Sunday, December 31, 2017

Who will be our heroes in 2018?

The past year -- 2017 -- has been a very hard year for America. We've experienced a government that promotes racism and other forms of bigotry, hatred and abuse of minorities of many kinds, withdrawal of help for the poorest and most in need, and outright destruction of the environment to benefit special interests.

Erica Garner, who died this week, became a voice for
police accountability after her father died in police custody.
I may not agree with every position she took, but I hope for
more leaders who try to push back against the system.
We've experienced a large minority of our population who have no sympathy for these mistreated groups, and who are in many cases willing to give up financial advantages and other benefits to themselves in order to deprive the "other." Meanwhile a variety of trolls who used to be held beneath contempt become more and more powerful and free to attack and persecute whatever groups they detest by whatever means they choose.

This immoral minority promotes the government's cancellation of programs to inspect or regulate the food supply -- even if they personally experience food poisoning. They prefer government support for predatory banks and fake educational institutions -- even if they fall prey to these sharks themselves. As long as climate change is denied, they don't care if their own homes are washed away -- in some cases both literally AND figuratively. They prefer that the government cancel medical insurance programs for poor people -- even if it affects their own access to affordable medical treatment. They have lots of other analogous preferences too. As long as abortion is illegal, they often say, the rest is a matter of indifference, including the morality and truthfulness of their leaders.

On the other hand, many individuals in America who have the means to take care of themselves and who aren't directly poisoned, defrauded, drowned, burned-out, or impoverished by the current treatment of government programs still find much to fear from the current political juggernaut. And perhaps would be willing to push back.

So I wish in the coming year that more heroes emerge to lead us and that they find new and creative ways to express themselves and effectively struggle against the ugliness, darkness, and oppressive measures we've seen in 2017. I sincerely wish you a happy new year in which our better natures can prevail.
"There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop!" -- Mario Savio, 1964.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"The Year in Resisitence"

The article is illustrated with a scene from the Women's March
the day after the Inauguration, which had more attendees than
the Inauguration itself. And inspired one of Trump's first lies
during his tenure as President.
New York Times op-ed writer Michelle Goldberg's current column is titled "The Year in Resistence." In it, she summarizes several of the major events where people protested both the general tenor of the Trump administration and specific outrages committed by the President and his men (and a few women). A few key paragraphs of this simultaneously depressing and encouraging article:
"Indeed, Democrats have triumphed all over the country, as Trump’s approval rating keeps sinking. The progressive Working Families Party endorsed 1,036 candidates in 2017; almost two-thirds of them won. Due in large part to grass-roots organizing, Democrats won a landslide in Virginia and took Jeff Sessions’s old Senate seat in Alabama. 
"At the Dec. 8 rally in Pensacola, Fla., where Trump urged people to vote for Roy Moore, the Republican Senate candidate accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers, the president mocked citizens who oppose his administration. 'Resist, resist,' he whined, hunching over and pretending to carry a protest sign. 'They’re resisting the will of the American people,' he declared.
"Of all the uncountable lies of this repulsive regime, this might be the biggest. Trump became president despite the will of a majority of the American people. A recent poll shows that 53 percent of voters want him to resign. Inasmuch as Trump is able to force his agenda on an unwilling nation, it’s because of a breakdown in democracy that renders many members of Congress heedless of their own constituents."
Is there hope in the continuation of these protests? Or will the passage of the horrendous tax bill this week turn the tide in the President's favor? As 2017 and also the first year of this nightmare of misrule come to a close, we just don't know. Michelle Goldberg's conclusion: "The president once warned that if he fell, he’d take the entire Republican Party down with him. Thanks to the Resistance, he might still have the chance."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Bad Rabbi"

The fat guy was named Martin "The Blimp" Levi. He weighed 600 to 700
pounds, and was a sensational wrestler. You can also learn about his promoter,
who specialized in publicity for all kinds of freaks. Wow!
Suppose you want to read news items about sensational divorces and bigamy cases, bizarre sports figures, petty but colorful crimes, tales of pimps or their victims, neighborhood brawls, violent murders and family fights, religious zealots trying to force others to obey their rules, anti-religious people fighting back, or other diverse facts? You'd go right to your favorite click-bait locale on the internet, right?

