Thursday, May 29, 2014

Between a rock and a hard place, as in between right-wing and “liberal”

I suppose I should give credit where it is deserved, and in this case it is to Bethany Jean Clement and the alternative weekly The Stranger, for having the guts to expose the hypocrisy of the “liberal” patronage toward the Latino community (that is in comparison to the Seattle Times, which usually only disseminates negative stereotypes in relation to immigration issues). Not that it is worse than right-wing hate talk, which tends to have at least symbolic extermination (if not in reality), on its mind. The problem with at least some on the left—but certainly not all, and I don’t necessarily mean for the better—is that it seems to share the same stereotypical beliefs as right-wing bigots, except that the left tends to cast them in an “amusing” light, rather than one of contempt. 

Now, the above mentioned weekly published a story recently which described a “gringo” version of Cinco de Mayo, something called ¡Fiesta 5K Ole!, which was held on Capitol Hill earlier this month. There seems to have been hardly anyone who was actually “Mexican” at this event, but white folks did their “best” imitation. So what exactly did the 1,200 or so people who participated in this event know about “Mexican” culture? I’ll tell you one thing, I suspect that they never watch Univision. If they did, they’d find that their ignorance is just as great as their mendacity. 

I admit that the Spanish-language network’s entertainment is often on the cheesy and politically-incorrect side, but there is very little that wouldn’t be culturally recognizable in this country. This is why most Latinos—especially “mesitizos” who are mixed white and indigenous Indian—usually self-deludingly regard themselves as “white.” That is to say “self-deluding” in the sense that Anglo America remains seemingly completely ignorant of how these people live their lives.  Oh sure, maybe during “cultural” festivals they dress-up in “traditional” outfits, but these are no more a reflection of their workaday existence than when whites have their “Medieval Days” festivals. 

So how did those fools make fools of themselves? “Some wore sombreros, serapes, and big, bushy fake mustaches for the race around Capitol Hill, which was followed by tacos, beer, and tequila at the 107.7 Taco Truck Challenge in Volunteer Park. It rained, but people gamely did shots, played corn-hole beanbag toss, and did the worm on the wet grass.” Isn’t it “fun” being a “Mexican,” while being made fun of? Well, only if you are not one in this country; just wait until Republicans rev-up their anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric in the next few months, and the hate just rolls in again.

It also seems that left-leaning MSNBC had their Cinco de Mayo: Mexican Heritage Celebration, where “producer Louis Burgdorf walked on- and off-screen wearing a sombrero, drinking from a tequila bottle, and shaking a maraca. Hugo Balta, the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, issued a statement that read, in part, ‘This is simply the worst example I have seen of a discriminatory stereotypical portrayal of any community by any media. The fact that this was done by a news organization is abominable. This wasn't a chance occurrence.’”

Why stop there? Alleged “progressives” like Thom Hartmann frequently made populist attacks on Latino immigrants for “stealing” jobs, lowering wages, and sponging off  public services, none of which is true. Before I started this blog I was a frequent contributor to Thom’s listener comment webpage, and near the end I found myself in toe-to-toe verbal combat with his listeners who also shared Thom’s very unliberal attitudes; apparently I was causing such heartburn with my “suggestion” that racism was in evidence that I was blocked from accessing the site altogether. 

With “friends” like these, who needs enemies? The problem is not so much the embarrassing minstrel show spectacle, but the fact that nearly all “Mexicans” in this country find this stuff as at best minor side events in their lives, and most—especially native-born citizens—find it as “foreign” as most “real” Americans do. That most of the rest of the country chooses to “define” Latinos in this manner--however innocently" intended--only proves the extent to which their “separateness” is ingrained in the social consciousness of this society.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Isla Vista shooter had "alternatives"

I confess to be a life-long bachelor, and while there may have been a moment or two when I thought that something was amiss about this, I’ve reached the age where I just don’t care—as they say nowadays, it is what it is. Nature decreed from ever since I could remember that I would be one of those introverted types, whose reclusive behavior was seen as a form of delinquency by at least one of my parents. This needed to be “corrected,” the methods of which I won’t go into detail here. However, instead of correcting my “faults,” all this “correction” did was make me even more reticent of interacting with the rest of the human species, the female half in particular. 

