Chris Hayes is correct to point out that the historical source of Coates title is critically important and deeply disturbing (this is something we’ve talked about here in the recent past). He is incorrect, as Coates points out near the end of the second segment, that there will be a future in which we debate the relative merits of the Trump vs the Obama presidency. I have no idea what possessed him to day that (I see Hayes slip into the false balance mode now and then when he’s tired, maybe that’s what he did there for just a moment).
On the book:
“We were eight years in power” was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s “first white president.”
But the story of these present-day eight years is not just about presidential politics. This book also examines the new voices, ideas, and movements for justice that emerged over this period—and the effects of the persistent, haunting shadow of our nation’s old and unreconciled history. Coates powerfully examines the events of the Obama era from his intimate and revealing perspective—the point of view of a young writer who begins the journey in an unemployment office in Harlem and ends it in the Oval Office, interviewing a president.
We Were Eight Years in Power features Coates’s iconic essays first published in The Atlantic, including “Fear of a Black President,” “The Case for Reparations,” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” along with eight fresh essays that revisit each year of the Obama administration through Coates’s own experiences, observations, and intellectual development, capped by a bracingly original assessment of the election that fully illuminated the tragedy of the Obama era. We Were Eight Years in Power is a vital account of modern America, from one of the definitive voices of this historic moment.
A couple of days ago, tragically and sadly, a cop in a town near me was run over by a driver who was probably on drugs and drunk, who was told by the courts she was not allowed to drive because she is so dangerous but was driving anyway. That is very sad. That particular cop was said by others to be “one of the good ones” and I believe that. He had a boy Huxley’s age, in the same school system (but a different building). The memorial service for that officer was yesterday and today. Imma come back to that later.
Anyway, an on line fundraiser was started some time back to help feed the kids in the Saint Paul school district. Philando Castile worked in the cafeteria in one of the elementary schools there. The fundraiser, Pamela Fergus’s idea, was supposed to cover the costs of the school lunch debts for kids in Philando’s schol, which would have required something less than $5,000. Imma come back to that later.
So, anyway, today a guy was run over in Saint Paul by a drunk driver driving an SUV. Another guy was killed a couple of days ago in nearby Robbinsdale when a drunk driver ran his pickup into a building, killing the guy in side. Over the last year and a half, over an area with a radius of about 2 miles or less, three people were killed on roads near my house by drunk drivers, people who were either nowhere near the road, on a foot or bike path, or, as is the case of the police officer mentioned above, out with his police car removing an obstruction from the highway.
It is sad that all of those people died, including Philando who was killed for exactly one reason, that he was black. Including the three pedestrians who were committing the crime of walking down the street, and the one guy in the business who was just sitting there minding his own business, and the cop who was doing his job.
Two big things happened today. One of them is that several miles of road and several acres of parking were shut down, school buses delayed and rerouted, and traffic (somewhat, not much I think) messed up in order to have a huge memorial for the officer who was run over. Cops came from all over, it was a huge, huge deal.
The other big thing is that it was reported that the fundraiser for kids at Philando Castile’s school produced $64,400 instead of $5,000. So, that’s enough to cover all of the debts for all of the students in Saint Paul’s rather large school district.
I don’t have a problem with a big memorial for a cop that died in the line of duty. But I just want to point out that a huge memorial happened for one guy who was killed exactly the same way as a bunch of other people who didn’t get the memorial. It is almost like the cops are royalty, so when one of them dies there is a big procession and the streets are closed down and everybody has to salute and be sad. And since they are cops and can harass or kill people, you can’t really complain about it.
You might think I’m annoyed at the cop memorial and not annoyed at the Castile fundraider, but actually, I’m annoyed at the fundraiser as well. In Minnesota we feed the kids in our schools. Kids who are short of resources get the food for free or cheap, and if the bills are not paid nobody does anything. So, I think the fundraiser was a bit too specific. There are kids who are above the cutoff for free or reduced lunch that probably still can’t pay, but what the J.J.Hill school, where Philando worked needs, is probably some other stuff. Since the fundraiser is for lunch debt, now the extra money, it seems, will be spread across the school district, and is probably paying for something the school would have covered because they don’t have a choice. I’d love to see all the money go to just his school, for things school administrations are not already forced to cover but that kids need.
Oh, and another thing that is related to all of this in the usual sick and demented way. Today it was revealed that a security guard, a rent-a-cop, at a local Catholic college, admitted that he had lied. He claimed that he had been shot, and specifically, that he was shot by some black guy. Turns out he accidentally shot himself. This is the sort of thing that happens sometimes.