Suppose you want to read about the same types of mindless and entertaining stuff that happened in Jewish Warsaw or Jewish New York in the early part of the 20th century? You can go to Eddy Portnoy's recently published book Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press. Obviously, if you can read Yiddish, you can go find microfilms of the various Yiddish newspapers of that era for yourself, but how likely is that? I'm telling you: read Bad Rabbi! Nothing has changed except the language. And you'll enjoy the illustrations taken from the original papers.

Bad Rabbi offers all kinds of dirt that was dished by the resourceful journalists of New York and Warsaw. These stories were published alongside very serious journalism about society, politics, etc. in the Yiddish papers. Illicit lovers pushed their paramours out of windows. Fistfights broke out at ritual circumcisions, at weddings, and at other usually innocent events. A habitual criminal failed to steal a side of beef from a delivery truck because the delivery men chased him down the street. In 1929, we learn, all sorts of readers in Warsaw -- those who followed both the Yiddish and the Polish press -- were fascinated by the "Miss Judea" contest, eventually won by a girl named Zofia Oldak. A criminal who worked under the pseudonym Urke Nachalnik (meaning: "brazen master criminal") wrote a popular autobiography in 1933, and later wrote other successful works. For a while, he studied criminal lingo in documents at the pre-war version of YIVO, but he got in big trouble with his fellow criminals who thought he was betraying their secrets.

Sadly, as we read, we are often reminded of the coming fate of the Jews who stayed in Warsaw, but they didn't know what was coming. For example: "No one seemed to know what happened to Zofia Oldak. An octogenarian cousin of hers who lived near Tel Aviv said she couldn't remember if Oldak went to Australia or to Treblinka. But she was pretty sure Miss Judea ended up in one of those two places." (p. 142) And the criminal/linguist Urke Nachalnik joined the underground, tried to organize reprisals against the Nazis, and sabotaged rail lines to Treblinka. He "was eventually caught by the Germans in 1942 and as he was being led in shackles to his execution... he attacked his guard and nearby soldiers shot him to death." (p. 114) Another colorful character, it's said, "went up in smoke." Literally.

The Rabbinical divorce court in Warsaw was a popular place for journalists to uncover these sensational bits of human interest. For example, there's the story of Rivka Tsadik, who wanted a divorce because her husband didn't like her cooking: "If she cooks him potatoes and egg drop soup, he yells that he'd rather have potatoes and borsht. If she cooks him potatoes and borsht, he'd rather have potatoes and egg drop soup. In short, they start fighting and the husband eventually runs out of the house with an empty stomach." Rivka was willing to take an exam "to see if she can cook a good lunch or not." It seems that we'll never know if she passed her exam or not -- she went home to wait for the rabbis to call her back. (p. 159-160)

Bad Rabbi has lots of good blurbs by quite famous writers.
I originally wrote this post for, my other blog, but it fits with my theme here, so I'm adding it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951)

"Jewish Heroes and Nazi Monsters" by J. Hoberman (Tablet Magazine, October 16, 2017) describes the work of illustrator Arthur Szyk as shown in a current exhibit in New York. Many of the images have a horrifying connection to the horrors that are happening in our society right now, and are very disturbing because so little has changed -- for example, the one above, shown in the slide show accompanying the article.

Szyk's work appears familiar to me, as if I have seen it but can't quite identify it. He produced illustrations for many very popular publications, as well as illustrating children's books, so it wouldn't be hard for something to have made an impression.

