Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hypocrisy from every direction after Orlando massacre

The killing of 49 people—nearly all of them Hispanic males—and the wounding of 53 others at an Orlando, Florida night club catering to gay men has been subject of a great of deal of hypocrisy. Let me count the ways:

·           The shooting spree, perpetrated by an Afghani man, Omar Mateen, was at first called a “terrorist act”—which besides allowing the media to avoid calling it a race hate crime, also allowed Donald Trump to take a more “subtle” message of xenophobia to Scotland; I wonder if someone there whispered in his  ear that the Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union with its “hated” inter-nation immigration policy. In any case, the massacre gave Trump an opportunity to be self-servingly “humble” about his being “right” about his proposal to put a moratorium on Muslim immigration. What he didn’t mention was to what extent that his campaign of anti-Hispanic hate had to do with it; I wouldn’t be the least surprised if some of his supporters “joked” about the shooter helping reduce the “illegal immigrant” population.

·          The media has focused more on the fact that the victims were in the gay community rather than the Hispanic community. This is an untrue assumption; the LGBT angle was only peripheral to the shooter’s motives. It has been revealed that his motive was “revenge” against Hispanic males, allegedly due to some resentful spat he had with Hispanics over perceived "slights" he felt. The fact that he chose a gay male club was because it provided an easy opportunity to kill as many Hispanic males in one place as desired.

·      Unlike Spanish-language news outlets like Univision, the American news media virtually ignored the Hispanic take on the shooting, with non-Hispanics crowding them out with their own narrow “interpretation" on events, revealing the total lack of respect for the humanity and intelligence of the largest minority group in the country. Even the rare instance where a Hispanic was allowed to express an opinion on CNN’s website, it was merely used as an opportunity to “scold” the Hispanic community about ignoring its LGBT community.

·       Some black commentators who self-servingly refuse to recognize hate crimes against Hispanics because only blacks are “allowed” to be the targets of racism, have whined about whether or not the massacre was actually the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, since Hispanics (and not blacks) were the victims, who apparently are of no concern to them. They have scrounged the bottom of the barrel to find an example where blacks were actually the victims of the “worst” mass shooting. Try as they might, under the current definition the Orlando massacre is the worst mass shooting insofar as the number of dead are concerned.

·           The LGBT and “gay pride” movement has hypocritically taken advantage of the massacre by falsely taking “credit” as the victims. Yes, most or all of the victims were gay people; but as indicated before, the shooter did not target them because they were gay--indeed, there are now claims that the shooter was gay himself--but because it was a large gathering of Hispanic males who he wanted to take out his “frustrations” on. They should take at least as much interest in the incident involving actress Kelly McGillis, who “outed” herself a few years ago as a lesbian—saying she was “done” with the “man thing”—who was stalked and assaulted by a woman who broke into her home the other day. I wonder what her intentions were.

·           The massacre came one week before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld on a 4-4 split a Republican-appointed judge’s blocking of Barack Obama’s one feeble attempt at keeping his promises to Hispanic voters.  While he and Joe Biden laid flowers at a memorial for the victims, I couldn’t help but “marvel” at all he had done for Hispanics: deporting more than any other president (2 million), while betraying 4 million parents of U.S. citizens who believed in him, only to be now exposed to easy pickings by immigration agents.  The only reason that Obama has been able to pretend to be a friend of Hispanic voters is because of the intransigence of Republicans on immigration reform, and Trump’s pathologically xenophobic behavior.

