Truth is the first casualty of war, and that is why these individuals declared a Bogus Culture War, so they could lie and propagandize with impunity, appealing to fear, ignorance, and xenophobia, for their own political and financial gain. They needed a pretext in order to violate long-standing political norms and traditions of bipartisanship, civility, inclusiveness, compromise, country over party, and respect for truth, evidence, and reasoning, so that they might gain political advantage by using lies, propaganda, and divisiveness as a political weapon against their fellow Americans.
“Tell them about the dream Martin,” the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson called out to Dr. King during his speech at the March on Washington. Martin heard her, put his notes away, and told them about the dream. That’s one of the bright moments, one of the many as an expression of the incredibly rich and deep African-American culture. I mean, this was the culture that invented blues, gospel, and jazz, and that alone ranks it with Athenian Greece and Renaissance Italy in terms of contribution to human artistic and cultural achievement. Add contributions to politics (non-violence), religion (Church), and language (Black English/Ebonics) and it would be a sad thing indeed if white Americans lived oblivious to the glory in their midst.
From the end of WWII until 1980, America led the world in everything–and the rate on the highest income tax bracket averaged 80%. We built the Interstate Highway System, created Medicare, went to the moon, American manufactured products were the envy of the world, middle class working people were thriving, and the national debt was trivial. In 1981 Republicans began their tax cuts for the rich, aka Voodoo Economics, and the bottom fell out. Infrastructure is crumbling, the middle class is declining, manufacturing is on life support, working people are hurting, and the Federal debt is a burden that will shape the lives of our descendants.
Republicans who oppose a fair and sane maximum income tax rate are lying to us–they are appealing to our love of America in order to line their own pockets and increase their own power. If we want a healthy and decent society, the rich have to pay their responsible share of taxes, just like they did when America was great.
President Lyndon Johnson often said, “Come let us reason together,” because he believed that the great deliberative body of the United States Congress could act in good faith to develop policies that would serve all Americans.
He passed Medicare, The Civil Rights Act, and The Voting Rights Act.
Years later, LBJ declined to seek re-election because he came to believe that his policy in Vietnam was dividing Americans.
In pursuit of votes, Republicans have become the party of the racist bigots who are still angry about the Voting Rights Act (1964) and The Civil Rights Act (1965), which ended the murderous and inhuman political and social repression of African-Americans in the South during the 80 years of Jim Crow segregation.
America’s house is not built on the sand of lies and propaganda. It is built on the firm foundation of the free exchange of reasoning and evidence, so that lies and propaganda can be discovered and exposed. It is assumed that citizens and leaders should care about the difference.
White southern racism has caused more death and suffering to America than all of the other regions of the country combined; more, even, than all the rest of the world combined. Of course, to say “white Southerners” is not to say “all white southerners.” But it is to say an “effective mass” of them, comparable to a “super-majority” in politics, usually 60 to 75%. When the effective mass is that large, the super-majority can do whatever they want to do.
The virulent racist nonsense white southerner slave-owners used to justify living their pseudo-aristocratic lives on the backs of enslaved Africans is still corrupting our nation’s soul. Even though the indefensible and illogical doctrine of white supremacy has been exposed repeatedly as empty and meaningless, it is still causing hatred, fear, and violence, and clouding the minds of American citizens.
The Civil War
When white southerners saw that the rest of the United States could no longer abide the abomination of slavery, they started the American Civil War. The cost: 750,000 Americans dead and a country that is still divided.
Jim Crow Segregation
Fifteen years after the Civil War, white southerners instituted Jim Crow segregation, and enforced it with murders, ethnic cleansing, and political corruption. The cost: At least 4,400 African-American men, women, and children were murdered in terrorist lynchings and hundreds of thousands of Americans were deprived of the equal rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. It is, by the way, pretty easy to find the number of lynchings because many were held on the courthouse lawn and covered in the local newspapers, so that blacks would get the message.
Legal Jim Crow segregation lasted from 1880 until 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed by a “traitor to his race,” Democratic president Lyndon Johnson from Texas. Ironically, legal segregation lasted longer in the United States than it did, as apartheid, in South Africa. The Cost: When he signed the Civil Rights Act, LBJ said, “We have lost the South for a generation,” though it has turned out to be longer than that. Continue reading
It’s not just the guns. It is something much, much worse. There are guns everywhere in the world, but only in the U.S. has there been an average of more than one mass shooting every day this year (274 days / 294 mass shootings). The something worse is that in the U.S. various factors have combined to cause American culture to lose sight of the most fundamental moral precept known to humankind. In the words of Jesus of Nazareth, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the words of philosopher Immanuel Kant, “You must never treat persons as things.” In the words of the Rastafarians, “I and I say I and I, instead of you and I, because the other is an I also.” And in the words of Confucius, “If you don’t want someone to do something to you then don’t do it to them,” which is of course, another way to state the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” To put this as clearly as I can: if one loves and respects others as one loves and respects oneself then one does not murder, rape, cheat, manipulate, take advantage of, or otherwise violate that other; rather, one is as concerned with the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial well-being of the Other as with one’s own.