I suspect that I read this as a child.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

"Musicians Take a Stand for Refugees"

Orchestra, choir, and soloists ready for "Ode to Joy" on the stage of Hill Auditorium this evening.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony -- including the splendid "Ode to Joy" -- inspired a large audience tonight in a free concert at Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus. The volunteer musicians in the choir and orchestra hoped by doing so to raise awareness of refugees. They performed with great enthusiasm and beauty, I believe. Beethoven's music is amazing.

Several speakers preceded the performance. One of them described his own experience as a refugee from the Nazis during World War II. He began by mentioning the message of the Statue of Liberty, and also pointing out that despite our idealism, not all refugees have always been treated well here. His family, originally from Vienna, hoped to go to America but became stranded in Switzerland by the outbreak of the war. He contrasted the grudging and unwelcoming attitude of the Swiss to the family's experience when they finally made it to New York in 1948. By implication, I think he was indicating that America is most welcoming to refugees, but can make mistakes -- and obviously the audience knew what present-day mistake he wanted them to think about.

It's very painful, realizing that we are now the perpetrators of persecution, and horrifying to think how difficult it is to find actions we can take to avoid continuing the injustice that's being done. I've always felt it painful to know that the same culture that produced Beethoven also produced the Holocaust, and now more painful than ever because I hate to think that in some future world people of good will might wonder how our most beautiful creative products came from the same culture that is doing these things. And we may be responsible for worse things if we don't find a way to stop our government and its enforcers.

I admire these musicians for trying to find a way to use their talent to protest our difficult situation. Here is the statement from the concert program:
"Musicians Take a Stand is a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, dedicated to raising money for humanitarian causes through social media and concerts put on by its members. Tonight's concert is a kick-off for this organization."
The web page about the concert is here:

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

800,000 Heroic People

A quote from a professor describing just one of the 800,000 dreamers:
"I know a guy. He's a good kid, 19, maybe 20. Gets good grades, has a part-time job that helps pay college tuition. And taxes. Works hard, speaks up in class when appropriate, and helps his classmates when they need it. Funny and interesting. He could go very far in life. But a xenophobic, racist, bully wants to force him to "return" to a country he left at age 6 months, where he's never visited, that uses a language he doesn't speak, with a culture he doesn't understand. And where there are no jobs for college educated software engineers. 
"Today, I am crying for this kid. We are threatening to ruin his life because of a decision his parents made 19 years ago. He's a good kid and an asset to my country. If you knew this kid you would want to keep him too."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Open Letter from Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman

Here are some of their excellent words:

To our fellow Jews, in the United States, in Israel, and around the world:
We know that, up to now, some of you have made an effort to reserve judgment on the question of whether or not President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, and to give him the benefit of the doubt. Some of you voted for him last November. Some of you have found employment in his service, or have involved yourself with him in private business deals, or in diplomatic ties.
The President has no filter, no self-control, you have told yourself. If he were an anti-Semite — a Nazi sympathizer, a friend of the Jew-hating Klan — we would know about it, by now. By now, he would surely have told us.
Yesterday, in a long and ragged off-the-cuff address to the press corps, President Trump told us. During a moment that white supremacist godfather Steve Bannon has apparently described as a “defining” one for this Administration, the President expressed admiration and sympathy for a group of white supremacist demonstrators who marched through the streets of Charlottesville, flaunting Swastikas and openly chanting, along with vile racist slogans, “Jews will not replace us!” Among those demonstrators, according to Trump, were “a lot” of “innocent” and “very fine people.”
So, now you know. First he went after immigrants, the poor, Muslims, trans people and people of color, and you did nothing. You contributed to his campaign, you voted for him. You accepted positions on his staff and his councils. You entered into negotiations, cut deals, made contracts with him and his government.
Among all the bleak and violent truths that found confirmation or came slouching into view amid the torchlight of Charlottesville is this: Any Jew, anywhere, who does not act to oppose President Donald Trump and his administration acts in favor of anti-Semitism; any Jew who does not condemn the President, directly and by name, for his racism, white supremacism, intolerance and Jew hatred, condones all of those things.
To our fellow Jews, in North America, in Israel, and around the world: What side are you on?

