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Friday Night at 8: Mercy

Let us talk about the problem of evil, Mr. Loran.  Where do we read about evil as a separate manifestation, as a result of too abundant a growth of the quality of judgment separated from the quality of mercy?

  –The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok

I read the NOLA blogs every day.  I read blogs in the diversosphere every day.  I read diaries and posts about undocumented migrants every day.

On all these subjects, I often find myself battling posters at Daily Kos who say things like “Oh well those folks in New Orleans shouldn’t have built their homes there, and they should just bulldoze the place, it’s environmentally unsafe!”  Or “I’m not a racist, so really that doesn’t apply to me, those folks are just oversensitive, besides that boy in Jena was a criminal, and Martin Luther King wouldn’t have defended him.”  Or “those illegal aliens are making it harder for those who are coming here legally and playing by the rules!  Why should I care about them — and besides, they’re hurting labor!”

I’ve experimented with many different responses, from aggressive and even profanity-laden to understanding and kind.  But those comments always hurt.  I don’t even know if I could explain why, they’re just words on a screen, aren’t they?

Judgment.  Well of course we are always using our judgment, from mundane things like choosing which toothpaste to buy to big philosophical and political decisions such as who to vote for, who to fight against and why.

And then there’s the judgment implied in the law.  This is wrong — if you do this you will pay the consequences, whether it be a fine, jail time, or even execution, even death.

In keeping with Buhdy’s vision of a manifesto (or whatever we end up calling it), I am grappling with the problems of social justice in the United States today.

See, That Right There …

I have a friend at work whose young daughter started a bit of a trend with us.

She saw her older brother doing something wrong  and she pointed to him and said, “see, that right there … you have to change your attitude!”  So now whenever something idiotic happens at work, the “management” does its usual bad job, we say “see, that right there …” and add whatever comment we have.

From Woman of Color Blog brownfemipower tell us:

Chicago Military Public Schools Draw Mixed Reactions

Yes, you read that right, the U.S. military is running four Chicago public schools. And it’s actually fucking *debated* on NPR on whether or not this is ‘ok’.
via NPR
Tell Me More, October 23, 2007 · Chicago Public Schools is allowing the United States military to run four of its schools. The decision is raising question about what involvement, if any, the armed forces should have in educating Chicago’s children. The relative of a middle-schooler who currently attends one of the city’s military education programs, is joined by a vocal critic of the concept. They share differing views.

Friday Night at Eight: Jewish Humor, The Wisdom of Chelm, and Bloggers

There’s a book I’ve read over and over since I was a child, so many times that I’ve memorized most of its stories.  My father and brothers also knew these stories and we’d often use them to illustrate whatever conversation we were having.

The book is entitled A Treasury of Jewish Folklore, edited by Nathan Ausubel.  It was published in 1948.

The stories are great, but Ausubel’s introduction to each section is wonderful, I think.

So I’m thinking about some of the more absurd arguments all of us get into every now and then — no, not flamewars, just minutiae unto absurdity at times, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin kind of stuff.  And I thought about the town of Chelm and the stories about the folks there.

Before I get to the stories, I’d like to share part of Ausubel’s introduction to the section of the book entitled “The Human Comedy:”

The overtones of satire, irony and quip we hear even in the Old Testament.  For example, there is the gay mockery of the Prophet Elijah as he listens to the idol-worshipping soothsayers of Baal, invoking their god morning, noon and night:  “O Baal, hear us!”  To this, the rational-minded Elijah remarks tauntingly: “Cry ye louder, for he is a god; he is perhaps talking or walking, or he is on a journey or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.”

We also find satire and irony in the Prophets, especially in the writings of Amos and Isaiah.  With matchless skill they lay bare the weaknesses and the follies of their contemporaries.  They satirize the hypocrite, the miser, the skinflint, the profligate, the coquette, the self-satisfied and the self-righteous.  It is from this acid portraiture that much of Jewish folklore found its inspiration and themes.  The fables, parables, anecdotes and sayings in the Talmud and Midrash, as the reader of this book will find out for himself, were rich in those very characteristics with which we associate Jewish humor today.

The liveliness and the many-sidedness of Jewish humor make it possible for everyone to find in it that which will suit his taste.  It is a treasury in which lies stored up three thousand years of a people’s laughter.  Its variety recalls the words of Bar-Hebraeus, the Thirteenth Century Syrian-Jewish folklorist, in his introduction to his Laughable Stories: “And let this book be a devoted friend to the reader, whether he be Muslim, Jew, or Aramean, or a man belonging to a foreign country or nation.  And let the man who is learned, I mean to say the man who hath a bright understanding, and the man that babbleth conceitedly even though he drives everyone mad, and also every other man, choose what is best for himself.  And let each pluck the flowers that please him.  In this way the book will succeed in bringing together the things which are alike, each to the other.”

So onward … to the town of Chelm, and why these particular stories remind me of the kinds of knots we can tie ourselves into when it comes to arguing the finer points of any issue.

What Comes After Outrage?

We saw an election stolen, the will of the people denied.  And in the aftermath we saw every progressive and humane aspect of government subverted.  And we were outraged.

