Friday, January 31, 2014

Amanda Knox, anti-Italian sentiment in the United States, and racism

I'm very glad that Knox has been convicted, because the reaction to her trial, the fact that she was even put on trial, in the Seattle media and to a lesser extent in the media of the United States as a whole has been terrible. It's been riddled with the idea of Italy as a country where someone can't get a fair trial, where justice isn't in the 20th century but instead dependent on corruption...almost like in a Mafia movie.

In fact, Italy is a modern country like every where else in Europe, and the Mafia doesn't have as much influence as people in the United States would like to believe, but the stereotypes that Anglo Americans have about Italians were set long before Amanda Knox participated in the slaying of Meredith Kercher.

Take this as an example: when was the last time you saw a person of obvious Italian origin in a movie playing just one of the guys, as a generic character whose identity did not depend on his ethnicity? In other words, a group of friends where one is Joe, another is Nathan, another is John, and one of them, normal in every other respect, just happens to be Italian? It doesn't happen, for the most part. People who are obviously Italian are either cast as gangsters or as idiots, as emotional and stupid good guys who you wouldn't take seriously outside of the context of the film.

Being partially Italian myself, and having ancestry involving several Eastern European ethnicities that tend to have darker skin, I can tell you that the difference in treatment is derivative of racism, and not of much else. There are plenty of European ethnicities who have cultural patterns that are different from those of Anglo-Americans. Slavic cultures, for example, tend to be more expressive and less buttoned down. However, Polish culture, if it's thought of at all, isn't really regarded as being weird and overly passionate, as Italian and Hispanic culture is, despite in some cases sharing similar attitudes.

European integration in the United States is based on skin color and facial features. People who are Polish or from elsewhere in Eastern Europe do fairly well, despite having a pretty different culture, because there are many people from these backgrounds who have fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. They can meld in and assimilate to the dominant ethnic look. Others from Southern Europe can't.

I know from personal experience, often having been mistaken for being partially Hispanic or some other ethnicity identified as Non-White, especially in Florida, that the one drop rule is still in effect in different parts of the United States. Living in the "Fake South" of Northern Florida, it was pretty apparent in the small towns that if you looked like you could be something that was non-white, in part or in whole, then you weren't one of us, so to speak. The fact that that something might not be black, or even that it might not be non-European at all, made no difference, even if the people in question knew that. The attitude was based on who was 'one of us' and who wasn't, and who wasn't was pretty well defined.

All of these attitudes, in my opinion, come down to skin color, and are present throughout the United States, even in the great tolerant city of Seattle, where because Knox was accused of killing Kercher in Italy, in Perugia, the system had to be corrupt, it had to be unfair, because the Mafia is down there, and the people look like Al Pacino.  Somehow, I think that they would be a little bit easier on the justice system if it happened in some backwater of Germany, because they're civilized.

*on edit: a perfect example of who Italians are cast as on television and film when they're not cast as Mafiosi is Matt LeBlanc's character on friends: a complete moron who's mostly there for comic relief.

A little bird told me about the "Naked Norwegians" cheerers in Bothell, WA...

Who made headlines a few years ago because of the brutal hazing that accompanied the induction into the group. Bothell is a suburb of Seattle, so tolerant. The "Naked Norwegians" were an unofficial high school cheering group, that's since been banned, made up of guys. The shock came from the kids who wanted to be part of it being beaten across the back with PVC pipes, but there's reportedly something even more shocking, that didn't make the news: every time they were hit across the back, the person doing it shouted "White Power! Kill a N***er!" This supposedly is recorded in the police report, but didn't make it into the news, presumably because people didn't want to cloud the issue....or reveal the complexity of it.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stephen Cohen shows which side he's on: Ukraine comments on Democracy Now!

The link to the transcript of the debate between Cohen and Anton Shekhovtsov is Here. I was initially skeptical about what's happening in the Ukraine, because of the very real provocations of fake "Color Revolutions", sponsored by the U.S., but as time has gone on it's become apparent that whatever external influences the people of the Ukraine itself really do want change.

Stephen Cohen did a great service in the '80s by being one of the people who was willing to look at the Soviet Union in a different way, one that rejected the war mongering of the Reagan administration and instead took the possibilities offered by Glasnost and Perestroika seriously. Unfortunately, for reasons that aren't clear to me, in this debate on Democracy Now! he ignores the mass of people in the streets in the Ukraine and instead confines himself to talking about abstract trade policy between the EU, Ukraine, and Russia.

