Posts Tagged ‘Racism’


“The capitalist class seeks . . . to foster and increase color prejudice and race hatred between the white worker and the black, so as to make their social and economic interests appear to be separate and antagonistic, in order that the workers of both races may thereby be more easily and completely exploited.”

–“Negro Resolution,” 1901 Social Party convention


American War by Omar El Akkad front cover(American War, by Omar El Akkad. Knopf, 2017, $26.95, 333 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

In recent decades, dystopian novels have become nearly synonymous with science fiction. It´s easy enough to see why: climate change seems to be accelerating, some areas (e.g., the American Southwest, where I live) are already feeling severe effects from it, and the results worldwide in coming years promise to be catastrophic; we’re on the brink of a new dark age under the iron fist of religious totalitarians and their political co-conspirators; we’re well into a period of mass extinction; there’s runaway population growth actively encouraged by some of the “great” religions; modern weapons of mass destruction are far beyond “nightmarish”; technological advances are far outstripping social advances; and sadism and stupidity are running neck and neck as national hallmarks.

Given such conditions and such bleak prospects, it’s easy to see why dystopianism is the far-from-new normal in science fiction.

So, having heard next to nothing about American War, I was expecting a fairly standard take on the horrors to come, especially the ecological horrors. But  American War, which describes the “second civil war” (2074 – 2095), is a far from standard tale.

El Akkad deliberately (I’d bet the farm on this) sabotages the plausibility of his dystopia.

The first hint is the map in the front of the book showing the breakaway “Free Southern States” (FSS) of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as opposed to the rest of the U.S., with the Southwest mostly part of the “Mexican Protectorate.”

My reaction to the map was, “What the hell? Three poor, backwards states standing against the rest of the country? Holding on for 21 years?”

Very shortly into the text, El Akkad makes it very plain that he’s not projecting possible future developments in the United States, but is up to something quite different.

The reason for the FSS rebellion is the prohibition of use of petroleum products as fuels. Again, what the hell? None of the three states are significant oil producers; we’re rapidly approaching peak oil production; most new production in North America (shale, tar sands) is much more expensive than pumping from the old, rapidly depleting oil fields; and the cost of renewables is falling like a rock. This almost certainly means that oil will go up in price and will be rapidly displaced by cheaper renewables. The underlying premise is barely plausible now and will become increasingly implausible as time passes; it will make no sense at all six decades from now. So, El Akkad deliberately chose an extremely improbable background premise.

Then there’s a glaring–and I mean glaring–absence in the social structure of the FSS: racism. Racism disappearing from the American South in a mere sixty years, and during a time of upheaval and economic desperation? What the hell?! Who, if they thought about it, could possibly buy this?

So, just what is Akkad up to?

The first clue is the title of the book, “American War.” That seems a bit ambiguous, and why isn’t there even a vague reference to the “second civil war”? (It would be quite easy to add such a reference in a subtitle.)

The second clue is provided by the book description on the inside of the dust jacket:

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the war breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, her home state is half underwater, and the unmanned drones that fill the sky are not there to protect her. A stubborn, undaunted and thick-skinned tomboy, she is soon pulled into the heart of secessionist country when the war reaches Louisiana and her family is forced into Camp Patience, a sprawling tent city for refugees. There she is befriended by a mysterious man who opens her eyes to the injustices around her and under whose tutelage she is transformed into a deadly instrument of revenge.

Fair enough, but the final sentence of the second paragraph on the inside flap reads, “It’s a novel that considers what might happen if the United States were to turn its devastating weapons upon itself.”

Close, but not right.

Above all, American War is about the present. (Tellingly, there’s no mention of any technology whatsoever beyond what’s currently available.)

American War is not about the effects of developing technologies; it’s not about an even remotely plausible future in the U.S.

It’s about the psychological effects of the type of war the United States has been waging sporadically for decades, and nonstop for the last 15 years, in the Near East, Middle East and Northern and Eastern Africa. It’s about what happens to people who are torn from their homes, are forced into miserable refugee camps, are under constant deadly and random threat from above, and are kidnapped, imprisoned without charge, and brutally tortured.

Shortly into the narrative, El Akkad reveals that the U.S. unmanned drones are solar powered, can stay aloft indefinitely, rained down destruction during the entire two-decades-plus of the war, and are uncontrolled, because Southern “terrorists” destroyed the “server farms” controlling the drones. This is beyond ridiculous on several counts, and again points to the very high likelihood that El Akkad deliberately made his background — in this particular, the drones — implausible.