And finally, the massacre didn’t stop some small-minded bigots from expressing an “opinion” on Hispanic males. Take, for instance Marie Hausauer of the Seattle Weekly. Hausauer composed a graphic “editorial,” depicting what are obviously meant to be “macho” Hispanic males, “offending” your typical privileged, self-obsessed white yuppie types. Out on the trail apparently reserved for white people, Hispanic males “listen to sick beats”; the word “sail” comes out of the boom box. According to the Urban Dictionary, “sail” can mean a toke of marijuana—or more likely Hausauer’s racist, misandrist take, having a “boner” while floating naked on water, with the offender’s penis sticking out of the water like a “sail.” That kind of thing only emerges from sick minds—like Hausauer’s. Hispanic males also “throw rocks at birds,” or have “super-aggressive dogs” because they are “haters.” Not only that, but they bring “bros” to block the trails and prevent privileged white people from passing them.

Well, I have news for Hausauer—you reap what you sow, so here it goes: When I see someone like you whenever I am forced to walk the streets of Seattle, I see someone who is conceited, arrogant, full-of-shit, bigoted and a Nazi. How do you like it? Furthermore, it is white people who are the ones who think they own the sidewalks, arrogantly blocking other pedestrians by walking three or four side-by-side. Meanwhile, out on the “trail” it is conceited white people who are the “pests”; these fakers either jogging or riding bikes in their silly skin-tights, not for “exercise” or to take in the “sights" or even because they need to be somewhere, but as a “look at me” social activity for those with too much leisure time. 

People like Hausauer need to keep their ignorance about other groups to themselves, and talk about people they actually know something about—like other conceited, arrogant, full-of-shit, bigoted Nazis, who apparently constitute at least half the white population in this country, supporting Trump. I wonder if Hausauer could defend herself by claiming to be “friends” with a Latina; I would discount that even if true because there are some conceited Latinas who fish for Anglo males in order to “enhance” their social “status”—and I am a social and political soldier, not a strumpet.

There is no escaping the truth. Even a grisly incident like this is purposely diminished because there are those who refuse to accept that they helped create the atmosphere of hate against a whole group without allowing them any opportunity to counter it. Of course something like this was fated to occur—and the left is as guilty as the right in making it so.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Profiling on the brain

Last week I was received a $25 Target gift card from my employer, which after some speculation I determined would be useful in purchasing a portable hard drive at a discount, and I knew a store in Kent that sold them. So at the first opportunity I arrived at the store and ambled on down to the electronics department, where I found a store employee who I needed to detach the security device installed on certain items to prevent theft by people who did not possess the proper key. This white female employee was speaking to another white female, who upon first glance appeared to be a customer, given her a purple-dyed hair which gave her the aspect of your typical conceited alternative lifestyle participant. But then I noticed something else: her tight-fitting outfit was apparently a new, “hip” style of security personnel attire, designed to camouflage them in what typically “hip” people wear, although there was the word “SECURITY” emblazoned in white on the back of her black t-shirt to give her true occupation away.

If this was supposed to be an effort to stop complaints by non-white customers who feel offended when big-bellied tough-guy security guards follow them around in an effort to intimidate them out of the store, then this was a mistaken effort. Congenital stereotyping and prejudice based solely on appearance is naturally increased with the self-imposed pressure of loss prevention in stores. While we sometimes hear of black celebrities and athletes being wrongly accused of theft in high-end stores simply because it is believed by store employees and security that they can’t possibly have the money to purchase anything pricy, the truth of the matter is that most retail stores want to avoid bad public relations, and security personnel are loathe to be appear to be “racists” or be accused of it by even making the appearance of watching a black person. But the same is not true of “Mexicans” who are, thanks to Donald Trump, it is “OK” to react with unrestrained attention toward them, no matter how offensive it may be.  

And so it was that the item I desired was unsecured; but instead of handing it to me, the store clerk told me she was going to take it to the cashier’s counter for “me.” I soon found out otherwise. What was the white female security guard with the purple hair doing? Looking for shoplifters? No, she was waiting for me behind the counter. I saw her trying to sneakily peek at what I was purchasing, to which I commented out loud “Yeah, that’s what it is.” Instead of going elsewhere, she just stood right there, occasionally feigning to look away. When I said I had a gift card, she again “surreptitiously” stole a glance at what I handed the clerk; I tried to make her feel uncomfortable by looking right into her eyes. She continued to engage in sneaky glances throughout the purchase, and I did the best I could to make my displeasure known. “It doesn’t matter what face it is” I said, “It is still offensive.” What is most “offensive” is the fact that not only is prejudice and stereotyping not confined to rednecks and the privileged self-important, but those we would otherwise assume to be “progressive”—especially those who apply the term solely to their own needs.

