Conservative Hatred of Nelson Mandela

Ronald ReaganFor conservatives, a moment like the death of Nelson Mandela is hard. They want to make it clear that they are not racists like that. They aren’t like those people who believed in slavery or Jim Crow or apartheid. It’s just that what minority groups want today that’s all screwed up. Of course, in 20 years, they won’t admit to what they believe today either. That’s just what it is to be a conservative, as I discussed earlier today before I had even heard of Mandela’s death. My colleague Michael Stickings tweeted, “Republicans praising #Mandela should just shut the fuck up, because their politics are pretty much the exact opposite.” That’s absolutely correct.

But I can’t hear the name “Nelson Mandela” without thinking of the conservative icon—and let’s be honest, saint—Ronald Reagan. A couple of years ago, Justin Elliott wrote an excellent interview with historian David Schmitz for Salon, Reagan’s Embrace of Apartheid South Africa. It doesn’t contain a lot of new information for me, because I was around during that time and involved in the divestiture movement. This was the idea that we just shouldn’t do business with an explicitly racist country.

There was a counter argument, called the “Sullivan principles.” But even at the time, it sounded like nothing but apologetics. Reagan and others argued that we needed to stay engaged with the South African government, because there were moderates who wanted to change. Also, it was claimed that American companies were the only ones there who would hire blacks. Well, it turned out that the first idea just wasn’t true. And as for the second, there were lots of whites who employed blacks as servants. That wasn’t exactly moving the country forward. What’s more, by 1987, Sullivan himself had repudiated the idea. Schmitz noted, “The crackdown of 1986 and the reimposition of martial law just made a total lie out of the notion that there were moderates in the Afrikaner government.” But of course, Reagan held firm.

Elliott asked, “Would you argue that Reagan’s foreign policy extended the life of the regime in South Africa?” Schmitz responded:

Yes. It gave it life. It gave it hope that the United States would continue to stick with it. It gave it continued flow of aid as well as ideological support. It delayed the changes that were going to come. Then you had the big crackdowns in ’86 and ’87. So there was harm in the lengthening. There was harm in the violence that continued.

I think a lot of well-meaning people in the United States bought the Sullivan principles and constructive engagement, because it seems reasonable. Reagan would say, “If we’re willing to talk to the Russians, why aren’t we willing to talk to the South African government?” We’re going to encourage them to moderate and reform—it sounds reasonable. But there was no real pressure. It was all talk. And it was exposed as that.

According to Reagan, it was all about the Soviet Union. If blacks got the right to vote, the Soviets would sweep in and take over the country. But I don’t believe that at all. I think that deep down, Reagan was a bigot. He simply thought that whites were better. I return again and again to how he launched his presidential campaign in Mississippi at the Neshoba County Fair where he talked about “states’ rights.” That was a dog-whistle heard ’round the world.

And Reagan repeatedly called Nelson Mandela a terrorist. He put Mandela and the African National Congress on the United States terror watch list. And they stayed there until the last six months of Bush Jr’s presidency. Just in time for his 90th birthday, the United States government admitted that Nelson Mandela was not a terrorist. But today, while supporting policies that go against everything that Nelson Mandela stood for, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweets out:

And why not. Now that he’s dead, he is no threat to the unjust status quo, which Cantor and his Republican allies are so committed to protecting.

See also: Conservatives Can’t Admit Reagan Was Racist Because They Are

Angels Sing to Nelson Mandela

Nelson MandelaOne of my favorite songs is Gang of Four’s “Not Great Men.” It starts:

No weak men in the books at home
The strong men who have made the world
History lives on the books at home
The books at home

It’s not made by great men

They wrote that in 1979, when Nelson Mandela was rotting in prison on Robben Island. I know they would all agree that sometimes history is made by great men. It’s a sad for the world that Mandela has died. But if any man has deserved this just rest it is him.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good-night, sweet prince;
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

There will be more later of an angrier nature.

Liberal and Conservative Views of Racism

Fight RacismJonathan Chait has written a great article about the way that liberals and conservatives look at racism in this country, 12 Years a Slave and the Obama Era. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but I’m going to talk about just one aspect.

The truth is that it is hard for me to talk about racism because I’m well aware of my own racist thoughts. These aren’t rational and I work very hard to fight them. To the racist, every crime committed by a member of a minority group is more proof that “those people” are no damned good. The non-racist may have that initial reptilian brain impulse, but he fights it with his higher brain functions. Statistics are a powerful tool in this regard. You are a racist if your response to a black man saving a kitten from a burning building is, “Well, that’s the exception that proves the rule!” I’ve seen this again and again. When people are racist, they create a filter where all data against their prejudice is discarded as exceptional and all data for their prejudice is accepted as reinforcing.