He comes out on the side of Putin, amazingly enough, which is a strange place to get to after supporting Gorbachev. At one point an argument could have been made that Putin represented a kind of Eurasian counterweight to European power, but his increasingly dictatorial government, including his institutional discrimination against gays, has destroyed whatever credibility he might have had in that regard.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The response to the Richard Sherman case illustrates a lot of what's wrong with the U.S.

Namely, an acceptance of a lack of discipline and bad conduct as something normal as opposed as something to be strived against. The fact of the matter, beyond his own behavior on the field in the realm of bad sportsmanship, is that certain features of society, that make society livable, are made possible by a certain level of conduct and self discipline, and if these aren't present, society itself descends into a sort of crude caricature of itself, where anything higher and pure can't exist.

If 'Thug' is the new N-Word....

Then what should I call the people who I encounter who act terribly, seem to be at least sympathetic to crime, and happen to be black? There are folks whose behavior itself suggests the title, and although they happen to be a minority within the black community, they're still there....and there are parallel groups of people within the white community and within every other race out there. This isn't about using something as a substitute for a racial slur, it's about being able to label, and object to, bad conduct when it happens as opposed to somehow giving it a pass based on the color of the skin of the person who is doing it.

*on edit: I should qualify this by saying that in this case Sherman was acting like a Thug instead of actually being one.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Today's GOP illustrates the illusions of Anarchism

By which I mean the conservative base that the is built on. Why? Because all of these communities in the Deep South, the true Midwest (as opposed to the Great Lakes States), and the far West short of the coast,  were built on the pioneering spirit of individualism and of people determining their own lives. In particular, the Wild West itself was based on these values.....and instead of leading to some sort of utopia where everyone is perfectly free and respectful of everyone else, where individuality is honored and respected, it lead to a kind of stultifying conservatism that privileged Christianity above all else.

People were given all the freedom of the frontier to do what they liked, and they chose something repressive and conservative. How about that? The reinventions of personal freedom in these places that have resembled the ideal have been brought by newcomers, not by the people who were descended from the people who first settled it.

All these places where Creationism is being taught in schools, where there's virtually no separation between Church and State, are places where people believe that it's their God given right to live their lives the way they want, to teach their kids what they want, everyone else be damned. They are, in a sense, living the anarchist dream.

They have local control over their schools, local control over their towns and regions, and are hostile to outside statist interference....and they've chosen beliefs that are several hundred years behind everyone and are unwilling to change them.

The conceit of the anarchists is that freedom enacted will necessarily lead to the ideological social values that they have, but don't always explicitly state, being realized, but freedom in the sense of self determination and non-interference is just a formalistic concept, not something that's bound to any one ideology.

 Even in the Russian Revolution, in the sticks of the provinces when some people found out that a revolution was happening and that the exploiters were being overthrown they organized Pogroms....because that's who they felt were exploiting them, as opposed to the landholders and other folks who really were doing it.

If self-determination and this sort of freedom from restraint is really the end-all and be all of society, then why is it that the question of vaccination is making bed fellows of conspiracy theorists and progressives, while small outbreaks of diseases that have been gone for decades, if not nearly a century, have been happening? Portland, a city where quite a few people know Dr. Strangelove, has now gone from scoffing at Flouride stealing our vital fluids to refusing to put it in its own water, over largely false assumptions. Similar things could be said of homeschooling, which can either yield nice, open, tolerant, people, or the next generation of Christian Taliban who have no real understanding of the outside world.

Structure is needed to make a good society, and on this the GOP and Anarchism are unfortunately united in opposing it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Richard Sherman on the word ‘thug’: ‘It’s an accepted way of calling somebody the N-word’---no it's not

Here. Look, I don't care what someone's highschool record was, or where they went to college. If they behave badly, they behave badly, and they should be censured for it. Acting like a 'Thug' is actually appropriate to the types of people that he behaved like. If you want a more in depth look at this, that's beyond two sentences long, look Here, a previous post.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Finally a sane voice on Sherman: Michael Cohen of the Guardian "Richard Sherman's immature gloating shows he's not ready for sport stardom"

Here.Sure to make me popular here in Seattle. The basic issue is good sportsmanship. There's being a good loser, but there's also such a thing as being a good winner, and being a good winner doesn't involve trash talking your opponent or threatening them. This is what separates professional sports from the WWF (or WWE as it's now called), from professional wrestling. Otherwise, we might as well welcome athletes onto the playing field with their own theme songs and follow their rivalries like we would with Hulk Hogan or Macho Man Randy Savage.

