Sunday, February 28, 2021

The White Man's Burden — Revisited

The white man's burden

Rang loud and clear

Trumpeted by church and state alike. 

Exercise dominion over the colored savages. 

Cleanse them of their heathen ways. 

Civilize them in Western manners,

And bring wealth and power

Back to your homeland. 

And so in search of his holy grail

The white man plundered

The colored world. 

He stole the riches of the

Incas, Aztecs, and Native American Indians,

Vietnamese and Asian Indians, 

Yoruba, Ashanti, Maasai, and Zulu,

Not just gold and gems

But land, precious ancestral land. 

The white man created a world of

Homeless people, 

Uprooted from their land,

A key to their sustenance and sense of self. 

He forced his faith, the Christian faith,

Upon the conquered peoples,

Belittling the faith of their fathers,

Robbing them of another aspect of 

Their sense of self. 

Much as he tried to do with his fellow white man,

The Jews, who although not heathen

Were held to be infidels, Christ-killers. 

The self-righteousness of the Christian white man

Knew no bounds. 

And in the process of plundering and colonizing,

The white man committed genocide

Against the colored man. 

In Mexico, Central and South America,

A population of 38 million when the Spanish arrived

Was reduced to 6 million 200 years later. 

In North America, a population of 7-12 million

Was reduced to 237,000 by the end of the Indian wars. 

In Africa and Asia numbers are not available,

But the slave trade stole 17 million from their

Ancestral African homes and way of life

To toil under the lash of slavery. 

Although the majority of deaths were caused by Western disease.

Acts of purposeful violence and population control were common.

The record of United States history 

Against Native Americans in this regard

Is clear and transparent. 

These lands were not, as the white man likes to say,

Uninhabited and available for settlement. 

They were home to millions of people in

Long-established civilizations, with

Vibrant cultures and religions. 

The white man will say that

Slavery was abolished, recognizing its evil. 

But while it was abolished, not the Civil War

Nor the 13th and14th Amendments,

Nor the Civil Rights laws

Restored the Black man to his 

Rightful dignity and respect

As a human being

Because the dominant white culture

Would not accept that;. 

Though no longer slave

The black man was held inherently inferior.

As a result, now in the 21st Century

The white man, or better put,

The Christian white man

Has a very different burden. 

It is the burden of having committed

Crimes against humanity

For hundreds of years

In the quest for power, dominance, and wealth. 

To relieve himself of this

Spiritual and social burden,

The Christian white man must

Atone for his sins,

Both those of today and those of his forebears. 

Atone by acknowledging these

Acts of inhumanity and genocide

Through public commissions and hearings. 

By changing all history books to 

Accurately state the abundance of

Indigenous culture,

It's destruction by the white man,

And the role of even these 

Decimated populations and imported slaves, 

And their descendants, in the development,

And yes, often even the defense, of

The new nation state. 

Atone by adopting an attitude of

Remorse and understanding 

For the suffering that his actions

Have caused colored people 

Both in the past

And continuing to this day. 

Atone, most importantly, by finally offering

The colored man respect and true equality. 

The white man's burden is huge,

His responsibility for past evil is vast. 

The need for him to atone for past sins

Is self-evident if he wishes to be considered

A human being,

A child of God.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Mourning the Loss of Gay Neighborhoods

It may seem insignificant or self-indulgent in the era of Trumpism and the pandemic, but I mourn the loss of gay neighborhoods.   Across the country, whether in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, or San Francisco, and I’ve read also around the world, the vibrant gay neighborhoods (“ghettos”) that provided shelter (in the broadest sense), nourishment, and a feeling of community to gays and lesbians for decades have become a pale stand-in for their former selves.

What happened?  The most common explanation is that with the greater acceptance of gays and lesbians by the broader society, culminating in the legalization of same-sex marriage, people no longer felt the need to congregate and they chose instead to assimilate.  Some point to real estate pressures, but I feel that is mostly bogus.  It has to do with the desire to assimilate. 

But the question remains, “Why?”  Why would you forsake the feeling of community and camaraderie of living in a heavily gay and lesbian neighborhood for life among straights?  Why would you trade the vibrancy of these neighborhoods for the relative sterility (from a LGBT perspective) of straight urban areas let alone the suburbs?