But except on the edges of society, explicit racism is a thing of the past. As Chait discusses, first it was thought that it was right and fitting that blacks were slaves because they were inferior. Then that was wrong, but it was right and fitting that blacks be legally separated from whites because… Well, actually, I don’t really know why. Now we are at the point where blacks are economically separated from whites because, well, the supposed free market cannot be denied. It’s all the same. It’s all racism.

I am economically poor. But I’m still a walking and talking billboard for white privilege. Given the life I’ve led and the person I am, if I had been born black, I would most likely be dead. And I certainly wouldn’t have what I consider a near idyllic life with thousands of readers and work I find profoundly stimulating—not to mention the many great things in all the other parts of my life.

So I’m not going to sit here and talk about how I understand the plight of the black man and how I’m “evolved” on the topic. I try to be a better man. Always. That, to me, is what it means to be a liberal. I want to fix social injustices and I do what I can. And I want to remain open to social injustices that I’m currently blind to. That is probably the hardest thing.

The conservative way of looking at the world is not the opposite of this—although it is with a small minority that unfortunately seems to be growing in this country. The conservative outlook is that the way things are is just perfect. Of course slavery was wrong. Of course Jim Crow was wrong. But how could anyone think that voter ID laws are racist? How could anyone think income inequality was racist? Because to the conservative, social injustice is always something that used to exist. It never does exist.

Jonathan Chait quotes an interesting statistic, “Republicans, by a 60-40 margin, now believe discrimination against whites has grown to be a larger problem than discrimination against minorities.” So it isn’t just that racism has been solved, now it’s turned around and the whites are being oppressed. That’s not normal, of course. Left alone, conservatives would just think that minority groups have nothing to complain about. It is the Rush Limbaughs, the Michael Savages, the Sean Hanitys who have pushed this idea. And this is more in line with lynching mentality, because otherwise, how do you explain this:

Racial Wealth Gap

There are only two ways that this disparity in wealth can exist. Either we still live in a racist society with a legacy of slavery. (Part of the money my family has comes from the fact that 150 years ago they owned property, they weren’t owned as property.) Or blacks and Hispanics really are inferior to whites. So unless conservatives are going to accept this latter contention (and most absolutely will not), then they must admit that we live with racism today. And it isn’t against the oppressed while folk with all their wealth.

Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertain Reality

Werner HeisenbergThis is going to be a hard day. My allergies are going crazy. As a result, I had to take one of those pills that puts me to sleep. So we’ll see if I can make it through this article without collapsing on the keyboard. And this is gonna be hard. I have two major physicists today who deserve a lot of attention. They will probably get short shrift. But don’t worry. They’re both dead. No feelings will be hurt.

On this day in 1868, the great theoretical physicist Arnold Sommerfeld was born. He did a bunch of stuff that you wouldn’t understand anyway. Do you know what quantum spin is? Of course you don’t. Just give up now. What Sommerfeld is most important for (and you’ll like this because it’s history) is his teaching of other physicists who did work that you wouldn’t understand. One of those people also has a birthday today. (It’s a surprise!) Another is Wolfgang Pauli. What did Pauli do that was so great? Quantum spin. Which you don’t understand. When I was young and smart, I read a manuscript by him. I didn’t really understand it. But above all, Pauli is remembered for having looked a lot like Peter Lorre. Neither Pauli nor Lorre have birthdays today. Sommerfeld does. He would be 145 today, and you have to assume that he would have lost his intellectual edge.

Speaking of Peter Lorre, the great film director Fritz Lang was born in 1890. Apart from M, which oddly made Lorre a star, he is best know for Metropolis, with the inventor Rotwang. That’s important to me, because there is an economist who writes under that name, but no one will tell me who he really is. Here is a scene from M. What I love about the film is that Lang seems to be one of the few people besides me who feels sorry for pedophiles. That’s not an excuse for what they do, but I cannot think of a greater hell than to be sexually attracted to children.