“Our lands are intertwined. Our histories are intertwined. Our fates are intertwined. Let us be partners.
“There are millions of people of good faith, vision, wisdom, compassion and courage in Palestine and Israel. We will put all of our energy into building peace and prosperity for the children of Israel and Palestine. We will work side by side and the welfare of each will be the greatest desire of the other. The success of each of us will be measured by the success of the other. All of our children will thrive. The entire desert will bloom. We will watch each others’ backs and help and support each other. We will trust. We will be stronger together than we ever were separately. We will live lives of safety, freedom, comfort, work, and spirituality. Continue reading
“You didn’t believe in me, in my literal existence, did you?” He asked.
“No I didn’t,” I replied. “I thought you were a way of talking about being human in the world.”
He laughed and said, “That’s the spirit! Good for you. There was no evidence or reason to believe otherwise. It’s what I would have thought myself.”
So I asked my question, “Why did you create rational people with free will then, when some of them would surely reach erroneous conclusions?”
“Dang,” I said, “so I was wrong. You exist and this is the afterlife.”
“Oh no,” He said, “you were right.”
Michelangelo, Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Plants
Star Child, Excerpt from concluding scene of Stanley Kubrick, 2001
The French Revolution began with the liberation of the Bastille prison by the citizens of Paris on July 14 1789.
For Lafayette, George Washington’s friend and compatriot. For Lady Liberty, beacon of freedom to millions. For the respect and refuge from racism you gave to African-American jazz musicians. For your sound advice even when our politicians would not hear it.
Merci mes amis.
Thank you, friends.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.
Nina Simone – I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to be Free
African-American composer and vocalist Nina Simone lived the last 10 years of her life in Aix-in-Provence, France. Continue reading
When I left home at 19 I was emotionally stunted and pretty much devoid of social skills. Luckily I fell in with a loving and kind group of gay people who helped me grow up. They were all so quick-witted, and I wasn’t, that they called me their “straight man.” I learned many important and useful things. I share them freely. Don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket because it spoils the line of your jeans. Don’t put a sweater in the dryer. Swimmers have the best bodies. You must hang Christmas tree ornaments so they dangle freely and do not get caught up on other branches; similarly, you must hang the tinsel strand by strand rather than glopping it on. Continue reading
First, contrary to implications, there is nothing new, experimental, risky, or even medically interesting about the process of gender reassignment. That process has been refined for over 60 years, since before Christine Jorgensen went to Sweden in 1952. Today, the whole process is quite well understood and standardized, the psychological and behavioral indications, the drugs and hormones, the social and cosmetic aspects, the surgery. It is a straightforward medical matter for Ms. Jenner and her doctors. Continue reading
Lou Reed died yesterday and I cried today. I was thinking of something I wrote for a poetry slam after Bradley Nowell died, “When an artist dies, Satan smiles.” Upon reflection that seems suspiciously close to “I saw Satan laughing with delight / The day the music died.” It’s not that Lou Reed died. I hope he had a good passing. But he was an artist once. He brought something new into the world. In Ursula Le Guin’s book The Word for World is Forest, those who are bringing something new into the world are called gods—while they are bringing something new into the world–so someone might say, “I was a god then.” I have observed over the years that if an artist sees that something is worth doing, and that he can do it, he will do it, regardless of consequences. I think that is the difference between artists and entertainers; an entertainer worries about coming back tomorrow night. Maybe I cried for the price that artists pay. But, no, Vincent van Gogh has already reassured me about that. In his last letter to his brother Theo, Vincent said, “My own work, I am risking my life for it, and my reason has half-foundered because of it….that’s all right.” Maybe I cried for the wonder of a world “that hath such people in it,” or is it that it hath so few such people in it.