Read the rest here: 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are these men and women heroic?

"President Trump’s relationship with the American business community suffered a major setback on Wednesday as the president was forced to shut down his major business advisory councils after corporate leaders repudiated his comments on the violence in Charlottesville this weekend." -- Washington Post

Business leaders who quit (and were quickly attacked by the Tweeter) --
  • Denise Morrison, president and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company
  • Richard Trumka, leader of the AFL-CIO
  • Thea Lee, an economist and former deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO
  • Scott Paul, head of the Alliance for American Manufacturing
  • Kenneth Frazier, Merck CEO
  • Kevin Plank, Under Armour CEO
  • Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO
  • Inge Thulin, 3M CEO

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Creativity and Protest

The news has been so whacky lately that people say you can't tell the parodies from the real thing. However, an artist, filmmaker, and guerrilla politico made a remarkably entertaining and effective work of art/protest last night -- as many many people know. Though the irreverent light show projected on the Trump Hotel lasted only around 10 minutes before security guards stopped it, it's been widely shared on social media.

From the L.A.Times: viral image of the light projection onto the Trump Hotel: "PAY TRUMP BRIBES HERE." 

From the article "Meet Robin Bell, the artist who projected protest messages onto Trump's D.C. hotel last night" --
"For a short period on Monday night, a large projection appeared on the facade of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., that read “Emoluments Welcome,” along with an animation of the flags of nations where President Trump has business projects. 
"This was followed by a message that read “Pay Trump Bribes Here,” with an arrow that pointed to the front door of the hotel. Yet another featured an excerpt of the emoluments clause from the U.S. Constitution, which restricts members of the U.S. government from receiving gifts from foreign powers. (Trump is being sued by one watchdog group for potentially violating this clause.)" (L.A.Times, May 16, 2017)
Also from the L.A. Times article.
“I was reading this thing about when you deal with authoritarian governments, you have to create your own story,” Robin Bell says, as quoted in the L.A.Times article. “If we’re reacting to these people all the time, they can just play us. So, part of the thing is making things that you can laugh at, that you can share, that aren’t just reacting to them.”

Another protest from earlier this year, which appears on Bell's

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Protest Leader in our Community: Our State Rep

Yousef Rabhi, our State Representative, speaking
at a rally on the UofM Diag. I heard him last week
at the March for Science.

Yousef Rabhi
2 hrs
9 protests I've been to since the November election. 1 I have not.
1. March for Science
2. Women's March
3. Tax Rally
4. People's Climate March
5. Rally at DTW against travel ban
6. Ann Arbor Immigrant March
7. Citizens Climate Rally
8. #NODAPL Day of Action Rally
9. Kids Peace and Unity March
10. Ypsilanti Water is Life Rally

In response to the "thing" going around on Facebook, where people post 9 concerts they attended and one that's a "lie," he posted this great list.

NOTE: the one he hasn't been to is the People's Climate March. It's tomorrow. He's going.

Resisting for 100 Days

In the Guardian today: "100 days of Trump Resistance: the wins so far and battles to come." Subhead: "As President Trump approaches 100 days in office, Adam Gabbatt surveys the resistance movement’s biggest moments so far, key groups, and challenges ahead."

Most of the time in the last 100 days, I've felt that little of any use can be done to mitigate the negative effects of the current administration. While there have been some spectacular flops on their part, the damage, especially potential damage to the environment, education, and social welfare, has been horrendous, in my opinion. The article may be more hopeful than I am about these policies.

The article includes an important list of coming issues as well: healthcare, taxes, and climate will all be subjects of new legislation and royal decrees, and implies that actions might be effective in discouraging support from congress.

