Saturday, November 21, 2020



A long time ago I was in the information business in Washington D.C. on a more or less freelance basis.    I had a lot of casual friendships with people in who were sometimes good for information and as often just good to have a beer with.  There was this guy Smitty who worked for a very important big law firm and sometimes had a information to share  sometimes was interested in what I knew. 

We met at the usual K-Street watering hole after work and after about the second beer Smitty always made the same  little obligatory speech... "I don't  know  if  I ever told  you this," he would say, "but  I'm black."   After he told  me the first time  I noted certain facial  features that might be construed as black,  but in fact I grew up with Italian kids who had darker complexions and more arguably "black" features.  Still Smitty's family, which had a close association with the civil rights movement,  was one that could have "passed" and chose not to.  Respect.

Three books  on the subject of passing:

Sinclair Lewis, Kingsblood Royal:   Published in 1947, this scathing satire caused something of a stir.   Not unusual  for Lewis.  In this novel,  Neal Kingsblood is  a successful Minnesota businessman who discovers he is  descended from a famous American explorer.  He is not bothered by the fact that his ancestor is  black, and the can't stop talking about it.  The USA has a hard and fast rule on blackness.  One drop of blood is enough, and it pertains in Minnesota as much in Crackertopia.  It doesn't take long before our hero begins to  suffer  the consequences.

Philip Roth, The Human Stain:  A college professor has been passing all his life.  Then he makes a politically incorrect statement in a classroom and the students conclude he is a rascist. 

Karin Tanabe, The Gilded Years,  A novel based on the true story of  Anita Hemmings, the first black woman to graduate from Vassar. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2020



I wrote the previous post on Wednesday.  Today, the day after election, the nightmare is real.  The GOOP could hold on to the Senate and the White House.  The House majority is diminished and we are losing seats where we thought we were safe.

I apologize for the grim projections of last week.   Nothing worse than taking credit for  bad news.  In a world where killing the messenger is a thing, I should kill myself.  I tried very hard to  brighten my mood over the weekend and nearly succeeded.   Then I saw a clip on Facedbook of the presnut on the campaign trail.   I started  getting Harry Truman vibes.  Giv'em Hell Harry!  The presnut on the  campaign trail, adoring crowds  screaming love and devotion and Kill the Liberals.   

Then there was the all-too effective advertisement for the presnut running during the Bills game.  It showed Biden in a speech from his law and order days talking about the crime bill.  Protect grandma and put them all in jail forever.  The commercial left no doubt who the people getting locked up were.  Thousands of black people, especially black men, watch NFL games every week.  Truth, if I were black I  don't know if I could have brought myself to vote for Biden.  I had a hard time talking my privileged white self into it.   This commercial took some of the glow off the weekend.  It seems to have done what it was intended to do. 

We won't win another election until we either get a lot smarter or the GOOP turns the world into a shitpie.   It's likely the later will happen before the former.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

A Dark and Stormy Night


The election comes on the heels of Halloween.  It's beginning to have a Sleepy Hollow feel to it.  It  has driven me morose, kept me away from writing here.   I  have not watched the TV news in years and since the death of RBG I have automatically deleted NYT Alerts and WAPO politics.  Now I read only features and science news, Dear Abby and the still all-too occasional story of another murdered black person.

I voted yesterday.  Stood in line for 25 minutes.  After four days of early voting more than 44,000 votes had been cast in Monroe County (8 percent of the total vote).  In addition, 71,000 absentee ballots had been returned,  more than 52 percent of the total absentee ballots that had been mailed out.  Massive turnouts are good but I keep asking myself, how many red hats in those long voting lines?  

There are about 192,000 Democrats registered in Monroe County and 126,000 Republicans. Right leaning fringe parties, like the Conservatives, 8,000 members; and Independent Party, about 20,000; exercise influence.   There are 110,000 voters with no party affiliation (we call them blanks), who are true independents and unpredictable.  Left leaning parties, Greens and  Workers Party have about 3,000 votes.   By rights if everyone votes, Democrats win handily in the national election.  Monroe County is a donut community... all the black people live in the city and all the white people do not.  Local elections, particularly in the suburbs, are dominated by the GOOP.   So maybe Biden wins Monroe County... a big deal because no Democratic Presidential candidate has done so in forever.  Not a big deal as, win or lose Monroe County, New York will vote for Joe Biden.  So who cares really about the Presidential election here. 

