Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Presnut is Sharper than Doug's Mom!


I have been bingeing on ER, a fairly good hospital show from about 1994 which kick-started the careers of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies and others.  It may be in the top 10 or so of stuff I have binged (that list is very long) but I'd say the chances I'll stay for all 15 seasons are slim.  Still early seasons are pretty good, particularly for the way they address issues that now demand our daily attention.  Episodes touching on white male supremacy, Black Lives Matter, MeToo  could have been written yesterday.  It's  shocking how aware we were of these issues more than 20  years ago and failed to get really pissed off.  (I'm sure black people and women and others were a lot more pissed off that us white men knew.)

So last night another episode (Season 4)  ripped from the front pages.  Doug (Anthony Edwards) flys home to see his mother who has fallen and broken her leg.  Doug, a top emergency room doc from Chicago, thinks Mom' problems are more complicated than a broken leg so he orders a series of tests.  In one, Mom is asked to repeat a list of words... She can't do it!   I'll bet our Presnut could! 

Sunday, July 12, 2020


It Has Got to be More than Pulling Down the Monuments  

One fact of our history... indeed the history of the world ... is that slavery, and racial prejudice, has happened.  There is not a white person in history who has not carried a prejudicial view of people of color.  That includes black people and Hispanics and Asians and Native Americans.  There has also been a history of prejudices against particular groups of white people. German immigrants in the 18th  Century, and  Irish immigrants in the 19th Century faced wide-spread job discrimination.   At the turn of the last century it was not uncommon for accepted white people to categorize Italians along with blacks.  

White people are not the only people  with  built in prejudice.  Chinese have long considered themselves superior to everyone, as have the Japanese, who historically have treated Koreans the way Americans treat blacks.  In the Middle East racial animosity is as powerful as religious animosity.  Iran is not just Shiaa Muslem, it is also Persian.   Iraq is Arab.  Afghanistan's biggest problem is  that tribes divide on racial and cultural lines.  The Hazara stand in for black people.   In truth, prejudice is a tribal mechanism that likely dates back to the beginning of community and the need to be wary of strangers.  We need to figure out a way to get over it.

Actually owning slaves was common in 18th and 19th Century America.  Numerous of our founding fathers were slave owners, including Thomas Jefferson, whose writing provided the foundation for rights and privileges we now insist must extend to all Americans.   Most abolitionists, who insisted that slavery was evil, did not believe that blacks and whites were equal.   U.S. Grant married into a slave holding family and owned a slave.  He also won the Civil War and enforced the civil rights laws, preserving rights for black citizens till the end of his administration.  Grant and Lincoln believed black and white Americans would never be able to live side by side in harmony.  Lincoln promoted repatriating black citizens to Africa.  Grant sought to annex Santo Domingo (Now the Dominican Republic) as a safe harbor for black Americans. 

So  bottom line, you can't make the fact of prejudice, or slave holding a basis for tearing down a statue.  You need something else.  Otherwise we would have to destroy our memories of those who contributed substantially to the foundation and growth of our nation.  The founding fathers did  not promise a perfect union, they sought "a more perfect union."  In a sense telling us to continue  to get better.  We are working at it. 

Monuments and military bases

So statues ought to reflect actual  history.  In the real world, the people who fought to destroy the United States are traitors, and should under no circumstances be honored in the public square.  This matter should not be up for debate.  There are no statues of Hitler left in all of Europe, and there should be no statutes of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other conspirators left in the USA.  Naming military installations after traitors has never been a good idea.

Racist Politicians

Politicians who fought for and encouraged slavery throughout their careers are also fair game.  John C. Calhoun and Henry Clay protected slavery and promoted "state's rights" (another way of saying "we can abuse anyone we want.") They were a generation behind the founding fathers and their efforts were aimed solely at preserving the oligarchy at the expense of all citizens, particularly black citizens.  Woodrow Wilson should have no monuments and his history should be corrected. He needs to  be remembered for segregating the federal  government and failing to speak up about the wave of race riots and lynching that swept the nation during his administration.  Wilson broadly praised "Birth of a Nation" a movie that promoted racist myths and stereotypes and honored the KuKluxKlan.  It alone set the stage for incidents of racial cleansing.  Other purveyors of racism, like Harry Byrd, Senate majority leader who fought to maintain the southern status quo for decades, should get a second look.  As should a long list of Southern politicians whose policies recognized the right of white people to lynch black people and sustained an atmosphere of repression.    