This is a response to “Removing statues of historical figures risks whitewashing history: Science must acknowledge mistakes as it marks its past,” a commentary published in Nature. For the most part, the commentary reads like a caution to not un-name things and not remove monuments in at least some if not many cases, though it is a bit more nuanced than that. What is needed, in Nature, is a different position: Find memorials (statues or things named) to scientists who carried out horrible acts such as infecting countless people who are members of repressed groups in order to study disease, and tear down the monuments and remove the names from the buildings, scholarships, and so on. Nature should not be trolling on this issue. Nature should be clear. In any event, the editorial engendered the following thoughts by me:
We have come to fetishize monuments of a certain kind, and the naming of things, but this is not as well supported an approach as it may seem. It is in fact temporary, ephemeral, and named things and monuments have no special right to exist eternally.
At least in the united states, many many things, including rooms, parking lots and buildings, or dates, such as days, weeks, or months, and various other entities, are ever named after any person are named temporarily. Every day is somebody’s day, streets are renamed by mayors to commemorate a visiting dignitary, and so on. I’m sure most naming events are of this temporary nature, often lasting days or a week or so. Often buildings are named after someone, but then a major refurbishing involves a new name or even no name.
Also, we have this thing we do where we name buildings after corporations. So, since Target is the big corporation in Minnesota, you can go to Target Field, or Target Stadium, or Target Center, or Target, or Target Hall, depending on if you want to watch football, baseball, hockey, go shopping, or attend a literary event. (And they are all within walking distance of each other.) In this day and age, corporations shamelessly name everything after themselves.
So, on one hand, we don’t take naming seriously, and on the other hand we have cheapened the process to an embarrassing degree. So, why are people trying to protect the fact that a scholarship is named after the mastermind behind the Tuskegee study? Or that a park downtown is named after someone who ordered the massacre of of hundreds or thousands in order to take their land?
The erection of the sort of monument we make today and the naming of things we name today are practices with historical roots, but not especially deep roots. In fact,it is mainly a western and post-medieval practice, which puts it at only a few hundred years at the oldest. Perhaps we are leaving an era in which we assume stasis of status among the honored elite and occasional special waif, to an era where we realize we can’t trust the present to be quite so demanding of what future history says about us. Aside from the special case of dead or missing soldiers, maybe we are entering an era where we should not name or enstatuefy anything, just in case. And no, I’m not joking. This isn’t funny.
The permanency of something like a monument to Christopher Columbus or Thomas Parran was never in a contract with those individuals or their supporters, and the long term meaning of any such thing is non-existent without subsequent reification. I know a lot of “Gusties” (graduates of Gustavus Adolphus College, in Minnesota) and every one of them can give at least a vague idea of who Gustavus Adolphus was (though at a conference at the college a few years ago few could pick him out of a lineup provided by one of the speakers). They are told about him during orientation and at plenty of other times, just like Harvard students are told about the largely irrelevant historical figure John Harvard during their first tour of the place. But I’ve yet to meet a single Gusty who can identify William Dodd even though they have all walked hundreds of times by the monument erected to commemorate his most important accomplishments. That particular monument is never engaged in a ceremony or pointed at or to, or referenced, by anyone giving a tour or writing a pamphlet about the place, or anything. You can’t even find it on Wikipedia. Therefore, while it (barely) exists, it’s commemoration, as it were, simply does not. Poor Dodd.
For the very reason that the meaning of a memorial is generated afresh every time the memorial is involved in action or ceremony, and otherwise the thing has little meaning at all, when the life and accomplishments of a person or the deeds of a movement or any other aspect of some historical thing are re-evaluated, only the perniciously old fashioned or nefariously motivated seem to lean on the crutch of historic preservation.
The above mentioned editorial in Nature demonstrated Nature’s utter lack of understanding of anything outside the perspective of British Imperialism, which is kind of funny because it is a science magazine and should transcend such things. Even the British are not “immune,” Nature laments, from the world wide efforts to trash history, with a statue of Cecil John Rhodes almost (but not quite) removed from somewhere on hallowed English land! The editorial implies that the removal of some of the statues that are currently being removed in the US erases history. No. The removal of statues erected at the behest and sometimes with the funding of organizations like the KKK recognizes history. It recognizes an ugly history, and it recognizes the fact that finally, even as we have a White Supremacist regime in the White House (or because of it) we will now identify and find that evil act and erase the act itself.
The Nature commentary ignorantly suggests installing a plaque next to offending memorials. The author(s) of the piece did not do their research. This has been done, it didn’t’ work. It could work, it might work, here and there or now and then, but generally, it has not. The statues removed from parks in New Orleans last year had previously been so marked, and in one case, moved to a new location as though that somehow cleansed it of it’s Klan history. That did not stop the statues from being obnoxious and offensive, and they needed to be removed anyway.