Why would he do that? (Such apparent sloppiness is in stark contrast with Akkad’s adroitly drawn and developed characters and his skillful rendering of both action sequences and physical background.)

The point is that the drones are simply there as a constant threat, maiming and killing the innocent, seemingly at random. The point is the constant, year-in-year-out state of fear and anger suffered by those under threat.

The same holds for all of the other horrors El Akkad describes, and their woeful, ever worsening effects on the personalities, outlooks, and consequent actions of his characters, especially Sarat.

This story could be set in virtually any combat zone in any Muslim country. El Akkad set it in the U.S., using American characters, disguising it as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi dystopian tale, simply so that American readers will be able to relate to it on an emotional level.

There’s little point in saying more, except that if you want to understand the psychological roots of the hate and terrorism engendered by America’s foreign wars, American War is a good place to start.

This book is a masterpiece.

Very highly recommended.

* * *

(Reviewer Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover

 

 

 

 


by Chaz Bufe, publisher See Sharp Press

Know-nothingism has become fashionable on the religious right. Many right-wing fundamentalists insist that assertions contained in an ancient mish-mash of a book are every bit as valid as carefully arrived-at, repeatedly tested scientific theories and conclusions.

In a striking bit of irony, some go even further and (unconsciously) mimic academic postmodernists, insisting that all “opinions” (including scientific conclusions) are equal. Thus willful ignorance among the least educated mirrors willful ignorance among the most educated.

Given all this, it’s good to remind ourselves of why facts matter, and why science is superior to religious faith.

Failure to take facts into account has real-world consequences. To cite a trivial example, if you believe you’re invulnerable because you believe you are, test your hypothesis by stepping in front of a truck. To cite a sadder, all-too-real example, science has established that the similarities between human beings vastly outweigh the differences, and that there’s no basis for assertions that any race is superior to any other. So, are the opinions of racists just as valid as  the scientific conclusion that the differences between racial groups are trivial?

To cite still another example of why facts matter, in the Middle Ages in Europe, with science at a standstill, many believed that disease and bad weather were caused by witchcraft. End result? Tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of “witches” were brutally murdered for “causing” storms and disease.

There are innumerable other examples demonstrating why facts matter. And, yes, you can’t absolutely prove anything, but probabilities are so high in so many cases that it’s reasonable to act as if the probablity is 100%.

So, facts do matter. But why does science trump religion?

1. The scientific method is the only reliable way to arrive at the most probably correct explanation of almost anything. Scientists reach conclusions by formulating hypotheses, checking those hypotheses against observed phenomena, devising experiments to test the hypotheses, checking them for internal consistency, and checking to see if the hypotheses can generate accurate predictions. Then doing all this over and over again, with different scientists repeatedly testing the hypotheses (“theories” if they consistently pass all these tests over a prolonged period of time) through experiment, observation, and analysis.

This is a bit different than pointing to a hoary book written by iron-age slaveholders and asserting, “This is a fact! It says so here!”

2. Science is self-correcting. Religion isn’t. Science continually tests and refines hypotheses and theories to arrive at more accurate explanations. Religion doesn’t.

A good example of this is provided by scientific exploration of racial differences between humans. In the 19th century, some scientists asserted that whites were superior to other races. By the middle of the 20th century, other scientists had definitively debunked those assertions through observation, experiment, and analysis. (Yes, there are still a few racist scientists, but their assertions are knocked down almost as soon as they make them, and the vast majority of scientists now accept, in line with scientific research, that assertions of racial superiority or inferiority are baseless.)

The overt racism of the Book of Mormon slightly predates the racist assertions of some 19th-century scientists, with the Book of Mormon itself referring to caucasians as “white and exceedingly fair and delightsome” (2 Nephi 5:20-21); and as late as 1935, Mormon Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith asserted that “because of [Cain’s] wickedness he became the father of an inferior race.” (The Way to Perfection, p. 101)

Finally, in 1978, in response to widespread social condemnation (and undoubtedly a desire to increase the number of potential converts), then-prophet Spencer W. Kimball announced a new “revelation” that the church should abandon its racial restrictions on the priesthood (but not the “revealed” racist passage in 2 Nephi, nor the racist statements of previous “prophets”). That’s a bit different than the way science handled the matter, eh?

3. Science improves daily life. Religion doesn’t. One clear example of this is in the field of medicine. Scientists discovered the microbial nature of disease. That discovery led to use of antiseptics and the later development of antibiotics, which have saved the lives of untold millions.

In contrast, religion has led to no developments that improve daily life. (And please don’t start talking about the power of prayer and the peace it supposedly brings–we’re speaking here of demonstrable physical improvement.)

