Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Story time

One day at work last week I was recording information off a tag on a cargo cart when I observed that the cart number transcribed on the tag did not match the cart itself. I suspected that someone had just misread the number, and I could change it myself; however, if the incorrect number was the one that was in the manifest, it could cause problems, particularly with those divas in OPS. So I sought out an airline cargo supervisor and asked him to check the manifest; it turned out that the incorrect number was in fact on the manifest. The supervisor would correct the situation on his end, but he asked me if I would go to OPS and inform them of the correction; I said to him that I would do so, but in my mind I was saying “Oh swell. Thanks a lot.”

Now, my favorite work of fiction is Voltaire’s “Candide.” It’s a quick read, but packs a big punch. A passage in it quickly came to mind concerning what kind of encounter I could expect to "greet" me:

“This nobleman carried himself with a haughtiness suitable to a person who bore so many names. He spoke with the most noble disdain to everyone, carried his nose so high, strained his voice to such a pitch, assumed so imperious an air, and stalked with so much loftiness and pride, that everyone who had the honor of conversing with him was violently tempted to bastinade His Excellency.”

Of course, I do have practical reasons for feeling the way I do. I can’t print out a gate sheet that has the correct gate locations without the damn thing being completely obsolete after two hours at most. If these OPS people are playing a game, it must be “musical gates”—except that the “game” is no game to people who have to waste time retrieving and relocating carts. Some gate swaps can’t be helped, such as when an airplane has a mechanical issue, but most of the time it is completely arbitrary; they’re worse than Metro, and who wants Metro running an airline? Another issue is the rather more frequent than necessary failure to accurately calculate loads, leading to bumped carts; these “bumps” occur well after the loads are manifested, and occasionally even in the middle of cargo being loaded onto a plane. Only a small percentage of flights are effected as such, but it occurs often enough that the cargo manifest procedure was changed so that less cargo was distributed in more carts. As I mentioned last week, this increased my workload by twenty percent; I don’t mind it since the busier I am the faster the day goes (and it is a long day), but it doesn’t increase my respect for what goes on in OPS.

So, I made my way to OPS, hoping that the go-between employed by my company was there to pass-on the message. He was nowhere in sight. I asked someone who was the person handling the particular flight the cargo applied to, and I was directed to that person. She was busy with plainly non-business related talk with another person who apparently had nothing in her cubicle to keep her occupied, so I went on the other side in order to be noticed. The person I needed to speak to knew she had been pointed out to me for the purpose of passing on information, but she continued as before until I had the presumption to open my mouth. When I spoke, it was like “What is this noise I’m hearing? Is that a fly?” Since I was standing opposite of this other person she was speaking to, she had to turn; her expression said “Do I have to turn my head to speak to YOU?” I attempted to explain to her why I was being forced to speak to her, which obliged her to break-off her conversation with this other person, and in the most excruciating manner imaginable she forced herself to turn her torso in my direction. I had not intended to make such a pest of myself to this imperious grand wizard of the cubicle, but by then I had begun to take some malicious delight in forcing her to actually take notice of me in what apparently was for her the most laborious way possible. Fortunately, the company representative showed up, and I was able to break off that conversation and convey to him my information, and I vacated premises forthwith to get on with life.

"Good job" leaving a lousy first impression

There was a story from the Chicago Tribune about Margo Howard--daughter of the late “advice” columnist Ann Landers--who slighted the Spanish-language television station Telemundo after its reporter tweeted something about deliberations in the Rod Blagojevich retrial being in their seventh day, as opposed to the first trial's 14 days. Howard tweeted back “Not sure why Telemundo cares. Their soap operas off?” Illinois state representative Deborah Mell, sister of Blagojevich’s wife Patti, responded “Wow. That is so racist,” to which Howard shot back "Not racist at all, & not meant to be. Y would People in Mexico care? & they ARE known for their shows." The Telemundo reporter who initiated this little exchange had to remind Howard that Telemundo is an American television station broadcasting in Spanish, and has been covering local news in Chicago for 25 years.

What does this little story tell us? First of all, it tells us a great deal about Margo Howard. Howard, like many “real” Americans, obviously feels contempt for "Mexicans" and what in her mind constitutes “Mexican” culture, which implies an apparently child-like lack of interest in the issues of the day. This dismissive attitude obvioulsy explains why there is so much license in engaging in dehumanizing propaganda. Secondly, Howard apparently believes that Latinos—even those who are U.S. citizens—live in an entirely separate world from the “mainstream,” or rather prefers that they do. They have no business “butting-in” in “real” American business, even though they are the largest minority group in the country (over 30 million who are U.S. citizens) and even have soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a function not of reality, but of her own prejudices. While I admit that soap operas on Spanish-language television tend to be “racy” relative to American soap operas, what I tend to notice about them is that everyone seems to be white, quite apart from the stereotypical “little brown one” in white American paranoid fantasy. On the other hand, people who have actually examined the content of Spanish-language television report that far from being ill-informed, viewers are provided news content that tends to be much more socially and politically proactive, and news that the white American media prefers to keep hush-hush.

It is interesting to note that Howard writes for a website called “Women On the Web,” where gossip columnists like Liz Smith pretend to be political paladins. A “Mr.WoW”—“he” doesn’t actually have a name “he” is willing to disclose—has this to say about recent comments by Barack Obama:

“Obama said that the thought has crossed his mind that ‘one term was enough.’ And he revealed that if he said to Michelle and the kids, ‘You know what guys, if I want to do something different,’ they would be fine. ‘They’re not invested in ‘daddy being president’ or ‘my husband being president.’ REALLY?!! I don’t give a rat’s ass if Michelle Obama is invested in her husband’s presidency. I didn’t vote for Michelle or their two children. I voted for him. She can go off and do the Jackie Kennedy thing — clothes and foreign visits and flirtations…I wasn’t even that invested in Obama. But others were, deeply. What a disappointment for those who put their heart and soul into Obama; those who thought he was putting his own heart and soul on the line…What kind of fire in the belly of voters does Obama think he can light, with his own belly so empty and weary?”

Now, I admit that Obama does seem a little laid-back at times, but there are worse ways of being, and given the constant barrage of racially incendiary “commentary” by Fox News—and often repeated on CNN without comment—I think his restraint is nothing less than admirable. Obama is forced to always walk that racial tightrope, avoiding saying or doing the “wrong” thing lest (white) people get the wrong "impression"; he can’t be seen as helping unduly the “undeserving”—i.e. “his” people. The tendency to downplay his accomplishments, and the fact that a majority of Americans were ignorant enough to buy all the propaganda lines of the right and vote for Republicans in the mid-term elections, only goes to show that voting on paranoia and prejudice only makes fools of people. The Republicans have once more shown us that when it comes to domestic crisis, they’d rather just sit back and watch ordinary people suffer. Remember their “file not found” health care “reform” plan? It’s still not found. I also find it immensely fascinating that the so-called “liberal” or “progressive” critics of Obama have failed to discern that their “influence” on public debate is next to zero (thank you very much), and has been no help at all to the president even when he has pushed progressive agendas. Furthermore, the ironic thing about the critics of his handling of the economy is that while their target audience is white America, there is still a great disparity along racial lines; the May unemployment figures showed that white men and women 20 and over continue to have the lowest unemployment rates—7.6 and 6.9 percent respectively—while black males in the same group have a 17.5 percent rate.

With “friends” like these, who needs enemies? I supposed it goes without saying that a website that serves women (and employs at least one contributor who has a racial bias against Latinos) has an alternative vision. Need we ask? After unloading the latest gossip on Hollywood celebrities, Smith opines “However, it is Mrs. Clinton who intrigues. Many still think this woman subliminally seeks the presidency sooner rather than later. With the economy stymied and the job situation desperate, Barack Obama is vulnerable. It’s nice that Osama Bin Laden is dead, but you can’t run for re-election on the body of a dead terrorist.” You’d think Smith prefers that he was still around so Hillary could get a crack at him and hog all the credit. After listening to a recent Republican debate, Smith gushes that Hillary “could eat them both up and spit them out without so much as appearing to chew.” You think so? She didn’t do so hot when she was debating other Democrats.

I have no illusions about the world I live in, and I’m certain Obama doesn’t either. Clinton’s supporters apparently do.

The myths Texas wants us to learn

Last week Democracy Now interviewed author/filmmaker John Sayles, which I found quite fascinating. I remember viewing “Brother From Another Planet” in a college film studies class, and while it appeared to be a very low-budget production, the story did have an interesting allegorical point to make: A rather silent black man (Joe Morton) turns-up in town who has seemingly superhuman skills; he is soon followed by men who want to take custody of him. The man is an escaped slave from another world; the ironic thing about it is that this slave has powers far greater than any human, including white. Sayles’ other films of note are “Matewan,” about one of the many violent confrontations between labor and mining companies, “Eight Men Out,” concerning the “Black Sox” scandal, and “Lone Star.” This latter film in part examined the myths that Texans hold dear, particularly those concerning its history. In one scene there is a confrontation between white parents who want their version of history taught in school, white-washed of the ugly parts, while a Latino teacher insists that ignoring the past sins of racial discrimination—including the explicit desire of Texas’ mostly Southern immigrants to achieve “independence” from Mexico in order to establish a slave state—only promises that current acceptance of discrimination will continue.

“Lone Star” turned-out to be prescient in its evaluation of the issue of maintaining historical myth. The latest Texas curriculum standards passed in 2010 has been criticized as inaccurate by historians, and by civil rights groups who have called for a federal review of what they called the curriculum's deliberately discriminatory intentions. The new texts ban the mention of Thomas Jefferson and refers to the country as a “constitutional republic,” but being politicized is just the tip of this Texas-size iceberg. The input and imprint of the “Christian” and “ultra” conservative bloc—inside and outside the Texas State Board of Education deliberations room—is evident everywhere. While some educators have noted that the English and science curriculum are now infected with right-wing politics, it was the social studies portion that created the greatest controversy. The hostile environment was such that Democratic board members—outnumbered 10-5—simply walked out of those proceedings at one point. And it wasn’t just “enlightened” ideas that were nixed, or the “Christian ethic” emphasized, but a wholesale removal of references to non-Caucasians. So-called multicultural figures—a euphemism for minorities—were apparently deemed “un-American.” Efforts to include just one Latino of historical note by name were ignored (including Cesar Chavez, despite the pleading of one elderly man during a public hearing), and the expulsion of major civil rights figures was another “victory” for conservative extremists seeking to whitewash history.

