Racism So Profound It Is Invisible

Yasser LouatiI suspect that I am too lose with my definition of racism. By it, pretty much everyone — very much including myself — is a racist. And that makes the word useless. My interest in this has been to allow people to see their own blind spots. But perhaps that time is over. Still, I’m really not that interested in the Mississippi Burning form of racism, because it is something that is largely dead. And I want to avoid the situation where we define racism as some old man using the term “negro” — which doesn’t mean much in itself other than the speaker being out of it.

This bothered me last year with Cliven Bundy. He famously said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro.” I’m afraid that what most offended people was his use of the word “negro.” But that was more a function of him being in his late 60s than anything else. Yet I don’t think there would have been nearly as much of an uproar if he had said, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the African American.” But it should have! Because in that statement is the most clear example of racism that you will find: African Americans aren’t some arbitrarily defined group; they are this one monolithic thing.

But at least when it comes to African Americans, we have a chance of seeing it. Someone like Bundy might say that, but you wouldn’t have anchors on CNN saying something like that. Yet when it comes to Muslims, you see this without a hint of realization. Treating members of a religion that is over a billion and a half strong as a monolith is perfectly fine. Here are John Vause and Isha Sesay interrogating civil rights leader Yasser Louati. Louati even starts by noting that there were Muslim victims of the attack. But the anchors aren’t interested in that. Vause follows this by asking him, “Why is it that no one within the Muslim community there in France knew what these guys were up to?” It’s almost unbelievable:

What’s also interesting in this segment is the discussion of why it is that the Muslim community is not denouncing these attacks. This is something I hear from conservatives all the time. It doesn’t matter how quickly and forcefully and loudly Muslims denounce such attacks. The fact is that it isn’t presented much on MSNBC, much less on Fox News. Therefore, it doesn’t exist. There might have a been a billion Muslims mourning the 9/11 attacks, but it was video of two dozen of “those people” dancing that got rerun over and over again on the television.

But in this case, we aren’t talking about some ignorant television viewers. We are talking educated, intelligent news presenters who are at the top of their fields. They aren’t being told to present Muslims in this totally bigoted way. It just comes naturally. Yasser Louati is a Mulsim! In France! Why didn’t he stop the attack?!

Can you imagine two CNN anchors asking Obama why no one in the “black community” didn’t stop some crime committed by an African American? Of course not! It would be outrageous. In fact, it would be silly — as if all African Americans had a secret handshake and a special Facebook Black where they communicated.

This, my friends, is the face of racism at its most pure. In a form that will make people look back in two decades with horror. How could they not have seen it? But they don’t. This form of racism is so common that people haven’t even learned to spot it.

NSA Is Collecting Any Data That It Can

Andrew FishmanMy first wife was a privacy fanatic. And like most privacy fanatics I’ve know, she had nothing worth hiding. She had a boring life. (She married me!) I, on the other hand, have lived a very colorful life — often in a very public way. So I’ve long ago given up on the delusion that I had much in terms of privacy. I find myself in a curious position of now living a very boring life, but not caring too much about this issues on a personal level. But in terms of politics, I care a great deal.

Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald wrote a really good article this last week, Overwhelmed NSA Surprised to Discover Its Own Surveillance “Goldmine” on Venezuela’s Oil Executives. What it shows is that the NSA collects so much data that it doesn’t even know what it has. It reminds me of the ozone hole.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it.

NASA was collecting data of total column ozone levels in Antarctica. The geophysicist Joe Farman and his little team from Cambridge were studying ozone levels at the south pole and they noticed a huge decrease. But they were really skeptical. They knew that NASA had been studying this stuff for decades. Why hadn’t anyone published it?! Well, the reason was a kind of computer bug. The scientists at NASA wrote some code that said, “If ozone levels get below a certain level, put it aside for humans to look at it.” The humans never looked. After “Large Losses of Total Ozone in Antarctica Reveal Seasonal ClOx/NOx Interaction” came out, NASA found that they had an enormous amount of data that showed the ozone hole and its increasing trend.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it. This is something I’ve ranted about for years with video stores that want your Social Security number. Why? No reason. They are just collecting every kind of data they can think of — just in case. But with the NSA, you have to wonder, shouldn’t they be doing targeted investigations? It isn’t a good idea to just collect everything they can so later they can say, “Oh yeah, the information on that terrorist attack was in our archives.”

