it an unknown place removes something of the original meaning: the idea that one arrives.

Likewise the reference to "my own faith" should be "my own religion." There is a difference between the two, and it is the latter that is needed.

The Cappuccino Bar

(I have posted this twice before but I like it. It's an environmental lament or perhaps a certain type of conservatism cropping up in me (me!).)

Cafe latte. Hold the caffeine. Wait in line. Sit at a postmodern table, take out your high-tech substitute of a newspaper and bury your nose in it. Time flies. Time is money. Money flies. The cups clink, the machines hiss, money changes hands. Nothing here has a simple name. Tall means small, grande a little bigger. The fire in the fireplace is a simulation. The clientele is also a simulation, all young, all affluent, all postmodern, with sharp edges and fuzzy middles. The bathrooms are clean and contain no reminders about the need to wash afterward.

This place used to be an abandoned lot. Not a beautiful meadow, but a rough patch of ground where weeds battled for survival. In late summer it looked like a dead field. Every day an old man would come with an even older dog and slowly, majestically, the pair would part the reedy stems of the brown grasses to enter the field. Then she, the dowager queen of all dogs, would lower herself, arthritically, majestically, to rain over the parched soil; a goddess of grass being worshiped in an ancient ritual in her honor. Every day.

Now the rituals are different. The lot is sealed with asphalt, the space decorated with yellow lines, arrows and mystical signs worshiping a different god, a god of computers, sunglasses, cash registers and ears pierced seven times. The awkward weeds are gone. In their place stand rows of box woods, all perfect spheres.

It is possible to come here without seeing a single weed, a single poor face, a single wrinkled face. The whole world is available here if the world is sanitized, straightened out, converted into electronic impulses. It is possible, here, to pretend that death never comes, that food is born pristine, that life is clear and good. The whole lot is paved with asphalt, anything and everything can be removed from the cappuccino grande and it still remains cappuccino grande. The god of this place is the god of logic and cool goodness, god of clean bathrooms and everlasting life.

The old man is probably dead by now. The old dog certainly is. She has gone away to where old dogs go. The weeds are dead under the asphalt. The new rituals are winning: The lot is full of shining cars, their metal wings momentarily at rest. The tables under the plastic umbrellas are crowded with people who have good skin, expensive watches, silver-colored toenails. No-one uses the door marked "Exit" to enter. The new god is strong.

But at night doubts arise. The moon casts a different light. The parking lot is empty, the outside tables deserted. In the shadows the yellow lines seem to waver, the paving seems to crack, as if pushed from below. And, sometimes, fleetingly, one can see a furry paw, a phosphorescent eye, a glimpse of a slow, majestic movement of something sinking, lowering. Does the new god turn his head when he hears the night rain fall?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Abbey Lincoln

Straight Ahead

Abbey Lincoln was a great singer and actor, one whose greatness came from her personal integrity and sense of ethics. She could have gone the glamorous way that Hollywood determined for her, but she wasn't interested in that, choosing a commitment to civil rights and social progress. A lot of what she says about Billie Holiday in this interview could be said about her as well. Her death yesterday leaves the world richer for her life but poorer for the end of her continuing example.

The Dangerous Founders Fetish [Anthony McCarthy]

The automatic, programmed, resort to citing “The Founding Fathers” as if the words, real and invented, were infallible writ, is ubiquitous in political culture these days. In just about every case the citation of “The Founders” is supposed to be taken as the authoritative settler of arguments, sort of like the Guinness Book of World Records was intended to be in an only slightly different context. Questioning the wisdom of worshiping the “founders” will be met, mostly, with confused bewilderment, of the kind that you meet whenever you question a socially received bit of common consensus. If you press the point, you will eventually get an angry reaction, the emotion that is the most handy replacement for a rational argument.

Why a group of white, male, aristocrats of the late 18th century is supposed to govern our lives, in an entirely different world, more than two centuries later, is a question that isn’t raised nearly as often as it should be. Why should they govern us today? After all, the “founders” themselves, were revolutionaries, overturning established governments, cutting ties to previous foundations of government and law – as deemed desirable by themselves . Why that morality of that break with the past isn’t seen by today’s would-be Federalists as more potently instructive than the alleged teachings of those revolutionaries, is an issue that should be pressed. They changed things through violence, a war in which many people died, people were attacked and dispossessed. In contrast, just about every change to the, mostly mythic, Federalist order that has come about in the history of the United States, was done through non-violent change. The great exception was, of course, the Civil War, the origins of which were found in the glaring faults of the Constitution and the financial interests of the Founders, themselves.