The only other way to explain this is that this security guard was “advised” or instructed by store management to engage in racial or “ethnic” profiling, which is against the law, but it is another thing that racists like to call something else; Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin come to mind, what Dinesh D’Souza called “rational discrimination.” On a website called “Crime Doctor,” the “Doctor”—a man with a bunch of initials behind his name—defended the general use of “profiling” based on a certain observed behaviors, like being “unaccompanied” and “standing alone in a remote aisle, carrying a large empty shopping bag, and looking from side-to-side would be immediately suspicious until their conduct proves otherwise.” But merely focusing a person on their appearance, race or “ethnicity” without any other reason is “wrong,” he says, although he does suggest later that someone dressed in “tattered” shoes might be a legitimate target of “suspicion” in a shoe department until he “disproves” the suspicion—usually by actually purchasing something, or better yet, leaving immediately. 

The “doctor” admits, however, that many if not most store security personal are guilty of focusing “their surveillance time on the customer's ‘color’ rather than ‘conduct’. Racial bias can blind store personnel and cause them to monitor only the ethnic minorities and ignore the real source of their inventory losses. Racial profiling eventually leads to a pattern of false theft accusations, wrongful detentions, and harassment when no real probable cause exists. The result is that a particular ethic group will be made to feel like they can't be trusted and are unwelcome in the store.” The “doctor” also admits that many store security personnel use special radio “codes” whenever a minority person enters a store, and sales associates often contact security whenever an “ethnic” person enters their area.

Yet while security personnel focus on making certain groups of customers uncomfortable with their intimidating behaviors, in half of all store inventories, according to a 2005 University of Florida National Retail Security Survey, the “shoplifter” was in-house: The “doctor” writes “Employee theft was estimated to be responsible for 47% of store inventory shrinkage. That represents an estimated employee theft price tag of about 17.6-billion dollars per year. This astounding figure makes employee dishonesty the greatest single threat to profitability at the store level.” Another report in 2003 found that the “average dollar loss per employee theft case to be $1,762.00 compared to $265.40 for the average shoplifting incident. Despite these facts, most retailers mistakenly focus their loss prevention budgets on shoplifting.”

But that doesn’t deter ignorance. The Safeway grocery store on Meeker St. in Kent employs every conceivable “ethnicity” save Hispanics, and its racial prejudice goes to extremes even more offensive. Every time I go into the place, I almost immediately hear the same three number code over the intercom without any explanation; once I heard “Skittles Alert” as I walked in—obviously a “retaliatory” reference to the Trayvon Martin incident.

Some things never change. Interest in particular issues have their time in the sun, then vanish as if merely reporting on them “solves” the problem. Three years ago after a black actor named Robert Brown was falsely accused of shoplifting and detain by police at a New York City Macy’s—apparently the officers thought it was a mirage to see a black man actually make a purchase in a high-end store—there were stories circulated concerning racial profiling by retail store security, although it was only blacks who were celebrities or athletes with money who were the “victims.” In fact, in 2005 Macy’s was forced to settle a lawsuit alleging pervasive racial profiling of both blacks and Hispanics in its 29 New York locations. 

I often have nothing better to do than to watch the activities so I can report on them. The other day I observed a young black male enter the fast food establishment I was dining at with an empty plastic Coke bottle, go up to the self-serve soft drink dispenser, fill the bottle, and then leave, without any apparent notice by the employees. Not long afterward the white bum who camps out in the place showed up, presented the same used coffee cup and requested a free “refill,” which the order-taker cheerfully fulfilled. Were they not essentially guilty of the same thing, and what do we call it? Were the employees also “guilty” by association? 