It doesn’t help that all I ever hear from the media is whining and complaining and claims of victimization. People fall in lust instead of love, and when the lust is over they discover that not only don’t they love this other person, but they don’t like the idea of having to take into consideration the other person’s feelings, or they feel the other person is just getting in the way of their “freedom” to do whatever they please. I frankly don’t have patience for the games that women insist that you play; when it is over, you are left with less than when you started, sometimes considerably so. It goes without saying that I’m not unhappy that I missed that part altogether.

And so now we have this story out of southern California, the college beach community called Isla Vista, where the University of California at Santa Barbara is nestled in. Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old college student, son of a low-level film director and drives around in an expensive car, decided to take his revenge on the world by going into town with a small arsenal and randomly shoot people, killing at least six and wounding seven others before either being shot himself by police, or taking his own life. Although he apparently was targeting women, he shot whoever was most convenient to make his “point.”

Rodger’s “point,” it seems, was his anger at women for not satisfying a particular need of his—relieving him of his virgin status. He couldn’t understand why girls didn’t like him; he was a “gentleman,” he drove a nice car, and he even appeared with his father on a Hollywood red carpet, having done some minor work on the “Hunger Games” set. But this didn’t impress the girls; they preferred conceited jocks and tough guys. Rodger was just some guy they kicked sand in the face at the beach. 

This character deserves no sympathy, however. In a YouTube video where he is seen speaking into a camera while sitting in his expensive car that his father bought him, we see his smug, self-righteous demeanor and tone that is chilling in its insane justification for “revenge.” His “autobiography” posted elsewhere talks of being “traumatized” by seeing pictures of naked women, and then being unable to fulfill a desire to turn what he saw into reality. He described being “bullied” in school, and becoming more “shy and timid.” Once in college he claimed that "Every day that I spent at my college, the more inferior and invisible I felt. I felt like such an inferior mouse whenever I saw guys walking with beautiful girls." In his YouTube video, he asserted that “For the past eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me," and then vowed "Tomorrow is the day of retribution. The day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you."

Now, as a person who has never felt the desire to convince a female of the species to fulfill some need of mine beyond not causing me any trouble in my work-a-day life, I find all of this beyond my feeble comprehension. I like women as well as the next male, but if I have to work too hard for a few seconds of pleasure, I don’t see what the point of it all is. I could be doing something more useful with my time. And here is this fool who life cannot be “complete” unless he can convince a woman to sleep with him. The problem is that there is likely a reason why the girls don’t like him, and part of it is because he appears to be narcissistic and self-absorbed; he doesn’t care about them, but about himself. They are just objects to fulfill his fantasy. This is somewhat on the pathetic side, I’d say.

I have said before that I do not live in a world of illusion. I am also an observer of the world, and I comment here on what I see. I find that not being under the thumb of anyone allows me to say whatever is on my mind, without fear of upsetting a “significant” other. I will never understand what drives people like Rodger to such insane acts. Life is too short, and there are always useful alternatives.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day’s unknown soldiers

Today is Memorial Day, where old men walk around wearing their ball caps with various indications of their veteran status. Sometimes it seems as if every man between a certain age served in combat somewhere, and a few have nothing better to do but display themselves like martial peacocks, because it is the only status of significance that they have. Quite often I get the feeling from these folks that they are saying to me that they are “real Americans” who fought for the things that America “’stands for”—although I get impression that they’ve forgotten what that is—and that I and people “like me” are just interlopers taking advantage of the “freedom” that Real Americans spilled their blood for.

The fact that I was born and raised in this country and served seven years in the Regular Army obviously doesn’t mean anything to such people, because they are not basing their opinion on what they know, but on their racial prejudices and assumptions. For the current generation, this is all reinforced by the fact that the American news and entertainment media ignored—and still ignores—the fact that 13 percent of the soldiers, airmen and sailors who served in World War II were black and Latino (although it was true that the majority of black troops served in support units). 

According to the Warfare and Armed Conflicts – A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500–2000, 708 black soldiers died in combat in WWII, although it isn’t clear where these statistics were derived. Counting the number of Latino soldiers killed is far more “problematic,” even in today’s conflicts. Save for Puerto Rican units, Latino soldiers who served in WWII were almost always identified as “white,” so that it takes a great deal of painstaking research to discover how many actually served and died. The high estimate is that 9,000 Latino soldiers died during WWII. 

More recently, during Operation Iraqi Freedom through October 2012, 439 black soldiers were killed (about 10 percent of the total), and 466 Latino soldiers died. Most of these identified themselves as “white,” which unfortunately is only an self-deluding indication of what they wish to believe, not the reality on the ground—there or here. During WWII, many who served in Anglo units reported discriminatory treatment by their white “brothers,” and perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of these “white” soldiers requested transfers to black units. 