The clear answer to me is not a pretty one.  Despite 5 decades of burgeoning gay pride activities and marketing, that feeling is trumped by the more deeply-rooted internalized homophobia that is still strong among gays (I cannot speak for lesbians).  This is what the experience of societal and familial homophobia has done to us as individuals.

That is why so many choose assimilation over community.  Why the desire to see themselves as “normal” is so strong, and why they themselves still define “normal” with reference to straight norms, not the norms of the LGBT community.

There is a lot of talk and display about celebrating our difference.  There is much flaunting of that difference in Gay Pride Parades.   For many, if not most, however, it is just talk.  People mouth the words, but they have no deep meaning.  I do not minimize the valid importance for many gays and lesbians of marriage and having children.  But I do think that part of that importance is the stamp of normality that it provides.

Yes, we are out today.  In that sense we have come far in the last 50 years since Stonewall.  But with the greater acceptance, and now even marriage, comes the temptation to fulfill the desire to be “normal" while still being gay.

I have been out for 50 years.  During that time, I have cherished my straight colleagues and their embrace of me.  I was very fortunate.  We were of one mind about politics and values, what a human being should be.  We had complete respect for each other.

But I never wished to adopt a straight persona, to be like them.  I cherish my gayness.  We are different, blessedly so.  Sometimes outrageously so. 

I came out while living in Chicago’s “Boystown.”  Gays were everywhere at all hours of the day … on the streets, in the grocery store, the local bookstore.  The community was not just defined by gay bars.  

More recently I have lived in Philadelphia’s former gay neighborhood, NYC, and Boston, and the scene was not what it once was.  Now it is just defined by the bars; so few gays still live in these neighborhoods that they are invisible unless you have Gaydar.  I missed the comfort and easy camaraderie of being, of living, among fellow gays.  

Even knowing what I understand now, I still find it hard to accept that people would give that up for living in straight neighborhoods.  We live our work lives in a straight world, and as I’ve experienced, it can be very rewarding and enriching.  

But we should want to be at home in a neighborhood where we are part of a gay culture, a milieu, an ambiance that is special and that affirms who we are.  For the same reasons that ethnic neighborhoods are special and worthy of preserving - for the city, it creates a vibe which is stimulating; for the neighborhood residents, it fosters maintenance of their identity and provides a sense of belonging which the larger culture never provides.

As with many aspects of culture, what is lost is irretrievably lost.  Assimilation is healthy for society up to a point; it is important that citizens feel a commonality, that there be a social compact. Beyond that, however, assimilation is destructive of the richness of diversity that makes life interesting and a society vibrant.  Our society, unfortunately, aided by the conforming influences of technology and globalization is marching towards a homogenous world.  How sad. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

America's Broken Towns and Cities

For the first 300 years of its existence, the towns of America's colonies and then states were more or less self-sufficient. Yes, they brought in goods that were manufactured in other cities or states, but the fabric of the daily economy was all local.  Even as late as the 1950s, you bought all of the goods you needed in local stores owned by locals.  Yes, there were supermarket chains already then, like A&P, but even they were embedded in the town and felt local.  

There were no malls and suburbs were just starting to grow. The focus of everyone's life was the local downtown, whether it was a small town or a larger city.  Downtown was where the action was, whether it was making a needed purchase, socializing with friends, or seeking entertainment.  It was vibrant. 

Even the major shift from the United States being an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, with its migration of people from rural areas into urban ones, did not change this basic aspect of local life.  Even though things weren't quite what they once were, rural America was still functional  Towns were real towns with stores and services.   If you needed something not available locally, you ordered it from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. 

But with the advent of mass-produced suburbs and expressways courtesy of Eisenhower's interstate highway program, and the suburban malls that they spawned, the focus of the America's local economy and life changed.   In rural America, the nearest Walmart became the new village.  I don't know if because the malls were spanking new or because they consisted mostly of chain stores which were known through advertising, but Americans deserted their local stores in favor of these flavorless, characterless, shopping and eating venues. 