Nobody loves historic preservation more than I do. My move many years ago to Minnesota resulted in many happy things and a handful of great annoyances, and one of those annoyances is that preserving the buildings and artifacts of history are acts not appreciated by more than a tenth of a percent of the people here. But preserving intentional insults to repressed people, as is the case with American “Civil War monuments” designed for that purpose, is inappropriate. Monuments to eugenicists and holocaust perpetrators are a little different because they were often erected for honestly good reasons by hopelessly ignorant people. But we know stuff now. Monuments, streets, buildings, and scholarships named after the designers of unethical medical experiments, or imperialist responsible for mass murder, should generally be removed in almost all cases. Save a few special ones, put up the plaques, maybe. But mostly, maybe not.
You all know about this: It is being said that the OK sign is used to indicated “White Power” and this use has been spotted among politicians and celebrities everywhere. Is this real? I don’t know. Is it a valid symbol for “White Power”? Certainly not.
The problem with the white power symbol is that it is not a symbol. Or, if it is a symbol, it is a baby symbol that doesn’t know how to be a symbol yet, so don’t expect much from it.
Move your hands in front of you as though you were grasping a steering wheel, and pump your right foot while you say, somewhat loudly and using a touch of Vocal Fry if you can manage it, the words “Vroom Vrooom.”
Maybe snap your head back on the second “Vroom.”
You have signified rapid acceleration, but you did not really do it using full blown language. Well, you did, because you have full blown language, and so do the other people in the room wondering what the heck you are doing (I’m hoping you are reading this in a busy coffee shop). But the fact that they get that you are talking about rapid acceleration is because you made sounds like a car and play-tended that you are sitting in a car and reacting to forward rapid acceleration. That’s not really language. From a semiotic point of view, you signified the sound of an accelerating engine by imitating it, and you signified other aspects of rapid acceleration by imitating it. This is not symbolic. You were not doing a symbolic representation of rapid acceleration. You may be thinking, “yes, I was, or what the heck was that that if I wasn’t?” Just trust me, you weren’t.
(Except that since your intentional communication is essentially linguistic even when not and everyone around you is a human, you were, but that’s another matter for another time. Functionally, you were not, pragmatically you were.)
Now, do the following. Wipe that puzzled or snarky expression off your face and speak the following words, enunciating clearly.
Unless you are in a Finnish coffee shop, when you said those words out loud you were uttering a symbol, but unfortunately, a symbol with no meaning, because no one in the room, including yourself, speaks that language (if you are a Fin or among Fins, substitute some other language, please.)
Now, say, with no body movements or other fanfare:
In an English-speaking coffee shop, that was a symbolic act. There is no onomatopoeia. There is no imitation. There is no clue to the meaning of those words built into their utterance or the framework in which they are uttered (like an accompanying gesture or facial expression). However, you have made and conveyed meaning, and done so symbolically.
The very fact that these words mean what they mean in an utterly arbitrary way, a way unembellished with direct reflection of reality, is what makes them symbolic, and the fact that language works this way is what makes languae very powerful.
There are many reasons for this. For example, if your words were strictly tied to imitation or direct representation, it would be harder to extend or shift meanings. It would be harder for there to be a rapid acceleration of a political policy, or a state of war, or a child’s understanding of subtraction and addition, as well as a vehicle with a steering wheel. Also, you made this meaning using two words, each of which can be used as countless meaning making tools. There is an infinity of meanings that can be generated with the word “rapid” and a few other words, in various combinations uttered in a variety of contexts, and there is an infinity of meanings that can be generated with the word “acceleration” and a few other words, in various combinations uttered in a variety of contexts, and the two infinities are potentially non overlapping.
The warning sign above is like a lot of other signs (using the term “sign” like one might say “placard”). It has a triangle which, in this case, signifies semiotics. Why does a triangle signify semiotics? Because in one of the dominant theories of semiotics, which is the study of meaning making, symbolism, and sign making (the other kind of sign), meaning making has three parts (the meaning maker, the meaning receiver, and the other thing). But the triangle is not really a semiotic triangle because there are no labels. This could be a triangle of some other kind, linked to some other meaning. Indeed, the triangular shape is linked to warning signs generally, while the rhombus is for “stuff ahead” so this could be a sign signifying, by looking like something else (a danger sign), danger ahead, or pedestrian crossing ahead, or some other thing.
Cleverly, the warning sign above is both an index to semiotics and a reference to danger, placed on a sign shape usually used to warn of danger ahead (like a deer crossing).
Briefly, a thing that looks like a thing is an icon. Like the thing on your computer screen that looks like a floppy disk, indicating that this is where you click to put the document on the floppy disk. A thing that has a physical feature linked to a thing or meaning, but not exactly looking like it, is an index. We can arbitrarily link a representation to an index (like an index card in a library to a book, linked by the call number which appears on each item) or a representation can evolve from icon to index because of change. For example, the thing on your computer screen that looks like a floppy disk, indicating that this is where you click to put the document in the cloud, in a world with no floppy disks where most computer users don’t have a clue what a floppy disk is or was, but they do know that that particular representation will save their document.