Optimistically, the article suggests that several actions have had an effect. Specifically:

  • The women's march following the inauguration. 
  • Spontaneous demos at airports against the immigration ban in January.
  • Voter participation in town hall meetings and demand for such meetings in districts where reps avoided them.
  • The "Grab Your Wallet" boycott of corporations closely associated with the administration.
Several specific action groups are cited as having real potential to stop at least something. The Guardian's list of links to these organizations:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin
-- From Ha'aretz
The Israeli commemorations of Holocaust Remembrance Day began yesterday evening, with nationally broadcast speeches from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum and memorial in Jerusalem. In my experience the most moving part of the traditional day, observed since 1951, is the two minutes of silence throughout the entire country, accompanied by the sound of air-raid sirens. Every car on the street or highway stops and the occupants stand silently. Any activities, indoors or out, stop, and all people stand silently.

President Reuven Rivlin's speech during last night's ceremony included the following passage:
"Seventy-two years have passed since the flames of hell, of the Auschwitz crematoria, were extinguished. The more time that passes, the fewer the surviving witnesses to the horrors, the older the State of Israel, so our need to deal with how we relate to the Holocaust and to Holocaust remembrance becomes ever more crucial. Ladies and Gentlemen, over the past few decades there have developed two clear approaches to how Israeli society remembers the Shoah, and regards the lessons to be learned from it. The first, is one that deals only with the universal aspects and lessons of the Shoah. The second is one where the Shoah becomes the lens through which we view the world. The first, the universal approach, negates the uniqueness of the Holocaust as a historical event that has no parallel, that happened to us, the members of the Jewish People."
Rivlin provided detailed descriptions of these two approaches and how the Israelis have acted on them. He specified of the first approach:
"Obviously, there are universal lessons to be learned from the Shoah, but denial of the unique nature of the Holocaust of the Jewish People is a historical, national, and educational error." 
He said of the second approach, making the Holocaust a lens for the Israeli worldview:
"According to this approach, the justification for the existence of the State of Israel is the prevention of the next Holocaust. Every threat is a threat to survival, every Israel-hating leader is Hitler. According to this approach, the essence of our collective Jewish identity is escape from massacre by joint means. And the world is divided into two, the “Righteous among the Nations” on the one hand, and anti-Semitic Nazis on the other. And in any case, any criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitism. This approach also is fundamentally wrong, and is dangerous for us a nation and as a people."
He then continued by describing a third approach: not to remain silent "in face of the horrors being committed far away from us, and certainly those happening just across the border."

Articles about the commemorative ceremonies:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ann Arbor March for Science, Earthday, 2017

I can only hope that this march and rally will have an effect. I believe that most of the participants were non-scientists who are committed to the endeavor of science, and who are seriously appalled by the treatment of science by the current administration. I felt that the speakers chose appropriate material for this audience: giving many examples of how science benefits our society and our planet, and describing what is best about their own experiences with science. But I know that the people in power aren't listening. I have posted this also on my food blog:
A few minutes before the Ann Arbor March for Science, April 22, thousands of people gathered on the University of
Michigan Diag to hear an hour of speeches. I found the speeches quite good. Most of them were given by scientists and
researchers in bio-medical and neuroscience fields. Physics, chemistry, mathematics, and other areas of biology were
not represented, which I found strange. I enjoyed several speeches encouraging participation from minorities and
others who are often left out of academic science.

Signs were many and varied.

After the speeches, the participants marched from the campus to downtown. It took them almost half an hour to
march past this point.

Some of the participants were wearing pink hats from the women's march, but I was especially amused by
several "brainy" hats that people evidently made for this event.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Four Freedoms

Franklin Delano Roosevelt's January, 1941, State of the Union Address is known for his vision of a better world. He wrote:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms."

How well have we done on accomplishing this in the 76 years since Roosevelt read this text to Congress? Well, the biggest threat to freedom of any kind in 1941 was the Nazi regime in Germany, which was of course defeated with great sacrifice. After the war, Americans committed to a process of honest striving to create a world like Roosevelt envisioned. But these freedoms were never really delivered worldwide.