Not long afterwards, a teenage white pair walked in; the female put her purse next to the table I was sitting at, despite the fact that that where a dozen empty tables elsewhere. She called to her male companion who was in the process of going to the counter to come back and  “watch” her bag as she went to the restroom. Why did she prevent her boyfriend from ordering and forcing him to sit at a table to “watch” her bag when she could have taken it with her? Was she making some kind of “statement” concerning her stereotypes concerning people who “looked” like me? Regardless, I was offended by the implication.

But back to Target. MSNBC recently reported that three former Target employees were suing that retailer for distributing a memo the intent of which allegedly was to inhibit offensive stereotyping of Hispanics by managers and assorted store employees. What the memo in fact did was highlight both the prejudice and stupidity of its authors. For example, “not everyone wears a sombrero”; but have you ever seen a Hispanic in this country actually wearing a “sombrero,” save in the old TV show “Cisco Kid”? But what was particularly offensive was that it tried to “differentiate” between Hispanic “ethnic” groups by reinforcing negative stereotypes of one (“Mexicans”) as opposed to more the “positive” stereotypes of another (Cubans). In effect, all this “memo” did was “validate” all the offensive stereotypes listed against “Mexicans”—or at least the males. 

I mentioned here once that briefly I worked at a temp position at a warehouse called Expeditors in Kent, where I was the only one anyone construed to be “Mexican,” and I always had the impression that I was unwelcome. One morning while waiting outside for the business to open, a white male was telling crude, offensive “jokes” about “Mexicans” in front of a mixed audience of whites and blacks. Although only a few responded to his harangue, I felt it necessary to speak out against what I perceived as racist comments. Not surprisingly given the atmosphere of prejudice created by the Right and the mainstream media, the speaker professed not to know what I could be referring to; after all, nobody else thought what he said was racist. I replied that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. I thought it was racist (and it certainly was), and that was all that mattered. Unfortunately, unless it starts mattering to more people, it will continue to grow, facilitated by ignorant bigots like Donald Trump.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Elvis is still the "King"

While most people who claim that a particular genre of music is the “greatest” from personal opinion or simply because it is the only thing they listen to, I feel my taste in music in somewhat eclectic. My musical education came courtesy of Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty radio show from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. It was here that you could hear great songs (particularly R&B) that received little or no airplay on the local “hits” radio stations (when I was young those were the AM stations WOKY in Milwaukee and WLS in Chicago) that were “hits” in other markets. You knew that the local “favorites” were out of kilter with the overall picture when Barry Manilow’s “Somewhere in New England” was the number six hit of the year locally when it didn’t even make Billboard’s top 100 nationally. 

Thus I liked anything that is tight and tuneful; I particularly liked production with orchestration, which in turn tuned me into classical music. What current “musicians” and “producers” don’t understand is that string arrangements can add emotional weight to an otherwise flat, tuneless “song”; but then again it costs money to hire an orchestra, and why waste money on art when you can “produce” a “song” on a computer for practically nothing? 

But while my taste in music is wide (that is, what I consider real “music,” not today’s god-awful noise), I have to confess that there was a gaping hole somewhere. I liked much of the music from the 1960s, particularly the Beatles (certainly the greatest “pop” band of all time) and my music collection included everything I considered “essential” from that decade. But I didn’t care for the music from the early days of rock and roll, mainly because musical production (save maybe for the Platters) was a bit too “primitive” for my taste. Thus outside a few Buddy Holly or Everly Brothers songs, I ignored the 1950s completely.