A symbol can evolve from the index when the physicality of the link is utterly broken. The vast majority of words do not look, sound, in any way resemble, what they mean. Words are understood because the speakers and hearers already know what they mean. New meaning is not generated in the speaker and then decoded in the listener. Rather, new meaning is generated in the listener when the speaker makes sounds that cause the listener’s brain to interact with that third thing I mentioned above, which is shared by both.
And, of course, meaning can be generated in someone’s mind when all that happens inside your head. It is advised that, when doing so, try to not move your lips.
The point of all this: having a representation of something linked by the way it looks to some kind of meaning is asking for trouble. A totally arbitrary association between intended meaning and how something looks (or sounds, like a word) is impossible to understand for anyone not in on the symbolic system. But, such an arbitrary association allows, if the meaning making is done thoughtfully and there is no deficit in the process, for an unambiguous meaning making event. At the same time, the arbitrary nature of the symbol allows for subsequent “linguistic” (as in “symbolizing) manipulation of the arbitrary thing itself. And, the fact that the symbolizing requires that third thing, the common understanding of meaning, is what allows us to avoid meaning making that is spurious, as happens when a sign is not a pure symbol, but instead, iconic or indexical of something. And this is where the White Power symbol everyone is talking about, made up of the common “OK” sign, falls into the abyss.
Do this and show it to all the people in the coffee shop:
If you are in the US you may have just told everyone that all is “OK” (or is it “Okay”?).
Among SCUBA divers it specifically means “no problem” which is subtly different than just “OK” because the problems being discussed are on a specific list of important issues to SCUBA divers, like “my air is good” etc.
In the above cases, the gesture means what it means because it is making an “O” for the beginning of OK/Okay. The gesture is an icon of the term “OK.” It is not a full blown proper symbol.
If you are in Argentina or several other South American areas, and possibly parts of Europe, you may have just called everyone in the room an asshole. In this case, the gesture refers to that anatomy, and the anatomy is metaphorical for a state of mind or behavioral syndrome. The symbol itself is an icon or index to the sphincter region.
In other contexts (mainly in Europe), the symbol is also an insult in a different way, in that the “0” part of the gesture implies “you are nothing, a zero.”
In Arabic speaking cultures, the symbols sometimes refers to the evil eye, because it looks like an eye. So it is used, along with a mix of phrases, as a curse.
If you put the ring formed by the gesture over the nose, you are telling someone they are drunk, in Europe. Or, you may place the “O” near your mouth to indicate drinking.
In Japan, if the hand is facing down, that “o” shape is a coin, so it can mean money or something related.
In parts of china, while the symbol can mean “three” the zero part tends not to. To say “zero” one simply makes a closed fist.
In basketball, the “o” part of the gesture is just there to get the index finger out of the way. The key part of it is the three fingers sticking up, which means that the player who just threw the ball into the hoop got three points.
Meanwhile, among some Buddhists, the three fingers part is not the point. The circle part is where the meaning is, but not as the letter “o” but rather the number “0”. Moving across the religious spectrum a ways, in another South Asian religion, it is the three fingers symbolize the three “gunas” which you want to have in harmony, while the “o” part represents union of consciousness. But again, all of these meanings have to do with the actual physical configuration of the fingers.
Rarely, the symbol means “666” and, increasingly, is linked to the Illuminati. To the extent that the Illuminati exists, and I’m not going to confirm or deny. The symbol is also found in western Christian allegoric art. I don’t know what it means there.
There are places in this world where there are both negative and positive meanings implied by the iconic nature of the symbol, which can lead to both confusion and intended ambiguity. I worked on a crew with people who were either Argentinian or who lived in Argentina for a long time, and others who had never been to Argentina. It was always great fun to watch the boss give kudos to a worker at the same time as calling him an asshole. We need more gestures like that.
I put the spreading but I think recent interpretation of the OK symbol as “white power” at the top of the post.
The Anti-defamation league identifies a version of the White Power symbol, where you use one hand to make a W (start with a “live long and prosper” then move the two middle fingers together) and an upside down OK to make the P. It is not clear that the ADL is convinced this is real; they may just suspect it. Bit generally, the symbol is found in a small cluster of mainly twiterati, who have produced a few pictures of possible or certain white supremacists or racists using the symbol. But in all cases, they may just be saying “OK” in the usual benign sense. the best case I’ve seen for the one handed WP=White Power OK symbol is its apparent use on a sign being held at a white supremacist group march, but that could be a singular case, or fake.
Of course, now that the cat is out of the bag, the OK symbol IS a sign for “White Power” or could be, or at least is an ambiguous one, so anything can happen from here on out. I’m just not sure this use was there before a few days ago when Twitter invented it.
But that is not the point I wish to make here. The point is that the OK gesture sucks as a symbol in the modern globalized world because it has so many existing meanings, yet is not an arbitrary symbol. It isn’t fully linguistic. It has a hard time doing the job a symbol should do, which is to be both fully agreed on, with respect to meaning, and adaptable into novel meaning contexts without easily losing its primary symbolic, historically determined, references.