Norman Rockwell's famous depiction of the Four Freedoms motivated the War Bond campaign in World War II. (Wikipedia)

Today, in 2017, these freedoms are seriously threatened for at least some people who live in America. Specifically, Roosevelt said:

"The first is freedom of 
speech and expression -- everywhere in the world."

Currently, freedom of speech is threatened for nearly everyone by many new laws that criminalize protest, and by a variety attacks on the press.

"The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way -- everywhere in the world."

In recent years, freedom of worship in our country has been limited more and more to Christians. Our executive branch has announced its policy to persecute Muslims, including Muslim Americans. Our President employs in high positions supporters/inciters of terrorists and vandals who burn mosques, paint swastikas on Jewish institutions, destroy Jewish cemeteries, and bully minorities. Official concern for a vision of worldwide freedom of worship has often been reduced to concern for Christian minorities in non-Christian countries.

Further, in the US, this freedom has been corrupted by changing the term from "worship" to "religion" and then extending this "freedom" to the freedom to deny other people rights because they supposedly conflict with someone's religion. Court decisions have upheld the "right" of corporations to violate anti-discrimination laws because of the corporate owners' claimed religious objections.

"The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants -- everywhere in the world."

Freedom from want was never fully accomplished, but many government programs in the last 75 years have been enacted to feed the hungry, provide medical care for the needy, and provide shelter for the homeless. All these programs are now on the chopping block.

"The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor -- anywhere in the world."

Freedom from fear is being cancelled in America today for gay people, black people, brown people, immigrants in many minority groups, transsexuals (especially school children), Muslims, Jews, and political dissidents. Our highest leaders encourage mobs to chant threats, look the other way when police are brutal, and make excuses for vandals and terrorists who burn mosques etc. The first federal agencies to be enlisted are the Department of Homeland Security and the INS, with imprisonment of people in airports, raids on homes of immigrants, and direct targeting even of citizens with many generations of ancestors who are American citizens (like Mohammed Ali's son).

Rising militarism and isolationism, along with growing bigotry, is another potential source of fear in American society, as is the looming disaster of rising oceans, terrible storms, and other effects of climate change -- all denied by our leaders.

Roosevelt summed up his hope, which I wish was still our collective hope:

"That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called 'new order' of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Hate Crime Act as a Crutch for Bigots

The Hate Crime Act is very specific about the evidence needed to accuse and convict an arsonist, a shooter, a stabber, or a vandal under its definitions and terms. This is a perfectly reasonable way for American law to function. However, the result is that the “false flag” argument about crimes against Jewish, Black, or Moslem individuals and institutions are being supported.*

Here are some examples:
  • A teenager has been accused of setting a fire to a Mosque in Pittsfield Township, Michigan, but the authorities say they don’t have enough evidence to charge him with a hate crime. The fact that a climate of Islamophobia and hatred for Muslims probably influenced this individual to choose the mosque as his target is important in understanding what’s happening, but the haters on the right claim that the lack of evidence for the specific legal charge means this was a “false flag” – and that it proves something about liberals who discuss the climate of hatred.
  • Over 100 bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers – which mainly serve as schools and daycare centers – are interpreted as part of an antisemitic climate and probably as a campaign to create a climate of fear among Jewish people whose children are regularly threatened. Only one person, who made 8 of the calls, has been caught, and his motive was to frame his girlfriend – so it’s not legally a hate crime. Though his choice of actions clearly reflected the antisemitic climate, and was undoubtedly a way for him to magnify the attention he received, the haters interpret this as another example of exaggeration by Jews and others who classify it with antisemitic attacks. Just a “false flag,” another example of Jews exaggerating, they say.
  • When police investigating vandalism at Jewish cemeteries said they didn’t know if it was a hate crime, right-wing haters thus dismissed all discussion of the antisemitic atmosphere that clearly inspired the vandals. This dismissal goes to the highest levels of our government.
  • For years, police who shoot black teenagers or other black people have been defended by people who say they are justified, and blame the victims. A lot has been written about this, I won’t try to elaborate.

