Police Violence

Ferguson, Missouri: eight thoughts on a smoldering dumpster fire

Ferguson, MO is currently a dumpster full of flaming grease and it’s a long way from being extinguished.

As I have been watching the Michael Brown/Darren Wilson case unfold, a few things have occurred to me.

1: Let’s just get this out of the way first: there were two distinct groups in the streets the other night. Group A comprised people with legitimate grievances about this case and its place in a much longer running history of injustice for minorities in the US. Group B was made up of punks and hooligans looking for any excuse to cause trouble. There’s no defending this element’s behavior in the wake of the announcement that no indictment for officer Darren Wilson was forthcoming. I mean, you done me wrong, so to show you how pissed off I am I’m going to burn down my own house? Not a lot of rocket surgeons in that crowd, huh? I never ate at Red’s Barbecue, but I bet it was good and I hate to think what the owners are going through right now sifting through the ashes and trying to figure out what to do next.  Continue reading

Obama-Nope

From the bully pulpit — not much, let alone outrage

Obama’s Ferguson ‘speech’ says little, offers less, provides no national direction

I just finished watching President Obama’s remarks last night after the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting.

Shortly after the shooting, a friend and I were discussing the president’s response at that time. We asked, “Where is his anger? Where is his outrage?” It’s fair to ask those questions again.

It’s fair to observe that much of what the president said last night has for a long time been evident to anyone who knows about the “Bloody Sunday” civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965, where police attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the racist ugliness surrounding the integration of public schools in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957. It’s been evident to anyone who knows about the murder of Emmett Till, 14, who was dragged from his bedroom by three men, beaten, shot, and dumped into a river for flirting with a white woman in a grocery store in 1955. And the long history of racism and violence includes thousands of additional incidents, some known, many others not.

Sadly but predictably, President Obama relied last night on the two pillars of political speeches: stating the obvious, and saying nothing of substance. For example, the president said of the grand jury’s decision, “There are Americans who agree with [the decision] and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. That’s an understandable reaction.” As if none of us could figure this out on our own.
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Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Ethics

Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

State of Emergency! Ferguson battens hatches

And who can blame Governor Nixon for that?

Like most folks who keep up at least a little with the news, I’ve heard a thing or three about Ferguson. Of late, I’ve actually stopped keeping up with news in general to the extent I used to. Partly that’s burnout. Partly it’s that I’ve found a few other things to keep me fiddling while Rome burns. But I still scan the headlines at least a few times a week. Maybe it’s like a junkie getting a half-assed fix. Maybe it’s just a good idea to keep some fresh idea of what’s going on in the world. Anyone blow up Russia yet? Has the ebola outbreak spread to my neck of the woods? What about Kim Kardashian’s ass? You know, the usual important stuff. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Pride and Prejudice: The Romance Novel as Literature…

Amid current discussions of how genre fiction and literature are merging in the 21st century, Pride and Prejudice is a reminder that the genre of romance merged with literature a long, long time ago…

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I have noted before, my custom of re-reading Austen’s works systematically has shifted from reading all six of the completed novels each year (as I did for more than two decades) to a rotation through the oeuvre of that allows me to read two novels each year. My own background as an Austen scholar has given me cause to give each of the novels “close reading” (the scholarly term for close analytic reading of a text to ferret out meaning) numbers of times. Still, each time I return to any of Jane Austen’s novels, I find myself surprised by what I learn.

Such was the case during this reading of what the general public consider Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly her most widely read work, partly because there seems to have long been a belief among educators that it is her most accessible novel (I’d argue for Emma) and partly, I suppose, because it has enjoyed the most attention over the last century or so as the basis for classic Hollywood bowdlerizations, faithful and thoughtful BBC renderings, and hipster revisionist treatments. It says something for the greatness of the book that it has borne all these cinematic renditions without losing any of its charm as entertainment or any of its impressiveness as a literary performance. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine: Il se souvient

Like other classics of of what might be called pioneer literature, Louis Hémon’s classic of Quebecois literature Maria Chapdelaine conveys the love of a people for the land in a way that is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon (image courtesy Goodreads)

Maria Chapdelaine belongs to a noble tradition of what we can call pioneer literature. (It might also be called agrarian literature, but that term has come to be associated with the Fugitive Movement in Southern literature that began at Vanderbilt University in the 1920’s.)  Most readers have some experience with such books, especially in young adult literature – many have read at least one of the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley series.

