Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Confederate Battle Flag: Whitewashing History (in more ways than one)

In an antique baby album there's a photograph of me as a toddler, sitting on a Connecticut beach in the pre-Dukes of Hazzard 1970s and innocently smiling up from the middle of a Confederate battle flag beach towel. And I grew up in thoroughly integrated neighborhoods and attended thoroughly integrated schools, too, both in Connecticut and later in Virginia. (That said: those thoroughly integrated Virginia neighborhoods had plenty of monuments, schools and roadways named to honor various Confederate leaders.)

A couple years after that beach visit, when The Dukes of Hazzard ruled popular culture, my little brother had plenty of General Lee toys emblazoned with the flag. But now, I'm guessing (or hoping) that such things are on their way to becoming future historical “WTF” examples, to be considered as revolting as the toy “golliwogs” or “mammies” which respectable white children played with 100 years ago or less, but polite society now recognizes as appallingly racist caricatures.

It looks like the quasi-respectability of Confederate symbols is finally coming to an end – though it would've been vastly better had America accomplished this without first requiring an evil racist to murder nine churchgoers and remind everyone exactly what that flag stood for in the first place: keeping black folks “in their place” (as determined by white supremacists).

First clause of the second paragraph of Mississippi's declaration of secession: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

From Georgia's declaration: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”

Of course Texas was more verbose, but its lengthy list of crimes which the non-slave states were committing against the slave-owning Confederates includes this: “... an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.”

For four years the Confederates fought to uphold such ignoble principles and hang on to their slaves.  Ninety years later, when those slaves' descendants started agitating for their full civil rights, the battle flag enjoyed a renaissance and some former Confederate states went so far as to mount it atop their own statehouses to express their disapproval of the civil rights movement.

Of course, I'm familiar with the counter-arguments: “Heritage, not hate.” Pfft. The South has a history stretching back almost 400 years; surely in all that time, there must be some aspect of your heritage worth celebrating other than the four years the Confederacy spent fighting for the right to continue owning people.

“The war was about states' rights.” Specifically, the right to continue owning slaves, and avoid “ the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races,” as the Texas secessionists put it.

“The war was about taxes and/or tariffs.” Yet the various states' declarations of secession ignored this and harped about preserving slavery instead.

“Taking the Confederate flag off the capitol grounds is an attempt to erase history!” Nonsense; the only people attempting to erase history are those insisting the South wasn't fighting to preserve slavery. Nobody is trying to erase the Civil War or Confederacy from the historical record; we're saying that Confederate flags and statues honoring Confederate leaders belong in museums, not places of honor on public property.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Rare Step In The Right Direction

For all the ways my country's gone wrong since the millennium turned, it's good to know we're getting better in some ways. In light of today's Supreme Court decision, I say congratulations to all my gay friends whose marriages are finally legal throughout the country! (And, I suppose, condolences to my commitment-phobic friends who no longer have a convenient excuse to avoid tying the knot. "I wish I could marry you, honey, but the law won't allow it!" "I would marry you, honey, but as a privileged heterosexual I must refuse out of principled solidarity with my oppressed brethren and sistern..." Nope. Not gonna work anymore.)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Baltimore And More

In February 2014 the Feral Spouse and I made a day trip to Baltimore, to visit a museum and attend an Alton Brown “concert.” Between the two events we tried finding a nice non-tourist seafood restaurant. Instead, our GPS sent us through the most horridly depressing slums I personally had ever seen — literally entire blocks of once-beautiful row houses absolutely gutted: no windows, rotting roofs, an utter mess. Even more depressing (to me) were the almost-abandoned blocks of row houses — I thought it must be horrible to be that one family, living surrounded by decay on all sides.

At the time, I made a post about this on my Facebook page, and added: “I was recently thinking about the connection between opportunity and geography -- specifically, thinking of the old Chris Rock routine where he imagined what his life would be had he grown up poor in rural South Carolina rather than in subway distance of Manhattan (short version: he'd still be in miserable poverty because the ladder he climbed out of it simply doesn't exist in rural areas). It doesn't look like any such ladder is to be found in those Baltimore slums, either. Had MY childhood and adolescence taken place in Baltimore, I don't know that I'd have had the opportunity to get the hell out of there, either — for all the arguably deprived things about my upbringing, at least I was in an area where, once I turned 18, I had opportunities to not only support myself, but go to school as well. Nothing remotely like those horrid slums of Baltimore.”

To which a Facebook friend responded: “I've only been to rural South Carolina once, but I'm not sure about that linkage. Baltimore is home to one of the country's best universities and hosts some important companies. It has a nice waterfront (thanks to eminent domain). It's an hour from Washington D.C. and a few hours from New York....”

But I was not impressed. “Given that there's no subway or any other affordable mass transit from Baltimore to DC, the fact that they're only 50 miles or so apart doesn't matter, from the perspective of someone living in one of those awful rotting row houses. (Chris Rock needed only a cheap subway pass to get from the projects to the opportunity-rich parts of Manhattan.) That 'nice waterfront' is nifty for the tourists, but what jobs it generates don't pay well at all. … Baltimore has some nice universities which offer zero benefit to those who can't afford the monstrous-high tuitions (especially high from the perspective of, say, someone who's never earned more than 10 percent above the minimum wage, ever). And all this is without opening various law-enforcement worm-cans — how much racist harassment do those poor (and very dark-skinned) row-house residents receive from the cops who allegedly protect and serve them? I've not checked the statistics, but I'm willing to bet the answer is, 'a lot'.”
  