A quote:
"Anti-Semitism doesn’t require individuals who participate in it to hate Jews, or even to care about Jews. Anti-Semitism is a way to structure hate and violence. Once the structure is in place, anyone can participate, whether they are personally invested or not. Prejudice doesn’t require intent. You don’t have to hate Jews to commit anti-Semitic acts." (source: "GamerGate Can Teach Us About Anti-Semitic Attacks" by Noah Berlatsky, March 9, 2017.)

*Note: A “false flag” is a seeming hate crime or act of prejudice whose perpetrator in reality is not motivated by bigotry, and in some cases is said to belong to the attacked group. This hypothetical perpetrator or provacateur acts to obtain sympathy or other advantage for the group. Attacks on minority individuals or institutions (like mosques, Black churches, or Jewish cemeteries) are thus classified as random, “ordinary” crimes, and thus of no importance. The “alt right,” which is now in charge of parts of the US government, has been using the “false flag” accusation for quite a while to dismiss efforts to identify and oppose organized bigotry.


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Interesting insights into current antisemitism and other bigotry

"The person, or people, responsible for the bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers plan to frighten Jewish people. They also want to make terrorizing Jewish people into a normal, everyday occurrence. Harassment campaigns work in part to lower the barrier for entry to hate. 
"That’s part of why President Trump’s suggestion that the threats were hoaxes intended to damage him proved so dangerous. If the threats are just a hoax, why not prove they’re a hoax by calling in a hoax threat yourself? If hate isn’t serious, people who aren’t serious about hate can participate too."
Vandalized Jewish cemetery in University City, Mo.
where my mother, grandparents, and many other relatives
are buried. But it's not just personal!
This insight into antisemitism seems very useful to me. I am deeply troubled by the recent and rapid spread of antisemitism and bigotry -- as of course are many other Americans. The clear encouragement of such attitudes by the current administration is even more troubling. The article  "GamerGate Can Teach Us About Anti-Semitic Attacks" byNoah Berlatsky, from which this quote is taken, offers a number of insights into what's most problematic:
"Anti-Semitism doesn’t require individuals who participate in it to hate Jews, or even to care about Jews. Anti-Semitism is a way to structure hate and violence. Once the structure is in place, anyone can participate, whether they are personally invested or not. Prejudice doesn’t require intent. You don’t have to hate Jews to commit anti-Semitic acts."
Police investigating a bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center in
Ann Arbor where I live. But it's not just personal!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Racism, Revisited

Among many racist acts taking place at all levels of society this week, the gratuitous insult to a group of Black college presidents was notable, because it happened right in the White House (or should I say the Presidential Palace)?

At Howard University, students chose several ways to protest the participation of Wayne A. I. Frederick, the president of their college, in this meeting. One example of their protest: the graffiti shown at right (photo from New York Times):
"It was a scalding message, painted on a university campus sidewalk this week: 'Welcome to the Trump plantation. Overseer: Wayne A. I. Frederick.'"
Howard is one of the most prominent of the historic Black universities, founded in the post-Civil-War era when Black Americans were struggling to find their rightful place in society. In the twentieth century, numerous important leaders graduated from Howard: Thurgood Marshall, first black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court; Andrew Young, Congressman from Georgia, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Mayor of Atlanta; Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature; Zora Neale Hurston, author; Kamala Harris, recently elected US Senator from California, and many more. I believe the students there now, as they are expressing themselves, includes more individuals of this caliber.