More mature – and sophisticated – readers may be familiar with works such as Sergei Aksakov’s The Family Chronicle or any of several novels by Willa Cather, particularly O Pioneers! or My Antonia. These are works that celebrate the difficult but rewarding lives of settlers, lives that are quietly heroic and which are tied to the rhythms of the land whether that land is on the Russian steppes or the American plains.

Maria Chapdelaine stands slightly apart from these other examples of pioneer literature for a couple of reasons. Continue reading

CATEGORY: CrimeCorruption

The US prison system: America’s contemporary shame

by David Lambert

For over 300 years, slavery was a banality in America, blending into everyday life seamlessly and uneventfully. Despite how difficult it is for us to imagine a society in which owning, torturing, and exploiting other humans based on skin color was condoned, the truth is that for millions of decent Americans, slavery was simply not something to get worked up over. This should disturb us. It is easy to judge the past for its callousness. What’s harder is coming to term with our present travesties.

So with that in mind, what is it about contemporary America that will cause future generations to shake their heads in disgust? Outlandish military spending? Factory farming animals? These are possibilities, but there is one issue that stands out in its absurdity and cruelty: America’s prison system. Here is why. Continue reading

Health

Hysterectomy – who needs one anyway?

Warning, ladies – you probably don’t!

Wait, gentlemen, please don’t run away! Yes, I am about to start throwing around words like uterus, ovaries, vagina, clitoris, nipples, orgasm, and hysterectomy. Here under the shameful for-profit health care system we have, an astonishing one-third of American women are hysterectomized, leading to physical side-effects, emotional side-effects, loss of sex drive and sexual response, and total loss of overall vitality. Surely you have a wife, girlfriend, daughter, sister, mother, or aunt vulnerable to this outrage, so please do read on. I have read of so many men being devastated by the changes in women they love following hysterectomy – it is your issue too.

 

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plus-size

Retailers to plus-size women: fuck you – a disgusting insight from Big Data

Plus-size fashion? Sure, as long as you don’t care about color.

plus-sizeI had kind of a WTF? moment at work today, that turned into a moment that made me think, and finally into a full-blown depressing moment.

We’re working on a project for a retailer that sells a wide range of clothing to women. We were examining the strategic keyword analysis workbook looking for patterns and insights in the search data for an upcoming presentation, when we tripped across this disheartening realization.

In every category – Dresses, Blouses, Skirts, Prom, Formal, Homecoming, etc. – there’s a huge volume of search for color: [blue prom dress], [red skirt], [green top], etc. Every category except one, that is: Plus Size. When you look at the search data for plus size queries, there’s almost no volume for color. The only term that shows any life at all is [white]. Continue reading

Book-Review

Book Review: The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley

An interesting olio of tales, vignettes, and short stories with poetry used as a gloss…Kelley’s collection offers nods to Faulkner, Capote, O’Connor, and other Southern legends….

The Day the Mirror Cried by Saundra Kelley (image courtesy Goodreads)

Saundra Kelley’s new book The Day the Mirror Cried reflects a couple of facets of her professional life. Kelley is a professional storyteller, a member of the Storytellers’ Guild, based in one of the capitals of that oral art form, Jonesborough, Tennessee. But Kelley also has a student of literature, and this work, a rambling collection of what she calls “reflections,” “odd memories,” and “ruminations,” shows that while she has a deep understanding of the folkloric character of storytelling, she also has a deep appreciation of great writing. The Day the Mirror Cried is laced with allusions to the work of great Southern writers even as it offers its own fascinating insights into the culture of native Floridians.