Anyone who has been a witness to the past fifty years, the years when the cult of the Founders has flourished in all its dishonest, hypocritical and inconsistent vigor, might well consider it to be an emotional campaign waged by those who want to overturn civil rights progress, first and foremost, but also to reassert the control of an aristocratic oligarchy, such as the one which wrote the constitution and which was only gradually, and unfortunately, temporarily suppressed by those favoring egalitarian democracy. The slogans, icons and catechism of the Founders cult, are not the tools of reasoned consideration, they are more George M. Cohan who said, "Many a bum show has been saved by the flag."

Racism and other forms of bigotry are inseparable from the Founders Fetish, the contemporary assertion of “states rights” and a host of other Federalist bromides having gained their most ardent advocates among the neo-confederates. Another line feeding into it is the opposition to the Income Tax and regulatory agencies. As seen in a large number of instances, such as DOMA, when it is in their interest for the federal government to usurp powers granted to states, they’ve, mostly, not had any problem with violating the sacred writ of the Founders. It’s telling that the instances in which they are opposed to this have included the federal protection of individual liberties and their endorsement of federal encroachment has usually been in favor of quashing state protection of rights and liberties.* And it’s the rarest of right wingers who opposes taxes when it’s for the military or other things they support.

The malignant, irrational and dangerous right has taken the Founders Fetish into ever more bizarre territory, connected to neither history nor reality, in ever more dangerous ways. The tea party cult, with its viciously bigoted and racist verbal eruptions is followed by ever descending, more bigoted, more violent manifestations of militias and the “sovereigns”. Much if not just about all of the armed right, with a history of murder and maiming, will make some appeal to “The founders” for their motivation and their justification.

One of the more dangerous conglomeration of this are the “soverigns”, an al Qaeda type, loosely constituted bunch which are armed and murderous.

At its core, the current sovereign belief system is relatively simple and is based on a decades-old conspiracy theory. At some point in history, sovereigns believe, the American government set up by the founding fathers - with a legal system the sovereigns refer to as "common law" - was secretly replaced by a new government system based on admiralty law, the law of the sea and international commerce. Some sovereigns believe this perfidious change occurred during the Civil War, while others blame the events of 1933, when America abandoned the gold standard. Either way, they stake their lives and livelihood on the idea that judges around the country know all about this hidden government takeover but are denying the sovereigns' motions and filings out of treasonous loyalty to hidden and malevolent government forces. Under common law, or so they believe, the sovereigns would be free men. Under admiralty law, they are slaves, and secret government forces have a vested interest in keeping them that way.

As the piece by J.J. MacNab, from the Southern Poverty Law Center, shows, it’s far from innocuous. It is an irony that the victims of much of this kind of right wing violence are police officers, forest and park rangers, and others, the nurturing of the paranoia that fuels the far right by the side pretending to be for law and order is even more so. Why police unions and organizations aren’t more vocal in their opposition to the Federalist establishment which, through numerous campaigns and court rulings, have put them at even more risk, is something that their members should press.

The history of the United States, the gradual expansion of rights for women and minorities, workers --hard fought and at great sacrifice, the construction of public education, public institutions, and a huge range of other events and thinking, has taught us things that the late 18th century never knew. Those have led to a far more democratic and just society than they seem to have imagined. But Americans are taught to ignore that history which has produced enormous good for the majority of people in this country. I don’t think that campaign of collective amnesia is unintended but if it is, it should be resisted.

History is taught in the wrong direction, it should be taught from today back, the most relevant lessons for us to learn from being those which are closest to us, the events of recent history still being the ones with potency in our lives. But that recent history is the most dangerous to the status quo, the least likely to lead to quaint, distracting, antiquarianism. “The Founders” in the imagination of those most devoted to that cult seem to be about as real as celluloid cowboys are, the results share the dangerous fascination of macho violence. It’s time to take history out of the hands of the mass media and the federalist hacks.

* I do not trust Ted Olsen’s motives in the case to overturn Prop 8. I don’t trust him but will be glad to acknowledge if there isn’t another shoe to drop in his case.