We saw the great City of New York attacked and even as people all around the world united in sympathy and gave help, criminals who had stolen power planned to go to war with the wrong enemy.  And we were outraged.

We saw the social apparatus of our nation subverted and prostituted to engender mistrust and hatred towards anyone who would speak the truth.  And we were outraged.

Friday Night at 8: Audioblog

Hello, hello, hello!  As an experiment tonight, I’ve audioblogged a bit of stuff, including an original protest song.  It’s all explained … well sort of … in the audioblog.

Before I post the audioblog, I’ll share my fantasy protest.  Big bands, big brass bands, big brass bands from New Orleans with that tuba blowing the rhythm, loud, folks marching along right to the nation’s capital.

Can you imagine that?  A giant sound, all wild and brassy, there’s no way anyone – including the media – could ignore that.

Ok, end of fantasy protest.  Onward.  Below is the audioblog and the words to the protest tune.

Manifesto Meta Musings

First, let me start off by saying I dislike the word “Manifesto,” it sounds, oh I don’t know, just too grand and at the same time really ambiguous.

But that’s the word we have and the high zen dictator has spoken, so I’ll diss the term no further.

I have read some of pfiore8’s ramblings on how “might makes right” has to be turned on its head, that we have to begin realizing that we do have our own power, that we are not powerless even in the face of such strong oppression and “might” directed against us.

I have also rambled a lot myself speaking of thinking “outside the box.”

Well that’s all well and good, lots of rambling, and now I’m getting tired of that word, too!  Bleh.

Folks have said they’ll work on various issues of this marvelous Manifesto.  And here’s where my meta comes in.  If you are interested … there’s more!

To All The Racists Hiding Behind Martin Luther King

Mychal Bell is a bad boy, didja know that?  He was violent.  He was a bad boy.  And because of that, no one should protest on his behalf, because if they do, they’re misguided, yes, they are misguided because it was far worse, his beating up that white boy, than it was to put some nooses on a tree.  No one was sent to the emergency room as a result of nooses on a tree.  But Mychal Bell sent a white boy to the emergency room, and he is bad.

Yep.  He was violent.  And further more, I’m no racist!  Oh no, I would be the first to say those white boys who put a noose on a tree should have been expelled!  Yes, expelled!  And those school board folks and the DA, well they should be held to account, yes they should!  But that Mychal Bell, he’s a bad boy, and you are misguided to protest on his behalf.  After all, he was violent.  What would Martin Luther King say?  He would never have marched in Jena.

And I have to say, that Mychal Bell is a lucky fellow, he’s going to have so many opportunities because of all that media attention, all that money coming his way, he’s a lucky boy and I hope he takes advantage of all these opportunities.  I wish him no ill, I just hope he realizes how lucky he is!


All the sentiments above are from comments I have read both at Daily Kos and elsewhere over the Jena 6.  My response is below.

Friday Night at 8: Sex and Rock & Roll

Rock and roll.  Started out black music, started out being the blues.  Started out sung in the fields by slaves, trying to get through their lives day by day.

Changed over the years, but folks never forgot where it came from, which is why there was so much furor over rock and roll when it started to affect white kids.  It was why Alan Freed was really destroyed, not because of the official story of payola.

And while Little Richard was blasting this new music into the waiting ears of young black kids, Pat Boone was the one making all the money (try, once, to listen to Little Richard do “Tutti Fruitti” and then listen to Pat Boone singing it — you may just go mad).

It all boiled down to sex, though.  It did.  Listen to the blues, to early rhythm & blues, listen to that beat and try not to move your body to it, try  not to get turned on.  Can’t be done, sez I.

But this isn’t going to be a political essay about racism or the music business.  And I have no particular judgment over what I’m about to write.  I just find it interesting, and hope some of you will find it interesting as well.

Mychal Bell Jailed Again — Equal Protection Under the Law — NOT

Just read a diary over at Daily Kos by rico — turns out that Mychal Bell (of the Jena 6) has been jailed again.

From the link (and it’s a short article so I am quoting its entirety – hope that is all right):

JENA, La. (AP) – A Louisiana teen at the center of a civil rights controversy is back in jail.

The father of Mychael Bell says a judge in Jena (JEE’-nuh), Louisiana, has revoked Bell’s probation because of an old drug charge that had never been tried.

Bell and five other black teenagers had been accused of beating a white classmate. He was originally charged with attempted murder and then convicted of battery. An appeals court threw out the conviction, saying the case should have been brought in juvenile court.

Bell was released last month after thousands demonstrated in Jena to protest the severity of the charges against the teens.

Bell’s father says his son was detained after going to juvenile court for what was expected to be another routine hearing.

And Mychal needs to go to JAIL for this?  After he had already served so many months?  Something about this whole thing just plain stinks.

Ok, let’s see.  Be a mercenary and murder all kinds of folks, women, children, in Iraq?  No problem, no jail.  Head a telecommunications corporation and spy on Americans?  Hey, we’ll make sure you are retroactively protected!  Leak information about a covert CIA agent, risking our own national security?  Oh no problemo, a Presidential pardon awaits!