One of the few “victories” the Democrats on the board scored was embarrassing enough Republicans to vote against a transparently racist attack against the civil rights movement, declaring that it promoted an “unrealistic expectations for equal outcomes.” Nevertheless, students armed with the new texts will no longer be required to discuss the effects of institutional racism in this country. One right-wing board member had complained that the current standards falsely suggested that it was often people from racial, ethnic, and religious groups who promoted the extension of political rights in America. “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society,” he fulminated. In other words, minorities can march against discrimination all they want, but only the white majority has the “right” to recognize their complaints and act on them, if they so choose. We have seen this concept in action in California and Washington, both “blue states” that passed anti-affirmative action referendums.

The new Texas history curriculum also attempts wholesale revisionism to resuscitate the images of formerly discredited right-wing figures like Joe McCarthy, and justifying the indiscriminate use of blacklisting. This is all just a part of the right’s attempt to rewrite and control history. The right has often been portrayed as the part of the ideological spectrum that has promoted race hatred, intolerance and jingoism—and rightly so; now was their chance to “correct” a percieved “imbalance” by polluting young minds with those very ideas in the guise of “learning.” It is as if modern day Nazis tried to rewrite history to put themselves back on the “right” side. The right has often and loudly complained that government and ideology has no place in school books; but since the state and not school districts purchase school texts, the curriculum is clearly tailored to appease the right-wing element that has controlled the state for decades. That element includes unapologetic creationists like Texas school board chair Don McElroy and board member Cynthia Dunbar, the latter who stated that “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”

Interestingly, the right-wing element supported the inclusion of Margaret Sanger in the text; Sanger is usually hailed as a feminist hero for her “pioneering” work on birth-control. The reason why she was being promoted by the extremists on the board’s right is the same reason why I think she is no “hero," but a racist: she is to be included because she “and her followers promoted eugenics,” according to McElroy. Talk about ignoring history: I thought support for eugenics went out with the Nazis. But at least you can give him a black star for being honest about the racially-motivated intentions of the board's right-wing.

The curriculum board has thus not only infected the process with extreme politics, but with extreme arrogance—and ignorance. One right-wing board member stated that she was a proud Texan, and thought that Texas was superior to all other states; Texas A&M professor James Kracht added to the chest-beating, proclaiming that “Texas governs 46 or 47 states.” Thus tens of millions of students will be taught that global warming should not only be questioned, but they will be prodded to inquire into the “implications” of being led astray by scientists. Whatever happens is “God’s will,” and there is no point in doing anything about it—or vote for Republicans so they can do nothing for you. Many people decry the state of education today; the pompous Texas education board has if anything made it worse, by undercutting critical thinking and recognition of vital issues at every turn. Education is supposed to expand the mind, not contract it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Still the Greatest

During the recent NBA finals won by the Dallas Mavericks, there was some “controversy” over whether the Miami Heat’s Lebron James was “greater” than Michael Jordan. I think such talk was put to rest in Jordan’s favor; just because you are a superb athlete doesn’t necessarily make you “greater.” All sports have their “greatest” athletes, but another debate is who is the greatest athlete of all-time? Back in the day, many commentators said it was Native American Jim Thorpe, who was a star in a wide range of sports, especially football, in the early part of the 1900s. But does greatness also have something to do with your stature not just in sports, but society in general? If that is the criteria, there can only be one answer: Muhammad Ali.

Another thing that was great about the 1970s was that there was no cable television that you had to pay if you wanted to watch a great boxing match. Not that it matters much now, since the fight game—in particular the heavyweight division—has sunk to such levels that no one cares much; those Russians have zero personality, and so do their occasional opponents. Instead there is this MMA which is about as believable as “professional” wrestling. But in the 1970s, the heavyweight division was prime time entertainment on network television. I was just a kid when I watched a fighter my dad kept referring to as Clay (even though the announcer called him by another name) bloodied the face of some white guy with a cool name (Jerry Quarry); I didn’t realize the significance of that fight until years later—it was Muhammad Ali’s first fight after a three-year “exile” for draft evasion.

As strange as it may seem today, Ali was once one of the most reviled men in white America. In the beginning, to say that Ali was "brash" was like calling Charlie Sheen a monk, and it was hard for many people to wrap their minds around the fact that this black man--who had the boldness to call himself "the greatest" and had a non-stop “lip” that seemed intent on offending middle-American sensibilities--had actually become champion after beating a man with iron fists (Sonny Liston) so badly that he simply quit after six rounds rather than be shamed by the inevitable knockout defeat. Ali's lack of proper "decorum" after beating Liston for the heavyweight title caused the ringside announcer to express disbelief in Angelo Dundee's assertion that his fighter's media-ready antics were "good" for the sport.

Ali had become a marked man, but his conversion to the Nation of Islam and his stance on the Vietnam War went beyond the merely presumptuous, and into open defiance of the political and social order. This wasn't some obscure person operating on the fringes, who could be ignored as some clown in trunks; this was the heavyweight champion of the world, back when that title had an aura of importance unlike any other in sports. One thing that could not be denied, however, was that in his prime, Ali was one of the most exciting boxers to watch, moving like a lightweight in a heavyweight's body, befuddling all comers. If he couldn't be "silenced" in the ring, then something else had to be "done."

Ali was originally disqualified from the draft because of his lack of formal educational aptitude; but several years later during his prime boxing years, the government saw fit to find him qualified for the draft. It remains a question for debate if this was politically-motivated to remove a man who was becoming a symbol of black power. Ali refused to be inducted, citing his “conscientious objector” status and his religious beliefs; we could look at this as self-serving cynicism, but Ali paid a heavy price for his stance: One boxing commission after another stripped him of his license to fight, and eventually his title. His trainer, Dundee, said that those three years Ali was out of boxing denied the fight game what would have been his best years.

But Ali didn’t “disappear” during those three years. Today, the views of athletes on political topics of the day are rarely considered “worthy” even for cable news’ low standards, and athletes that do make the news outside of sports usually do so for some criminal offense. Ali, on the other hand, was sought out by the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and David Frost—not to discuss boxing, but politics, the war, and social issues. When he chose to be, Ali was serious and thoughtful, and he quit clowning when the need to explain himself to a hostile public arose. And rise-up to the challenge he did. Whatever his formal educational deficiencies, Ali surprised many by his eloquent discourse that showed that behind the "clown" was a man who cared deeply about the problems of the country from the black community's perspective. He also went on speaking tours of college campuses, at first before unfriendly crowds, but later to more supportive ones as the Vietnam War became more unpopular. Although he continued to be a polarizing figure in the U.S., Ali’s profile in the international scene increased, as he became a symbol for those who were critical of U.S. foreign policy. When he was finally allowed to return to the ring, it was because black leaders in Atlanta decided that they had sufficient political power to oppose the wishes of society at large. The Nixon Justice Department eventually withdrew its support of the long-standing draft evasion charge against Ali, because—as one official said—“Better a boxer than a martyr.”

Yeah, I know Sylvester Stallone grumbled about a fight game dominated by black boxers like Ali, who was a bit too uppity for some white folks to take, and he wanted to show people that “real”—that is 100 percent white American—boxers represented the "true" spirit of the sport (I wonder how many people know that the "Cinderella Man" of the Ron Howard film would only give Joe Louis a title shot unless he was given a take of Louis' future earnings). But the reality was that the quality of the fights upon Ali’s return matched the personalities involved. In later years, boxers would be stripped of one or more of those alphabet soup title belts because they declined to face someone’s “number one contender” for their next fight, perhaps an absurd rule. During the 1970s, Ali fought all the top heavyweight fighters—many of which were broadcast on network TV—and beat every one at least once. There was also none of this once-a-year “superfight”—Ali stepped into the ring 30 times in eight years, only five of which went less than 10 rounds. His October, 1980 fight with Larry Holmes would be the first—and only—fight in which he failed to go the distance. The duels with Joe Frazier were epic, and after the shock of George Foreman seemingly coming out of nowhere to destroy both Frazier and Ken Norton (who had broken Ali’s jaw), Ali stunned the world in finally regaining the title he was forced to relinquish in 1967 by knocking out the seemingly invincible Foreman in Zaire. With few exceptions (the Leonard-Haggler fight comes to mind), there would never again be this kind of worldwide drama involving a single athlete. So I make my case, and I’m sure others who look back in time can make a similar one.

Can you pass the Alka-Seltzer?

I was surfing the AM dial when I encountered some unfunny female comic, talking about how she was hoping that recently resigned New York Representative Anthony Weiner’s so-called “sex scandal” would not end; she freely confessed that she was busy searching for new dirt on the ex-congressman. This is an example of the cannibalism that many so-called “liberals” and “progressives” engage in. Weiner, a Democrat, apparently sent cell phone snaps of himself to women he did not know, showing off his “buff” physique while working out at the gym. At least one of these women thought she could get some free publicity on network morning shows and CNN by “exposing” him. Nothing illegal, just plain dumb in this day and age where anything of an even vaguely sexual nature will be played for its fullest TV ratings potential.