And, the reason for this is that the OK hand gesture looks like something, or more importantly, looks like a lot of things. A bottle coming to the mouth, a bottle on the nose because you are so drunk, an eye (evil or otherwise), a zero, a three, an “O” or a “P”. A coin or an asshole. Probably more.
So, yes, a “black power” gesture looks to someone in Hong Kong like a declaration of “Zero!” That sign isn’t in as much trouble as “OK” because the meaning “black power” is regional, and the use of the fist is regional. But it is another example of something indexical (a fist meaning power is very indexical, maybe even partly iconic) and thus, not truly symbolic, and thus, limited as a fully powered linguistic thing.
I grew up in the old Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now known to you as the State of New York. There, I carried out extensive archaeological and historic research, and along the way, came across that phrase, “the dogs still bark in Dutch.”
It is an idea that might occur to a denizen of Harlem, the kids off to Kindergarten, sitting on his stoop eating a cruller, or perhaps some cole slaw with a gherkin, and pondering the Dutch revival architecture down on Wall Street.
There was a war between the Dutch and the English in the 17th century, and as a result of that war, colonial lands were passed back and forth multiple times. In the case of the colony of New Amsterdam, the passing to the English involved the arrival of a warship on the Hudson, but they used their cannon only to wake up the governor so he could receive a letter telling him about the change. Actually, the colony went back and forth a couple of times.
But when the English took over that Dutch colony, they did not remove the Dutch, or really, do much at all. There were some old Dutch customs, such as the Pinksterfest, a bit of a happy go lucky free for all dance party with vague religious overtones, that were illegalized, because the English versions of Christians at the time didn’t like dancing. But mostly nothing happened to affect day to day life for most people. The Dutch parts of the collection of English Colonies and the early United States retained its Dutchness long enough for someone to remark of the time that even with all the political change, the new form of money, the change in monarch, all of that, the dogs still barked in Dutch.
(I oversimplify two centuries of history slightly.)
We know we are eating burritos, yet we call them tacos
I think this is a Minnesota custom but it could be more widespread. This is what you do. You get a large flour tortilla, some kind of meat or beans, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa or hot sauce, grated cheese and sour cream, and you put all that stuff inside the tortilla, roll the tortilla up, eat it, and then say, “That was a good taco, you betcha.”
The part about the tortilla, lettuce, cheese, etc. is not Minnesotan. That is widespread. But calling a burrito a taco may be more local. And, we know it is a burrito. Nobody in Minnesota ever gets confused about what they are ordering at a Mexican restaurant. In fact we’re pretty good at that. Indeed, of all the upper mid west cities, I’ll bet you that Minneapolis has one of the oldest Mexican restaurants, and there has always been a Mexican community here, though it has grown in recent decades.
But never mind the taco-burrito distinction. We Minnesotans also mix up “yet” and “still” and do things “on” accident instead of “by” accident. Don’t get me started on soda vs pop vs sodapop.
What I really want to talk about here is “Mexican food.”
Go find some hipsters and tell them, “Imma go get Mexican food, wanna come?” and you’ll find out that there is no such thing as “Mexican food,” that what you really mean is “Tex-Mex” and that if you want some authentic “Mexican food” there’s this great taco truck down the street that has authentic tacos.
So you got to get the authentic tacos. I did that the other day. Hipsters everywhere. All the tacos, though, were various meat or bean substances, some kid of lettuce, tomato, etc. with some sort of sauce, on a flour tortilla. The only difference between our home made “tacos” and these legitimate “tacos” was that our burritos are chimichanga size, and those burritos were hand size.
Don’t get me started on chimichangas.
Anyway, here’s what I want to say about Mexican food. It is Mexican, and it is not Tex-Mex. Why is it not Tex-Mex? because Tex-Mex is a made up word, a made up category of food. It was made up because people thought this stuff we call “Mexican food” was fake, an American, non-Mexican version of what they eat in Real Mexico. It was not understood that America did not invite Mexico over as long as they bring the Tacos, that things Mexican in America are not immigrated, but rather, indigenous, often. Even though many Mexicans actually do go back and forth across the US-Mexico border, the truth is, the geographical and cultural entity that gave rise to the Country of Mexico also gave rise to the Country of the United States, in part. In part for both. The Yucatan is no more Hispanic Mexican than El Passo is Anglo-American.
Both modern countries have histories that involve big areas of land, country size areas of land by European standards, that had this or that national, ethnic, or cultural thing going on, and all of that stuff contributes to the present. Native American zones were everywhere, of course, and for the region of which we speak here, that included hundreds of languages, many language groups, and numerous entirely different but often overlapping or intermingled lifeways (such as foraging, bigly civilization, and all the arrangements to be found on the small-group-forager to pyramid-building-nation spectrum).
