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I believe that challenging reading is good for you. If you think the same then Liberties might be up your alley. Decidedly highbrow, the quarterly is filled with essays, literary and film criticism, history, and even poetry from a Nobel Laureate. It bills itself as a new journal of Culture and Politics. Clocking in at 417 pages you might think it impossible to get through but thankfully that isn’t the case.
As a physical object it is impressive. It looks and feels serious but approachable. It is physically smaller than I anticipated and I think that is why the length is so long. With top notch book design the journal itself gets out of your way and allows you to concentrate on the subject matter.
Because these are unrelated essays you can comfortably read it in fits and starts. I found myself reading between a half and one full essay on the nights I was in the mood for it. It really didn’t take me very long to get through the entire thing.
So what’s it about? The last essay (and one of the few available online) outlines the point of the enterprise. I wish it was at the beginning in order to set the stage but I think it was a good editorial decision to put it last. It is dense and difficult to excerpt but I think the crux is this:
This journal begins its life in a time of breakdown and bewilderment, of arousal and expectancy. It is called Liberties because of all the splendid echoes of the word – liberty, liberal, liberate, liberality, even libertarian, even libertine. (The question of the place of pleasure in human life is one of the fundamental questions.) It is both a grave word and a joyous word. The plural is a tribute to the plurality of freedoms that we enjoy as a matter of right, and also to the plurality of freedoms that the citizens of a growing number of countries are being ruthlessly denied. Above all, it is meant to announce that, in this universe of fascists and commissars, the objective of these pages will be, by argument and by example, in politics and in culture, the rehabilitation of liberalism.
I find this refreshing, liberalism is being attacked from all sides and it is good to be reminded what it is and entails. The essays all orbit around this central concept while rarely addressing it directly.
My favorite chapters include:
A rumination on how the nature of transgression has changed in today’s culture
A quick history lesson on the founding principles of Indian democracy and how Modi is eroding them
A first person view of the horrors of the opioid epidemic
A heterodox vision on the nature of addiction
A translated excerpt on the nature of hate from the memoirs of a man imprisioned first by the nazis and then the soviets, sadly still very relevant
An appreciation of the writing and life of James Baldwin (I’m ashamed to admit I have not read any of his stuff but hope to soon)
And there’s much more. There were only a few things that didn’t interest me and only one that I thought wasn’t written very well. To be fair I don’t think they are a native English writer but it was still tough to get through.
Highly recommended if you’re into this kind of thing and I’m looking forward to the next issue.
My last post was a reaction to my perusal of my Twitter timeline. Alas, it doesn’t seem to have gotten any traction which is too bad. Going through my Facebook feed all that came to mind was this:
I have never understood the west coast punk music that Black Flag came out of. New York punk seemed to be about rebellion and/or having fun. It reminded me of the way rock was originally. UK punk had a much more political/cultural rebellion vibe to it. West coast punk? Just anger if not outright rage. I never understood what they were so angry about.
My war! You’re one of THEM
You say that you’re my friend
But you’re one of them
Them Them Them THEM!
I’m starting to understand where this music came from now. My entire Facebook feed can be summarized as:
Tell me that I’m wrong
Try to sing me your ego song
You’re one of them
A few posts were about specific people but most were addressing the generic them. Of course most of those will never be seen by the people they are against. Like I mentioned in my last post, there is so much general anger out there and it is now feeding on itself. Think I’ll make some non-topical posts in the near future just to make sure I’m not throwing gas on the fire.
By the way, if you are one of the people that have asked me to write more, or you just want notification when I post, there is a way to get notifications when I post. At the bottom of each page here there is a form to enter your email. You’ll get notified every time I post.
I’m trying to get a handle on what’s going on and getting lost in the emotions. Let me see if I’ve got this straight.
A police officer shoots a man in the back a bunch of times. Lots of people assume that happened because the victim is black and so this is an example of, at a minimum, of institutional racism if not outright deliberate racism. Racism is a kind of hatred/anger.
Many people in the town of the shooting protest, some go on to do really destructive things causing lots of damage. That damage is a direct result of the anger the people feel about the shooting.
Other people are angry about the destructive reaction caused by anger. They bring guns to the situation, people get killed.
Professional athletes decide to cancel/sit out of games in solidarity with the protesters and anger over the original shooting.
Commenters on various social platforms get angry over the injection of “politics” into the sports they like and complain about it.
People on social media get angry that other people are angry about athletes being angry about an angry/hateful police officer.