4. Science leads. Religion lags. A good example of this is our understanding of the universe beyond the Earth. Early scientists (Copernicus, Galileo, et al.) led the way to accurate description of the physical universe.

At the same time, the church was insisting that the sun revolves around the Earth, and hauling scientists who dared to state the opposite before the Inquisition.

Another example is the scientific versus religious attitude toward women. Science has established that while there are obvious and not-so-obvious differences between men and women, their intellectual abilities are almost identical (with a few end-of-the-bell-curve differences in a few specific areas).

In contrast, religion has insisted on the inferiority and consequent subordination of women from antiquity. To cite but two of a great many Bible verses denigrating women, “How then can man be justified with God? or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?” (Job 25:4) and “These [redeemed] are they which were not defiled with women.” (Revelation 14:4)

Today, some religions have acknowledged reality and accept the equality of men and women. Others have dug in their heels and still insist upon female subordination, though most are now wary of openly stating that women are inferior. And it’s safe to say that the more conservative the religion–that is, the more literally its members take their scriptures–the more likely they are to insist upon the inferiority and subjugation of women.

5. Finally, as Neil deGrasse Tyson famously remarked, science opens doors and religion closes them. Science not only leads to improvement in daily life, but to broader intellectual horizons; it encourages people to think for themselves, to question everything; it leads to one question after another.

Religion insists that all the answers are contained in ancient holy books, and that it’s wrong, dangerous to question those answers–that you have an intellect, but you shouldn’t use it.

It’s hard to conceive of anything more stultifying.


Tucson has a supposedly liberal city government — which okayed the brutal crackdown on Occupy Tucson six years ago — and a seemingly genuine good-guy, community-policing chief of police, Christopher Magnus, the gay former chief of police of mostly black Richmond, California.

One of my neighbors just passed her citizenship test. She’s over 50, so the government charged her a mere $1200 to do it, rather than the standard $1700.

Yes, they charge people $1700 to become citizens.  We’re talking about people who are mostly low income and an asset to society. How wrong is that?

Three weekends in a row my neighbor and/or her kids were racially profiled on First Avenue. Stopped in the university district for bullshit reasons. Nothing stuck. They were stopped for Driving
While Mexican. (In contrast, I’m an old long-haired redneck with peeling bumper stickers all over the tailgate of my 20-year-old truck — when I bought it I immediately de-choloed it for fear of racial profiling — and I haven’t been stopped in decades.)

The reasons? Apparent lack of insurance (wrong) on two occasions. On one of them, my neighbor, a 56-year-old woman living here for the last 20 years, who just passed her citizenship test this past week, was cuffed and stuck in the back of a squad car. For total bullshit reasons. They let her go after 15 minutes, but can you imagine the trauma? Can you imagine how she felt and how her 21-year-old son felt seeing his mom cuffed and tossed in the back of a squad car?

Now, my neighbors avoid the university district. They stick to Stone for the north-south corridor. At least there they stand a decent chance of avoiding racist cops.

Can you imagine how you’d feel seeing your mom treated in such a manner. Can you imagine it?

Yeah, imagine it — imagine seeing your mom in cuffs, treated so disrespectfully, and you’ll start to get what it’s like being black or Mexican in Tucson, in America.

And, yeah, as you’ve probably guessed, there’s no way on the Tucson PD site to contact Chief Magnus directly.

I did eventually find a complaint form on the TPD site and did fill it out, essentially setting myself up as a target. I think there might be as much as a 25% or 30% chance that the TPD will do something about the racial profiling rather than just put a bulls eye on my back and fuck me over, but I’m so angry about this that I’ll take my chances.

 


Back in April, I wrote a post titled “Hillary Clinton is all but Unelectable (against any sane opponent).” It turns out she couldn’t even beat an insane opponent.

Four days ago, I wrote another post: “If Clinton loses, who’s to blame?” focusing on the betrayal of low-income working people by the corporate-servant Democrats (Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, Donna Brazile, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Diane Feinstein, et al.) who’ve controlled the Democratic Party for decades.

Clinton’s water carriers will undoubtedly dismiss such analyses and will instead focus on such things as corporate money in politics, the Republican propaganda machine (Fox, Breitbart, Infowars, etc.), and Trump’s racial scapegoating. You’ll see plenty of these in-part-correct analyses in the days to come.

You’ll also see plenty of pieces by Clinton apologists drawing all the wrong conclusions about Clinton’s defeat. For a spectacular example of such wrong-headed analysis, see “The Misogyny Apocalypse” by Clinton cheerleader extraordinaire, Amanda Marcotte.