About the protest, the New York Times wrote:
"The student backlash came after Dr. Frederick and more than 60 other leaders of historically black colleges and universities gathered for a meeting on Monday with top officials of the Trump administration, including the new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. As the meeting was getting underway, participants said, it was interrupted to invite them to an impromptu visit with President Trump in the Oval Office. 
"A photograph of the black leaders smiling and chatting with Mr. Trump around his desk was widely circulated and instantly became a flash point for students who believe the administration has been insensitive to the needs of black Americans." (source)
Students from other universities whose leaders participated in the White House event also protested, and the leaders offered a variety of excuses to explain their presence. The article continued: "The students saw the meetings as political cover for Mr. Trump, and some awkward details of his administration’s encounter with the black academic leaders only reinforced their skepticism."

I'm currently reading W.E.B DuBois's 1903 book The Souls of Black Folks. It's an interesting discussion, especially in the light of Betsy De Vos's clueless characterization of traditionally Black universities as an example of "choice."

From DuBois, himself a graduate of Harvard University, I read the following idealistic discussion of education in the South.
"Sadly did the Old South err in human education, despising the education of the masses, and niggardly in the support of colleges. Her ancient university foundations dwindled and withered under the foul breath of slavery; and even since the war they have fought a failing fight for life in the tainted air of social unrest and commercial selfishness, stunted by the death of criticism, and starving for lack of broadly cultured men. And if this is the white South's need and danger, how much heavier the danger and need of the freedmen's sons! how pressing here the need of broad ideals and true culture, the conservation of soul from sordid aims and petty passions!... Let us build, too, the Negro universities:— Fisk, whose foundation was ever broad; Howard, at the heart of the Nation; Atlanta at Atlanta, whose ideal of scholarship has been held above the temptation of numbers. Why not here, and perhaps elsewhere, plant deeply and for all time centres of learning and living, colleges that yearly would send into the life of the South a few white men and a few black men of broad culture, catholic tolerance, and trained ability, joining their hands to other hands, and giving to this squabble of the Races a decent and dignified peace?"(Kindle Locations 1034-1043).
 On the whole, I think our society has progressed in the last century, but I fear the current situation will set us back. I've learned much more from reading The Souls of Black Folks, but hesitate to go on at too much length.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Looking for Heroes

Under threat: the Bill of Rights (Image: original
Joint Resolution passed by Congress
on September 25, 1789, from National Archives.) 
I've been traveling, and then adjusting to getting home. I had one week on a boat in Peru without any internet or news, which was relaxing. Since regaining media access, I've read about lots of outrages, but I've seen very little evidence of new ideas for effective push-back.

I'm aghast at several ongoing trends, such as the horrific outbreak of antisemitism, the lack of appropriate response from politicians at the top, and attacks on virtually every provision of the Bill of Rights except the one about guns. But I don't see much new leadership in how to resist.

At least I found a couple of surprises on the part of usually right-leaning (or extremist) politicians:
  • In the matter of persecution of transgender children by denying them bathroom access, the surprise came last week from the Secretary of Education: "Ms. DeVos initially resisted signing off and told Mr. Trump that she was uncomfortable because of the potential harm that rescinding the protections could cause transgender students, according to three Republicans with direct knowledge of the internal discussions." Of course she quickly caved in to President's decision, but "Ms. DeVos’s unease was evident in a strongly worded statement she released on Wednesday night, in which she said she considered it a 'moral obligation' for every school in America to protect all students from discrimination, bullying and harassment." (source)
  • And former President George W. Bush spoke out in favor of the media, which has been under constant attack by the President: "We need an independent media to hold people like me to account," Bush said in an interview with the Today Show's Matt Lauer. "Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power." (source)
Paul Krugman's latest column advocated the cultivation of outrage. I hope we -- as a society that voted only in a minority for the current administration -- can live up to this goal. Krugman's clear and important conclusion:
"I’m sure many readers would rather live in a nation in which more of life could be separated from politics. So would I! But civil society is under assault from political forces, so that defending it is, necessarily, political. And justified outrage must fuel that defense. When neither the president nor his allies in Congress show any sign of respecting basic American values, an aroused public that’s willing to take names is all we have."