Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

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I suppose I can’t resent my compatriots when they go on about how disappointing Obama’s vacillations are when it comes to the economy and health care and our foreign wars and blah de blah when all it takes to win them back is saying exactly what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

Quote Obama, “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.

Trayvon Martin, a unarmed Black teenager, was walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house from a nearby convenience store when he was shot dead on the street by George Zimmerman, a white volunteer for the neighborhood watch. Zimmerman claimed self defense, and police did not charge him because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which establishes that, in any public area, the person claiming self defense in his use of lethal force need not try to escape the confrontation first.

According to the 911 transcript, Zimmerman said that the kid “looked like he was up to no good, or on drugs” and described his activity as “walking about, looking at houses.” Just about the only description of Trayvon’s appearance offered was that he had his hoodie up, as it was raining. The 911 operator told him to stay in his car, which he ignored to accost him, chase him down when Trayvon ran, and shoot him.

Trayvon was on his cell phone with his girlfriend when Zimmerman accosted him, and according to those transcripts, Trayvon stated he was being followed, and his girlfriend advised him to run. Later, he asked Zimmerman, “Why are you following me?” to which Zimmerman said, “What are you doing around here?” At that point the cell phone was dropped, which implies the Zimmerman had initiated a physical altercation.

Florida passed the Stand Your Ground law in 2005 and had noted that the number of “justified killings” have increased by 36 every year since. Effectively, beyond the license to vigilantism it grants, it also grants the right to escalate any altercation to deadly force, with the ‘victor,’ so to speak, able to claim self defense without counterclaim. State Attorney Willie Meggs pointed out that gang members, for instance, call 911 after shootings with other gang members to claim self defense.

To call the event ‘racially charged’ is patently obvious, and the parallels I’m immediately reminded of are the situation that eventually led to the 1992 Crown Heights riot, where-in posses of Jewish vigilantes under the organization ‘Shmira’ would accost and often beat the Black denizens of the neighborhood as proactive ‘defense’ of their neighborhood. It helped fostered a culture of distrust that allowed a single event to light the tinderbox, and speaks to why vigilantism is and should be viewed with suspicion.

A Tax on Poverty

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…is what Matthew Yglesias’ idea of having a negative interest rate amounts to.

Protip, Matt: Poor people don’t need convincing to buy things. They have to buy things to survive. If you want demand to come up, you have to give them more money to buy things with. How dare the poor save their money. We clearly need to put an end to that.

What the fuck. Tax the rich, not the poor. Of all the boneheaded – no, scratch that, evil – ideas of late, this has to be in the top running – and that’s saying something, considering that in the past week we had Gingrich – the current GOP frontrunner – arguing that Blacks are lazy and shiftless and that child labor would teach them right!

In fact, there’s been quite a lot of idiocy lately, like how Gingrich’s answer to the fact that there’s four recently unemployed people per job opening is that said people need to have better attitudes and how we shouldn’t “pay them not to work.” Like Thomas Donahue, head of the US Chamber of Commerce, actually having the gall to say that we have too much regulation instead of too little. Where the hell have you been this past decade, Tom, when we’ve had the lowest levels of regulation since the 1920s give us the highest corporate profits in history and the largest bust since the Depression?

Hell, this past week we’ve also had the Florida Family Association’s surprisingly effective attack – as they got advertisers to pull out their money due to the “controversy” – on The Learning Channel’s show All-American Muslim for “not presenting the extremist, violent side of Islam” and thus misleading god-fearing Americans to believe that Muslims are, y’know, normal. Such brazen racism draws scary parallels to the national campaign by the GOP and Tea Party zealots to destroy any hope of a mosque being built in downtown Manhattan, because, as we all know, Muslims are terrorists and terrorists are Muslim.

Have we gone stupid? Why the blitzkrieg of recrimination on the victims of society? Why are we giving this shit the time of day?

The optimist in me says that this is the death knell of a political party that doesn’t have a future in this country. The pessimist in me says that the Democrats will find a way not to sweep the next elections anyway.


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Sarah Schulman is somewhat nonplussed by the willingness of the gay and lesbian community – having newly earned their civil rights – to allow themselves to be co-opted by conservatives as a hammer by which to beat Muslims. Indeed, Israel is trying to fight its PR war against Palestine by pointing out that they are more tolerant of gays (conflating this to mean that the injustices they regularly inflict on Palestinians is glossed over by showing how socially liberal Israelis are, because liberals don’t do such things, et cetera) and Germany and the Netherlands found new allies in their fight against Muslim immigrant communities.

I’ve seen something like this before.

Back where I used to work in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, the building (or as they call it now, the “campus,” ever since the large school was closed) houses four schools. All of these schools are divided by racial lines. Three of them are Black/Latino – in that there are literally no white students – and the last one is an “international” school with mostly Asian/Middle Eastern first- and second-generation students.

The Black kids didn’t like the Chinese kids. The Chinese kids didn’t like the Black kids. We couldn’t house them in the same place at the same time. Even during regular schedules, there were altercations on a daily basis where the Chinese kids (cutting classes by wandering through the Black schools) would treat the Black kids like potential criminals, and the Black kids (cutting classes by wandering through the International school) would taunt the Chinese kids with “ching chong” jokes. Punches got thrown.