That was a mistake, because I allowed myself to have a huge hole in my musical appreciation: Elvis Aaron Presley. Oh sure, I was familiar with the guy who was running on the fumes of past “greatness,” but he was just some bloated, garishly outfitted caricature of something I was wholly unfamiliar with, who sang in the over-the-top lounge act way that most people now identify as the personification of “Elvis.” I recall reading a review of one of his concerts in a local newspaper, where the writer noted his unfortunate habit of forgetting the lyrics to songs he had sung hundreds of times (The This is Elvis documentary includes a shocking, embarrassing clip of him stumbling and mumbling badly on “Are You Lonesome Tonight”). When he died from a combination of heart failure and drugs, it was front page news across the country, but I thought it no more significant than Howard Hughes’ passing; they were both “strange” characters who had become national curiosities.

But there would come a time (in fact, in the past few months) when I looked at my collection of CDs and decided that there something wrong with having nothing at all of Elvis, and maybe before I pass on I should at least give him a chance. I purchased the 80-song Hitstory and the 40th Anniversary Legacy edition of From Elvis in Memphis, which includes all of the recordings from those fabled Memphis sessions. It certainly seemed like a daunting task to force myself to listen to all these songs of someone I didn’t particularly like save for a few hits from the Memphis sessions (“Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain,” etc.), but I steeled myself to listen to all these songs for a whole week from my mp3 player.

I listened to nothing but Elvis non-stop for a week. Then two weeks, and then three and four. All of a sudden I realized that not only did I like Elvis’ music much better than I thought I would, but he might actually turn out to be my favorite musical artist of all-time, even more than the Beatles. In fact, I know I like his music more than I do the Beatles’. Sure, the Beatles wrote their own songs, but something should be said for songs that actually speak to people, rather than merely experience them.

I suppose this needs some explanation. Elvis’ artistry is devalued by some because they say he just sang, and didn’t write his own material or was particularly proficient as an instrumentalist—or worse, he “stole” black music. But anyone who listens to his first national hit, “Heartbreak Hotel” should know that Elvis’ writing credit that his manager, Col. Tom Parker, forced on the original writers, was entirely justified. For the final result was Elvis’ personal vision and nothing like what was envisioned by the original writers; no one but Elvis could have turned what might have been a forgotten, dime-a-dozen throwaway into a rock & roll classic that lit a fire in many future superstars, particularly in the UK. In short, no one had heard anything like it before. 

It is also a mistake to assume that Elvis was merely “shaped” by producers. In his early “classic” years, Elvis was in control of the sound he wanted to convey. Sam Phillips at Sun Records was searching for a “sound,” and it was Elvis who gave it to him. There was no one like Elvis before (or since). You can hear Buddy Holly “hiccups” before there was Holly, and you can hear Creedence Clearwater Revival’s spare rock arrangements in “Little Sister” years before CCR became the biggest American rock act of its time. But it was acts like Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, whose members were mesmerized by the vision of being the idle of millions of screaming teenagers (particularly teenage girls) simply by being a rock & roll musician. And why did that piano arrangement on the 1966 top-20 hit “Love Letters” sound so familiar to me? Because John Lennon copied it almost note-for-note on his ballad “Love” four years later on first post-Beatle solo album?

In early blockbusters like “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” one can well imagine how an older generation weaned on predictable phrasing, singing hog-tied by perfectly enunciated words and commonplace sentiments found the defiance of convention and a propulsive energy that allowed young listeners eager to escape the shackles of ordinary existence “threatening.” But perhaps “worse” was  how Elvis could harness latent sexuality, not just in his infamous pelvic gyrations onstage, but in songs like “Love Me Tender,” “Don’t” and “One Night.”

To those more familiar with his later “voice,” this early Elvis would be a complete mystery. Elvis’ singing style would change almost at the same time as he started recording in stereo (“Stuck on You” in late 1959 was his first single released in stereo), apparently influenced by a couple of singers he admired, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin; within a few years would begin the nadir of his musical life. As the 1950s ended, Elvis became more “pop” oriented into the early 1960s, although the songs of that period are perhaps his best-remembered, like “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Return to Sender” and  “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise,” mainly because they received the most airplay on “oldies” stations. But as usual, Elvis continued to be adept at anything he tried, even for a song like “Wooden Heart,” a German folk tune complete with accordion and few lines sung in German.