So we’re dealing with what, the third or fourth derivative of anger? It feels like a never ending cycle. I’m both sick of trying to trace its origins and amazed at the sheer amount of anger floating around. I’m exhausted.
I think that noticing the anger cycle is the first step of realizing how wasteful it is. It also makes it that much easier to get out of it. Being angry about a specific thing can be used to effect change. Being angry about everything is paralyzing. It’s also dangerous. Since official leadership doesn’t seem to be interested in dissipating the anger it’s up to us as individuals to deescalate. Let’s try to stop both the literal and virtual mobs from forming so we can concentrate on making a real difference.
Anti-racist arguments are Tearing People Apart by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic is a perfect summation of how we can lose our way while trying to contribute to an important movement. The situation in this article “went viral” on Twitter. The thing that got people’s attention was the assertion that a white man bouncing a black baby on their knee “hurt” POC (People of Color).
Conor, like myself, assumed there was some context missing and he was right. Unfortunately, adding that context didn’t make things any better. At the heart of the disagreement was the clash between someone who is merely non-racist versus an anti-racist.
You offered to collaborate with me on drafting resolutions. I have no interest collaborating with you on policy positions until you exhibit your commitment to anti-racism work … I am committed to anti-racism work and will not compromise to create a resolution that makes you comfortable and I must protect myself from harm caused by Non-racists.”
Keep in mind that both people involved want to work towards better integration in NYC schools. It seems like the further left you go the more infighting there is. Purity tests are the death of progress, of any movement really. If the world was full of non-racists it would be unequivocally better.
I sold high end audio and home theater equipment for my first job out of college. I loved music and was a true gear head, the equipment itself was fascinating to me. By 1998 I had moved up to Northern Virginia and was working selling camera gear. Again, I loved photography and the gear so it was a good fit for me. I still loved audio equipment though.
I spent a lot of time at a high end audio store in McLean, a super posh suburb of DC in northern Virginia. The equipment they sold was on a level I could only dream of owning. Sublime sound, gorgeous equipment, and stratospheric prices were the hallmarks of the store. Vu, the owner, let me hang around and listen to my heart’s content. We got along really well and he wanted me to work there. I was tempted but I liked the job I had. I did take advantage of his courting though and spent a lot of time at his shop when I could.
The store had two levels. The basement had the really good stuff and that’s usually where I would hang out. One particular Sunday I went to the store. Vu was busy with a customer. He acknowledged me as I came in but I didn’t want to disturb him so I went downstairs. That night I was listening to an especially wonderful system. It was in the neighborhood of 40k worth of equipment. I had been listening for a long time by myself and realized he was bound to be closing soon. I went upstairs and found all the lights off and nobody home.
I had stayed late at my first audio job a few times to help with inventory and whatnot. What we would do is lock up the store without setting the alarm and walk across the street to eat dinner. After that we would come back, do what we needed to do, and then set the alarm when we left. When I found myself locked in the store in 98 I tried to remember the ins and outs of the alarm system. I realized that I hadn’t set off the alarm as I was walking around so I figured he hadn’t armed it. He must be coming right back, I’ll just let myself out and give him a hard time about it later on. As soon as I touched the doorknob the alarm went off.
Now my mind was racing. I could just leave but if anyone saw me it would look really bad. The phone rang. I knew it was the alarm company calling to see if the alarm had been set off by accident. Vu would have a code word to assure them things were fine. I decided to tell them what was happening. “He locked me in!” I said, “Hang on, we’ll send someone right over,” they responded. I had hoped that meant Vu but I knew better.
The police show up and I greet them through the main window at the front. I tell them that I was locked in and they motion for me to come out. Both officers were white. I only remember the one that stayed with me, he was young, maybe younger than my 27 years. As I explained the situation (downstairs, the owner knows me, etc.) my officer tells me he is now going to cuff me. “You’re going to cuff me?” He responded, “Well, we could do them behind your back if you want instead.” I nodded that I understood my situation. He patted me down and then put his cuffs on my wrists. Once I was in the back of the Crown Vic (there isn’t any leg room at all in those things!) his partner went in and looked around.
As I sat in the back of the cruiser a series of thoughts raced through my head. I knew things would eventually be OK but it wasn’t looking good in the meantime. I thought to myself, “Man, I’m glad I’m in McLean and not DC. I’m glad I don’t have a record.”
“I’m glad I’m not black.”
If you had asked me about Harvey Weinstein 5 years ago I would have said, “Who?” If you had instead told me that a super powerful Hollywood producer was systematically assaulting and possibly raping women that wanted to work for him I would have said, “Duh.” Everyone knew about the casting couch. It was widely understood that was how Hollywood worked. It was also understood that being able to do that sort of thing was a big reason why those men wanted that position. It was a perk of the job.