The radio program the above mentioned "comic" was airing out her desires on was the “The Stephanie Miller Show.” Miller is not a “liberal” or a “progressive”; she is a raging narcissist. Her biggest concern is gay and lesbian issues, and frequently displays her disdain for (hetero) men; when I caught her show this time, she was also whining about some kids on an airplane, aiming her distaste at the father rather than the mother. There is an audience for this type of thing, and if Miller can make a living from it, fine for her. The problem is that Republicans and Democrats are skewered with equal delight, as on Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart show. I suppose you can call this “fair and balanced”—like two ends of a see-saw. One problem is that it is playground stuff; another is that you would never hear any of the right-wing blowhards attacking Republicans no matter what they do. People like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity put their fundaments on one end of that see-saw, and stay put. Miller does provides an alternative “perspective,” except that it has nothing to do with righting the political rhetoric imbalance, but engaging in her personal (sexual) politics.

Which somehow leads me to a recent “event” that took place in Seattle. Now, I’ve always said that my impression of Seattle is that it is less defined by “progressiveness ” than it is by narcissism. A perfect example of this is the so-called “Slutwalk,” one of those throw coherence-out-the-window-in-your-face events staged by people with self-image issues. I don’t blame them; dressing-up in absurd costumes or outfits that tend to counter their “point” can’t help but bring-out the odd quizzical expression. What makes it more absurd is that these people are claiming that because they dress-up in what they call “slut” attire, they are seen as candidates for rationalized rape. Despite what these people may have told a credulous Seattle Times reporter, most of these them have probably not been raped or sexually assaulted; but that is not their real point; these superstars-in-their-own-mind are frustrated that the world does not have as high opinion of themselves as they do. Somebody must be blamed. Men, of course, will be blamed. And in this country, just making accusations of sex crimes is sufficient to justify media attention—which of course, is the point of all of this.

Count on some women to turn positives into negatives. In this day and age, most men in this country would more likely be surprised than filled with uncontrollable lust if a woman wears a skirt, something like a one-in-a-hundred occurrence. When I attended a Catholic school in my youth, all the girls had to wear a dress. This might surprise some of these “slutwalk” people, but familiarity breeds indifference; back then it was just routine. I mean, I might notice if a girl was “pretty,” but how she was dressed rarely entered into it (I once mentioned to an incredulous faculty overseer of my college newspaper that I knew one “perfect” person; it happened to be a girl in my Catholic school class). Today, I’ve reached the age where if I see a woman wearing a skirt, I might take notice, but only out of boredom. I also notice that a few woman in Seattle who think they are dressing “provocatively”—i.e. wearing shorts—seem to make a point of trying to catch a male looking at them; it’s all political: Their contemptuous expression toward anyone foolish enough to actually have their head tilted in the wrong direction merely “confirms” their “I am a victim of an objective society” certainty. Earth-to-“Slut”: Every heard of the phrase “ships passing in the night?” I didn’t think so.

According to the Times story (why they covered this hypocrisy I don’t know), many of the participants were wearing jeans and sweatshirts, which is frankly more typical female attire. One woman stated that this is was “as bold as I get.” Snore. This has nothing to do with being “bold,” but because you can wear a pair of jeans all week without worrying about how dirty they get, and it cuts down on laundry costs. More to the point, the “casual” has become the “formal” in many settings. Meanwhile, other women, according to the Times story, were dressed “provocatively.” Again, it’s time to throw logic out the window, especially when people are busy expectorating women’s studies department propaganda. “Provocative” and “sexual” are not necessarily interchangeable terms. I saw a woman on the bus the other day wearing fishnet stockings. Maybe different; but otherwise Big Deal. Some people at the march were dressed less like “sluts” than ridiculous. Corsets have not been standard issue articles of attire since the early 1900s; today the corset is just an accessory for sexuality games. Those who wear them in parades just look stupid. And anyone who wants to look like Lady Gaga is welcome to it; just stay out of my sight until I fully digested my lunch. "You're welcome to flirt with me, just don't touch me, or you'll lose a hand,” said one of the participants. Someone should have told her that anyone who felt compelled to “touch” her—let alone “flirt” with her—is probably someone who isn’t embarrassed or uncomfortable to be seen with someone who dresses like a self-described "tramp," even in private; the walls have eyes, you know.

I don’t mean to be “condescending,” as an editor of the Times recently accused me of being; frankly, this society has taught me well, and this dog bites now. I have very little patience for hypocrisy, especially of the self-serving variety. Even though I’ve never seen a sexual assault, I grant that they occur. How often is a matter of definition; but if these “slutwalk” participants believe that shouting the usual slogans while dressing-up in outfits that only elicit laughter or incredulity (rather than "lust") is the most proficient means of bringing attention to their issue, then their method of communication is sorely missing the mark; they only bring attention to themselves. They seem unmindful of the fact that some spectators only see them as people who have a need to make spectacles of themselves just so that they can get the “personal attention” they crave, and this has little or nothing to do with their chosen topic of discussion. I, on the other hand, can at least say I don’t have the problem of being “ignored”: However people react with their instinctively-ingrained prejudice and stereotypes, how I dress has nothing at all to do with it.

I don't feel so lonely now

Last week after work I did my fast walk to the bus stop, and I waited for the bus I was expecting at any time. And I waited. And waited some more. Perhaps I should have realized that something was amiss, because the people who board the same bus were nowhere in sight. Finally the bus arrived after forty minutes. Except that it wasn’t my usual bus arriving late; it was the next bus, arriving late. A perusal of Metro’s summer schedule for this route revealed that for some unexplained reason, bus arrivals had been moved back five minutes, coincidentally applying only to the 4 and 5 PM time periods when the day shifts where I work end. I have to clock out at 4 PM if I want to get my full pay, and because Metro decided without public comment to move bus stops from the airport terminal to the street, it is a 12-minute fast walk to make it on time. Now, the arrival time at the closest stop location is 4:08 instead of 4:13, meaning I now have to wait for a bus that never arrives at the posted time of 4:38. Since my day typically lasts 16 hours from the time I wake-up to the time I arrive home, that’s just another 30 minutes of lost sleep. So I am left to ponder Metro’s poor service and complete disregard of customers.

Sometimes I think I must be the only person complaining about Metro service, because nothing ever changes; it seems Metro prefers to blame the passenger for being an annoyance. But I’m not the only one complaining. According to Metro’s own figures, there were 400 complaints per one million miles in March; in 2010, Metro averaged a little over 300 complaints per million miles. It appears to be a rather odd way of quantifying, but if Metro transit vehicles logged in 44.5 million miles in 2010, that comes out to about 15,000 customer complaints. One must remember, however, that for every one complaint, there are many more incidents that passengers are unaware that they have a right to complain about, and where to do so—especially if you are one of the targeted immigrants. The media, of course, is more interested in the “dangers” of riding a bus, so for the sake of fairness here are those numbers: 85 cases of assault on Metro drivers in 2010, which of course can be defined any way Metro wishes; I’ve seen notices on a couple of buses stating that touching a driver is a felony (I also once saw a drunken passenger fall out of a bus because the driver was impatient with his slow exit progressive, and moved before the passenger was fully off the bus; the passenger fell so near the bus that those of us looking out the window were certain that he had been run over. Does this constitute assault by bus driver?). There were also 2,659 “arrests and infractions” out of nearly 120 million passengers logged. Most of these cases fall under “infraction”—which does not necessarily have to occur inside a bus—and which Metro defines as “a notice issued by transit police on a non-criminal matter commanding a person to go to court for resolution of the suspected violation.” I suppose it's better than getting your head crushed against a wall by Transit deputies.

And for those with other concerns, Metro’s “on-time” percentage on weekdays this year is between 75 and 80 percent—that is to say if the bus doesn’t drive past you despite the fact that you are waving your arms madly to get the blind driver’s attention.

No water coming out of Hillary's firehose

I think people should know by now that I am not one of Hillary Clinton’s “fans.” In the June edition of Vanity Fair, there is a vanity piece on—who else—Hillary, the “most admired woman for the ninth year in a row.” There she is, Prometheus-like, holding the world on her shoulders in the midst of Dante’s Inferno. I’ve never understood from what basis this Hillary-worship legitimately emanates from; even pop singer Katy Perry, who’s on the cover of the magazine, has done more to make some people’s lives more tolerable. Polls showed that Bill Clinton lost his first re-election bid as governor of Arkansas in part because voters did not like Hillary. We were also supposed to believe that during her eight years as First Lady she was virtual second-in-command, even though her only notable policy endeavor—health care reform in 1993—was a complete disaster, and other than Whitewater and the Lewinsky scandal, she was virtually invisible. Despite her husband’s various tribulations, it was his name and personal popularity that was the wave she rode on into the U.S. Senate; on her own, she simply doesn’t have a likable personality that you instinctively trust. Her various bizarre comments during the 2008 primaries (particularly the Robert F. Kennedy headscratcher) showed that she did not respond well to pressure. It always seemed that the people most enamored with her were those with gender victim complexes (like Harriet Christian, and feminists generally), certifiable Clintonphiles, and people who have equally large egos who vicariously tied themselves to her, particularly in the media.

The book “Game Change” showed that diplomacy was not her strong suit, which made her appointment as secretary of state a political move and nothing more; even Colin Powell as a NATO officer and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs at least had some knowledge of the critical issues underlying international gamesmanship. Hillary is all ego and bluster. As evidenced by her Congo trip and her reaction to that Congolese student, she has no natural diplomatic aptitude. While some of her apologists point to her gender “initiatives,” they ignore the fact that her predecessors Madeline Albright and Condoleezza Rice were also women, and had considerably more foreign relations acumen than Clinton; unlike the sacrosanct Hillary, Rice has been subjected to numerous and mostly unfair shots over the years—particularly from Donald Rumsfeld, who was forced to resign in 2006 after a “generals’ revolt” over his incompetency in running the Iraq war, and will be forever known as the principle driver of torture in places like Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. Hillary, on the other hand, has been mostly ignored by the usual suspects at Fox News. Of course, if she decided to challenge Barack Obama in 2012, that could change.