In middle-school they told you a great deal  about the spice trade and how that affected the Age of Exploration.  They told you nothing about the slave trade, which was at least as prosperous. The Italian states were especially prominent in the slave trade.  Christopher Columbus was an Italian and was fully aware of its operation.  You can forgive him for being a creature of his time, or you can point out how happy he was to report that the Awawak people in the Caribbean were so docile that a couple of armed men could control hundreds ... and they made excellent slaves.  His role in history, and the workings of the slave trade through this period should be exposed.  As to monuments of Columbus, they are frauds from the beginning.  Columbus did not discover America.  He discovered Hispanola.  That's the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  We didn't recognize Columbus as a major hero  until after WWI, when Italians sought to boost their image in the USA by declaring themselves to be discoverers.  The Vikings were here first, as were the Basque, who for many, many years traveled to Nova Scotia to harvest the Cod that fed much of Europe.  Dried Cod fed the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.  

Monuments and other public honors should recognize real heroes who represent the real ideals on which the nation is founded.  Lets have a monument to Robert Smalls, an enslaved American who stole a confederate ship that was supplying Ft. Sumpter,loaded up his family and friends and escaped to freedom.  He became a captain in the Union Navy.  and, after the war, a successful businessman and politician serving in both houses of the South Carolina legislature.  Harriett Tubman belongs on the $20 bill. 

History needs to tell the truth about slavery (that it was mostly harsh and cruel), reconstruction and the return of Jim Crow, and lynching (how many times did the U.S. Congress refuse to address anti-lynching legislation), Incidents of racial cleansing (there is al lot more than Tulsa, OK) discrimination in housing, (barring blacks from government loan programs,  the negative and long lasting effects of redlining.  



Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter, Part III


Here are a some more good books to read about black lives: 

Karen Tanabe, The Gilded Years.  This is a fictional view of the true life story of Anita Hemmings , a black woman who graduated from Vassar in 1897.  Ms. Hemmings was voted most beautiful, worked as a tutor in Greek to make ends meet  and was at the top of her class.  All the while she was also hiding her black identity.   A beautifully written coming of age novel with a heavy  dose of the real truth and nothing but.  Vassar did not officially admit black women until 1944, and did not recognize that it has already graduated a black woman until the 1930s.  By then, Vassar has graduated two black women.  In 1926, it admitted Ellen Love, overlooking the fact that she was black in honor of the time-honored private school  practice of admitting children of graduates.  Love was Hemmings' daughter.  

Leonard Pitts Jr., Freeman.   Pitts is a columnist writing for  the Miami Herald and syndicated through ArcaMAX.    He is a  clear-thinking progressive who is always worth reading.   He is also a fairly good hand at fiction, having written a handful of novels.  (I'm planning to order another, a historical novel about WWII, called  The Last Thing You Surrender.)   Freeman is a man who escaped from slavery before the Civil War and surrendered the security of  his Philadelphia home to find his true love, left behind a slave.  It's a bitterly sad romantic adventure. 

Walter Mosley, Fortunate Son.  Moseley began his career as a crime fiction writer and has since published science fiction, modern novels and self help (one of the better books on how to write a novel.  Best advice: write three hours a day.)  In this allegory, one son is substantially privileged and one lives the life of Job. 

Grace F. Edwards, In the Shadow of The Peacock.  I discovered Grace Edwards in the Obituary section of the New York  Times a few weeks ago.  She had just died at age 87, a highly regarded mystery writer who had never crossed my path.  This novel, her first, is not a mystery.  It's a coming of age tale  that loosely tracks her own life story.  This is the story of Celia, whose parents escaped a lynching in their  southern home, and migrated to Harlem where Celia is born in the middle of a riot that killed her father.   Her mother, Frieda,  protects Celia with a little help from her friends, but Celia must decide for herself how to confront  the real world of white people.

Friday, July 3, 2020


I Pledge Allegiance to the United States of America

I was in kindergarten when they added God to the Pledge of Allegiance.  The change annoyed me.  First because I had just learned the damned thing, and then because I kept having to pause to add God in the right place.  

Then there was the conspiracy theory.  In our little town there were Catholics (the good guys) and Protestants (the bad guys) and I was convinced it was a protestant plot.  Like the times they would try to trick you into eating meat on Friday.  Now the protestant God, the one that made you say debts instead of trespasses when they said the Our Father in school, was messing with the flag.  I was ever after suspicious of the pledge. 