Glenn GreenwaldBut what really bugs me is that in this case, the NSA has been collecting data that can only be described as corporate espionage. Ever wonder about that? Why we hate certain questionable regimes like Venezuela while we love truly horrible regimes like Saudi Arabia? It’s all about our government working in the interests of huge corporations. ExxonMobile is making billions in Saudi Arabia. But ExxonMobile was thrown out of Venezuela. Thus: Venezuela is bad.

At least the NSA isn’t spying on us, right? Well, no. The NSA says that it only collects metadata — basically the public information of our email and phonecalls. But that means nothing. This revelation about corporate espionage isn’t the first. Previously, the NSA was caught spying on Brazil’s oil company, Petrobras. Before that, the NSA said, “The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”

It seems that the NSA sees part of its job as being lying to the American people. So I think we have to assume that the NSA does, in fact, read every email we send — that they know exactly what you read on every website and when. Which, as I’ve noted, is probably not a big deal. But it does mean that if the government ever decides it doesn’t like you, you are toast. But fear not: this is the behavior of a dying empire. Your great great grandchildren won’t have to worry about the NSA, because the United States of America will be a backwater, having lost relevance because it focused on maintaining its power by any means necessary rather than improving the lives of its people.

Morning Comedy: Bob’s Burgers

Bob's BurgersYes, eventually we might get to some Thanksgiving music. But for now, I’m sticking with comedy. This is from the most recent Thanksgiving episode of Bob’s Burgers. Thanksgiving is Bob’s favorite holiday. Yet every year it is destroyed for him because he is living in a situation comedy. Actually, this episode turns out the best of any of them. Right now, you can watch the whole episode (which you should do): Gayle Makin’ Bob Sled.

We learn in this episode that Linda’s sister Gayle has been dating Phillip (Mister) Frond. But he dumped her, and she fell down and broke her ankle and now Bob has to go pick her up and of course everything goes wrong. In this scene, we see Bob pulling the wounded Gayle in a kid’s pool as he calls Linda and explains to her how to cook the turkey. He had previously called and told her that she would have to baste it. He explained how to baste and Linda responded, “That’s what basting is?!” Yes, like most things involved with cooking, it’s very easy. But this scene is much more tense:

Anniversary Post: Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda GalaxyOn this day in 1924, the universe got a whole lot bigger. Until Edwin Hubble published his findings, it was believed that the Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. Andromeda had been known of for thousands of years. But it was thought to be a nebula inside the Milky Way. Hubble showed that it was far too distant for that and was rather a galaxy like our own. It was truly one of the days the universe changed.

When I was young, I had what is probably a typical view of the universe: there are stars, and around them are plants; stars swirl around in galaxies; and galaxies are just these things that hang out. But it is all a whole lot more messy than that. In fact, the universe seems to be like a fractal: it’s kind of the same at whatever scale you observe it. There are, for example, about three dozen galaxies that we know are satellites of our own. In about four billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are going to “collide.” They won’t really collide, because like most of the universe, they are almost all empty. But the two will go on to form a new galaxy, that we’ve already named: Milkomeda. Check out this great animation that NASA created of this interaction:

Based upon this, you can see why people have a hard time not believing in a multiverse. And I don’t doubt that at some point we will find a way to show this indirectly. Maybe a better understand of dark energy will imply other universes. Or maybe, it is all just a delusion of the singularity of my consciousness. In which case, I don’t know why you’re even reading this. Oh, that’s right: you aren’t. A better question: why am I not happier? As singularities go, this consciousness is just meh.