What has Hillary done? Besides logging in millions of miles on the taxpayer dime, making a few speeches and sitting at conferences, not much. In fact there is not one single notable diplomatic accomplishment in Clinton’s resume up to this point. All the world’s hotspots continue to be hot with no end in sight. Not in one single instance has she come close to getting people together and solving a problem. Why is this? Is it because while some Americans (principally in the media) have elevated her to at least troposphere heights, behind closed doors she is not respected or taken seriously by foreign parties? Is she only seen as a “celebrity” pretending to be important, like Angelina Jolie? That her lack of diplomatic skills has hampered trust between international partners? One thing is plain enough to see: It is Obama who must pay the political and propaganda price for her malfunction.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who said corporate America has the national interest in mind?

I was listening to the Seattle “news and information” radio station KOMO last night to get the latest guess on the following day’s weather, not for its right-slanted populist mob commentary. Unfortunately, before the astrology lesson they had to sneak-in something by John Carlson, the former right-wing newspaper columnist and Republican gubernatorial candidate whose views were simply too extreme for the state. He again towed the party line that Barack Obama alone was to blame for the slower than hoped economic growth figures in the last quarter, telling us that businesses are delaying hiring new workers until they see what’s around the corner. Supposedly this simply means cutting the federal deficit (meaning cutting federal programs, not raising taxes), without exactly stating why this would convince businesses to start hiring, particularly if there is a partisan political angle to this. Apparently this doesn’t include cutting away the billions in corporate welfare, the generous government pension plans and the military budget—only social programs that effect the most vulnerable in this country. The funny thing is that businesses are not sitting on their trillions of dollars not hiring because of the federal deficit—that’s just the excuse they give; they were not hiring much during the Bush years, either (a net of 2 million jobs compared to 22 million during the Clinton years), and one presumed that the Bush administration was “business friendly”—the kind of “friendly” that always seems to eventually lead to economic turmoil. The reality is that save for a few consumer protection regulations that the Republicans are furiously trying to water down or do away with altogether, we still live in the Bush economy.

Carlson also told us that state governments reported four percent less revenue than expected in May. Could this be because all those Republican governors are giving tax cuts and tax breaks to businesses who are not using those breaks to hire tax-paying wage-earners, only padding their bottom line? How much more proof do we need to show that tax cuts for the well-off have never translated into economic growth and jobs? One of the biggest frauds perpetrated on the public is the amount of taxes the largest corporations pay. As Forbes reported last year, the biggest names in the corporate world, like Exxon and GE, did pay some taxes—only it wasn’t to domestic treasuries, but to the foreign governments they did business with; although in many countries business taxes are low (quite the opposite for individuals), oil-producing countries tend to charge foreign companies much higher tax rates than the U.S.. Much of the rest of their profits go to overseas tax shelters. The largest multinationals are moving capital and jobs overseas, in order to avoid paying national and state domestic taxes, because they have no problem at all paying the Chinese government their 25 percent tax rate. Many companies leave their high-cost operations in the U.S., where profits—and thus taxes—are low, while making their money in their overseas operations where taxes are allegedly lower, or in the case of island outposts with small populations to support, non-existent. While companies with huge profits claim to pay significant taxes, what their 10-k statements show is not what they actually paid in taxes, but the amount of money they’ve allotted to the purpose as a potentiality; this is particularly true concerning federal taxes. In time, this money is quietly added to the profit ledger. Of course, Forbes didn’t suggest that we put an end to any of this; we are fed that tired line that taxes on the wealthy prevent job creation and subsequent tax creation. The reality is that as we have seen with the end of the Obama stimulus program in 2010, it was government spending that created economic growth by saving state-generated jobs; businesses had little to do with growth. Even with the surprising hiring this past April, this seemed only because businesses were forced to because they couldn’t keep demanding more productivity from the same workers.

Carlson is “right” that corporations are sitting on their vast largesse waiting for a change in the political atmosphere. In other words, they will harm Americans and American interests for their greed-ridden purposes. And let’s not forget that government is not a “business.” Are corporations paying for the schools required to supply an educated workforce? Well? Are they building and maintaining infrastructure that they benefit most from? Didn’t think so. Are they looking after the needs of the workers they throw out onto the streets so that they can make stockholders happy? Who do you think they are—isn’t that the government’s job? There has to be a balance—and businesses are lagging in doing their part in the country’s interest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A "lesson" I've already learned

Sometimes small incidents tell us a great deal about the world we live in. Some things, it seems, never change. I was waiting for a bus in Kent on Tuesday morning. There was the bus, zooming past the designated stop, screeching to a halt at the crossroad. I ran up to the bus and boarded. I told the driver that I didn’t appreciate what he just did. The driver told me in a rude manner “Well, you got on the bus, didn’t you?” as if I should feel lucky even to be allowed to live. Two white passengers laughed and sneered at my presumption. Observing this, I told them that it was the principle of the thing—I was standing where I was supposed to be, and he deliberately inconvenienced me by not stopping where he was supposed to. They just gestured as if I had some serious mental defect. I said that’s OK, I’ll be contacting Metro, which seemed to get the attention of the driver; as I mentioned in a recent post, rude behavior by drivers is not an infrequent occurrence.

One of the passengers who didn’t see my point, a blonde female, was let off at the corner where the REI headquarters is located; when I worked in Kent, I walked past that place every day for five years. The only people I ever saw entering the place were yuppie-type whites like this person, with one or two Asians to make it seem “diverse.” Anyways, the passenger was quite friendly with the driver as she departed, and why not? This was not a proper stop—the next stop was actually across the street; the driver, it seems, bought her good will by breaking the rules to convenience the favored person, while on the other hand breaking the rules to inconvenience the unfavored person. The next people to get off were two middle-aged blacks; they too “comforted” this “nice” driver who was being annoyed by that presumptuous “Mexican.” I wondered to myself if they thought that standing on “principle” was an insignificant matter during the civil rights movement.

I exited the bus next, or tried to; the driver kept the door shut; at first I thought he was just trying to be an ass by implying I wasn’t going to pay the proper fare. In turn, I pointedly told him that I wasn’t going to pay anything unless he switched the card reader from two-zone to one-zone. After vacating the bus, I turned to look at the driver as he was pulling away, and I saw that he was giving me the evil eye. He wasn’t the only looking at me either: A Kent police car was right behind the bus, and two cops were giving me a stare-down. Oh, I see—the driver contacted the police en-route because there was a “Mexican” causing trouble. The police just drove by—these guys know who I am. I’ve filed more than a few complaints about harassment by them as well.

So what did we learn about this incident? Well, maybe you didn’t learn anything, but I learned—or rather confirmed what I already knew—is that in this day and age people have forgotten how hard it was to fight for human rights, and to maintain them. It seems that those of unfavored groups who stand-up for their humanity are only fit to be nailed down. I’ve discussed many, many times about how Latinos have been portrayed in demeaning terms by the media, local officials, politicians and various nativist organizations, and this has led to a diminishment of simple human decency, as exhibited by this bus driver. Because of the power of dehumanizing propaganda—with no effort by the mainstream media to expose the malevolence behind it—you see “average” people blind to it, being forgetful of the past, and even accepting it as “normal.” This is the world I live in; I have no illusions about it.

How I make my dull day "exciting"

The other day, a man who waiting at the bus stop outside the terminal told me he would be starting work the next day with the company that currently employs me. He wanted to know I how I liked working there. Interesting question. I suppose it really depends on your situation if you look at this as career or way station to something better. If you are kid who still lives with his or her parents, or just needs any job to pay the bills until a better opportunity pops-up, you might be more susceptible of rapid disillusionment; it is natural for people to complain about their job, but some people—especially the younger ones—believe that there has got to be something better just around the corner. But older people know better; no job is “perfect.”

So I told this person that it’s a job. I’ve worked here for almost four years and like all the other jobs I’ve had, it has become a routine that I do out of habit. I have a journalism degree, but I gave-up on pursuing that occupation long ago, just wanting to find my pond, like Thoreau. The one good thing about my current occupation is that there are the slow periods that allow me time to read and do research, although because of the long hours I am usually too worn-out from insufficient sleep to concentrate on writing. On my “weekends,” I have no interest in partying, boozing, hanging-out or laying on a couch in front of the television set; my principle “relaxation” takes the form of the many hours it takes to compose on this blog; it isn’t much of a life, if truth be known, and it certainly doesn’t pay.

Anyways, at work I spend nearly all of my time outside—and everyone knows about the unstable nature of the weather in and around Seattle. The average rainfall at SeaTac Airport is a shade over 37 inches in a calendar year, but over the past nine months there has already rained 46 inches; during the winter and cool spring the icy winds tend to add considerably to the discomfort. Are we provided sturdy rain gear that doesn’t rip apart after a few days? Um--no. Too expensive. You can buy your own gear, if it conforms to company “standards,” meaning color and logo. We were recently told that we could not wear hoods, even during torrential rain showers. They say it is because a hood blocks your peripheral vision when you are driving around in an uncovered tug; it may in reality be because since a large percentage of our employees are non-white, the airline is concerned that customers might think that the place is being run by street gangs. Last week I overheard the following conversation between the station manager and a zone manager that went more-or-less like this:

SM: Do you pay attention to what people are wearing?

ZM: What?

SM: I see people wearing clothing that is not the correct color.

ZM: I don’t notice what people are wearing. When I talk to them, I look them in the eye.

SM: I saw someone wearing a hood—a black hood.

ZM: Um, OK. I’ll keep an eye on that.

I couldn’t suppress a chuckle, but when I went back outside I noticed an employee wearing a grey hood; I asked him if he knew he was out-of-uniform, and he looked at me as if I was trying be some kind of jerk. I recounted the gist of the conversation I had just heard, and preferring to err on the side of caution, the employee removed his hood.