This has nothing to do with race, as the enjoyment by mostly white people of pro-Wrestling proves.

Here are some excerpts from Cohen's article that are especially good:

"But oddly, the backlash against Sherman led to a counter-backlash. Suddenly Sherman was being scapegoated. Supporters pointed to a sympathetic Sports Illustrated article; his stellar academic credentials (as if Sherman failing to fit the image of a "dumb jock" is somehow a pass for boorish behavior); and his magnetic personality.

Some were quick to blame racism for the Sherman backlash. To an extent, the racism charge rings true – what with knucke-dragging racists running to Twitter to call Sherman a thug as well as a lot of worse names. But while racism is undoubtedly a factor in how people view Sherman, it doesn't mean he wasn't out of line.

Others argued that emotion is integral to sports and, if anything, Sherman should be praised for not being afraid to be himself. At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wonders why people think the trash-talking that Sherman specializes in is merely for the "classless" and "stupid".

But when did showing emotion become a defense for unprofessional and immature behavior? Sherman doesn't get a pass for the kind of outburst that men of all colors too often – and all too perniciously – use to justify acting like jerks (or worse).

Showing positive emotion, exulting in a great play, celebrating victory – it is all part of the joy of sports. Still, anytime someone wins, someone else loses and compounding their pain is as disrespectful an act as one can commit on a playing field.

At a time when middle and high schools are rolling out anti-bullying programs, trash-talking should not be given the "boys just being boys treatment". On the football field, talking trash is, for better or worse, part of the game. We're inured to its public displays. Off the field, it is the language of bullies – a tool that the strong use to terrorize the weak and the vulnerable. It's hardly an ethos for young people to embrace."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Liberal hostage taking, and breaking free

That's what I call the tendency of various sites, such as Rawstory, to come up with more and more inconsistent and outlandish stories going this way and that, about whatever happens to piss them off at the moment, with no real rhyme or reason behind the decisions. Hostage taking, because implicitly, in the background, there's the thought of 'what exactly are you going to do about it?'. You're not going to say that the conservatives are right about something, right? That would be the worst thing in the world.

So while certain progressive internet sites like Rawstory and get more shrill and inconsistent (while others, such as DailyKos, remain more balanced), people just sit back and be increasingly nervous and uncomfortable.

I think that people should call the bluff of these people and say, yes, in certain of their criticisms of liberalism, the conservatives are correct, although the basic principles of liberalism are still sound. This is the way to free one self from the hostage situation, and to put the ball back in the court of people who are daring people by checking to see just how much shit they'll eat before they complain.

The best thing that a person can do is not to swing from one pole to the other, flailing aimlessly, but adopt a nuanced position that takes into account the different political perspectives that are out there. That, as opposed as to fitting into one of the stereotypes that people have made about political positions, truly drives people nuts.

*on edit: perhaps the DailyKos isn't the best example to use as an alternative, but it's been openly partisan from the beginning, as opposed to RawStory and, which are putatively journalistic organizations, even if they do have a particular editorial policy. The Nation still does good journalism, as does MotherJones. They seem to have a better understanding about the difference between pure, unthinking, striking out against whoever they think offended their sympathies and actual writing based on thought.

Monday, January 13, 2014

An overdue welcome to Kshama Sawant

Who is the first socialist on the Seattle City Council in quite some time. Her victory is groundbreaking, and I wish her well on helping Seattle to become a better place.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Liberalism, Marxism, and the Environment

Dostoevsky, in a section of "A Writer's Diary Volume 1", a collection of articles he wrote for a magazine that have been collected, translated, and published by Northwestern University Press, draws a picture of the source of a particular conception of environment influencing behavior that sheds light on liberalism and the difference between liberalism and Marxism on this.

Liberal sympathy for people being influenced by their environment tends to have a high emotional content to it, while Marxist and socialist sympathy tends, ideally at least, to be more clinical. History and economics shape people according to their place in society.

Dostoevsky looks at the phenomenon of jurors from the peasantry in newly enfranchised Russia freeing many people who are accused of crimes. He carries on a dialogue with himself about it, suggesting first that these folks are being influenced by the notion of the environment determining people, but then floating the idea that in reality, what people are acting on is their Christian faith, and the sympathy based on environment is really a variation on that.

