Archive for History

Feb
14

While We’re On Elections

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Categories : History, National
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Jan
09

Keep Calm and Carry On

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Writing for the Guardian, Nesrine Malik insists that retreating into tribal camps is not the way to respond to the Charlie Hebdo shootings. The attackers, she insists, “belong to no single community or country or mosque.” This is not a clash of civilizations. It is a strategic attack aimed at terrorist recruitment, as Juan Cole explains:

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.

Like early Stalinists or Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Cole writes, the Paris attackers hope to provoke a backlash to help radicalize an inconveniently docile population by “sharpening the contradictions” between communities:

“Sharpening the contradictions” is the strategy of sociopaths and totalitarians, aimed at unmooring people from their ordinary insouciance and preying on them, mobilizing their energies and wealth for the perverted purposes of a self-styled great leader.

The only effective response to this manipulative strategy (as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani tried to tell the Iraqi Shiites a decade ago) is to resist the impulse to blame an entire group for the actions of a few and to refuse to carry out identity-politics reprisals.

Malik concurs in rejecting any us-them framing:

To engage in war talk – about a Muslim threat that needs to be combated by an aggressive reassertion of whatever composite identity of liberal values one believes is under attack – is to give in to the reductionism demanded by terrorists.

Whether it is Islamic State (Isis), al-Qaida or lone actors, they will use religiously focused grievances as a vehicle for political, personal and mental maladies. Don’t buy it. The way to honour the dead and find a way out of what seems like a depressingly inevitable downward spiral would be to resist the polar narrative altogether. It will not only heal painful rifts, it might even save lives.

Shorter Malik: Don’t give them what they want.

In “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell tells a story about the bombing of London in WWII. What the Nazis expected (and British authorities, too) was that panic would sweep London, demoralizing the citizens. Unexpectedly, the opposite happened. Because, as Canadian psychiatrist J. T. MacCurdy deduced, the dead don’t panic and those nearly killed are few; and the far more numerous, those who survived multiple attacks unscathed, felt invincible. Gladwell writes:

So why were Londoners so unfazed by the Blitz? Because forty thousand deaths and forty-six
thousand injuries—spread across a metropolitan area of more than eight million people—means that
there were many more remote misses who were emboldened by the experience of being bombed than
there were near misses who were traumatized by it.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Categories : History, International, News
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Nov
09

Underground railroading

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On Friday, we were in Greensboro, NC when the International Civil Rights Center & Museum was open. We’d been meaning to stop in for years. We even managed to get through the tour of the old F. W. Woolworth lunch counter without crying. (OK, barely.) The word unequal kept coming up in the tour. That and the funeral earlier of a black friend had me mulling over how many white people still resent sharing the country with Others they consider unequal. Demographic shifts are bringing them kicking and screaming to the realization that they must.

Losing power is very personal for people on the right. Both left and right talk about taking “their country” back, but it seems much more personal for conservatives. In their America, it seems, there is no we, just i and me.

One place you hear it is in their rhetoric about voter fraud. It is a very personal affront to them that the power of their votes might be diminished by the Other. Every time someone ineligible casts a fraudulent ballot, they insist, it “steals your vote.” Your vote. They have convinced themselves that there are thousands and thousands of invisible felons stealing their votes every election. Passing more restrictive voting laws is a matter of justice and voting integrity, of course. What other motivation could there be for railroading eligible poor, minority, and college-age voters?

The Others they suspect of this heinous activity are people who do not believe as they do nor vote as they do. Voter fraud itself is a code word, the way Lee Atwater used “forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.” It’s “much more abstract,” as Atwater said. The issue is not really whether the invisible “those people” are voting illegally or not. It is that they are voting at all. Sharing in governance, sharing power, is a privilege for deserving, Real Americans, not for the unwashed Irresponsibles. That Others do so legally is just as much an affront. Right now they’re targeting the invisible Others. Restricting voting to Real Americans comes later, I guess.

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Aug
16

Confederate States of mind

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(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

Dave Neiwert linked the other day to this Doug Muder piece that traces the origins of some of our current rhetoric. He begins, “Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think.” Muder contends that while the North won the Civil War, the planter aristocrats won Reconstruction, effectively nullifying the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, thereby preserving the social order and power structures God himself intended — to make and keep the planter aristocrats wealthy.

“[I]n the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand,” writes Muder. So, perhaps, it is with obstructionism in Congress today.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

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Categories : History, National, Race
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Jul
07

Before Their Time, Setting An Example

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Found on Facebook. Remarkable.