America did not become a first-Native then Anglo-European country that then had Mexicans show up to fix our roofs and run Tex-Mex style taco trucks. Mexican culture, or more broadly speaking New World Hispanic culture (or some other word, you pick) was in place, across a huge area, long before the United States took its current form, and a whopping big chunk of the eventual United States was part of that. And no, I’m not talking about Texas, or even New Mexico, or the Southwest, or the land ceded to the US in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. I’m talking about a big blobby thing that includes regions from Atlantic Florida to California, from the Rio Grande to the Great Lakes, overlapping with other big and small blobby things that were French, English, Dutch, Creole, Acadian, Russian, and so on.
So don’t call what we eat “Tex-Mex” because that implies that we are America sans Mexico. We are Mexico. Even up here in Minnesota, the Cowboys sometimes spoke Spanish. A cowboy IS a Spanish-American thing. And out east, the dogs still barked in Dutch. And our northern beginnings are as French as anything else.
America is part Mexican, but not because they came to us. Rather, we come from them.
Clinton beat Trump by a large margin, by electoral standards. A couple of percent is actually a lot these days. Yet so far it appears that Trump won the electoral vote, even though those votes are not yet cast and who knows what is actually going to happen.
But this year, strange as it it and stranger thought it may become, is not the strangest ever. That goes to 1876.
OK, lets start out with the assumption that it does not matter who you or anyone else supported in the last election or what your politics are. If it happens, hypothetically, to be the case that a vulnerable person feels threatened by some sort of bully, wouldn’t you like that vulnerable person to know that you are an upstanding citizen of good character who is willing to stand up for that person? This is especially true if you are a teacher, or you work in a retail business, or any place where there might be bullies and victims.
One way to convey your willingness to stand up against bullies is to were some kind of button or pin or label or something that says something like “safety” on it. And when you think about it for a second, why not just wear a safety pin???
Most of the safety pins we had around the house are tiny and nobody would see them if I wore won. So I found some larger ones on line.
The really big ones start to look a bit less like regular safety pins. May be it is a good idea to wear two. I don’t know.
Anyway, here is what I found:
This is a 3 inch steel safety pin, shiny, pretty obvious, large, and comes in a package of 122.
Something that big might have the downside of damaging the clothes it is attached to. On the other hand, it is so large you can probably sew it onto something, like a hat. Or attach it to your car. Let me know if you have ideas.
This might be ideal for a teacher, who might wear it as a lapel pin or small broach. It won’t be noticed from across the room at any particular instant, but the teacher’s students will by and by see it and know that this teacher is on their side in case of any bullying, regardless of what the nature of that bullying might happen to be.
By the way, the wearing of safety pins to signal opposition to racist abuses started in the UK after Brexit, according to this.
An Islamic State-run news agency claims the man who stabbed and wounded eight people at a mall in Minnesota before being shot dead by an off-duty police officer was a “soldier of the Islamic State.”
We know nearly nothing about the Saint Cloud attack, but I’m going to offer some preliminary context-related thoughts anyway. Not conclusions or guesses, just context. (See below for some basic info on the attack.)
One thing you need to know is that Minnesota is a state with the least racist and most socially and culturally enlightened people in it. And, some of the most racist and anti-civilization people in it. Saint Cloud is, essentially, the capital of the latter subculture, a very racist place. This is Michele Bachmann territory.
This is one reason to be really careful about drawing conclusions about what happened there. When I hear “Saint Cloud,” “Stabbing Attack,” “Asked if Muslim,” and “Said Allah” all in the same report, my best guess is that a local Islamophobe tried to kill or injure recently immigrated Somalis (of which there are some) in Saint Cloud.
Gun nuts will point out that this is a case of a “good guy with a gun” doing some good. It is. But, the “good guy with a gun” was a cop. So, really, this is a cop stopping an attack. Meanwhile, apparently, the attacker did not do a lot of damage to others, because, it seems, he wasn’t using a gun. He was using a knife. So, no, “you could do the same thing (as some guy with a gun) with a knife or a piece of string therefore GUN FREEDOM!!!1!!” is not an argument.
If this does turn out to be an attack BY a Muslim on others in Saint Cloud, I suspect there will be white rage turned into violence soon in that community and nearby places such as Little Falls and Big Lake.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Eight people were injured during a stabbing attack at a Minnesota shopping mall that ended with the suspected attacker — who was dressed in a private security uniform and made references to Allah — shot dead by an off-duty police officer, authorities said.
…eight people were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries following the attack first reported about 8:15 p.m. Saturday at the Crossroads Center. One person was admitted. …
… an off-duty police officer… shot and killed the unidentified suspect, who was armed with a knife and wearing a private security firm uniform …
Local police had three previous encounters with the suspect, most for minor traffic violations…
I have a few thoughts I want to float on the recent #BLM activism that involved, as of this writing, two takeovers of public events. One takeover was at a Netroots Nation event that included Bernie Sanders, the other at a Sanders rally.