Two New Mexico-based National Guard units of mostly Spanish-speaking soldiers, the 200th and 515th Battalions, were also among those abandoned by Douglas MacArthur on the Bataan Peninsula in March, 1942 a month before the actual surrender. MacArthur “expected” the troops under siege by the Japanese to hold-out despite his failure to keep them supplied with food and ammunition, which only hastened the inevitable. As many as 80,000 starving and exhausted men were ordered to stand down, to face additional privations on the Bataan death march, including being burned alive in pits.

Yet on Memorial Day, on millions of television sets we are inundated with a War Marathon, film after film about white soldiers doing heroic things during the Great War. Not a single black or Latino face to be seen. Thus we are confronted with the “fact” that only white soldiers actually fought and died during WWII. Such was the belief in this "fact"  in Jim Crow America, no black soldier was seen fit to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II, although seven would receive the award “belatedly” decades later. 17 Latinos were awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II, and 140 the Distinguished Service Cross.  

Yet like black soldiers, Latino veterans only returned to a world of discrimination and prejudice. Sometimes you wonder if anything has changed; I think not.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Do-nothing Republicans find time for exploitation

The Republicans announced earlier this year that it has no agenda this year, save—according to a story in the Washington Post last February—focusing “on calming their divided ranks in the months ahead, mostly by touting proposals that have wide backing within the GOP and shelving any big-ticket legislation for the rest of the year.” This is news? What has the U.S. Congress done since January 20, 2011 when the Republicans and the Tea Party took control of the House?   

One thing they are real good at doing is not accepting blame for things they are at least in part responsible for. They would rather sit back and let the President take all the blame for problems with Veterans Administration health care services. Remember when George Bush was borrowing trillions of dollars to fund his war in Iraq, he was also busy closing VA clinics and cutting funding for the rest? And it's not like military hospitals have ever had a good reputation. Of course, all those veterans “outraged” that Obama was not “outraged” enough at the outrageously poor quality of care at a Phoenix VA hospital—in a state controlled by government-choking Republicans—conveniently “forgot” about that.

And that was after so-called “leaders” of the House Republicans (John Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest of that lost boys bunch) called on the President to “do something” and pass their legislative agenda. Nothing too big, of course: The Skills Act, supposedly meant to “consolidate” federal job-training programs, but reading between the lines is really just part of the Republicans’ meat cleaver approach to federal programs; the Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act, meant to eliminate environmental impact studies; and the Working Families Flexibility Act, actually another sneak attack upon working families, allowing gullible people to put their overtime pay into “flex” program to use when they get sick (that is, instead of receiving sick pay)—and like flex health programs, if you don’t use it, you lose it. 

None of these bills had any chance of passing the Senate, although in March the Gabrielle Miller Kids First Research Act managed to get through the Senate, which would send eliminated public funding for political conventions to the NIH for pediatric research. How nice of them to do that. But one should never underestimate the cynicism of Republicans; everything they have “approved” during the Obama administration has been nothing more than partisan political posturing—and on the cheap.

The “do-nothing” reputation of Republicans in both the House and the Senate is well-deserved. Why is anyone so “surprised” by this? Were we not told from the mouth of the horse’s ass that their principle agenda was the complete and total obstruction of the new administration? Didn’t the Tea Party become “official” the day after Obama’s election in 2009?  Congress’ reputation has been in the dumper for years, and recent efforts to dispel the public’s perception have fooled few—save those who have supported Republican efforts to cause government dysfunction. 

So what is a political party in the public opinion dumper to do? To engage in such shameless public relations burlesque as taking advantage of the latest “sex scandal,” the kidnapping of school girls by Muslim insurgents in Nigeria. House Republicans, who want to take away access to affordable health care for the poor in this country, act like giddy school children given a day off from school when provided the opportunity to pass something high in calories and low on protein. Republicans passed five bills last week dealing with human and sex trafficking; naturally the Democrats—despite recognizing the cynicism of the politics involved—couldn’t allow themselves to be seen skipping this bus, so they were constrained to join the charade.