Unlike the typical story collection which often progresses towards a key centerpiece work that gives the collection its name, Kelley begins with  the piece that gives her work its title. “The Day the Mirror Cried” will remind readers of one of Faulkner’s most widely known stories, “A Rose for Emily,” and Kelley does a fine job of nodding to the great Mississippian while keeping true to her own tale. This story, which opens the first section of The Day the Mirror Cried, sets up some of the other nods to Southern Gothic tale telling that appear with it such as “The Ship’s Lantern” and “Laugh at the Moon No More.” One other story, “Emerald Forest,” is affecting in the same way as a Truman Capote tale: what begins as curiosity ends up in a sinister situation, changed in Kelley’s story by the intercession of a protective relative (and here the story echoes the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood with the main character’s brother acting the role of the woodsman). Continue reading

SCotUS

Should Justice Ginsburg retire?

No, and here’s why in her own words

Just a couple of months back I wondered out loud as to why Justice Ginsburg shows no signs of retiring while President Obama still warms the chair in the Oval Office, especially given her age, health, the precarious balance of the Supreme Court, and the lack of any guarantee that there will be a solid shot later at at least a half-decent successor for her.

With a hat-tip to ThinkProgress for pointing the way, here’s Justice Ginsburg in her own words, courtesy of an interview with Elle magazine’s Jessica Weisberg:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Republicans] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

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CATEGORY: WordsDay

Book Review: Mercedes Wore Black, by Andrea Brunais

Mercedes Wore Black is either a romantic political thriller or a political thriller romance – that’s for the reader to decide…

Mercedes Wore Black by Andrea Brunais (image courtesy Goodreads)

Andrea Brunais is a highly decorated former investigative reporter in Florida. Her new novel, Mercedes Wore Black, reflects her knowledge of Florida politics,investigative journalism, and the changing media climate for reporters who want to write – and writers who want to report.  It’s an interesting book, always lively, at times funny, at times deeply troubling, at times a little frustrating.

Like the Florida politics it depicts with pointed insight, it’s kind of a hot mess.

The novel concerns an investigative journalist, Janis Hawk, who is fired by her newspaper – seemingly as part of the wholesale downsizing of newspapers that goes on apace – but Hawk’s firing has, as one would guess from the introduction, political motives. She’s been stepping on the toes of the rich and powerful: developers who want to ruin delicate sea grass beds to gouge out a deep water docking area at a port only a few miles from plenty of deep water anchorage; an unscrupulous gaming management company trying to take over the Florida lottery business; and, of course, politicians whose greed, lust, and general smarminess they would prefer not to have discussed in public.
Luckily – for both Hawk and the plot – Janis has a wealthy and powerful 2nd wave feminist mentor and friend who puts her into business as a journalist blogger which allows Hawk to continue her investigative reporting. This brings her into contact with both friends (the Mercedes of the title, for example, is an old college friend working for the gubernatorial campaign of a maverick politician with high ideals) and enemies (see above).  From those connections, as the old saw goes, things get interesting.

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CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

What do Nestle and Zyklon B have in common?

Nestle sells you chocolate farmed by child slaves and is okay with that, because profit

As San Francisco Chronicle reports: U.S. court rules OK to sue chocolate firms over child slave labor

The companies, which also included Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, were well aware – from their own frequent visits and independent studies – that they were selling the products of child slavery, but insisted on “finding the cheapest sources of cocoa,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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CATEGORY: RaceGender

Thinking about race – just one white woman’s journey

Recent events in Ferguson prompt me to write this now

by ceejay

Through most of elementary school, my best friend was Leslie. I loved her. We were a couple of nerds who didn’t really fit in with anyone but each other. She was very quiet and shy – that is, with everyone but me. We endlessly played jacks. We were the rulers of the game at our school – we mostly just played against each other because no one else could really challenge either one of us. Leslie was black.