First, I think it has to be understood that disruptive actions like this need to be carried out, and carried out more. Unless you can somehow convince me that there is a way to deal with violence in and against the African American community, widespread incarceration, habitual attacks by police on African Americans (and some others), etc. without civil disobedience, I’m going to stick with that. A disruptive action here and there will not leave much of a mark. It will be forgotten about. Sustained and well done disruptive activism is called for in the current situation. If it is only addressed to Bernie Sanders, it will fail, and if it doesn’t sustain through the entire election season, it will fail, in my opinion.
(Having said that, at some point security changes will make stage rushes impossible, and after that, it will all be protesting outside events. That has to be evaluated for effectiveness and a good strategy that works will have to develop. A small protest at every event will probably get ignored. A planned huge protest that does not end up being huge will backfire. A good number of very large outside protest will probably be effective.)
I don’t think either of the events, as far as I can tell, were done as well as one might like. At Netroots Nation, the #BLM activists gained the floor, and seem to have done well making key points. But they didn’t seem to have an exit strategy. An exit strategy would have gained them even more points and avoided some of the irrelevant conversations. An act of disruptive activism is always going to produce whinging and complaining about the act, but it is also good to try to have as much of the ensuing conversation as possible be about the point of the activism itself. It should be all about black lives, mattering, not about the #BLM movement’s tactics.
In the case of the Sanders rally, it appears to me that mistakes were made by both parties. The Sanders people tried to say that the #BLM protesters could take the mic after Sanders spoke. They should have just handed the mic over. On the other hand, it was not clear that the #BLM activists were prepared, both rhetorically and technically, to actually take over the rally.
In this sense, disruption may be a little like “awareness raising.” If either of those on its own is your goal, you won’t win. Those are only parts of a larger strategy, and both can actually have negative effects including the development of an inured public. In the case of going after an election campaign, the larger scale strategy might be to make sure that the problems we are seeing now, including racially motivated violence, mass incarceration, and the unthinkably horrible acts of an emerging police state, become part of the conversation for every campaign. Ideally a good percentage of votes will be gained or lost depending on a candidate’s, or a party’s, position on these issues.
Some people are complaining about the specific reactions of Sanders. I want to add an element to the conversation that I’ve not seen discussed. Normally this would be the kind of thing I’d bring up at an organizing meeting because it is a nuanced issue that a lot of people probably won’t react well to. But it is part of the reality of disrupting campaign events. But first a critically important digression.
How often to cops brutalize, including shooting, African Americans? We don’t know. There are a number of reasons this is hard to figure out, not the least of which being that the US government has reduced, rather than increased, the quality and quantity of data collection, mainly since the NRA does not want easy access to information about gun injuries and deaths. Also the rate may be going up so available numbers may not reflect the present, or important trends. We know that African Americans are significantly overrepresented in the frequency of police shootings. That could be attributed to something other than racist police brutality. Poor communities may have a disproportionate number of African Americans as well as more crime, yadda yadda yadda. The real question is how much targeting do police do of African Americans, and how much more likely are police to shoot an African American rather than a non-African American (or a minority vs. a white person)? The answer to that is that police clearly target blacks, and are more likely to kill black Americans. We just don’t know the numbers. Frankly, the numbers don’t matter to the issue of whether this is something that has to be addressed.
This is nothing new. I first got involved in this issue when I was a teenager, and Keith Balou, 17, was shot in the back and killed by a state trooper in New York. Keith was one of several African Americans killed over the previous couple of years, and that instigated the rise of an organization called “Fight Back.” We had a huge conference in Chicago at which people related their own local stories. Obviously anti-black violence had been going on for centuries, this was just the new version of it. By the way, that was also at the time of one of the early first steps at militarizing the police. There used to be rules about how big a gun cops could carry. Keith was one of the first people, maybe the first, to be killed by a trooper using a .357 magnum, only recently issued to that particular police department.
My point here is that black lives have always mattered, of course, and have always been at risk. I think it is fair to say that this risk level has gone up in our post 9/11 terrified society, with the rise of an increasingly militarized police state. Things are getting worse.
So that’s the background, and that is why the #BLM movement exists, and why it is important.
But there is one detail about disrupting political rallies that should be remembered. I’m not saying don’t do it, but this is a factor that should be taken into account.
Several years ago I saw Jesse Jackson give a talk in Milwaukee. He was running for president. The talk was at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee student union. There had been rumors that someone was going to try to kill Jackson, so the security was tight. When Jessie went to shake everyone’s hand at the edge of the stage, a secret service agent stood next to him with machine pistol, thinly disguised as a handbag, pointed at the crowd. He was prepared to kill anyone who pulled out a gun. No one did, by the way.