The question is how do you maintain moral in an environment of low pay and poor benefits? One must confess that the atmosphere has changed in the past year or so. There are more rules and regulations, many that seem merely cosmetic, and much fewer instances of expressions of gratitude. I remember in the past when we had company picnics at the lake; last year they had a “picnic” at the airport. Since it was my day off, I came in civilian clothes; even though I couldn’t enter the AOA in the first place without going through the security door drill, there were Port police and security people hanging out at the picnic, and they made me feel like I didn’t belong there. It sure made me feel “appreciated.” There was a time when prior management did consider morale-boosting an important part of the “mission”; now, if you work Christmas (as I have the past four), you can look forward to a slim piece of pumpkin pie.

Now, there is the potential for advancement in this company, particularly if you don’t like to mingle with the “little people” or have an inflated sense of self. One guy who was promoted to civilian clothes after only a few months with the company is someone I regard as an airheaded flake; but then again, my view is that competency is not a particular priority in OPS. But given the number of people who quit every year (just to give you an idea, despite the fact that I’ve been working with the company for less than four years, I’m already in the top twenty of “seniority” out of several hundred employees). Since I like to think of myself as a writer just trying to survive, I’ve discovered that in order to mentally get myself through the day, I have to find a way to self-motivate. I mentioned in a previous post that I enjoy doodling with number, statistics and averages; thus my job of hauling cargo carts is perfectly suitable to this endeavor, since I deal with such variables as days, weeks and quantities.

Last year, the most cargo carts I handled in one day was 91, and 257 in a four-day week. Surpassing those figures would form the basis of my goals this year. Both of these of these numbers appeared to have been flukes, however, because I only reached as many as 80 in one day a half-dozen times, and no more than 242 in a week on three other occasions. Nevertheless, I always approached each week as if the possibility existed that I might exceed the single day or single week total. I clocked-in early to make certain that I had enough time to run the earliest carts; if I didn’t, then it was likely that the people working the early flights would retrieve the carts themselves, thus diminishing my goal. I wasn’t being paid for additional hour I worked each week, but it didn’t concern me: It was the goal that I set for myself that did. Then one day someone decided that no one was permitted to clock-in earlier than six minutes, which frustrated me because I inevitably was going to miss at least a half-dozen carts every morning, and I had no chance of attaining the goals I had set for myself.

Then in the middle of this past April, something remarkable occurred. After months of piddling numbers, one day I ran 93 carts, a new record. The next day, 89 carts—the third highest single-day total—and 268 for the week, another record. The following week, it was 97 in one day, and 290 for the week. Although the following weeks saw rather fewer carts, their totals were still in the top-ten all-time. The numbers were back up the following four weeks, but in no way threatening the single day and single week totals. Still, I was running 20 percent more carts than even during the busiest period last year, and for the first time I perceived the possibility of cracking the 100 cart barrier in one day, and 300 in a week. The reason for this optimism, as it turned-out, was not due to a sudden improvement in the economy, but because too much cargo was being bumped-off flights because of incorrectly calculated weights (I told you about OPS), and it lessened the aggravation of re-configuring the cargo that wasn’t loaded, if the carts had fewer items to begin with. Or something like that.

After six disappointing weeks, last week began in impressive fashion; three hours into day one I was already half-way to 100 carts, and by 2/3rd point of the day I had reached what once seemed improbable. By the end of the day, I had tallied 113 carts. I knew from experience that each of the following days would see fewer carts, but with this start 300 carts over four days was possible if not probable. I hoped to reach the 200 cart level by the end of day two, but it ended with a disappointing 80 carts. I would need 107 carts over Saturday and Sunday, and that was unlikely; my hopes had been crushed. My hopes were further diminished when I was told that I could not run carts before I clocked-in. Nevertheless, on Saturday I seemed well on the way of moving at least 70 carts, which I had failed to do all year. My optimism had rebounded—that is until a supervisor conspired against the accomplishment of my goal. During one of the busier periods, I was forced to baggage to fill-in for some guy’s lunch break, because the person who would have done so quit the previous day. For an hour I stewed over all the carts I was being denied to pad my numbers; when I finished the day I could count only 67 carts. I would need 40 carts to reach my ultimate goal of 300 carts in a week; my average Sunday total was only 35, and just thinking about that made me even angrier about what had happened that day.

Sunday morning I was determined that no one and nothing—not the Port police, Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs, those annoying TSAs, UAL goons or even our own unthinking people—was going to stop me from accomplishing my mission. Sunday began auspiciously enough—I was thrilled to see twenty carts already waiting for me; and it only got better. By the half-way point of the day the 300 barrier had been surpassed. I searched for other goals to reach. The most significant one would be reaching the 50 cart mark on Sunday, which I had never done; another was 320 carts for the week—an average of 80 a day, the threshold which constituted a “great” day; and 1,120 carts over a one-month period, an average of 70 carts a day. None of these goals would be “easy,” because Sundays typically “died” in the afternoon. I fumed in frustration at carts being dribbled in now, and how I might fall short because of what occurred the day before; but eventually the 50-cart mark was reach. I was still short of my other goals ten minutes left in my shift; I only needed three carts, but as the minutes stole away, I gave-up hope. But with five minutes left and I was packing-up to leave, I beheld an unbelievable sight: Three carts coming from the warehouse. Oh please let them be something that I could take instead of my relief man. Yes, they’re mine! What a day! 60 carts on a Sunday, 320 for the week, and 1,122 for four weeks! I am happy.

Now that is how I motivate myself to wake-up at 2 AM and not return home until 5 PM, for small change. Being a little crazy sometimes helps.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

These guys could be Metro's "driver of the year"

Yesterday, I boarded the 5:46 PM bus for King County Metro Route 150 out of Kent Station. I paid my fare and was about to sit down when the driver, a rotund, balding white man, said something to me. At first I didn’t understand what his issue was, but then he pointed at a cup I was holding. It had no lid on it, that was true, but it was mostly drained of liquid except for some remains of coffee clinging to the ice at the bottom of the cup. The driver told me I had to take it outside. What? I was only going to be on the bus for five minutes, and it was just ice and I wanted to save it. Now some drivers are “nice,” and some are not; some are reasonable, and others are not. You never know what kind of driver you will get. This driver was clearly of the variety whose used his “discretion” to bully people. No, I was told, it had to be covered. OK, I had a plastic bag, so I proceeded to put the cup inside the bag and tied the top, so that it would be “covered.” But no, it was his way or the highway. What an arrogant jerk. I mumbled under my breath “Maybe I should take the next bus,” and proceeded to get off the bus to deposit the cup in the nearby trash can; I intended to get back on the bus since I had already paid the fare. But as I was proceeding thus, the driver shut the door and started driving off; I yelled “You Nazi.” Why? Because Adolf was in there chuckling to himself, apparently quite pleased that he had an opportunity to work out his bigoted angst in a discriminatory fashion.

Every time some “incident” happens on a Metro bus that involves some undisciplined passenger, the local media is quick to make with the “statistics” that make it appear as if buses are full of dangerous and violent people, but the fact is that such “incidents” are quantitatively infinitesimal compared to rude and discriminatory behavior by some Metro bus drivers. It goes beyond a driver sitting at a park-and-ride taking his or her break, and then pulling out several minutes early when they see someone running toward the bus, just because he or she likes exercising the power they are given to be jerks. Metro buses do have an advertisement inside the Route 150 buses providing an anti-discrimination statement given in several Asian languages, but not in Spanish; the problem is that other than the drivers, the people most likely to engage in discriminatory behavior are Asians and white female passengers. The only languages the anti-discrimination statement should be in are the same languages the “ride right” posting is given in: English and Spanish, since Latinos and blacks are the groups most likely to experience discrimination—which shouldn’t be a surprise, since these are also the two groups that experience the greatest amount of discrimination in this society as a whole. And I have more than once heard drivers making disparaging remarks about Latinos—which of course doesn’t surprise me either, since I’ve never seen a Latino bus driver for Metro, and I believe that there is a culture of prejudice (one unfortunately shared by some black as well as white employees) at Metro.

I’ll recap a few—and I emphasize just a “few”—of the “incidents” I’ve experienced:

• When there was still surface bus travel in downtown Seattle, I was waiting at a stop near the public library; I observed with a certain amount of incredulity as a driver apparently decided she didn’t need to stop and pick up that annoying, insignificant person, if it prevented her from getting through that yellow light. I didn’t just stand there and stew; I started running in the direction of the bus, and caught-up to it four blocks away. I asked the red-faced driver “Remember me?”

• There is a stop at 196th and 68th S in Kent. The drivers never stop at the designated stop because it is too difficult to get around the curved curb to move into traffic; why Metro has not moved the stop location to take this into account is beyond my comprehension, and apparently theirs as well. On the other hand, the drivers pick-and-choose where they will stop; if they don’t like the way you look, they stop anywhere except where you are standing. On one occasion I was standing at a spot that was more or less in the vicinity where a driver “typically” stops, but one particular driver decided he really didn’t like me, and not just zoomed past me, but past the “official” stop and proceeded to jump the curved curb because he was driving so fast. When I caught-up to the bus, I gave the driver a long stare, but surprisingly for me I said nothing. When I took my seat, I noticed that the driver was glaring at me from his rearview mirror; I started staring at him back. This continued for several moments, until the driver told me to get off the bus because of my “attitude.” I got off the bus, but I told him I was going to contact Metro about him. This contact resulted in the only apology I ever received out of my many complaints to Metro—except that it wasn’t in regard to this episode, but an addendum: This was the same rude driver who did not read the DOT notices posted at several bus stops informing drivers that a certain road was closed after a certain hour, and they had to take a detour. This driver drove obliviously down that road until he encountered DOT workers who told him he could not go through; he argued with them for ten minutes, apparently because he didn’t want his supervisor to know about his screw-up. Eventually, a Metro supervisor appeared, and because there was no way to make a U-turn, the bus had to be carefully backed up for about a mile; by the time the bus was “back on track,” an hour had passed. I noted in my complaint that this driver never once apologized to passengers for the inconvenience due to his incompetence.