So the teachers got together and decided they would have to give these students a primer on racism (and yes, the all white teaching staff did note the irony and the awkwardness of having to teach Black students about racism) but here’s where it got interesting: When asked in Social Studies class about the subject, it turns out that a lot of the Black students more or less defined racism as “bad things that happen to Black people.” As such, what they were doing to the Chinese students was categorically not racist because Black people, being victims, are perennially incapable of racism.

And the Chinese students? While they acknowledged the difficulties they faced with difficulty of language barriers and social exclusion, they were taught that Black people were untrustworthy, and that was the end of that argument.

So it came as no surprise to me that some gays didn’t mind being used to further ostracize immigrant communities in Europe or that, for that matter, some Jews didn’t see anything wrong with treating people like second-class citizens in Israel due to their ethnicity and faith. As it turns out, there are a fair number of people of any background that view prejudice only within the frame of their background, no matter how much lip service they give to the greater good of universal civil rights and social justice.

Abstraction – empathy – is a hard thing to teach.


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Yvette Espersen was asked by the NYTimes to wax prose on what the Oslo killings meant for the European right wing as it related to immigration. Her response leaves much to be desired:

Historically, people have moved around Europe for thousands of years, and the region and its ethnic groups have, in general, been welcoming and tolerant. During the last 40 years, Europe has gone through a cultural change with the enormous immigration of Islamic people. This change in demographics presents a great challenge to Europeans and what their democratic societies can tolerate. Islamic communities generally do not, as many other religious communities do, assimilate, and many Muslims are demanding accommodations that we view as radical to our way of life.

While she continues on to promote dialogue from all parties, which is always good, the assumptions here are staggering, especially considering that Europe has for the last fifty years been going through something of a miniature version of what America went through for the last two hundred.

To start,

  • Historically, people have moved around Europe for thousands of years, and the region and its ethnic groups have, in general, been welcoming and tolerant.

Yes. Europeans have been somewhat* tolerant of other groups… so long as they’re white and Christian. What is the point of tolerance if you’re only tolerant of your own? Indeed, clan-based heathens have always been excluded as have north Africans of whatever creed, and the wars fought between Christian sects were only bested in savagery by the wars fought between Christianity and non-Christianity. There is no love lost where the ‘alien other’ is concerned, in Europe.

  • This change in demographics presents a great challenge to Europeans and what their democratic societies can tolerate.

And here I thought the mark of a mature democracy was its ability to defend the rights of the minority over the tyranny of the majority.

  • Islamic communities generally do not, as many other religious communities do, assimilate, and many Muslims are demanding accommodations that we view as radical to our way of life.

As an American who once held a history book, I find that to be a frightfully dubious statement. Indeed, similar statements have, in this country’s short tenure, been said of Catholics – and vicariously, all Latin people – and Jews, and similar has been said as per the impossibility of assimilation of Blacks, American Indians and, quite lately, Latinos. Many, many times have there been attempts to repatriate these out-groups elsewhere.

Furthermore, even of most historical American in-groups, social cohesion of immigrant communities have lasted longer than expected when it came to assimilation. Germantowns, language barriers and all, persisted straight until World War I, with predictable results.

Furthermore, it is the height of hypocrisy to state that the laws of Islam are any special threat to a government when that government is already under siege from the laws of Christianity. I know that in Europe it’s a bit different, but in America I find the bible-thumping evangelists who attempt to get congressional seats far more threatening to the ostensibly secular state than the nascent Muslim communities peppered about the country because, well, those bible-thumping evangelists are equally as scary as Koran-thumping extremists in what they’re saying and yet have a far greater chance of actually getting into office.

I honestly do believe that the problem isn’t anything special about Islam but merely the existence of outsiders, and the “fear” exhibited by these Christian extremists and the conservative constituency that have been voting in right-wing politicians all over Europe are nothing more than bald xenophobia and racism. To say that the solution is to assimilate them as quickly as possible is as to say “your culture is offensive. Please hide it while in polite company,” which is offensive, and were the shoe on the other foot, there’d be an uproar by the same people.

In my humble opinion, assimilation isn’t the key. Just ask the native Americans or African-Americans who adopted Christianity and the western mode of life if they were, by doing so, accepted into the larger culture. Tolerance is the answer, and tolerance comes from understanding and understanding is a natural result of familiarity. Only by education can we stem the hate, which means abandoning this peevish desire to make the alien un-alien through assimilation and instead making the alien un-alien through understanding.

*yes, somewhat – as in, “hey, historically, weren’t most immigrants to America fleeing European religious persecution?”


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The Times has a bunch of folks talking about the word as related to its being whitewashed clear out of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, as published by a company ironically (and erroneously) named NewSouth . Some people fairly eloquently explain why that’s wrong, others are rather muddled, and still yet one more has his head up his ass (and is from Texas, no less).

It’s really quite simple to me why ‘slave’ cannot replace ‘nigger.’ ‘Slave’ is an occupation. ‘Nigger’ is a mode of being. I can be a carpenter right up until I quit, at which point I am no longer a carpenter. I will always be male.

Bull Fucking Shit

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We made a mistake,”

So says Principal Jeff Lane of Miller Valley Elementary School in Prescott, Arizona. “The school district made a mistake and shame on us if we can’t say shame on us,” says superintendent Kevin Kapp, in reference to the controversy over demanding that muralist R.E. Wall lighten up the darker complexions of some of the characters on it.


“Get that nigger off the mural” isn’t an “oops” moment. It’s not a mistake when you meant it. This is the same bullshit apology akin to “I’m sorry you took offense.” Racist pricks.

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