Monday, August 21, 2006

Wisdom of the Wise

Right On, Brother!

I’m always encouraged by white Americans who are audacious enough to publicly and earnestly call their privilege into question. As a result, I’ve become a HUGE fan of anti-racism activist, Tim Wise. Recently (well, admittedly, not THAT recently – I’m a little late to the party) Wise wrote an open letter to Sheriff Jack Strain, the unapologetic bigot who brazenly threatened to harass anyone in St. Tammany Parrish with dreadlocks or “chee-wee” hairstyles. Strain repeatedly discouraged any New Orleanian “trash” from setting up shop in St. Tammany Parish. But, as Wise amusingly points out, Strain needn’t work himself into a lather over “trash” that blows in from the Crescent City because St. Tammany has enough garbage of its own – garbage that isn’t identified by predominantly African-American hairstyles.

Not long ago, I wrote a post celebrating the efforts of an amazing young man and the seemingly limitless potential of human beings. Wise’s article reminds me that there are plenty of awesome people out there speaking, writing, blogging and dialoguing, and who are pretty remarkable in their own right. They deserve to be heard (and read).


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

An Open Prayer for the Survival of Priceless Semen

Onward Christian Surgeon

Dear God:

Despite my frequent (and exceedingly valid) criticisms of the culture of American Sport, as you well know I continue to enjoy the occasional professional football game, celebrate the individual athleticism of NBA basketball and back the illustrious team of my youth, the New York Yankees.

As a result of this inexplicable allegiance to that which I often denounce, I regularly tune in to the ESPN network’s broadcasts of “Pardon the Interruption” and “Sportscenter”. Yesterday, while watching the latter, I was encouraged to hear that the health of Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, seems to be improving at a rate expected neither by his physicians nor the general public. Barbaro is back on his hoofs(!), God, and I can’t thank You enough for allowing this mighty steed to buck the odds, as it were, and speed toward recovery. Truly, the numerous candle-lit prayer vigils have convinced You, in all Your infinite wisdom, to watch over Barbaro and see to it that his obscenely wealthy owner does not lose the potential millions that he stands to gain once he begins auctioning Barbaro’s sperm to the highest bidder.

How else, Lord, can one explain the extravagant, round-the-clock medical care that Barbaro has received since he first injured himself some three months ago. Although approximately 46 million Americans, or 15.7 percent of the population, are without health insurance, Barbaro underwent a costly surgical procedure as soon as it was made available.

Soon, even the non-sports networks were providing updates about Barbaro’s condition and viewers were treated to images of countless well-wishers signing get well cards, singing, joining hands, and hoping for the best. Only Your unseen hand could have delivered Barbaro from death, sparing his owner the financial setback from which he would have, undoubtedly, immediately bounced back given the elaborate insurance policy that he had taken out on the life of the horse.

Yet, God, you just won’t allow Barbaro to go gently into that good, equestrian night. Despite all odds, it looks as if he’ll pull through and fulfill his destiny as a valuable and highly desirable stud. I’m sure if Barbaro could speak, along the lines of say, Mr. Ed, he would praise your name prior to every premium ejaculation. But he can’t, Lord, so I must take it upon myself to sing Your praises.

Your Faithful Servant,


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Killing The Redskins

The Cleveland Injuns thank you for your continued support.

I wonder if any current football or baseball teams would be named the Atlanta Tarskins or the Carolina Nigger Feet if the American South had either successfully maintained its’ “right” to own slaves or peacefully seceded from the Union.

I submit to you that neither of these names is any more offensive than the Washington Redskins. Yesterday, a group of Native Americans filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the trademarks for the Washington Redskins football team, saying the name is disparaging to indigenous groups. The petition, filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in Alexandria, Virginia, cites “extensive evidence concerning the history of the use of the term ‘Redskin’ and public perception of the objectionable term.” Incidentally, check out how the story is framed. Susan Decker and Curtis Eichelberger of Bloomberg News want to reassure their readership that only SIX little Indians want the name changed. I immediately asked myself why this should be important considering that the six undoubtedly represent a much larger contingent of folks who object to a racist slur being used as a team name.

At any rate, unsurprisingly, a recent USA Today poll shows that approximately 80% of respondents a) don’t have a problem with the name “Redskins” and b) wish to continue the name’s “tradition.” This doesn’t shock me. America (read: White America) has never really copped to its systematic, government-sponsored attempt to exterminate Native Americans, its “tradition” of “killing the Indian to save the man” or its “tradition” of race-based privilege.

What I do find confounding is the tenacity with which so many African-American fans of the team support the team name. When I lived in the Washington Metropolitan area, I was astonished by the typical African-American reaction to suggestions that the name of the local team be changed. Responses generally ranged from glossy-eyed apathy to dogged, pathological defense of both the name and the logo.

I’ve often asked myself what we have to gain from the continued marginalization of Native Americans. Historically, African-Americans and Native Americans have had both a cooperative relationship and a common enemy. Indeed, many black folks will be the first ones to let you know that they have some Native American ancestry. Why then don’t black folks in DC see the larger picture?