Equal protection under the law has become a joke.

Mychal Bell goes with his father to a routine hearing in juvenile court.  And now he is in jail.  Let’s look at a worst case scenario.  Let’s say he has broken probation.  Let’s say he has had problems with crime.

Let’s look at the picture here.  A white student pulls a gun on black students, they wrestle the gun away from him — the black students are arrested.  The white student doesn’t even get a slap on the wrist.


I have been trying to stay current with what is going on in Burma.  That isn’t easy, of course, because of the difficulty of getting stories out of the country.  If caught trying to cover what’s going on, journalists can expect the same harsh treatment from the junta as any Burmese citizen.  But still, stories emerge.

One of these stories is posted in ABITSU, All Burma I.T. Students Union.  It is about a 15 year old novice monk who is in hiding from the junta.

By : YANGON: Just two weeks ago, Yin Phoe Htoo’s life was governed by the austere but peaceful routines of the Yangon monastery where he has spent the past five years as a novice monk.Every morning, the 15-year-old would wake up at 4:00 am, eat breakfast at dawn, and then walk through the community in his saffron robes to accept alms from residents.

But since Myanmar’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests that saw Buddhist monks lead 100,000 people onto the streets, Yin Phoe Htoo now lives in hiding at one of the homes where he used to seek alms of food or small coins.

He has shed his flowing robes for a T-shirt and the traditional lungi that most men in Myanmar wear.

“I want to become a novice again. I feel uncomfortable living with the family here,” he said, giving a false name to protect himself from military reprisal.

For now he has little choice but to hide. At least three monks were killed and hundreds more were beaten or arrested as security forces used baton charges, teargas and live weapons fire to break up the monks’ peaceful protests.

jamesboyce over at Daily Kos has written a diary today with a disturbing story out of Burma, from the Sunday Times Online, entitled “Secret cremations hide Burma killings:”

THE Burmese army has burnt an undetermined number of bodies at a crematorium sealed off by armed guards northeast of Rangoon over the past seven days, ensuring that the exact death toll in the recent pro-democracy protests will never be known.

The secret cremations have been reported by local people who have seen olive green trucks covered with tarpaulins rumbling through the area at night and watched smoke rising continuously from the furnace chimneys.

jamesboyce has also set up a blog entitled burma newsladder, trying to aggregate all stories on what is going on there.

But let’s go back to Yin Phoe Htoo, the 15 year old novice monk.  One person, one story.

Mr. Jindal, Meet Mr. Crow

Ah, it’s deja vu all over again. Clear case of racism in Jena. After a lot of hard work, individual blogs run by people of color, sometimes under nasty threats, cover this story enough for it to be taken up by the traditional media (usually badly, but that’s the way it goes). Add to that, these blogs, along with grassroots organizations, through the intertubes and radio, organize an astonishing march in Jena, a march for civil rights, for equal protection under the law.

And the unjust charges which would have put Mychal Bell away for way too many years are reduced by the racist DA.

Does anyone think this would have happened without protest, without media coverage of this injustice? Because I don’t. But seems Louisiana gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal has a different view, a — shall we say — “old-fashioned” view.

Thanks to NOLA blogger oyster over at Your Righthand Thief — well, actually, thanks to one of his commenters, N. La. Lady, Mr. Jindal seems to be living in an older America, say, the Jim Crow era.

While the peaceful protest was going on in Jena, Mr. Jindal was stumping in Shreveport, speaking to students at LSUS. His reaction to the peaceful protest?

When asked about the impact of racial conflict in Louisiana, his response was déjà vu – unpleasantly reminiscent of the words and attitudes of southern politicians of not so long ago. When asked to comment on the demonstration in Jena, he said, “We don’t need anybody to divide us. We certainly don’t need outside agitators to cause problems.”

This comment attributed to Jindal was posted a while back over at Your Righthand Thief, but several commenters wanted more proof that this had been said — thinking that of course this kind of language would have made the news … wouldn’t it?

Friday Night at 8

Walking down Lexington Avenue in the 20s with my teenaged niece, it was in the mid-80’s, a homeless man jumped in front of us and yelled out with a fierce look on his face “HOMELESS!”  Not missing a beat, I shouted back “SAGITTARIUS!”  He looked bewildered and walked away.  My niece thought I was cool.

Some time in the 80’s, if I recall correctly, they changed the commitment laws, folks couldn’t be forced into mental institutions any more, so many were released.  I remember the Big Apple when the streets were lined with homeless people, sure not all of them were mentally ill, but plenty were.

Senior year in high school, in the midwest, I volunteered for a summer as a candy striper at the county mental institution — I was put to work with the occupational therapists in the chronic ward.

I read some of the case histories, people who were mentally retarded being put away and after long years they became psychotic as well.  One day during the summer they had a fire drill — I got separated from the staff and ended up milling about with the folks from the locked ward — none of them made me feel threatened, on the contrary, being among them I felt as though I were the odd woman out, and perhaps I should start babbling and carrying on as the normal thing to do.

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