So in 1998 when I thought to myself, “I’m glad I’m not black.” I wasn’t filled with a seething anger about systematic racism or the disproportionate rate of violence and arrests that black people were subjected to by the police. No, it was a plain statement of fact. Everyone knew the police didn’t like black people. Everyone knew that black folks got carted off to jail for any reason at all. And so I was happy I wasn’t black. That was as far as my thought process went at the time.
The officer’s buddy came out of the shop. They had been in contact with the alarm company and had the alarm shut off but they couldn’t get a hold of Vu. He also said it doesn’t look like anything was amiss. I have no idea how he could know that, the place wasn’t exactly neat and there was, unbeknownst to him, a lot of small, crazy expensive stuff laying around. In any case, they decided to let me go. I don’t even think they checked my car. At the time I figured that they thought I was either telling the truth or I was the world’s worst burglar.
Fast forward about 15 years and I have had several black housemates, one of which had done time for selling drugs. Talking with them I got a better feel of what their experiences with law enforcement were like. A very troubling series of alternative scenarios came to me as I thought about what happened on that night in 98.
Normally you consider how you talk to be normal and other people have accents. I remember the first time I ever noticed an American accent. Jean Luc Goddard’s film “Breathless” is a classic French New Wave film. Unsurprisingly the entire cast is French. The lone exception played an American expat. Hearing Jean Seberg yelling, “New York Herald Tribune!” grated on the ears after hearing nothing but French native speakers. Is that what I sound like? Yikes.
As I thought about that night in 1998 I realized my whiteness was yelling “New York Herald Tribune!” How? We’ll start with the fact that the police let me go. I was a little surprised even when it happened. It was a ridiculous situation and I had nothing to offer the police as way of proof of what I said. If I were black I’m pretty sure I would have been booked.
But going a little deeper I realized that my reactions would have been completely different if I were black. When I answered the phone and talked to the alarm company I did so under the belief that since it was all a silly mistake everything would work out in the end. There isn’t any way I would have thought that if I were black. At best I would expect to be face down on the ground being read my rights and then spending a night in jail. At worst? Well…. No, if I were black and the alarm went off I would have gotten the hell out of there as quickly as I could. Of course if someone saw me leave I’m sure the police would have tracked down my car and greeted me with guns drawn when they found me.
So I had a glimmer of what white privilege was in 1998 but it was a shallow and entitled view. It took 15 years and living with people that had experienced being black while dealing with police for me to really comprehend how privileged I was. It isn’t enough to know that you have it better with the police because you are white. You need to understand that you have options when it comes to actions to take and the assumptions you make when it comes to the police that black folks do not. And with just a little bit more thought (just a little) you’ll start to comprehend that goes well beyond just dealing with the police. If you are black there is another level of stuff that you will have to deal with all the time that whites can’t understand because it doesn’t exist for us. That stuff complicates everything, no matter who or what you are dealing with. It is a reactive force thrust upon you and impacts every thought you have and therefore every action you take. White privilege is living without that extra layer of history and personal experiences complicating everything including what you think of yourself and what a lot of people expect out of you just because of The color of your skin. I can point to a singular moment in 1998 when I undoubtedly benefitted because of my race. What I can’t point to is the vague complexity of all of the things in my life that would have been different if I were black. Most white people don’t have the former but all have the latter and are oblivious.
I’m thankful to have had not only that moment in 1998 but also the exposure to black experiences needed to put it into perspective. While I don’t think it’s a good idea for everyone to be suspected of robbery I think that being exposed to the black experience is something we should all be expected to do. Sit down and talk with black folks, it’s literally the least you can do.
*While I am completely on board with the concept, I find the term white privilege can be counterproductive at times. I think it works in this context but I hope to write more about that in the future.