His last major hit before the British Invasion was “Devil in Disguise,” and after that he sounded like he just wasn’t motivated by the material he was forced to sing. Through the control of Col. Parker, his career was channeled exclusively through films and soundtracks; from 1964 to 1968 Elvis didn’t record a single dedicated studio album (outside a gospel-inspired record or two), recording exclusively substandard soundtrack records to his own movies. So far out-of-step with the times was he that his most memorable singles released during that period was recorded in 1960 or earlier (such as his only top-ten hit, “Crying in the Chapel,” which fit in with other soft pap of the time, like the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love”).

But even Elvis realized that he was becoming a bit of a joke, if not a complete fraud, and he needed to do something about it to restore his credibility. The first step was the 1968 “Comeback Special” on NBC, in which he reminded viewers why he still deserved the crown of “King” of rock & roll. The next step was the American Sound Studio in Memphis, where he recorded 30 tracks, which as a whole to my ears is one of the greatest combinations of songs, musical production—and most of all, singing—in modern times. Elvis was not only on his A-game, but he had never sung with such authority, passion or range—and that is saying something for a vocalist who was at home in almost any genre or style. Anyone who listens to “I Hold You in My Heart” with any honesty has to come away with the thought that anything that passes for “great” singing today (and that includes Beyonce and Adele) should bow its head in shame. All those fake “singers” who depend on Autotune should be embarrassed out of existence. Even his cover of “Hey Jude” would have surpassed the original if he had taken the recording half-seriously (he can be heard chuckling to himself at several points in the song).  

The Memphis sessions are a milestone in the Elvis’ career because he was finally able to express himself as a “serious” artist who could sink his teeth in material that dispensed with ordinary banalities. “Long Black Limousine” and “In the Ghetto” were obvious examples, but also songs like “Power of my Love” and “Stranger in My Own Home Town” were potent jam sessions that proved that Elvis could still rock-out as well as anyone—and sing better than anyone. 

During the 1970s Elvis preferred almost non-stop touring to making serious records; his albums generally contained a two or three good songs and the rest barely tolerable by his new over-the-top delivery. The closest he came to reaching number one on the singles chart was number two—when “Burning Love” was kept out of the top spot when Chuck Berry’s silly bathroom-humor novelty song “My Ding-a-Ling” spent an incomprehensible second week at number one. But although Elvis didn’t dominate the charts like Elton John or Paul McCartney, it wasn’t for want of trying: at the time of his death in 1977, Elvis had more singles in the top-40 than any other artist in the previous 7+ years. 

Elvis did record a few listenable songs as his life dissipated away; “Burning Love,” wasn’t my favorite, but a song like the Chuck Berry-penned “Promised Land” proved he could still rock with the best, and “Moody Blue” and “Way Down” were songs that I didn’t recall ever hearing when they were released, but decided that they were pretty good songs anyways.  However, after Elvis died there were the uncomfortable stories about his ongoing dissipation, and some tried to sully his memory, such as the early gangsta rap group Public Enemy, the recordings of who by the way are now almost completely forgotten, as might be predicted. 

But the music was the measure of the man, not his personal life. Because Hitstory quickly dispenses with Elvis’ “lost” years, his matchless vocal powers make every song highly listenable; I never felt any song was so forgettable that I had a strong desire to skip over it. For someone whose orientation is toward the pop single (at least until the early 1990s), for me that is the measure of someone who must be truly great, and only the Beatles come close to that. Mariah Carey and Madonna might have “matched” his total of number one hits and top-ten hits respectively, but the idea of even considering that the combination of the both of them is equal to Elvis only makes today’s soulless and musicless music that much more of a fraud, a mere shadow of what once was.