Walt Disney was born in 1901. Three things about Disney. First, he was antisemitic. Look, I don’t think he was a “kill all the Jews” type. And his thinking (including other racist attitudes) was much more common in those days. But he was sympathetic to the Nazis. There’s no denying that. Second, I think it is very funny that after he died, everyone thought he was frozen, as though we just couldn’t live without him. Personally, I think his early work sucked. And only a few of the later features are truly great. But the biggest reason I hate Disney, and admittedly, it isn’t really his fault, is copyright. For the sake of fucking Mickey Mouse (a really stupid character anyway), copyright lengths just get longer and longer. Personally, I want to see Mickey Mouse in porn films. I want to see him gang raped by a marauding passel of opossums. (Admit it: you didn’t know a group of opossums is called a “passel.” Of course, neither did I until I looked it up. And I’ll probably forget by tomorrow.)

Oh my God! Can you believe that Little Richard is 81 today? Hell, what is there to say?

Humorist Calvin Trillin is 78. He still writes poems for The Nation each week. But I will always love him for the chicken story:

There’s a restaurant in Chinatown where years ago you could play tic-tac-toe with a chicken. I used to take visitors there. You could tell a lot about what kind of people they were. The set up had back-lit letters for signs that said “Your Turn” and “Chicken’s Turn” and “50¢ to Play.” If you beat the chicken at tic-tac-toe, you got a bag of fortune cookies as a prize. Probably worth a total of 40¢.

Anyway, I’d take people there and say, “Why don’t you play?” And they’d say all kinds of things, mostly it went like this.

They’d look at the set-up, then me, and says stuff like, “But the chicken gets to go first!”

“Yeah,” I’d tell them, “but you’re a human being and that ought to be an advantage.”

“So what, the chicken plays every day. I haven’t played since I was a kid.”

Other birthdays: Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (1803); musician JJ Cale (1938); record producer Frank Wilson (1940); musician Jim Messina (66); and actor Lisa Marie (45).

The day, however, belongs to Arnold Sommerfeld’s student Werner Heisenberg who was born in 1901. He is one of the most important figures in the development of quantum mechanics. The most important person was Max Planck, who never accepted the theory, but that is the subject for another day (namely, 23 Apr 2013). There are two standard formalisms of quantum mechanics, one is Heisenberg’s and the other is Erwin Schrodinger’s. Most people know of Schrodinger’s, which probably explains why people are so confused about quantum mechanics. Schrodinger used a “wave equation.” But this is all about statistics and probability. Unfortunately, people think it has something to do with particles acting like waves. Particles do in fact act like waves, but that’s not what the wave equation is all about.

Heisenberg used infinite matrices. This puts people off. First, they don’t understand matrices and second, they don’t understand infinity. In general, theoretical physicists like Heisenberg’s formalism because it is easier to work with. I can tell you that this is only true of really smart people, because I had to learn that stuff and “easy” was not a word I would ever apply to it.

Heisenberg’s formalism did, however, have the advantage of leading to the uncertainty principle. This is the idea that you can only know the product of the velocity (actually momentum) and location of a particle to a certain accuracy. So the more accurately you know the position of a particle, the less accurately you know the velocity. This does not come out of Schrodinger’s formalism. For years I thought this was just a limit to the theory. But there does indeed seem to be a physical basis for this. The universe really is bizarre and unknowable. Of course, I’m not even certain that I exist. But that is a very long discussion for another time. Anyway.

Happy birthday Werner Heisenberg! (Insert Breaking Bad joke here.)

We Lost Detroit

Matthew 25

With Detroit being screwed, and more specifically, Detroit’s public employees, it seems appropriate to start the day with Gil Scott Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit.” The song is about the first commercial breeder reactor in the United States. But it applies well enough to what’s going on there now. There are long term, systematic problems that have hurt Detroit, but the real crisis has happened because the Republican controlled state legislature has forced it. How long will the people of America think, “We ought to give the Republicans another chance.” It is always a bad idea.

Today, I don’t see it as “almost” anymore. But as it is, Rick Snyder is still quite popular in Michigan. His numbers against his most likely challenger Mark Schauer have been falling, but he’s still ahead. Regardless, how does a man who leads a state with an unemployment rate that is almost two percentage points higher than the nation’s maintain the approval of roughly half the population? I understand that as far as Republican governors go, Snyder is nowhere near the worse. But he has been terrible to Detroit.

What is wrong with our great “Christian” nation? Does it take a weirdo Taoist atheist like me to remind our nation of Matthew 25:

[31] “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. [32] All the nations will be gathered before him; and he will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; [33] and he will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on the left.

[34] “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; [36] naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ [37] Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? [38] And when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? [39] When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ [40] The king will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’

[41] “Then he will also say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; [42] for I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink; [43] I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ [44] Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ [45] Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ [46] These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Meanwhile, we lose Detroit.