[h/t Jill Boniske]

Categories : History, Popular Culture
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Nov
22

Friday 50 Years Later Open Thread

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Fifty years ago today, November 22, I was in Scout Room in the basement of St. Celestine’s Catholic School in Elmwood Park, IL, a close-in Chicago suburb. It was, like today, a Friday. Friday afternoon. I was sitting on the right side of the classroom, halfway down the row of wooden desks against the windows that looked out into the window well. The sun was streaming in through the grating above when the news came over the P.A. that President John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, had been shot in Dallas. There was no further news on his condition. We prayed the rosary, then school let out early. The world had stopped.

It was not the first death I had experienced as a child. Three years earlier, my uncle had died in the Park Slope mid-air collision over New York City. Still, the news was dramatic and alarming, yet incomprehensible.

Last night while driving back to my hotel, NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired a feature about the reaction at a Boston Symphony concert when the news arrived. Conductor Erich Leinsdorf delivered the news and, as the shocked audience’s gasps echoed in the hall, announced that the orchestra would play the funeral march from Beethoven’s Third Symphony. A second wave of gasps, as the finality of the news sank in.

I had never heard this tape before.

Later, during a scheduled intermission, the musicians debated backstage whether it was appropriate to go on. Ultimately, Henry B. Cabot, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s president of trustees, decided the music should continue.

Cabot addressed the audience, “The ladies and gentlemen of the orchestra came to me during intermission, and some of them felt that we should not continue the concert. I told them that I thought we should continue. And I told them that the day my father died,” Cabot said, his voice cracking, “I came to a symphony concert for consolation. And I believe you will receive it yourselves.”

Fifty years later, I teared up behind the wheel.

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Aug
12

Therein Lies The Difference

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Thomas Mills at Politics North Carolina has a must-read post entitled, “Fifty Years of Democrats”. Go read the whole thing. Excerpt:

“And therein lies the fundamental difference between North Carolina Democrats and the current breed of Republicans running our state. Democrats believe that if we invest in people, infrastructure and institutions of learning, that businesses will come. We believe that wise management of our natural resources creates as much opportunity as exploiting them. We believe that government can work in partnership with business to create a high quality of life and sustainable jobs. We believe that because that’s what we’ve done.”

Jul
15

An America In Retreat?

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Aerial photo of the California Aqueduct at the Interstate 205 crossing. Credit: Ian Kluft, Wikimedia Commons.

Has America – and the American Dream itself – gone into retreat? Once the largest, most prosperous in the world, the American middle class is faltering, crumbling like our nation’s schools and bridges.

Flag-pin-wearing, American exceptionalists tell crowds this is the greatest nation on Earth, and then repeat “we’re broke.” They hope to dismantle safety net programs, telling Americans working harder than ever – at jobs and looking for jobs – that they don’t have enough “skin in the game.” Wake up and smell the austerity. America can no longer afford Americans.

Some of us remember a time when America’s dreams were boundless.

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Jun
18

National Treasure

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IMG_0915Sequoia National Park — The Giant Forest

This is like the Area 51 of trees. I keep thinking what it would have taken to get up here before the roads and cars. It would take a week with pack horses to get up here. There is no hint down below that anything like this might exist up here. Such trees might have been the stuff of local legends. Tinfoil hat stuff. Who would believed you if you told them about the giant Sequoia?

On the drive up here I kept looking at the rock walls constructed along the road. Damned socialist make-work spending. (And I and wonder why we are not putting people to work doing this sort of thing when so many people need employment right now. The Blue Ridge Parkway has been an economic benefit to western North Carolina since the Depression.) Visitors from all over the world come to Sequoia national Park to see these trees, a national and world heritage. President Bill Clinton added the Sequoia National Monument Section in 2000.

But I suppose we must roll with the changes. Austerians tell us there is little money for national heritage. And none for world heritage. (Plenty for wars, though.) Besides, nobody knows who the dead presidents and generals are after whom some of these trees are named anyway.

Isn’t it time for corporate sponsorship (if not outright privatization) of our national heritage? So the General Sherman tree now will be the Goldman Sachs Tree. The General Grant Tree will be the Bank of America tree. And the McKinley Tree will be the Walmart Tree. Henceforth, all these giants will be named after large corporations and banks because these things are too big to fail.

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Jun
03

It’s Coming…

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Categories : History, Open Thread
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