Now it's 14 months later, and had I been allowed to put actual money behind that bet, I'd be a rich woman today. (Or at least less poor than I am; the Feral Spouse has been out of work for a year now.)

I'm disgusted but not surprised to see the same double standard in Baltimore that applied in Ferguson last summer: no matter how many times cops abuse their authority, they're always individual bad apples and it's thoroughly unfair and dishonest to criticize all cops, the police unions and/or "the system" for their behavior. But any protestors and/or rioters, by contrast, are a single collective entity: if one of them sets a fire, that means all of them are arsonists.

It would be nice if the murder of Freddie Gray and the protests, then riots, which followed ultimately resulted in needed changes to the system; for starters, how about we introduce the radical notion of “individual police accountability?” Since police have legal authority over ordinary citizens, and legal privileges denied ordinary citizens, those police who break the law should therefore face harsher consequences than an individual citizen who breaks the same law.

Being a cop is a privilege, not a right, and those who abuse their legal privileges need to have them revoked.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Milestones

It's almost three years now since I moved to the suburbs of the Imperial City, but not until today did I have my first in-the-wild sighting of a car with diplomatic license plates. At first I was -- no joke -- a little uncomfortable, thinking "There's a person with the legal right to murder me or commit any other horrible act, and the authorities wouldn't do a thing to him about it," but then I realized: a car with Diplomat plates is little different from a police car, in that regard.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

An American Bible Verse For Easter Weekend

And Jesus said: "For I was hungry, and you compared food-stamp recipients to animals; I was thirsty and you imposed a tax on bottled water; I was a stranger and you called the cops on me; I needed clothes and you put me on the sex-offender registry for indecent exposure; I was sick and you outlawed my medication and castigated me for being unable to afford medical insurance; I was in prison and you made a bundle since you own stock in the private prison corporation which profiteth off the misery of others ... Truly I tell you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me. Unless of course those brothers and sisters are gay."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Secrets "They" Don't Want You To Know: Vaccines and the Bottom Line for "Big Pharma"

Ah, the glories of journalism fan mail: I got a hilariously misspelled and almost all-caps email accusing me of shilling for "BIG PHAMRA" [sic] because I am pro-vaccine.

As far as conspiracy theories go, this doesn't even make internal logical sense: pharmaceutical companies make very little money selling vaccines, but they can indeed make a fortune treating measles, polio and other diseases which vaccines can cheaply  eradicate. Andrew Wakefield, whose now-discredited "study" started the whole anti-vax nonsense, was proven to have undisclosed financial ties to various pharmaceutical companies; had his BS claims been true, Wakefield would've got very, very rich off them. 

Seriously: if anyone is "shilling for Big Pharma and/or Phamra" here, it's the anti-vaxxers who are destroying herd immunity and making lots of people good and sick -- the measles vaccine isn't very profitable, but treating the measles sure is! And iron lungs are exponentially more expensive than the polio vaccine, too.

Remember, if you must be an anti-vaxxer, make sure you buy up lots of stock shares in pharmaceutical companies first: if you're going to shill for Big Pharma and increase the net amount of human suffering in the world, at least make some money off of it! Jenny McCarthy does.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day (for those who care about such things)

Today of course is Valentine's Day, a.k.a. Discounted-Holiday-Candy-Sale Eve, which I noticed in a professional-consumer-journalist capacity by researching and writing this article explaining the legal difference between "chocolate" and "chocolaty" candy for sale in the U.S.

But on a personal level I'm ignoring Valentine's Day, as I've done every year since the millennium turned and some time before that, too. (I always figured if your relationship's in good shape you needn't to make a to-do over it, and if your relationship's in bad shape then making a to-do won't fix anything.) The only time my significant other and I ever "did" anything for Valentine's Day was the very first one after we'd started living together. Specifically: I sat home, all alone, while he went out with another woman.

About a month or so before that V-Day, which that year fell on a Friday, Jeff came home from work and started telling this long, rambling story, and I could figure out "Okay, he's obviously nervous about something and  beating around the bush to get to it, but what is it?" 


He kept talking about this female colleague of his and how she's getting married this Valentine's Day, and another female colleague is engaged but her fiance has already moved out of state for a good job, and she's supposed to be a bridesmaid at the first woman's wedding, and she's really nervous because her fiance will not be able to attend and she needs a man to escort her because she's part of the bridal party and there's no way her fiance can make it from Pennsylvania to Connecticut that evening unless he takes the day off from work but they really can't afford that and she needs a date because she promised she'd be a bridesmaid and ....

I finally interrupted Jeff. "So Modesty wants you to be her escort at Linda's wedding?" Jeff nodded, and I said airily, "Oh, yeah, you've got to take her. A woman can't be part of a wedding party unescorted. That looks wrong." And I still remember the look of happy relieved amazement on Jeff's face.

A couple days later Jeff came home from work with a tiny gift-wrapped box for me; Modesty bought me a gift to thank me for the loan of my boyfriend. When I first got the box, I said, "Aw, hell, I'm always happy to pimp out my boyfriend in exchange for gifts!" and when I opened it and saw a small Swarovski crystal globe of the world (that was when I still actively added to my Swarovski collection, before the company switched its focus to making tacky bling-bling jewelry crap), I added "Tell her she's allowed to fuck you. But only once! If she wants another go-round it'll cost her another piece of crystal."

So that's my sole Valentine's Day story: for mine and Jeff's first V-Day together, I sat home alone and pimped him out to another woman in exchange for sparkle-tchotchkes. (Although, since I only got the one crystal piece out of the deal, I'm pretty certain he didn't actually fuck her.)
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