Do clothes make the man? For many years I made my living as a college professor. My classes were known for a high degree of activity, interactivity, creativity, and laughter. People brought their friends to see the show because I was not one of the professors who wore a suit and stood behind a podium and recited his lecture, or read it off the PowerPoints. Rather, I took part. I demonstrated the Buffalo Dance, ran the video camera, mixed the paint, moved the furniture, held the fire extinguisher, and whatever else needed to be done. For this kind of performance art, one needs clothes that are designed to facilitate movement, not those that are designed to restrict it. Think about it, suits were originally the mark of the ruling class, for precisely the opposite reason, to demonstrate that they were not required to do any physical work. Ease of movement was for the workers, and they wore clothes appropriate to their need to move unrestrainedly. So did I. Continue reading
I met Paul the first day I moved into the neighborhood. I was unloading the truck by myself and a burly fellow walked across the street and introduced himself as Paul; he asked if I needed any help unloading. I did, but Paul was wearing some kind of brace under his shirt. “No,” he said, “it’s not a back brace; it’s for something else.” After he helped me get the washer and dryer in the basement, we chatted briefly. I complimented him on his front yard garden; in addition to quantities of the normal vegetables, he had a peach tree with peaches on it. I had seen these in Georgia, I told him, but never so far north. We also talked about the heat and the growing season here. It used to be better, Paul said, but lately the weather had become increasingly erratic, with unnatural hot spells, even during the winter, and late freezes. Continue reading
I had to learn how to love. I had to work at it—paying attention to what made me feel happy and what didn’t. There were so many mistakes. It took 60 years, which seems like a long time, and I think I was lucky in the people I knew along the way.
This is the big question I have: We have an idea that is so nearly beyond doubt, in this case that to learn to love is what makes you happy, but we don’t act on it, we don’t implement it. Nobody doubts it. I should say that nobody who understands it doubts it. And that’s the question. Why is such an important and basic idea not a fundamental part of human education and culture: how to love.
Obviously, people should begin to learn to love at home. And then they should learn in church (by “church” I mean, “spiritual activity.”) But what if for some reason they don’t? I agree, they should learn at home and in church. But what if somehow they don’t? I do believe that some people learn abuse and bigotry at home and at church. Shouldn’t learning to love just be everywhere anyway? Shouldn’t it be about the most basic thing there is? Are the people who don’t learn it in family or church just screwed? That seems like a lot of people.
We baby-boomers ought to be ashamed. It is incomprehensible to me that any member of my generation (U.S. baby-boomers, b. 1945-1964) could look at these pictures and not feel that they have failed in one of their most fundamental human responsibilities. The picture above shows the catch off Key West, FL, in 1958, 1983, and 2007 The picture below shows the habitat of the tiger in 1850, 1950, and 2006. These pictures make it real to me, more than the statistics, charts, and graphs. It’s really happening. Some of the damage was done while the boomers were kids, just because there were so many of them, but most of it was done after they matured and came to power, when those numbers could have been used to prevent further destruction.
The conversations in a pot store, or recreational cannabis dispensary, are fascinating. People in Colorado pot stores are talking about very subtle variations in their consciousness and experience, associated with different forms and strains of cannabis. They are doing very comfortably what philosophers call phenomenology, examination of the structure and nature of consciousness and experience. It’s usually a pretty hard thing to get across in class but these people are naturals. Allen Ginsberg certainly understood too. In 1966 he wrote that “the marijuana consciousness gently shifts one’s attention…to sensing phenomena.” And then his 1977 his book Mind Breaths Ginsberg explicitly associated the creation of poetry with the observation of consciousness as practiced in Buddhist meditation. Continue reading
“Listen to rough jazz” is a something Charlie Haden said in his last concert in his home town of Springfield Missouri. The play on words is that rough jazz is the opposite of smooth jazz, the ubiquitous, insipid jazz format of unchallenging, uncreative, and unobjectionable background music. Rough jazz, roughly, means, “hard bop and modern jazz, or music that led to it (or came from it),” or, alternatively, “music that swings, is improvised, uses blue notes and call and response.” It just means “real jazz.” Charlie Haden is the rightmost in this great photograph. Why do I call it great? Because all I see is the love of creative music. Charlie grew up in the Ozarks town of Springfield but somehow all he wanted to do was play jazz. His dad took him to a concert of a jazz dance band that came through town and Charlie got to meet them in their hotel room. He said remembered that it smelled funny. One of them said to Charlie, “Look at us. We got nothing but the music. Do you want to end up like us?” “Yeaaaaaah,” said Charlie. Continue reading
Spaceship Earth has exceeded its carrying capacity. Its human inhabitants are talking of limiting carbon emissions, refraining from dumping environmental toxins, eating lower on the food chain, and wasting less water. These are all good ideas, but none of them is going to save us, not even all of them together. There is an elephant in the room that is being ignored. All of these Climate Change Conferences and no one says the obvious: There are too many people. OK, I will open the bidding: If we are extraordinarily careful Spaceship Earth can sustain 1 billion people, and “by extraordinarily careful” I mean, no burning coal, no petroleum, ground the jetliners, restore the 75% of forest we have destroyed, take down the dams and let the rivers live free again, no more Consumer growth economy. Continue reading