I’ve talked about this issue before, and how a very small number can become a very large number once gender victim advocates—and hypocritical right-wingers—get a hold of it. The 300,000 children “at risk” for sex trafficking in the U.S. that the legislation refers to is a completely bogus number. This is simply the estimated number of runaways under the age of 18; researchers who have actually hit the streets looking for these child sex slaves have found only enough to make estimates in the “hundreds” nationally—and few were actually “slaves,” with less than 10 percent working for a “pimp.” The new laws would also create whole new categories of criminality based on new definitions and reinterpretations, needlessly filling already overflowing prison populations.

“Trafficking” of adult women is also problematic. The reality is that most women who engage in the sex trade do it out of their own free will. Naturally they don’t want to admit this to family and friends back home, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they would feel somewhat uncomfortable admitting to judgmental “victim” advocates that they are engaged in the world’s oldest profession out of anything other than that they were “forced” to. And this despite the fact that women—and white women specifically—have lower unemployment rates than their male counterparts, and have a plethora of community and government services to help them when in “need.” 

The less “controversial” subject of simple human trafficking is also subject to “interpretation.” Most people who are “trafficked” in this country are not kidnapped slaves but people who are trying to get from one country to another illegally, and are fully aware of the circumstances. The numbers would naturally be inflated if undocumented workers from Latin America are counted, but such terminology would suggest too much sympathy for the impoverished plight of many of these people. “Trafficking” more often would apply to Chinese and South East Asians trying to sneak in onboard merchant ships—often dropped off in Canadian ports first. 

And there are cases such as the one that appeared in a local weekly a few years ago, about a teenage Muslim girl who was an illegal entrant into the country, apparently in an effort by her parents to shield her from the violence in her home country. Her uncle was expected to keep her out of trouble in this country, and he was perhaps “overzealous” in doing so, making her help out in his coffee shop without pay, and “grounding” her when she stayed out too late with friends. The girl complained about this to her American friends, and eventually the uncle was charged and found guilty of “human trafficking” for the purpose of “slavery.” At least this was the “politically-correct” way of interpreting the situation; the uncle no doubt saw his responsibilities to the girl’s safety and well-being in an entirely different light.

I am not going to sit here and say that sex and human trafficking isn’t happening; it is, and there is real victimization occurring. But it is cheapened when exploited and enlarged for cynical political purposes, by both the Republicans and the media.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

It's the EU court's ruling on Google that shows a "Stone Age" mentality

In the summer of 2012, a French court ruled that Google must delete certain search terms that linked to download sites that offered illegal free access to copy writed material, particularly films and music. This decision was almost impossible to enforce, and the only mechanism to prevent such downloads was to sue the download sites and force them to shutdown, which in fact happened in many cases.  

Now a European Union court has ruled that Google must remove search results upon request of individuals who demand the “right to be forgotten.” This case was initiated by a citizen of Spain, Mario Costeja Gonzalez, who was mortified by the fact that a search of his name in Google revealed embarrassing revelations about him, concerning the repossession and sale of his house in order to settle large unpaid debts owed to creditors.

The problem was that this information wasn’t provided by some malicious enemy of his; it was a story in a Spanish newspaper, which posted old stories in its on-line archives. This particular story was 16 years old, and the court claimed that this information was now “irrelevant” since the petitioner had settled his debts. To prevent any further misery this has caused him, Google was now required to “erase” AutoSearch terms that might lead to the rediscovery of this information.

But like the previous search term decision, this is almost impossible to do as long as there is a source of said information available. Newspapers still have a right to publish said material on-line, and all anyone has to do is search—perhaps a more difficult one—in order to find the information and create a new search link. Also, who is to say that if an individual is a bad credit risk (for example), that people do not have a right to know this?

Critics of censorship are denouncing the ruling, which seems to have an “us” against “them” flavor to it, meaning Europeans against the United States. Anti-censorship advocates are calling this a violation of “the fundamental” right of “freedom of expression” and information. The court did step clear of total censorship; there is still a “public interest” in examining the past of public figures who remain in public life, or whose decisions still affect it. And people who allow themselves to be quoted in newspapers—particularly on issues of public concern which they may or may not have competency to speak on—become public persons liable for public comment.

The issue ultimately is just how stringent censorship must be to eliminate any chance of anyone finding the information they seek if they look hard enough. In order to do so would certainly require an  impossibly high bar of compliance. It would no doubt ultimately require the virtual elimination of the Internet as a means of information retrieval, either in fact or by making the cost prohibitive for individuals. One of the EU court justices claimed that the ruling is intended to bring the Internet out of the digital “Stone Age.” In fact, the court’s ruling could potentially lead to just that outcome.