I’ve expressed my admiration for this song before but goddamn, I can’t think of a more appropriate song considering recent events. It does a great job of showing the ongoing problems black folks have had with the cops. It’s sad that the song is just as relevant today as ever…
Are you really for peace and equality? Or when my car is hooked up
You know you wanna follow me, your laws are minimal
‘Cause you won’t even think about lookin’ at the real criminal
This has got to cease
‘Cause we be getting hyped to the sound of da police
I haven’t been keeping track of the late night talk shows and I certainly haven’t kept up with The Tonight Show since Leno came back. I heard he left and that Jimmy Fallon took over. My problem is that I kept confusing Jimmy Fallon with Jimmy Kimmel. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for not wanting to watch a talk show with Kimmel hosting… Turns out Fallon is likable guy and seems to be funny enough to hold down the spot. The only reason I’ve seen any of the show is because of the popularity of the history of rap segments he’s been doing with Justin Timberlake. Haven’t seen those? Here’s the 5th installment:
I’ll start with the negatives. OK, yeah, it’s two white guys going over the history of a musical genre that was not only predominately written and performed by black folks but often spoke of a uniquely black experience. On top of that, outside of the band I don’t know if there were any black people in the building at all. If you wanted to be uncharitable you’d say that it’s another example of rich white people riding not only the efforts but the actual culture of black America for their own ends.
There was a little bit of that for me in this performance but I’m willing to forgive them mostly on the basis that they clearly love the music. They weren’t making fun of it, they were attempting as genuine a performance as possible, down to the dance moves and vocal mannerisms of the original acts. They were clearly having fun. Most of the songs they picked in this episode were top 40 hits. The exception is when they did a trio of “Gangster Rap” songs culminating in an aborted start of Straight Out of Compton. If you don’t watch any other part of that video, make sure to watch the few seconds starting at 1:50.
That was gold. It’s a bit that everyone can laugh at. The idea that Jimmy Fallon could even attempt that song without descending into parody and/or become a laughingstock is just silly. As it was, he was able to pull it off for 4 seconds with only Timberlake seemingly pulling him back from the brink. Fallon went all in and took it as far as someone like him could. Timberlake making fun of him was the logical denouement.
I think the reason that bit resonates with me so much is also the reason I think they “got away” with doing this. For those of you not familiar with Straight out of Compton, allow me to introduce you. To complete Fallon’s start…
”Straight out of Compton crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube
From the gang called Niggaz With Attitudes
When I’m called off I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off…”
It is, in a word, horrifying. If taken literally, it consists of mass murderers bragging about their body count and especially taking glee in gunning down cops. Oh, it has some truly grotesque misogyny thrown in for good measure too. So why is it popular? Are the people that like it just cretins? I’m sure some of them are. I can tell you that from the perspective of a well off, white (late)teenager, it was exhilarating. A pure dose of testosterone wrapped up in a fantasy of anger unleashed. Straight out of Compton was probably the height of bragging rap. It was understood to be hyperbole. Well, it was understood to be hyperbole to its targeted audience. To everyone else it was self described “Niggas” talking about killing people and they were from Compton after all. No wonder they scared white people everywhere! It was attractive to me because, as a frustrated male coursing with hormones, violent thoughts weren’t all that uncommon even if, and maybe because, I never gave in to them. Why was I frustrated? I dunno, aren’t all teenagers? As attractive as this was to me, I can’t begin to imagine what the effect could have been on people actually living in Compton. You know, people that had real frustrations in life, the kind that lead to making that kind of music…
For 4 seconds, Jimmy Fallon channeled that teenager, giving in totally to the rush. And while playing the cassette in your car as a teenager gave you the freedom to feel totally bad ass, a white guy on national TV has no justification. Having Timberlake bring Fallon back to reality was a gentle rebuke to all of us. It is this awareness that kept the entire exercise from veering into the stupid. Acknowledging that there are limits and using them instead of the off limits material is a sign of a mature performer.
For those of you that want “to witness the strength of street knowledge,” I give you NWA. If you haven’t heard it before, it is definitely NSFW. Those of you that have heard it before I’ll leave it to you to decide how gangsta you want to be at work…
The idea was that once I had my shiny new blog(s) I would commence blogging again. Aside from a few silly posts I haven’t done much really. iPhone, stereo, Doctor Who, not much of substance. It’s not as though there isn’t anything to talk about but rather that there’s too much. There are so many big things going on that make me crazy I’m overwhelmed. In addition to the ongoing drone strikes there is now:
1) The NSA scandal that won’t stop depressing me. First we found out that they are scooping up phone records of everyone, then we learn that they are collecting seemingly every interaction on the internet, we are just starting to feel the international response to revelations that the NSA spied on foreign leaders and even the UN and EU, and now we have learned that the NSA has been active in making sure it has backdoors to get around most encryption used on the internet. That last bit is worrying since if the NSA has a backdoor, others could use it as well if it is found. The idea that the NSA has weakened our protection online in order to protect us against the boogyman is galling to say the least. More and more I’m coming around to thinking that Snowden may have done the right thing…
3) The whole Syria thing. Who exactly would we be helping if we bombed Syria? How many civilians would be killed if we bombed them? How do you determine who is a civilian in a war like that anyway? Is the desire to oust Assad really a desire to help Qatar and Saudi build a pipeline and stick it to the Russians? Three months ago I would have said that is crazy but what little trust I had in the machinations of the feds has all but evaporated. Plus, now Kerry says that “Arab” nations are offering to pay for an invasion of Syria? Ugh…
Add to that the ongoing drone strikes, various blog and publication attacks of “libertarians”, and, oh yeah, my health and I just can’t keep up with what to be outraged over.