• An incident involving gender politics: I was waiting at a designated stop; there was a female waiting as well, except she didn’t want to be contaminated by me, so she stood some considerable distance away. The bus came by, but instead of stopping at the designated location where I was, the white female driver stopped dead at where the woman was. This is the way I look at this situation: The female passenger-to-be was expressing her prejudice against me, and she should not incur any benefit from it. I walked quickly toward the bus, and got to door before this other person did, but the driver thrust her hand toward me and with that arrogant glee that one might expect from a misandrist, feminist type, forbid me to enter the bus before the female. After I boarded the bus, I informed the driver that I refuse to be shit on regardless of who does it, and discrimination comes in many forms; this seemed to let the air out of her conceited gasbag, and she sort-of apologized when I exited the bus.

• A Latino woman (she appeared to be an indigenous Indian) and I were standing alone at a bus stop in Kent when we saw the bus turn the corner. There were two white people running toward the stop in the same direction as the bus; about 20 yards from the stop the bus driver began an absurd series of starts and stops; I watched incredulously as the driver tried to get the attention of these two people so they could get on the bus before we did. The driver even opened the door to try to nudge them inside, but they ignored the bus and kept walking; in fact, they were not even getting on the bus at all. When I boarded the bus, I asked the driver if he had read the anti-discrimination posting inside the bus—as if it mattered: Metro bus drivers are pretty much allowed to abuse their “authority,” and apparently have no fear that they will be brought to book.

• I was waiting for a bus at a designated stop when the driver zoomed past me and made a dead stop at crosswalk. He let out a passenger and quickly slammed the door shut—except by that time I had caught up to the bus, and my arm was stuck in the door. The driver had driven several feet before he noticed that there was an arm sticking through the door. From the time I boarded to the time I exited ten minutes later, I put the driver on notice that there was no way he was going to get away with this. However, I took pity on him because by then he appeared to be pissing in his pants, and he was apologizing profusely.

Most people probably would just let these things go, because they believe that there is nothing they can do, or they believe that the driver is permitted extraordinary privilege; I on the other hand take nothing lightly, especially when it is wrong. It may be that some Metro bus drivers are venting their frustrations on “easy prey” because of the effects of budget cuts on bus service, which affects their job security. However, they still should remember that they have no livelihood without passengers—most of whom are forced to spend an exorbitant percentage of their take-home pay on bus transport—and from taxpayer contributions. People might look different, but their money is all the same color, and because of that all passengers deserve the same consideration without resort to personal prejudice. Considering how many complaints I have lodged at Metro, that message just isn’t getting through some dull skulls. Oh, and by the way, who is named “Driver of the Year” is not determined by customer satisfaction ratings; it is essentially a popularity contest conducted by fellow Metro employees.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Seattle needs a credibility check

In recent years, Seattle has received the appellation of “superstar city.” What does that mean? It can’t mean that it has a natural history museum you can lose yourself in on a slow day like there is in New York, Washington D.C. or Chicago; back in the 1980s I laughed at the tiny Los Angeles County museum, but since then it has vastly expanded with an impressive dinosaur skeleton exhibit. To me, that is what a “superstar” city must have. Well, there is the Pacific Science Center, except that outside a traveling temporary exhibit, all the price of your ticket is doing is keeping up the rent on the building, not what’s in it.

No, what “superstar” means in this context is that Seattle is appealing to yuppie and affluent whites. They come here not just because of depressed home prices in a place that outsiders think is a “tourist” city; it took me ten years to go up the Space Needle, and only because my brother wanted to, and having visited the little public aquarium, and the zoo with “natural” exhibits where you’d be fortunate to actually see the animals, the art museum that is as squished inside as it looks outside, I don’t have to see more. Seattle is the kind of place where you have to have money to have a “good time.” They also come to Seattle because it is considered a “white” city—one of the “whitest” in the country—and for a long time one of those “hyper-segregated” cities where what minorities there are were isolated in little “islands,” mainly in the central and southern parts of the city. Seattle likes to call itself a “progressive” town; I call it narcissism.

The Economist recently noted this trend and a portion of its meaning. “By 2010 the islands had largely gone. Seattle and Portland had become ‘smart cities,’ magnets for hordes of young, highly educated and highly paid newcomers, most of them white and childless. Hungry for ‘diversity’ and rushing into relatively rundown black neighborhoods, they snapped up the only housing bargains left. White-owned banks were eager to make loans to yuppies. Tens of thousands of houses were gutted and rebuilt. As gentrification gathered pace, property prices exploded. Black homeowners cashed in, taking their windfalls to the suburbs. Black renters were squeezed out by higher rents.”

The actual thrust of the Economist story concerned "black flight” to the suburbs, although it did not have all its assumptions straight. While some black professionals did vacate inner city neighborhoods for suburbs, the reality was that because of the housing bubble during the Bush administration that inflated property values, the higher property taxes that were then incurred were beyond the means of many black families earning well below the median wage to keep their homes. Also, blacks tended to be charged far higher home finance charges than whites—nearly three times that of whites, according to one study—thus they had little equity, and often had little choice but to “cash in” for what modest amount they could gain when eager white buyers came calling. When the bubble burst, property in previously white-shunned neighborhoods found even more eager developer wanting to take advantage of the situation. These developers who built housing units were supposed to include “affordable” housing and rental units; but with the income of many minority and low-income families far below the median income that the city set as a baseline—that is to say, the poverty range—many long-time residents in the central and southern districts of the city found themselves in a fiscal predicament with no help from city government. While some neighborhoods in the Central District have dropped from 80 percent black forty years ago to 20 percent today, The Economist noted that conditions in the suburbs that blacks are “fleeing” to have not always been what they hoped:

“This is proving a mixed blessing. Well-educated blacks are finding better jobs, bigger houses and newer schools, just as white-flight suburbanites did in previous generations. But many lower-income migrants from the inner cities are finding poverty, crime and poor social services when they arrive in their new homes. In the past decade, poverty has increased more than twice as fast in the suburbs as it has in the cities.”

In the last decade, thousands of affordable rentals units have been either demolished to make room for condominiums, or have seen their rents increased drastically—pricing out low-income renters—or have been simply demolished. I used to live in an apartment (that had seen much better days) on Seneca near downtown Seattle. In 1992, living on something near poverty wages, I was paying $350 a month for the privilege; sure it was a rat and roach-infested closet, but at least its low cost left me a little to live on. In 1998, a finance company bought it from the owners, who could no longer afford its upkeep; I received a notice the following week that the rent was being raised to $650 in two months, then $750 the following month. I had to move out because I couldn’t afford to pay that on my meager wages, but apparently the new management was unable find enough people willing to pay the higher rent for those dilapidated digs; today the apartment building, and an adjacent building, is nothing but a pile of rubble, and has been a pile of rubble since at least 2004.

While the Seattle Times has nibbled at the affordable housing issue to no discernable effect, it has shown a preference to take the side of those who wish to “whiten” the city. For example, in the past six months it took a hammer to mainly black school district officials for real or alleged corrupt practices in assisting schools in minority neighborhoods, and more recently attacking a black church who allegedly received a “sweet deal” from the school district in buying the property of a mostly black school that had recently been closed, in order to keep it “in the neighborhood”—that is the black community. The leading competitor for the property was a largely white and affluent private school; as was going on in the rest of the city, whites with money were simply taking everything. The Times chose to evade the moral issue involved of how the monied people have been allowed by the city to profit from the current economic stresses; so much for being a “progressive” city. Instead, the Times prefers to assault black officials and community leaders without once trying to understand their motivations or concerns in the face of an unequal reality, choosing rather to portray them as corrupt villains--thus allowing readers to evade the moral issues themselves.

Just like old times in Georgia

From “hurt feelings,” bruised egos, and white men and woman arguing about who is the superior being, we go to the grotesque reality of deliberate dehumanization:

“Hordes of grasping, pushing foreigners who are stealing jobs from American workmen and bread from American homes. It is to combat this peril, to preserve and protect standards of living which made American workmen the envy of the world that we, the challengers, have raised our rallying cry, 'America for Americans.' The problems has got beyond the point where the American workman can cope with it alone. He needs guidance, solidarity and expert advise on the subject of protecting his job. We, the challengers, are organized to provide that solidarity and advise. Ours is an organization. It is an organization of which it might be said, ‘He who is not with us is against us.’ The choice, my friends, is a simple one. Do you want our red, white and blue flag replaced by the vile banner of anarchy? The time has come when we must realize what is going on in this great land of ours. When the real, hundred percent American must stop and think.”

Sound vaguely familiar? How about this?

“In mighty multitudes, they have swarmed to our shores to take refuge under the protection of the greatest government on Earth. And how have they rewarded the fine, generous, liberty-loving people who opened to them their hearts, their homes and their horizons of opportunity? I will tell you how. With the basest ingratitude and the vilest of treachery. Spurning American ideals and the sacred principles for which our forefathers fought they have clung tenaciously to their alien doctrines, foreign faiths and un-American morals. Like poisonous vipers, they have patiently bided their time while they've fed on the bosom of our country. Now enriched with the jobs they have chiseled away from Americans and drunk with the power of their stolen prosperity they are plotting to seize control of our government, overthrow our glorious republic and subjugate the American people to their own dastardly designs. Standing alone, you and I are helpless to defend ourselves against this deadly peril. Helpless to protect our homes and families from the menace that threatens. But if we unite with millions of other red-blooded Americans, we are invincible. With fire and sword, we will purge the land of these traitorous aliens and throttle their every deadly scheme till once more, our beloved stars and stripes will wave over a united nation of free, white, 100 percent Americans!”

