Black Nails Hammered Down

The Young TurksBoys will be boys. I really believe that. People should be allowed to be themselves as long as no one is directly harmed. What that means to me in practice is that people should be allowed to take what drugs they like, fuck what people are willing, and say just about anything that comes into their little brains. Sadly, more and more those in power do not believe this. They think that everyone should be on their best behavior all the time. Or at least the poor and weak should. Or at least black people.

The Young Turks segment embedded below tells two stories that took place at a Wichita mall after the Zimmerman verdict. The first is of A. J. Bohannon, a young black man who got arrested for wearing a sign that read, “If I don’t stand for something then I will fall for anything #RIPTrayvonMartin.” Then shortly after that, a small group of people protested his arrest at the mall. Two white guys—one wearing a black shirt that read, “This shirt can say NIGGER because it is black”—tried to incite the protesters. They didn’t succeed, but they also weren’t arrested:

So what is the lesson here? Apparently, it is that if you are black with a real political statement, it is unacceptable. But if you are white with no other purpose but to just be an asshole, that’s just fine. This story upsets me greatly because it shows how racism actually works in the United States. It isn’t usually about people getting killed. Normally, it is just about beating down minority groups and keeping them in their “place.”

The key to these cases is exactly the opposite of the way that it should be. We have free speech rights especially for political statements. But when Bohannon tried to make a political statement, the mall authorities claimed that it wasn’t acceptable precisely because it was political. The white assholes could go anywhere in the mall. The authorities wouldn’t care because it wasn’t political. It was just boys being boys. And that is a huge problem. It also gets to an issue I have with libertarian thought where any kind of oppression is okay as long as it isn’t the government. Well, for we who are not loons, it is not okay.


It won’t surprise me at all to hear that the mall has issued a statement that explicitly racist t-shirts will not be allowed. But that will only be because of the recent politicization. The fact remains that the white guys walking through the mall with their t-shirts wouldn’t have even been noticed before. But a black kid? He sticks out. And you know what the Chinese say, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered.” In our country, the nail that sticks out is the person who isn’t white.

Bride of James Whale

James WhaleOn this day in 1651, the Austrian composer Ferdinand Tobias Richter was born. I’m not that fond of him. But 51 years later Alessandro Besozzi was born in 1702. He was one of the great oboists of his time. In addition, he was a fine composer of Classical period music. Here is his Sonata Number 4 for 2 Oboes and Continuo in A Minor:

Designer of the Pantheon, Jacques-Germain Soufflot was born in 1713. The great mathematician Friedrich Bessel was born in 1784.

The great painter Edward Hopper was born in 1882. It is extremely sad that I cannot give the day to him. I love his work. Especially when he includes people, his stuff seems heartbreakingly lonely. My favorite has long been Automat, which I originally saw at the Reprint Mint in Berkeley and bought for a girl friend:

Automat - Edward Hopper

And Kennedy matriarch Rose Kennedy was born in 1890—and lived to 104!

The great soprano Licia Albanese is 100 today. Novelist Tom Robbins is 77. Badass who looks great in a dress, Terence Stamp is 74. “Tell him I’m fucking coming!”

Alex Trebek is 73. It’s amazing what make-up and cue cards can do. The great George Clinton is 72. Actor Danny Glover and wacko director Paul Schrader are both 67. Comedian Albert Brooks is 66. I can’t mention him without showing this which is one of the funniest things ever:

Don Henley is also 66. I don’t much like him, that’s why I love Mojo Nixon’s classic, “Don Henley Must Die”:

The great guitarist Al Di Meola is 59. Actor Willem Dafoe is 58. And Rufus Wainwright is 40. Here he is doing his excellent version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”:

But while this day could have gone to any number of people, it goes to the great director James Whale who was born on this day in 1889. He directed a lot of films I really love like Claude Rains as The Invisible Man and the great The Old Dark House. But he will live forever in paradise at the right hand of the father because of Bride of Frankenstein. Look, Frankenstein was a great picture too. But Bride is something more—especially since it gives Karloff so much more to do. Also: I totally have a crush on Elsa Lanchester. And, of course, the film has so many classic scenes. This is campy but deeply affecting film making. “She hate me. Like others”:

Happy birthday James Whale!