Time passed and I had other issues.  The God part because it was about God or not, and I was on the not side.  This was the  side of the First Amendment, I thought, since putting God in the Pledge meant you were endorsing a God when you pledged.  Indivisible is what we fought the Civil War over.  God was not.

When you think about it, why allegiance to a flag?  A flag is cloth on a stick.  It has some meaning, but that doesn't make it any less a thing.  Flags are for burning if you are pissed off.   If I am going to pledge allegiance, it  must be to something valuable.  Something that lasts and is worth the life and death struggle that the notion of allegiant patriotism implies.  That should be something like the basic principles the nation is founded on... even though more honored in the breach than in fact.  

So that brings me to the new Pledge of Allegiance  to the entire nation, for good reasons.

 I Pledge Allegiance to the United States of America,
To the republic of the people, by the people and for the people
regardless of race, creed,  national origin or sexual presentation;
to one indivisible nation that warrants our right to the pursuit of happiness
and guarantees opportunity, liberty and justice for all. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Black Lives Matter Book List

Some stuff to read while thinking about this:

Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriett Beecher Stowe.  The first popular attempt to depict life under slavery.  It's rife with stereotypes and a little preachy, but it is the book that started it all and surprisingly readable.

Reconstruction, Eric Foner.  600 pages of hard work and real history.

Contempt of Court, Mark Curriten and LeRoy Phillips Jr.,  Saga of the first Supreme Court case to defend the rights of a black citizen... sort of.  The real issue was whether a Tennessee sheriff was under the jurisdiction of the federal courts and could be held in contempt for failing to abide by a federal court order.  The order involved a directive to protect a black man from lynching in 1901.

Trouble in Mind, Leon Litwack.  More than  you  want to know but everything you should know about lynchings in the  USA.

Lost Battalions, Richard Slotkin.  Chronicles two regiments that valiantly fought in WWI.  One comprised mostly of Jewish immigrants known as  the 77th "Statue of Liberty" Division; and the 369th Infantry Division, known as the Harlem Hell Fighters.  One came home to some recognition, the other to lynchings and ethnic cleansing.

The Children, David Halberstam.  The front line troops of the civil rights movement were children.  Their leaders were college kids, their shock troops were as young as 10 years old.  They stood up to fire hoses and police dogs and the worst the crackers could bring.

Simple Justice, Richard Kluger.  The complete story of Brown v. Topeka BOE.

Blood at the Root, Patrick Phillips.  The story of ethnic cleansing in one Georgia County.


Monday, June 22, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I have been writing about this subject for several weeks and have yet to have anything to say that is unique or more useful than anything else I  have read.  So  here is the truth.  

BLACK LIVES MATTER. 



 In Which I Prove Once Again to be a Nudge

When I was in 10th grade the history teacher, who was also our football coach, often sent me to the library for some research during class.  That's because he was about to give a lecture and he got tired of me correcting his version of the record.  Nothing much has changed.

On June 4,  I got a nice note from Lauren Katzenburg,  editor of the NYT's At War newsletter, promising a correction.  She had written that the Bonus Army had been protesting to get paid money that was due to veterans.  Au contraire, I noted:    "The Bonus Army  "bonus" was in no way due and payable in 1932.  The Great War Compensation Act of 1924 issued veterans certificates that could be redeemed for cash value in 1948.  The veterans were trying to persuade the government to redeem the certificates at a discount. "  And I added,  "Thus, the government did not repeatedly decline to pay a bonus due.  Of course, if Hoover had any sense or compassion, he would have paid up.  Putting the money in the hands of spenders would have boosted the economy.  It would also have saved Hoover from his greatest embarrassment."

But there is more!  On June 20, I  was informed by the NYT that my comment on an article about the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, an all-black WAC unit, was accepted.  Again, I was just clarifying the record.  The article correctly noted that Harry Truman had desegregated the military in 1948.  I added:   "The order ending segregation in the military was issued by Truman in 1948. It was not fully implemented until the Eisenhower administration, 1953 to 1961."

(Two days later)   And speaking of the NYT, this morning I  picked up a copy of the Times Sunday Review from June 23, 2019 that I had put aside to read later (and never read).  Happened t glance at an article called Stonewall and the Myth of Self-Deliverance by Kwame Anthony Appiah.  The article cites a famous SCOTUS decision that placed consensual behavior by adults out of the jurisdiction of the government as Lawrence v. Kansas.  Well that caught my eye.  The correct cite is Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).  Kansas is, of course, the whipping boy of  choice for East Coast pundits citing outrageous Bible Belt regulation.