Changing the “shores” to “borders,” we can hear variations of this rhetoric any day on right-wing talk radio or Fox News; what that really means in effect is that this kind of extremist hate talk has emerged from the cesspool of hate groups to “mainstream” status. The above commentary is from an obscure 1937 film called the “Black Legion” starring Humphrey Bogart, based on the real-life off-shoot of the Ku Klux Klan that had a brief existence during the worst of the Great Depression. Bogart’s Frank Taylor wasn’t really a hater; he just had a bad habit of feeling sorry for himself. He chuckles at the silliness of the secret knocks when he arrives at a Legion meeting; later at his induction, he is obviously uncomfortable reading the violent tripe that is the group’s oath of allegiance. Nevertheless, he at first thrills at the opportunity to vent his frustration about not landing that foreman job given to a more studious immigrant; within the safety of group-think he helps vandalize and burn homes and businesses, and beating anyone who isn’t “100 percent American.” The “grand wizard” of the outfit, perhaps needless to say, can’t wait to expand the Legion’s membership—not for ideological reasons, but because more members means more cash in his pocket from dues and fees. When Taylor’s best friend threatens to expose him and the Legion to the police unless he shapes-up, Taylor—knowing that his new “friends” would kill him if tried to leave the group—arranges for his real friend to be subjected to whipping but instead shoots him when he tries to escape. Taylor is arrested and put on trial for murder; having alienated his wife by lying about his activities, he is no longer concerned about his fate, but the Legion threatens to do harm to his wife and child unless he “cooperates”—meaning keeping quiet about the Legion. In the end, Taylor can’t maintain the pretence and the lies that are breaking his wife’s heart, and exposes all the Black Legion members in the courtroom, there to make sure everything goes according to plan—effectively ending their criminal activities.

What is amazing about this film is not that it was fact-based. The anti-immigrant Black Legion was real. Its activities ranged in several Midwestern states, but principally in Michigan and particularly Detroit; its victims were mostly black, but any white who was an immigrant, religious minority or was engaged in “socialist” or “communist” activities—such as labor rights movements—was also a potential target. The Legion’s anti-labor activities apparently included infiltrating the UAW in order to obtain “inside information” for auto company management. According to a Detroit News historical retrospective on the group, its “oath of allegiance” declared that as native-born white Americans, “We regard as enemies to ourselves and our country all aliens, Negroes, Jews and cults and creeds believing in racial equality or owing allegiance to any foreign potentates. These we will fight without fear or favor as long as one foe of American liberty is left alive.” Interestingly, the Legion set-up a political front—the Wolverine Republican Club—which received support from local Republican politicians, despite the reputation of the “club” engaging in unsavory and often violent acts against the opponents of their preferred candidates. The Legion—as implied in the film—was eventually brought down by the murder of a white man, who was a labor rights activist.

What is remarkable about the film is that in 1936, a film company—Warner Brothers—had decided that the public needed to be educated about the menaces to civilized society in its midst. Not immigrants or racial minorities, but the so-called “100 percent Americans.” These people were not in fact “real” Americans—their refusal to countenance “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for anyone but themselves was inimical to the American ideal. “Black Legion” was one of many “minor” films during that time that took on what FDR referred to as “fear itself” being perpetrated by the propaganda of the right. Today, we can ask ourselves a different question: Who in the media, whether in film or news reporting, is exposing the real menace to this country, those who inspire fear and hatred toward entire groups deemed “undesirable” and preventing any rational discourse? Outside of a few dedicated groups like the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center, almost no one. The current Tea Party “Movement” is just another of a long, sorry line of racist, anti-immigrant and anti-government groups that have polluted political discourse over the centuries, hiding their extremism behind the façade of clichés provided them by their corporate pay and puppet-masters. The media hasn’t figured it out yet, but the truth will eventually win-out; the question is if by that time will be it too late to avert its destructive course.

Nor has the media or the film industry had the courage to expose to the general public the dangers the country faces from unbridled hatred and the demonization of vulnerable people of whom the vast majority have endured trials and tribulations that few “real” Americans will ever know. The SPL Center reported that there are 319 nativist extremist groups targeting immigrants in 2010. The largest by number of chapters is the Federal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Coalition. On its website, the group warns against the “conquest” of the United States by Latin American. It implies that the entire population of Latin America, which it puts at 550 million, is poised to invade and overwhelm the United States and its meager population of 300 million. Who are these undocumented “hordes” invading the country—most of whom are not from Mexico (although most pass through Mexico) but from Central American countries as well as China, the Middle East, Africa and India? An immigrant from Belize told the Associated Press that their experiences before reaching the U.S. include “running from the military, the authorities, the police and now the criminals…We are just poor people, we’re just passing through. Why do they have to do this to us? I’m not afraid. I’m prepared to die. I’m tired of suffering in this world.” And then many suffer the same after they come to America. These are the people that Pat Buchanan said are “out to destroy America.” The suffering comes not just from past exploitation of Central America by U.S. interests that undermined the interests of indigenous peoples in favor of Euro-elites; as I noted in a prior post, the current violence in Mexico’s drug “industry” is a direct result of the “successful” war against the top Colombian cartels in the 1990s. Like so much of the U.S.’s usually self-serving foreign policy activities, its intervention in Columbia backfired—only making matters worse by bringing the violence closer to home; previous routes used by the Colombians through Florida were obviously much less prone to be the scene of violence, save in the country of origin, far from U.S. shores.

Once in this country, it is question of relativity. Hot on the heels of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law that mandates racial profiling against Latinos, is Georgia’s anti-immigrant H.B. 87, which essentially mirrors the Arizona law. But there is a philosophical difference: In Georgia, it is like the playground bully who beats down a smaller kid just because he doesn’t like him—and then the victim of the beating is suspended from school so he won’t be around to tempt the bully into beating him again.

The Nation recently examined the current climate in Georgia with a story on the emergence of a new version of Jim Crow in which Latinos regardless of legal status are forced to endure—“Juan Crow”: “A racial and political climate in which Latinos' subordinate status in Georgia and in the Deep South bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow. Call it Juan Crow: the matrix of laws, social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit” immigrants. The SPL Center goes further:

“This treatment - which many Latinos liken to the oppressive climate of racial subordination that blacks endured during the Jim Crow era - is encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants and spread false propaganda. And as a result of relentless vilification in the media, Latinos are targeted for harassment by racist extremist groups, some of which are directly descended from the old guardians of white supremacy…Instead of acting to prohibit and eliminate systematic exploitation and discrimination against Latinos, state and local governments in much of the South have exacerbated the situation. A number of Southern communities, for example, have enacted ordinances designed to limit services to undocumented immigrants and make their lives as difficult as possible, with the ultimate goal of driving them away. In addition, many law enforcement agencies in the South, armed with so-called 287(g) agreements with the federal government, are enforcing immigration law in a way that has led to accusations of systematic racial profiling…We found a population under siege and living in fear - fear of the police, fear of the government and fear of criminals who prey on immigrants because of their vulnerability.”

Since all Latinos are considered “suspect,” the discrimination has been generalized. The top man in perpetrating this spread of race hatred in Georgia is Gov. Nathan Deal. Does this interest cable news outlets like CNN? Of course not; it would rather spend time criticizing a doctored photo of Deal in a Spanish language newspaper, wearing a Nazi uniform. Frankly, my impression was that it fit him just fine.

In 2004, the Center exposed the so-called “Battle of 'Georgiafornia.” While there have been more high profile cases as such as the murder of an immigrant in Shenandoah, PA that involved white “youths” and a cover-up by local police that led to indictments and convictions on civil rights charges, it appears by all accounts that the Georgia’s under-the-radar incidents happen with great frequency. In a lengthy piece written by Bob Moser, stories such as students from a Canton, Georgia high school engaging in their own Black Legion-like activities would seem to be the norm, not the exception. After a string of unexplained beatings and robberies of immigrant laborers, arrests were made after one of the students bragged that he and his gang were “robbing and beating up Mexicans.” According to an assistant police chief, the “Mexicans” were “easy prey.” The difference between the lower-class thugs who made-up the Black Legion and these thugs could not be more stark, however: One was “an heir to one of the county's most powerful (Republican) families.” He was also the president of high school AG club. Another thug was a junior ROTC cadet; still another was an Explorer Scout. These were all “kids” from well-to-do families for whom Latinos had become so dehumanized from media, political and local propaganda that they had become mere animals.

Moser noted that “In the formerly homogenous town of Chamblee, just north of Atlanta, white residents began complaining as early as 1992 about the ‘terrible, filthy people’ standing on their street corners. At a town council meeting, one official infamously suggested that residents set bear traps in their yards to keep the Hispanics at bay. Another councilman wondered aloud whether Chamblee whites should form a vigilante group to scare off the immigrants. In every part of the U.S. where large numbers of Hispanic immigrants have moved, anti-immigration groups have sprung up in protest. But the backlash in Georgia has been fueled not only by these ‘mainstream’ groups, but also by hardcore neo-Nazis, Southern ‘heritage’ activists and white-supremacist hate groups — all of them saying strikingly similar things about the ‘Mexican invasion.’" An “ethnic war” is in the offing—a second Civil War, according to some these fanatics.

A few brave souls recognized that allowing this hate to “mainstream” has dangerous consequences. One of them was State Sen. Vincent Fort, a civil rights activist whose district is a largely black section of Atlanta. Fort supported a group of Latinos seeking to march in Doraville, but were being forced to pay for “police protection.” Fort argued before the city council that the Latino group’s free speech rights were being hindered merely because they were “different.” After some testy—and racially insensitive commentary—the Latino group was eventually allowed to conduct their march, but Fort predicted that “As they start to assert themselves and defend their rights, it won't be pleasant. We know that from the civil-rights movement.”

A civil-rights analyst for the National Council of La Raza was more blunt: "The message sent by these (aforementioned Canton) assaults is already bad enough. If you wake up at 5 a.m. and want to work hard in Georgia, you're putting your life at risk."