Running for president is a bit dangerous. Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy, and George Wallace were shot while running for president. Franklin Roosevelt was attacked while president elect. Of the 44 individuals who have been president, four (nearly one in ten) have been killed, 16 have been seriously attacked, with, I think, ten attacked with guns or, in one case, a hand grenade. In other words, the chance of being attacked with a gun or explosive, credibly, with about a 50–50 mortality rate, if you are president, at least to one in four, depending on how you count each attack.
Over the last seven presidents, four or five, depending on how you count it, were credibly and dangerously attacked. Ford was shot at twice. Reagan was shot and seriously wounded. Clinton was fired upon in 1994, George W. Bush had a grenade tossed at him in Tblisi. There have been various attacks on Obama but I think that was mostly just people jumping over his fence.
What is the point of this? The point is NOT to say that we should feel sorry for presidential candidates, elected presidents, or ex presidents, at the expense of black lives mattering. This is where the nuance comes in. This is not zero-sum game. Too much ammunition for that to be the case. The point of saying all this is simple. If you are going to plan a disruption campaign against candidates, you have to assume that those you are going after will be freaked out. They were already freaked out. They’ve already had the conversation about whether or not to wear a bullet proof vest. They’ve already been held in the kitchen or some waiting room while tough looking scary people check to make sure their pistols are loaded and ready, their communications systems in place. If they were paying attention, they already know about the snipers positioned on nearby buildings, and they probably walked by the ambulance positioned near by to take them to the emergency room when the shot that changes their lives, or ends it, rings out.
As campaigns progress, Secret Service protection is eventually handed out, or increased. It may actually be impossible, as I mentioned above, to disrupt talks and rallies by going after the stage. Alternative strategies will have to be developed.
I first heard about Wade’s book when a colleague started talking about bits and pieces of it. He was reading it pursuant to a writing a review. I asked the publisher for a review copy, which they kindly supplied, and started tracking the pre-publication reactions. After reading the first couple of chapters, I realized that I needed to write a review of this book, but I wanted to do something a bit more than a blog post. So, I contacted American Scientist. I had reviewed two books for them earlier. American Scientist is actually my very favorite science magazine (among magazines that are not peer reviewed research outlets). It is a bit higher level than Scientific American (which is also a good mag) in its treatment of subjects.
The book review editor told me that American Scientist had shifted its book review approach to be more of a notice section, mainly talking about books that they recommended to their readers without intensive critical reviews. But they felt that my review of this particular book would be important so they agreed to try out a more extensive review to feature in the next issue.
For this reason I’ve been mainly quiet about Wade’s book. I did attend an online seminar with him and Agustín Fuentes, during which I asked a few questions, but for the most part I decided to focus only on this printed review which would come out after the dust had settled around Wade’s publication date. Keeping my mouth shut has been painful (as some of you know from our private conversations).
And now that review is done, in print, and thankfully, available on line.
My original plan was to point to the American Scientists review and at the same time provide a longer blog post with all the stuff that would not fit in the printed review. But as I wrote the review and interacted with the editors at American Scientist, the phrase “Normally our reviews are under 800 words” evolved into something more like “This is important, don’t worry about length. We’ll figure it out.” This is not something you hear from editors very often, especially in print media! In the end, the review that got published is the review I’d write on my blog, significantly improved with editorial input form Scientists’ Nightstand editor Dianne Timblin and the American Scientist’s Editor in Chief.
Note: The online review is one of those muti-page web pages, so don’t forget to read all of it!!!
When sports fans tuned into the NBA finals Tuesday night to see the San Antonio Spurs take on the Miami Heat, they got a look into another fierce standoff.
A California tribe paid for the anti-Redskins advertisement “Proud to Be” to run in seven major cities during halftime. The airing marked the first time the ad, which initially appeared online in time for the Super Bowl, had run before such a wide television audience.
The small town of Leith, North Dakota recently took center stage on social networking sites, even while most media outlets barely reported on the story getting all the buzz. A network of white supremacist groups had come together to purchase properties in the small town, so as to create a majority, using that to springboard into making a “whites only” town.
The Following News “RAW” Video Is Provided By The “GRANT COUNTY NEWS” And “CARSON PRESS” Of Elgin, North Dakota. The video contains “OFFENSIVE” language and “RACIST” remarks from a self-proclaimed “SKINHEAD – NEO NAZI” who invaded the Leith, North Dakota town council meeting on October 18, 2013!
Click through for details, but here’s the video. Turn the volume down. Action starts at 23 seconds or so, and it is pretty much the same crap all along until the last 20 seconds or so when it doesn’t get much more interesting.
Maggie Koerth-Baker has an amazing story at Boing Boing. The link is HERE. You just have to go read it. It is about what happened to the body of Addie Mae Colins, one of the people killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing by the KKK. Just go read it.