If I force myself, I can see a bit of a glimmer of hope. There does seem to be widespread opposition to bombing Syria among the US populace. We’ll see if that’s enough to sway the representatives. And if it is enough, we’ll see if that’s enough to reign in Obama. It’s nice to see some anti-war sentiment coming back finally. I’m also sensing a building backlash over what the NSA has been up to, at least online. I do wonder how much the regular guy cares or knows about it but things do seem to be piecing up steam.
Anyway, if I can work up the energy I’ll blog in more depth on these things, but man… where do I start?
Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.
All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.
The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.
There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why?
We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.
My Facebook page is being filled up with impassioned pleas to save healthcare reform. They are of course talking about the arguments in the Supreme Court over the “Affordable Healthcare Act.” I’m not a big fan of the legislation, no surprise there. Funnily enough, I don’t need to know the minutia of the 1000+ page law to draw my conclusion either. The main sticking point to me, and I think the reason it is being argued at the Supreme Court, is the individual mandate. The law says that everyone has to purchase health insurance, in fact it relays on this in order to realize its cost savings that are supposed to come from it.
Let’s forget for a moment that this law is not about healthcare, but health insurance, and let’s also forget for a moment that popular opinion shouldn’t sway the Supreme Court. I am also going to, for the sake of argument, allow that the law actually would reduce health insurance prices and it would actually work out best for everyone. I don’t believe that for a second mind you, but I don’t want to dwell on that here.
Have you wondered why there is so much chatter about this supreme court case? I’m not talking about the political scorekeeping involved, I’m talking about the commerce clause.
[The Congress shall have Power] To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes;
That little clause has been twisted to the point where it is unrecognizable. It’s meaning seems rather straightforward, but congress, with the Supreme Court’s blessing, has used it in all manner of strange ways. In Ashcroft vs. Raich, the Supreme Court ruled that the Federal Government could outlaw marijuana because of the commerce clause even though in this case the defendant never sold it at all, let alone between states. It was ruled that the defendant could have sold it, therefore the federal government had jurisdiction over it. Judge Clarence Thomas said this in his dissenting opinion:
“If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress’ Article I powers — as expanded by the Necessary and Proper Clause — have no meaningful limits. Whether Congress aims at the possession of drugs, guns, or any number of other items, it may continue to “appropria[te] state police powers under the guise of regulating commerce.”
So who could blame congress when it passed a law saying that it could force every American to do something? When pressed on what gives them that power, they respond that the commerce clause gives it to them.
This really is the drug war’s chickens coming home to roost. Once the Supreme Court ruled that congress can essentially legislate anything at all because of the commerce clause, all bets were off. If this law gets struck down, they will have established that the Federal Government cannot force you to buy something. That’s hardly a shocking idea and it shows just how nuts the law is as determined by the Supreme Court.
There was a time when lawmakers assumed that prohibiting a substance was unconstitutional. Banning alcohol was a popular cause at one point, but they knew they couldn’t pass laws banning it until they amended the constitution. How quaint. It is now assumed that the federal government can legislate any damn thing it wants to. This law getting struck down will carve out a very narrow limitation on the feds, one that I’m really terrified that we have to spell out so clearly.
Much has been made about the hypothetical broccoli law. The thought experiment goes like this, broccoli is good for you, so can the federal government force people to buy it if not eat it? It’s a silly thing, no one really thinks that, but there are legions of people that think in the abstract that the government should legislate “good” things. You, know, for our own good.
this goes right back to my “Everything is fine as long as the right people are in power” model of politics. Why does no one think about the damage that will ensue as soon as the “wrong” people are in charge? Limiting government power is to protect us from whatever politician you think is evil incarnate. Dick Cheney or Nancy Polesi, it doesn’t matter. No one should be afraid of the changing of the political winds.
This is the real reason why this case is so important. If we can get some sort of semblance of sanity with regards to the commerce clause, it will be a victory. With any luck, it will also force the court to reconsider previous contortions over the clause as well. Remember, the law being “good for us” is not a sufficient reason for the government to employ its force.