Rather, I’d argue that you can’t screw people economically for decades,  make it harder and harder for their children to attend college, ridicule them, and then pretend that you’re their friend. There are consequences for this type of behavior. Meet President Trump.

I’ve covered these matters extensively in posts over the last few years–just check the Economics category and search the site for posts on Obama and Clinton–so let’s let this go for now and examine what might happen under the Trump administration.

First the negative:

Immigration. Trump based his campaign on racism and anti-immigrant scapegoating. Here, unfortunately, he’s likely to deliver. Obama has been “the deporter in chief.” Trump will be worse, probably far worse.

Taxation. Trump wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15%, reduce individual income taxes across the board, and eliminate the estate tax. These things will lead to massive deficits (similar measures did under Bush the Lesser).

Global Warming. Trump is, at least publicly, a climate-change denier. Expect no action in this area.

Environment. Expect more air pollution, more water pollution, less regulation (including food-quality regulation — lack of which is already a national scandal), more fracking, more despoliation of public lands, especially in the West.

Supreme Court. One can only shudder at what’s to come here: corporate-friendly, anti-individual-rights, religious extremists (a la Scalia and Alioto).

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, “Obamacare”: Trump made repeal of “Obamacare” a centerpiece of his campaign. Expect grossly inadequate measures in its place (“competition across state lines,” individual health savings accounts, vouchers), expect millions to lose access to healthcare, and expect at least tens of thousands to die unnecessary deaths because of this dismantling of already-inadequate public healthcare.

Ayn Rand worshipper Paul Ryan is itching to dismantle Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Expect some movement in that direction. Expect Republicans to cut benefits for both Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries, perhaps eliminate Social Security as we know it for workers under the age of 45 (or 35 or 55), to at least attempt to replace Social Security with some sort of individual-investment plan (which would leave the bottom 50% or so of workers s.o.l.), and perhaps to eliminate Medicaid outright.

Reproductive Rights. Expect continued assaults on the right to abortion and even access to contraception. If Trump appoints more than one member of the Supreme Court, expect repeal of Roe v. Wade

TBGL Rights. Expect a slew of “religious freedom” measures, both federal and state, to institutionalize discrimination.

Emboldened Racists/Fascists. The KKK endorsed Trump, and in his election campaign he repeatedly endorsed and even urged thuggish behavior. Expect fascists and racists to engage in public intimidation, including physical attack, of political opponents and expect a spike in racist murders of black and hispanic people.

 

Where it’s a wash:

The Surveillance State. Despite his professed admiration for Wikileaks during the campaign, one can assume that that admiration was entirely hypocritical. Like Clinton would have, Trump will almost certainly continue the war on whistle blowers and the mass, intense surveillance of all of us.

 

Now the good news:

Believe it or not, there is some.

Foreign Policy. Given Clinton’s history of poor judgment, arrogance, war-mongering, support of coups (Honduras 2009), friendship with a notorious war criminal (Henry Kissinger), abject servility to the Israeli extreme right, support of repressive Islamist regimes (most notably Saudi Arabia), and bellicosity toward Russia, it’s hard to imagine Trump being worse. He might even end up being somewhat isolationist, which would be a marked improvement over the disastrous Bush/Obama/Clinton interventionist foreign policy.

Trade Policy. The TTP is dead. Clinton would almost certainly have pushed it, under the cover of minor changes that would have “met her objections.” Trump might push for repeal of NAFTA and other previous trade deals. But at this point, the damage from these deals is largely done. Trump might also push for protectionist trade policies, which is worrisome from two standpoints: 1) They primarily benefit corporations, who reap profits as consumer prices rise; 2) Trade wars sometimes precede real wars.

Still, rejection of further “free trade” agreements (they’re not; they’re highly managed trade agreements) is a step in the right direction.

Decline of the corporate, status quo Democrats. The engineers of the Trump/Clinton disaster will almost certainly decline in influence within the Democratic Party, and one hopes, though probably in vain, that they’ll be driven out of town on a rail. If Clinton had won, they’d still be riding high, they and their Republican co-conspirators would continue to screw working people economically, and Republicans would continue to point to the White House while pretending that they weren’t equally if not more culpable.

With Clinton and her corporado friends having delivered victory to the most grotesque major-party presidential candidate since Andrew Jackson, there will be a war for control of the Democratic Party between progressives and the servants of the corporations and 1%. This is good news: the progressives might win.