Noam Chomsky proffered a compelling argument regarding how our sports culture depoliticizes us. He spoke about how at any point during the day we can tune into our local radio sports program and be privy to the Average Joe’s complex, in-depth analysis of the players and teams for which he roots. He goes on to note that Joe Sixpack does not generally defer to the experts with regard to his sports-related opinions ,“ they're quite happy to have an argument with the coach of the Boston Celtics, and tell him what he should have done, and enter into big debates with him and so on. So the fact is that in this domain, people somehow feel quite confident, and they know a lot - there's obviously a great deal of intelligence going into it.” Chomsky argues that we are locked out of the things to which we otherwise might apply our intelligence, e.g. politics, so we adapt by becoming intellectually devoted to baseball or football.

Moreover, according to Chomsky, sports provide another, more important function. They serve to nurture our jingoistic tendencies and help us develop “irrational loyalties” beginning at a very early age. From Chomsky:

“But the point is, this sense of irrational loyalty to some sort of meaningless community is training for subordination to power, and for chauvinism. And of course, you're looking at gladiators, you're looking at guys who can do things you couldn't possibly do - like, you couldn't pole-vault seventeen feet, or do all these crazy things these people do. But it's a model that you're supposed to try to emulate. And they're gladiators fighting for your cause, so you've got to cheer them on, and you've got to be happy when the opposing quarterback gets carted off the field a total wreck and so on. All of this stuff builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology. I mean, they're there; there's no doubt that they're there. But they're emphasized, and exaggerated, and brought out by spectator sports: irrational competition, irrational loyalty to power systems, passive acquiescence to quite awful values, really. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything that contributes more fundamentally to authoritarian attitudes than this does, in addition to the fact that it just engages a lot of intelligence and keeps people away from other things.”

That explains a lot. Namely, why franchise owners can extort a city for hundreds of millions of dollars to build new stadiums with little to no backlash. Or why we draw up elaborate, imaginary divisions with folks based on the team for which they root. Or why we keep paying more money each year for a diminishing product. Or why we continue to cheer when our favorite teams treat their players like interchangeable ingredients in a stew. Or why we periodically unleash our collective fury on players who hold out for more money but give owners a free pass. Our how a stadium full of otherwise rational people can be convinced to make “Indian” whooping noises and chopping motions with their hands. Our why we allow some jackass to put feathers in his hair, and jump around at halftime like an idiot, and think he’s somehow paying homage to Native Americans.

Given all this, it is hardly shocking that people who should know better, who should, in fact, be among the first to recognize how a name like “Redskins” dehumanizes our Native American brethren, serve as apologists for those in power who seek to keep it. Indoctrination and socialization have done such a number on us that we exalt meaningless, often faceless, sports clubs and their logos over other human beings based on the premise that anyone who’s offended by this stuff is just too sensitive. History (depending on who writes it) won’t be kind.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006


“Kiss my sorry ass goodbye, Congress!”

Do you smell that? It’s the unmistakable scent of Joe Lieberman’s feckless, centrist corpse decomposing in the Connecticut summer sun.

Just six years after the moldy Senator, along with his running mate, the newly repackaged Al Gore, capitulated his way into a curious 2000 election “loss” (don’t get me started on that) the good people of the Nutmeg State decided not to prop him up for a fourth term.

Not altogether stunning, really, when you consider that Lieberman has done nothing but placate both big business and the Bush administration over the course of the last six years and counting. You know you’re treading on thin ice when you're a Fox News regular. But he rang his own death knell with his ingratiating support of Bush’s War. His “stay the course” rhetoric increasingly distanced him from his constituency and his country, culminating (finally!) in his ouster at the hands of fellow Democrat Ned Lamont.

Ironically, Lieberman plans to run as an independent, vowing not to give up without a fight. Too bad he didn’t show the same resolve when he and Gore had a national presidential election stolen from them via the disfranchisement of African-American Floridians.


Monday, August 07, 2006

The Book List

Don’t take the short cut on this one.

I want to start by thanking Changeseeker for motivating me to get going on my posting again. Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written anything lately. I simply haven’t been interested. Sometimes I feel that I’m shouting into a void and no one is listening. But don’t cry for me, Argentina. I’ve felt this way before and I’ve bounced back.

At any rate, I’ve been “tagged” to list some of my favorite books by Changeseeker. As she wrote, my list of faves would probably evolve from day to day. This is what I’m digging currently:

(1) One book that changed your life? The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley.

(2) One book you have read more than once? Backlash by Susan Faludi.

(3) One book you would want on a desert island? 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

(4) One book that made you laugh? I have to give three. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Macguire and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins.

(5) One book that made you cry? This really isn’t a book. It’s a short story but the first time I read it I cried like a baby. “D.P.” by Kurt Vonnegut.

(6) One book you wish you had written? There’s no way to name just one. This will essentially be a short list of some of the things I’ve read that I’ve found moving and convinced me that people are here for a purpose: All of the Shakespearian tragedies, From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss Jr., Heat Wave by Eric Klinenberg, A Mathematician Reads The Newspaper by John Allen Paulos, The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, Death and The King’s Horseman (a play) by Wole Soyinka, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.

(7) One book you wish had never been written? The Bell Curve by Richard J. Herrstein and Charles Murray because it attempted (unfortunately somewhat successfully) to lend an air of scientific credibility to racism. Incidentally, check out how many reviewers find this book "insightful" and "thought-provoking." Tells you alot about folk's willingness to embrace racist beliefs as long as they're wrapped in pseudoscience.

(8) One book you are currently reading? The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy.

(9) One book you've been meaning to read? Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana by Saxon, Dreyer and Tallant.

(10) And tag five bloggers to do this, too. Will do.

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