The final scene in “Black Legion” had the judge making the following address to the members of the Legion who had just been convicted of murder:

“Furthermore, your idea of patriotism and Americanism is hideous to all decent citizens. It violates every protection guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in our constitution. The Bill of Rights, assuring to us freedom of religious opinion and security of person and property against the attack of illegal and extralegal forces is the cornerstone of true Americanism. And must be jealously guarded if we are to remain a free people. We cannot permit racial or religious hatreds to be stirred up so that innocent citizens become the victims of accusations brought in secrecy. We cannot permit unknown tribunals to pass judgments. Nor punishments to be inflicted by a band of hooded terrorists. Unless all of these illegal and extralegal forces are ruthlessly wiped out this nation may as well abandon its constitution forget its Bill of Rights, tear down its courts of justice and revert to the barbarism of government by primitive violence. This would mean relinquishing everything that civilized man has won by the most prodigious effort over a course of the past five centuries. The American people made their choice long ago. Their blood and their sacrifices secured for us the basic human rights: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their wisdom built the structure of our democratic form of government expressly to keep sacred and inviolate these same human rights. It is our duty to guard them zealously if we are to remain a nation of free men. As Abraham Lincoln said: "Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is the spirit that prizes liberty as the heritage of all men in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors."

Then, as now, the real threat to country are the cowards who hide their crimes to civilized society behind the façade of “patriotism” and “Americanism.” Who will stand up to them? Mighty few indeed from what I can see.

Hurt feelings and bruised egos

I was listening to National Public Radio the other day when I heard a commentator named Jacki Lyden express dismay that Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul told an interviewer at some British convention that “no woman could ever be his literary match.” He seemed (at least to mainly female listeners) to be dismissive of Jane Austen’s work, claiming that he couldn’t share her “sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world.” Lyden expressed shock at the “misogynistic” tendencies of this author she claims to have venerated in a past life; Lyden is a writer herself, so we should know that this is also about bruised egos (I must confess that Lyden is one of thousands of such superstars-in-their-own-minds I’ve never heard of). I will first say, however, that it is more than a little presumptuous to say that NO woman could ever be his literary match; frankly I have to confess that while I’ve heard of him, I have no familiarity with Naipaul work, so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that I don’t feel the lesser because of it. On the other hand, if you would have to ask if Shakespeare would receive the same reaction if he was around today to make such a statement; who then would be the presumptuous one? In regard to Austen and other female British writers of the 19th century, you have to admit it would be a less interesting world without Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein; they certainly made great movies and television mini-series. Nevertheless, to say that one doesn’t share Austen’s “sentimental sense of the world” is not a criticism, but an observation; looking out at the world today, is it hard to be sentimental about anything, unless you can afford it.

I have to confess that outside one or two historical works, I’ve never read any book written by a woman, not due to prejudice but because they never seem to author anything within the sphere of my interests; a large quantity works by women seem to have appeal only to those who are supposed to “understand” its narrow and often self-serving personal politics. Self-empowerment and “spiritual” tomes? I say get a life. The novels and historical works I prefer to read address some grand or universal moral question, and the novels of this stripe tend to be the recognized classics; I have no patience for the petty and personal, which I find dishonest and hypocritical. I confess that when I was younger I liked reading action/thriller fiction, but over time I outgrew childish pleasures; there was the real world to contend with.

I can’t read books about serial victimization and simplistic black-and-white conclusions that infuses so much literature (fiction or non) written by women. It’s bone-dull and untruthful. Why shouldn’t I be allowed to say that? It is the truth. I won’t read a biography of Thomas Becket that paints a picture of a “saint,” whose struggle with Henry II was about based on purely religious motivations. That would not only be a dull story, and it would be a false one: Becket, who spent most of his life engaged in worldly interests, was less concerned with doing God’s work than in refusing to be Henry’s pliant tool—the lust for power, independent of the crown, was Becket’s principal concern. The tragedy was that there was no compromise from either side. Even a story seemingly as cut-and-dry as the Dreyfus Affair is not without some measure of ambiguity; the French generals who seemed incomprehensibly set on being blind to justice were not bad men. Having been initially convinced of Dreyfus’ guilt, they believed the “honor” of the army was at stake, particularly given the still fresh memory of its humiliating defeat at the hands of Bismarck’s Prussia.

What is the “alternative?” Books like Kate Millett’s tome on the Sylvia Likens murder, which I recently discussed? Women reviewers on Amazon may think her “stream of consciousness” victimology musings are “truth,” but that only goes to show that she (and they) cannot be trusted with dispassionate elucidation of facts. Millett practically claimed have an out-of-body understanding of Likens’ experience and yet also sought to justify Gertrude Baniszewski’s horrifying actions. I may not be female, but I can say I have (slightly) greater understanding of the situation than Millett ever would. I remember arriving at school one morning when I encountered a teacher on a staircase; she expressed concern about where those welts around my neck came from; I told her that the school bus I was on had an accident, and I had gotten a whiplash. I was sent to a hospital and given a neck brace; the “amusing” part of this story was that it was all a lie, which I was prone to engage in because I never experienced any positive result from the truth until after I left home. I’ll leave the context of this story to the imagination.

The same distrust holds for any account of the life of Margaret Sanger, the patron “saint” of the abortion movement; the truth is that she was no “saint”—she was a racist and class bigot who saw abortion as a means to keep the “undesirable” population to a minimum; philosophically, she was even more extreme than the Nazis, whose euthanasia policy targeted those allegedly with mental and physical handicaps—while Sanger would target the presumably healthy offspring of racial minorities, the poor and supposedly inferior European “races.” I’ve already talked about Winnie Mandela, who is being feted in opera and film as some sort of “saint” as well. The truth was that she turned from symbol of the anti-Apartheid movement to a greedy, power-mad megalomaniac with a tendency to violence—the exact opposite of what her former husband would become. It all comes down to a matter of trust; it is alright to have a bias, but it must be tempered with the recognition of facts that might offer a different conclusion. This is true not just of non-fiction, but fiction as well; Voltaire’s Candide may have had a “pure” soul, but Voltaire was too cynical of the reality of human nature to allow for a dishonest caricature. More than once, the “sweet-tempered” Candide engaged in what could charitably be referred to as simple murder.

Back to the NPR story, Lyden complains that Naipaul dismissed a book by his former publisher as evidence that women have a "narrow view of the world, since she is inevitably not a complete master of the house." Since when is it “misogynist” to simply re-state what feminists and women’s studies departments have been saying for years? Haven’t we been told again and again, ad nauseam, that we live in a “patriarchal” society that oppresses women? If it were not “true,” then the radicals would have nothing to talk about. I wouldn’t say that women writers having a narrow us-against-them view of the world that does not take into account that women are far from morally and ethically pure is necessarily bad from a commercial point of view, if women like reading that kind of thing. But it does mean it is a narrow, one-sided perspective where it is difficult to discover truth. If the New York Review of Books recognizes this, then so be it. Lyden quoted a female writer critical of the alleged “misogyny” of the Review who said "Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything." I tried for several minutes to deduce logic from that statement, but was forced to abandon the project. The first two statements have not been true for a very long time, and because they are not true, the third statement can just as easily—perhaps more so—be applied to books written by women, which in fact account for the majority of books being published each year. Filling the alleged “knowledge gap” in the female experience while ignoring contextual considerations and facts that hinder a preconceived conclusion doesn’t “prove” anything, either—except the “hubris” of that author.

For quite a long time, the term “misogyny” has thrown around a lot. Sometimes it is applied when a man makes a statement that is taken as a negative stereotype (positive stereotypes are, of course, heartily approved of). But more often they are used to ward off uncomfortable facts. The other day there was blurb in the Seattle Times sports page about some question and answer session with a women’s soccer player named Hope Solo. The accompanying photo showed a blonde woman striking a haughty, tough guy pose. Nothing wrong with that—it’s a typical athlete pose. The problem was that it struck too close to an uncomfortable truth. In a match against Brazil several years ago, the coach of the U.S. soccer team decided to use Brianna Scurry as the goalkeeper instead of Solo; Scurry was the older, more experienced player who had had success in prior years. What was Solo’s reaction? She sulked, gave-off bad vibes, refused to support the team and sat by herself like any selfish prima donna. Her juvenile, destructive behavior negatively affected psychologically the team, which lost the match. It is worth noting that Scurry is black; one wonders if the arrogant Solo—whose actions mirrored her name to the detriment of the team—would have taken it better if she was white. How did the Times report the story? It portrayed Solo as a "victim" who went through an "ordeal." Her behavior could be explained by her “competitiveness,” not her belief in her racial superiority. Outside commentators were, however, less generous, since it was clear that her conduct was the very definition of unsportsmanlike.

Is it “misogynistic” as well to point out such things as how feminist columnist Bonnie Erbe urged Barack Obama—after he had essentially locked-up the Democratic nomination—to step aside in favor of her preferred candidate because “whites wouldn’t vote for him?” Does she mean white women like Harriet Christian, of “inadequate black man” infamy? How about the USA Today reporter who did not ask Eleanor Smeal to explain her “racism against white women” comment? How come it’s the Southern Poverty Law Center that has to tell us about Laine Lawless? Back in 2006, the Center reported how this former “high priestess” of a lesbian outfit called the “Sisterhood of the Moon,” and present anti-immigrant fanatic, was providing “advice” to local neo-Nazis on how to terrorize and harass “Mexican” children. The Center recently offered an update on her activities, including a photo of her burning a Mexican flag; despite her denials, she still has neo-Nazi connections, recently attended a talk by Holocaust denier David Irving, and is one of the few people still defending Shawna Forde. Forde—a Washington native who was active in an unstable way in the anti-immigrant Minuteman movement—was sentenced to death earlier this year after her conviction in the home invasion murder of a Latino man and his 9-year-old daughter. Curiously, the Seattle Times—which frequently publishes stories designed to inflame passions against Latinos—printed nothing about this latest “twist.”

There is nothing I despise worse than hypocrisy, and I won’t let hypocrites to dissuade me from being troubled by it, regardless who is guilty of it. As long as the purveyors of this hypocrisy are not only encouraged but applauded for their “truth,” I will continue at take the opportunity to every now and again to poke at the narcissism and conceit of it all.