There's some truth in this, and you can see it in the many cloying an irrational responses by people who are liberal, even progressive, but not socialist. It's not really an examination of how the environment shapes people that they're sympathizing with, or looking at, it's the notion that everyone is a sinner and so everyone deserves to be forgiven and redeemed. Therefore, you need to look at everyone who comes down the line with compassion, no matter how responsible they themselves are for the situation they find themselves in.

Folks who tend to argue from emotion, and call it sympathy based on environmental influences, often balk at notions that the economic structure of society determines how exactly things are set up. It's too concrete, and it could in fact indict them. If you're looking at things, maybe scientifically isn't the right word, but at least sociologically, as opposed to acting on emotion alone, environmental influence is taken as collection of diverse facts and influences, that can be concretely identified, concretely talked about, concretely argued about.

To me, it's much more preferable to have a tough but honest evaluation of things that takes all of the different factors into account than to just reflexively say that the environment in some sort of vague way, that always lines up with Christian sympathy and appeals to emotion, determines things. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

"Undocumented Lawyers and Rogue States"...really, "The Nation"?

Link Here, with the sub-headline of "So far, 2014 has been a year of states doing as they please." The thing is that states have been doing what they want for several years, and people have been mighty upset about it--because it's been things like banning gay marriage and restricting abortion rights. Now that proposals from the left are being approved, suddenly rogue states are great....provided the Supreme Court shoots down initiatives from the right on the local level. 

Democracy, which I firmly believe in, is not about playing favorites. It's about reflecting the honest views of the people. And if you want the good, you've got to take the bad as well. Otherwise, you're a rank hypocrite, and an authoritarian in disguise who only likes democracy when it serves your purpose.

"How's your day been?", an insidious trend.

 Been noticing that it's been increasingly asked of me at cash registers. At first I was like, that's really nice. Then another place started asking it, with almost the same phrasing, and it was a little strange. Then another place started asking it. Now I call a call center in some unknown place in the U.S. and they ask it after the business is done.

I think what has happened is that it's a new management thing, where people are now being asked to add "How's your day been?" to the scripts that they give customers, because their managers think that it'll be a good addition. In reality, at least for me, I'm growing to resent it, first because I don't necessarily want to talk about my day to strangers, even if it's been great, and second, because it's this kind of forced familiarity that's being engaged in...I think...solely because someone has asked them to do it.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

I like David Brooks' weed column

That said, I also think that it should be legal and that Washington and Colorado are doing the right thing. Brooks' column is Here. To me, he brings up something that people in general who are pro-marijuana don't want to look at: the fact that some people really do spend most of their lives stoned and that it doesn't have a good impact on them. It's an inconvenient truth. However, I think that much like alcohol and alcoholism, it's possible to recreationally use marijuana without falling into that and without having many bad affects. Also, Brooks' column focused on people using marijuana as teenagers, as minors, which is a different thing altogether.

I like his emphasis on personally trying to do things that are uplifting, and on governments encouraging this, but the legal consequences of using a drug that I believe can be used recreationally without bad side affects should be small to non-existent. 

Friday, January 03, 2014

I believe in socialism plus character

We should have a comprehensive socialist society, but that society needs to recognize, and enforce, good character on the part of its citizens. It comes down to distinction: to crib a phrase from conservative philosopher Richard Weaver, do you believe that some things are better than others, and some things are worse than others? Is there good conduct and bad conduct, ways of behaving that habitually hurt people and hurt society and ways of behaving that don't? I believe there is, and that we should privilege and encourage this behavior while penalizing the opposite.

To me, questions about why a person does what they do are things that can be dealt with further down the line. The immediate reality is that criminal behavior hurts others and should be penalized, and further that people should try to be reformed, to change that behavior. The ultimate causes do not do much to comfort those who are victimized by the behavior, and moreover it's often not just one or two actions but the product of a general orientation in how the person thinks about the world and behaves. 

This can be something that privileges the lowest in humanity, or it can be something that privileges humanity's highest aspirations, and we should not let those who privilege what's lowest in human life impose themselves on the rest of society, and demand tolerance for their actions based on previous oppression.

*and I should make it clear that while some of this language has been used in a racial context before, that defects of character go through all races and ethnicities, as well as whatever other social grouping that you want to point at. It's the orientation to life itself that's the issue.