No full-blown Fascist Movement. If Clinton had won, and the economic situation of working people continued to fester, popular anger would have continued to build, with blame falling on Clinton and the Democrats. This increasing populist anger could all too easily have taken the form of an organized fascist movement. As is, the fascists remain a small, disorganized faction.

Following Trump’s victory, the pressure driving the growth of fascism is off. There will be fascist thuggery and murders in the upcoming years, but fascist factions will likely remain small and disorganized.

Trump won’t deliver on his economic promises. He can’t. His policies virtually guarantee that life will get worse for most Americans, which means he’ll likely be a one-term president. Of course, when things go south, Trump will likely fall back on racial and immigrant scapegoating. But fewer people should buy it.

When at least a substantial portion of his followers realize that Trump and the Republicans have betrayed them–as they inevitably will–and if the corporate Democrats are ousted, real change could and likely will follow.

Let’s just hope it’s change for the better.

And let’s do what we can to make it so.

 

 

 

 

 


I just watched the last couple of quarters of the Cardinals – Seahawks game with my neighbor, Fernando. Both he and his brother Memo were racially profiled and harassed this weekend.

Fernando went down to some kids football event held at Fort Huachuca with his girlfriend, and was stopped on his way in by an MP, “some white girl I guarantee isn’t from around here.” She checked IDs, had no problem with the two white folks he was with (who had exactly the same ID — Arizona drivers licenses), but told him to go into the checkpoint for further ID checks. He went in, and, surprise surprise, everybody in there was either Mexican or Indian. He told the MP, “This is bullshit,” when her supervising sergeant, a Mexican guy, arrived, and told everybody there they were free to go. One hopes he subsequently chewed out the racist creep under his command.

That was Friday.

On Saturday, Fernando and his brother Memo (Guillermo) got off work at the Tanque Verde Swap Meet, closed up shop, and around midnight were at the QT (local equivalent of 7/11) on First Avenue about a half mile from here on their way home. Due to a malfunctioning automatic transmission, their mom had accidentally screwed up the passengers’ side door when she put the truck into what she thought was “park” but was actually “reverse,” and hit the fence with the door a few days ago. That left the door functional, but requiring a fair amount of force to open and close it.

Well, as they were at the QT, Fernando and Memo went in to buy some shit. Memo came out first, and had to deal with the balky passengers’ side door. While he was doing it, “some random white girl” in her 30s at the next gassing island came up to him, told him not to break into cars, and threatened to call the police — despite seeing him and Fernando drive in and go into the store.  Memo then walked to the drivers’ side, got in and started the truck, as the “random white girl” continued to threaten to call the cops. She had a friend with her who at that point evidently asked her, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” and they drove off.

And some people continue to insist that racism no longer exists in the United States.

What in hell is wrong with them? Why can’t they see what’s right before their eyes? What planet are they from?

Not this one.

 


Several years ago, I heard a news report about a gunman who walked into his workplace and killed not only his supervisors, but several innocent fellow workers. My reaction was “Damn! Why didn’t you just kill your boss?!”

That night, I wrote the lyrics for “Postal.” I’d been screwing around with the chord pattern for a while before that, and everything fell into place. The song basically wrote itself; it urges people who go postal to just kill their bosses, and not their co-workers. (My thought at the time was, “Who could possibly object to that?”)

A year or two later, my band at the time, Pinche Blues Band, recorded it.

I was surprised by the reaction to the song.  Even the most progressive white folks I know, extremely cynical leftist musicians and PC guilt-ridden liberals, thought it was “sick.” Though some eventually came around to seeing it as “getting inside the mind” of a shooter. They were wrong. I was literally urging people to shoot their bosses and not their innocent co-workers, if they decided to go that route. (Not a good idea, needless to say–too many negative personal consequences.)

In contrast, my black neighbors (middle-aged ex-gang bangers from one of the hellholes back east–and no, I’m not going to get more specific–and one of their pops, a longtime blues musician in that hellhole) loved it. A couple of my  ex-gangster Mexican neighbors did, too. As one of the neighbors put it, “I”m comin’ for you, motherfucker!” I was very surprised at how much they loved the song: everybody else was lukewarm at best (something I very much didn’t anticipate — I thought everybody on the left side of the spectrum would love it).

Here it is. Make up your own mind. Is the reaction to this a reflection of small sample size, a reflection of how awful I am as a human being, and how some people who sympathize with me are “sick,” or a reflection of how much more badly black folks get shit upon than even poor white folks in this society, how much most white folks are in denial?, and how much so many of us, poor black, white, and Mexican, want vengeance?  Here ’tis. Enjoy. And reflect, please. And then do something about it.

Postal