We have one national race of consequence.  In the 27th Congressional District   Nate McMurray,  is a moderate Democratic  is running for the third time.   He narrowly lost in 2018 to a GOOP candidate who was under indictment for insider trading on information available to him as a congressperson. That guy, Chris Collins, was convicted, had to resign and is now seeking a COVID get out of jail free card.  In a special election last June,  Nate narrowly lost to another GOOP millionaire, also named Chris.  Now he is running  against Chris No. 2 again.  Can Nate win?  In 2016 the NY Assembly district included in the congressional district  elected a dead, indicted GOOPer.  Since the dead guy couldn't exactly hold the office, he was replaced with a candidate who  was demonstrably senile.  You be the judge. 

Still my big worry is how many of these early voters mobbing precincts nationwide wear red hats.  How many have tasted the presnut's kool aid?  

Walter Wallace, 27, father of seven children, a black man  in Philadelphia with mental health issues.  Gunned down by police.   The family called 911 for help and Walter was carrying a knife.  Killed in front of his mother.  She says the police laughed at them. These stories cannot be ignored! and now  they serve as fodder for the presnut's campaign... background as he travels the country spreading his disease and whipping fear and loathing into a toxic froth.  Will he carry Ohio and Pennsylvania?  Florida?  Terrifying to think of four more years.  I am preparing for  the worst. 


Monday, August 24, 2020

 The Lesser of Two Weevils

On the first night of the Democratic Convention I tried to watch it on the ABC feed provided free by Hulu (I don't have TV, just streaming on Hulu or Netflix or Prime).   The talking heads immediately annoyed me beyond watching so I turned it off... coming back late the catch the last half of Michelle Obama.  The second night I  checked in with the NYT feed, which had the advantage of not  being interrupted in any way by talking heads, except for the common-taters who opined in the comment section and were easily ignored.  Chuck Schoomer bored me into returning to the comforts of ER, so I caught the rest of the convention by looking up the speeches I wanted to hear on YouTube. 

I was not particularly impressed.  I guess this is what we have, and I will be out there, phone in hand, dialing up potential votes for the party.   On the whole it is not a lot better than 2016.  It's hard to sell the sizzle when there is not a lot of steak. 

The party is offering the same old solutions to some problems and will., with a Democratic Congress, spend a butt-load of money on everything.  Big priorities will be infrastructure (who doesn't love construction jobs and big money for Halliburton and Fluor?).  They will fix Obamacare and maybe lower the Medicare age to 60 (that solves one of my personal problems.)  It does not solve the problem of most working Americans and small business people who make  more than the poverty wage and still can't afford healthcare.  It will not address what has become by now a national insecurity over the cost of health care. 

The party version of the Green New Deal is a also a jobs bill.  Like all Democratic bills it prefers to throw money at the problem while ignoring the carbon tax, a common sense approach that has long been supported by thinking Conservatives (as opposed to most of the Republican caucus).  Not that there is anything wrong with throwing money at the problem, but the current situation calls for all reasonable measures, not just those that are politically correct. 

Likewise money will be thrown at education.   It will be the kind of money that prefers teachers' unions (a good thing) and institutionalized solutions that may not be so good.  Charter schools may be put in their place as solutions that are no better than the people who run them, not as a panacea... and not as a tool to destroy teacher unions.  Not a bad outcome overall.  There are still outrageous levels of poverty and inequality in the black and Latino communities as well as in the cracker communities... small towns and rural areas where populations are thin, money scarce, services severely limited.   The Democratic Party is not solving problems, it's just making itself feel better.

So I'm fine with the party doing what it can, and I'm more fine with the fact that it is not Trump. We can expect Biden to quickly take back the bureaucracy and set it straight.  Fix the EPA, NLRB, Labor Department, CFPB and other agencies crippled by years of ignorance and neglect.  Appoint some decent judges.  Still, it's just the lesser of two weevils.  Not a choice I'd like to have to make.

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.