Update (22 July 2012 9:28 pm)

I can’t believe I forgot Bob Dole! I even put it on my calender. He’s 90 today and just like Bush the Elder, I don’t figure he’s going to make it to 91. I hope he does. He seems like a nice enough guy. But he doesn’t seem to be doing well and modern medicine can only take you so far. People have a far higher death rate after major life events. That’s why I’m predicting a death. But I’m pleased to see him make it this far.

The Color of Magic

The Color of MagicAfter my experience of watching the wonderfully entertaining Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, I decided to read some of his work. So I picked up The Color of Magic, which is the first of the 39 book series (the 40th book will come out in a few months). At first, I was not disappointed. Pratchett is a very inventive and and funny writer.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the fantasy genre, so the book amused me above all as a parody. In the foreword to the paperback edition I’ve got, he writes, “If I had a penny for every time someone asked me where I got the idea of the Discworld, I’d have—hang on a moment—£4.67.” Or his clear swipe at Tolkien, “The Discworld is not a coherent fantasy world… There are no maps.” Indeed. I always hated all those stupid maps and more generally I’ve hated how seriously Tolkien (and even more his fans) took his world. That’s why The Hobbit is infinitely better than The Lord of the Rings. But I digress.

In the story itself, Pratchett is equally sharp. The main character Rincewind explains that while there are many reasons to hate heroes (think Conan the Barbarian), “What he didn’t like about heroes was that they were usually suicidally gloomy when sober and homicidally insane when drunk.” Clearly, the man has lived in the real world. The gods of the Discworld—one of who is Zephyrus the god of slight breezes—go around to atheists’ homes and smash their windows. And there is this funny exchange:

“I should have realized that you weren’t a real wizard when I saw you didn’t have a staff.”

“Lost it in a fire,” lied Rincewind automatically.

“No hat with magic sigils embroidered on it.”

“It blew off.”

“No familiar.”

“It died.”

About halfway through the novel, I stopped marking the funny bits of the novel and started marking the bad bits of writing. You see, for all of his wonderful creativity, Pratchett is a poor writer. The lack of clarity is stunning. And this was apparent from the start. I think that I had to reread every description two or three times to figure out what was going on. Really, it is that bad.

Let me give you a good example of what I’m talking about. Rincewind and Twoflower are sitting in a boat worrying both about sinking and floating off the edge of the Discworld.

He [Rincewind] spotted a small green frog which was paddling desperately in the grip of the inexorable current. To Twoflower’s amazement he found a paddle and carefully extended it toward the little amphibian, which scrambled onto it gratefully. A moment later a pair of jaws broke the water and snapped impotently at the spot where it had been swimming.

We’ve got major pronoun problems here. The way that I read it first was that Twoflower was amazed to find a paddle and that the fish snapped impotently where itself had recently been. I quickly figured out that this was wrong. Twoflower was surprised by Rincewind’s actions and the fish attacked the spot where the frog had been. The problem with this is that it is very hard to simply experience the story. Normally, one reads the words and they are turned into an image in the mind’s eye. In reading Pratchett, it is a three step process: read, translate, imagine. It is very frustrating.

Still, the book was enjoyable. Pratchett has a fine imagination and I generally found that I was happy while reading it. And given the ridiculous pace at which he writes (two books per year), it isn’t surprising that his books would be a little on the careless side. But it’s sad, because I’m not planning on reading any more of his books despite their many pleasures.

Law Should be Interpreted by Yesterday’s Mores Not Today’s!

Nazi Antonin ScaliaJustice Antonin Scalia was in Colorado over the weekend, doing his thang. He gave a talk titled, “Mullahs of the West: Judges as Moral Arbiters.” What strikes me about this is how clueless Scalia is about what he (or any other judge) does. According to the Aspen Times, he said that what led to the Nazis was that in the 1930s, judges interpreted the laws in ways that reflected “the spirit of the age.” Basically, he’s saying that relativism is what caused Nazism.

This is not a new idea. In fact, this is exactly are argument of The Ominous Parallels. In that book, Leonard Peikoff claims that because of the relativism of Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, Germany was primed to accept any old ideology. Peikoff is a smart guy, but by that time he was living fully under the intellectual shadow of Ayn Rand. His understanding of those three great philosophers bears no resemblance to what I’ve read; they weren’t relativists. And why it took over a hundred years for all this supposed relativism to sink into the German psyche is never explained. Regardless, Peikoff’s book is polemics, not history or philosophy. And the same is true of Scalia.