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CATEGORY: MusicPopularCulture

Popular Music Scholarship V: Hip-Hop and its Voice(s) of Protest

A look at hip hop’s forbears, its evolution from black protest music to class protest expression and its relationship with its female artists…

Queen Latifah (image courtesy fashionbombdaily.com)

(For previous essays in this series, look here, hereherehere, and here)

This will be the last essay on the excellent group of scholarly discussions of popular music’s elements of protest, The Resisting Muse: Popular Music and Social ProtestIt is the essay I have waited until the end to write for a couple of reasons: first, my knowledge of hip-hop is limited enough to be called laughable by most music fans of the last 30+ years (that in itself is amazing to consider—hip-hop is now more than 30 years old); second, the section from which these essays come in The Resisting Muse is called “Monophony or Polyphony?” and covers a good bit of territory. That said, these essays are well worth some review and discussion—so I will do my best to do them justice. Continue reading

Race & Gender

Is a white man publicly criticizing Michelle Obama’s body racist?

Michelle Obama’s black woman’s body as publicly contested space in historical and social context

by ceejay

On August 13, Fox News contributor and psychiatrist Keith Ablow, bizarrely criticizing Michelle Obama’s efforts to encourage healthy eating for children, remarked that Michelle is a poor role model for her cause anyway as she could“stand to lose a few pounds.” When I relayed this story to my very favorite white man on earth and said that one of the several ways I found the comments so sickening was that they were racist, he replied that the comments were bad enough without my possibly appearing to “play the race card.” He is by far the most brilliant person I have ever known, but on this we will simply have to agree to disagree. I think that given the way black women’s bodies have been historically and are to this moment publicly contested space, a white man publicly making such a comment about a black woman’s body is inherently racist.

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Journalism

Washington Post ed board to stop using racist NFL team nickname. FINALLY. But what about the sports dept?

Two decades ago the WaPo condemned the use of “Redskins.” A generation later, by god they’re doing something about it. Sorta.

Way back in 1992 the Washington Post concluded that “the time-hallowed name bestowed upon the local National Football League champions — the Redskins — is really pretty offensive.” (Emphasis mine.)

A rough estimate based on occurrences of “redskin” in a WaPo site search going back to 2005 suggests that they have since deployed the offensive term ~83,000 times.

Today they announced they will no longer use the term. By “they,” I mean the editorial board. The news and sports divisions will carry on being pretty offensive.

Small victories are better than none at all, huh?

On the one hand, it’s nice to see someone as influential as the Post ed board doing the right thing. On the other hand, well, how many of you take 22 years – more than a goddamned generation – to stop doing something once you conclude that it’s wrong? They wrote that piece when George Bush – the Elder – was still president. Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Waiting for Nothing (More): Tom Kromer’s Singular (and Single) Masterpiece

Kromer’s novel of The Great Depression was his only fully achieved work…

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer (image courtesy Goodreads)

I realize I have been remiss.

Despite two updates to my 2014 reading list (see here and here) I have still more books that I’ve added. So once I finish this essay on a rather singular work of literature from The Great Depression, I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to write a short piece to still further update my reading list.

But writing about the books themselves is ever so much more enjoyable, so let’s get to that first, shall we?

Waiting for Nothing by Tom Kromer is one of those books that rattles around in the halls of academe periodically as a “lost classic.” I first encountered it in my first full time college teaching job back in 1987 at Salem College. A now “lost and by the wind grieved” colleague, Pete Jordan, asked me if I were familiar with the work. When I told him no, he thrust a copy into my hands and told me in no uncertain terms that it was a book I should know.

I took it home and read it in an evening. (That’s not a prodigious feat – the book is more a novella than a novel and the edition I reread for this essay, a very nice remounting by the University of Georgia Press, logs in at only 130 pages). It’s an alternately engrossing and wrenching narrative based on Kromer’s time as a “stiff” (the term refers to the many hobos who spent their time drifting from town to city across the country looking for work during the depths of the economic crisis in the early 1930’s). Continue reading