My big problem with Scalia’s observation is not that it is wrong. The problem is that his argument has nothing to do with finding the truth. What he means but will not come right out and say is that we should not interpret laws in ways that reflect the spirit of this age; we should interpret them in ways that reflect the spirit of some other age. And that age is whenever it appealed to Scalia’s prejudices.

Note that at least the spirit of this age is a single time. Scalia has no problem reflecting the 18th century sometimes or the civil war or the roaring 20s. It really doesn’t matter. The truth is whatever he thinks. Because he is smart, he can easily see the intellectual gymnastics that others perform to justify their own beliefs. But he is utterly clueless about his own gymnastics. Either that, or he is just another “might makes right” conservative who has no problem lying if it will help his cause.

As I’ve noted in the past, Scalia isn’t always wrong. Recently, in Maryland v. King, he argued against the majority that claimed it was fine for the police to do unwarranted DNA testing. Of course, when it came to unwarranted DUI checkpoints in Michigan Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, Scalia was fine with them. The point is not that Scalia is right or wrong about any given issue; it is that Scalia is ruled more powerfully by his prejudices than most other jurists. So it is ironic that he would publicly complain about others for something that he does in a far more pernicious way.

H/T: Steve Benen

Edward Snowden and US Hypocrisy

Edward SnowdenGlenn Greenwald mentioned an interesting bit of American hypocrisy over the weekend that relates directly to what is going on with Edward Snowden. In 2001, Muslim cleric Abu Omar was granted asylum by Italy because he was being persecuted by the Mubarak government in Egypt. Then, two years later, a group of CIA agents kidnapped him off the street in broad daylight. They took him back to Egypt, where he spent four years in prison being tortured. He was originally charged with belonging to an illegal group, but the charges were ultimately dropped.

In February of this year, four members of the Italian secret service were convicted of complicity in this kidnapping and were given six to ten years in prison. What about the American CIA operatives? In 2009, the Italian government indicted 23 of them, including Milan station chief Robert Lady. The United States would not cooperate (justice is for the little people and foreigners) so the Italian government had to convict them in absentia. Greenwald made three points about this at the time. First, such convictions would never happen in our country; government officials have done far worse and we just ignore it. Second, our government did everything it could to interfere with the Italian judicial process. And third, our lack of accountability is an indication that we don’t have a truly independent court system. The article is very good and well worth reading in full.

Since retiring, Robert Lady has lived in Latin America. Last week, while crossing the boarder into Panama, Lady was arrested at the request of Italy who wanted to extradite him to serve his sentence for the kidnapping. But on Friday, he was released following some negotiations with the US State Department. And that is probably as it should be. I think that countries ought to look out for their citizens, although as in this case, the United States has far too much power in this regard.

The problem is how hypocritical the United States is. When it comes to Edward Snowden the government and the supposedly independent media have been screaming about China and Russian not turning him over to the United States. Not only has Snowden not been convicted of anything, the charges against him are so trumped up as to make the government’s case against him look like nothing other than political crimes (which is what they are). What’s more, there are countries who want to give Snowden asylum. But they can’t because the United States government has effectively made him into a man without a country. Much the same thing has happened to Julian Assange.

It is one thing for all the different countries to position themselves and try to enact policies that they want. I don’t blame any of them for trying to do that. But the United States acts in a lawless fashion in its attempts, but then screams loudly when any other countries don’t follow the letter of their treaties (as the US sees it) in its interactions. What makes it far worse (and far easier for the government to get away with it) is our complicit media. That allows the public to not only think that we are the most powerful nation on earth, but also the most true and good. The reality is quite different. We use our power to make our misdeeds go unpunished and to punish anyone we don’t like. We should not be proud.

Update (22 July 2013 10:40 am)

Dean Baker wrote an excellent article discussing this very issue. He noted that the US government could make France refuse its air space to Bolivia President Evo Morales because he might have been carrying Edward Snowden (he wasn’t). Yet somehow the US government is impotent to do anything about the Cayman Islands’ use as a tax haven. It is laughable, of course. But it makes sense. Snowden is a little person who embarrassed the government. Those using tax havens are the big people who run the government.