For example, within the course of two decades, by the 1980s, downtown Reading, where I grew up, the 3rd largest city in Pennsylvania, was a dead zone.   Soon to be recreated as an office center by tearing down many of the old buildings and replacing them with brick office buildings.   Many store fronts were empty.   Many filled with low-priced merchandise catering to the now-poor in-town population.   The movie theaters were all shuttered.   Even the fabled Crystal Restaurant was no more.   Pomeroy's Deparmtent store held on for a few more years, but it was hopeless.   The changed dynamic of the life of the city was clear. 

This is the pattern that has repeated itself across all of America.   Virtually no place was spared.   And in time, this pattern of modern development even took root in Europe, even in France.   I read an article in The New York Times a while ago that told how the old regional centers in France were now empty of local commercial life, which had been replaced by the suburban shopping mall.   I read an article about how local bakeries, once the epicenter of local German life, no longer existed.   Bread was now baked in large bakeries and sent around the country.   No more freshly baked rolls from the corner bakery for breakfast!

This change from local self-sufficiency to big box stores is the reason why our cities, not just our rural areas, are mostly dead zones, except for offices.   And this is why rural small-town America has turned into a lifeless space, where drug-addiction is a major problem.   Further, people may still be living in the country, but they have lost all connection to the land.   They are not inspired by the land or nurtured by it.  Not only don't they farm, but they typically don't even have a vegetable garden.  It's more convenient to go to the local Walmart or supermarket and buy groceries. 

If there is to be any hope in saving America, it does not lie in some "new idea."  It requires going back to the future.  It means rebuilding a local economy based on local business in a local downtown.   I have no idea how one goes about doing that.   Perhaps a smaller city that still retains the infrastructure of their downtown could through government grants encourage the rebirth of local storefronts and restaurants, and a rebirth of local life downtown.   This should be a focus of HUD in the Biden administration.

If we don't change the dynamics of local economies and life, if we don't rebuilt local communities, then we will continue down a path with less meaning, more ennui, more drugs, less social interaction, and eventually a total breakdown of all social norms in a technologically-addicted society. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Unexpected High Call Volume - Mendacity from Corporate America

It doesn't matter what company you call these days (or actually for some time already) the standard message you get is that due to unexpected high call volume your wait-time will be longer than usual. 

There are several aspects of this statement which are mendacious, an outright lie.   First, the call volume is not unexpected; it is standard.   Second, the wait-time is not longer than usual; a long wait is the new usual. 

But the boldest aspect of this mendacity is that the long waits that we are subjected to are the result of corporate decisions to not hire enough people in their call centers to handle the volume of calls efficiently, which is to say in a timely manner.   They are more concerned with the impact of extra hires on the bottom line than they are the time of their customers. 

This practice is beyond rude.   Many companies do not even have the courtesy to tell you approximately what your wait-time will be, to enable you to make a decision whether the wait is worth your time.   They think nothing of keeping you hanging.  

A few companies, recognizing the inconvenience facing their customers, do provide you with an option to receive a call-back without losing your place in line.   This is an excellent practice.   Most however do not bother; they just don't care about their customers, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. 

In the old days, when companies dealt with mostly local customers, this problem would have been unheard of.   That is what made Lily Tomlin's AT&T telephone operator character so funny because she, being with a large national corporation, was so different in her attitude towards customers. 

Now, not only is the volume of people huge, but technology has made us all more distant, our interactions more ephemeral.  There is no there there anymore.   And so we all suffer in countless ways,  both large and small.   Being put on endless hold is one of the small ways.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Facebook's Ban of Trump Is Not an Infringement of Free Speech

Over the next few months, Facebook's Oversight Board of thinkers from around the world will decide whether Facebook's ban on Trump should stand or whether he should be let back on.   Academic free speech advocates are already suggesting that the Board may well be more responsive to free speech concerns and reinstate Trump.   And they are clearly happy with this prospect. 

Something has gone very wrong with the concept of free speech protected by the 1st Amendment to our Constitution.   There are two issues here.   The first is, whether lies and misinformation such as Trump engaged in can be prohibited speech.   The second is, how does the advent and impact of social media, as well as cable news, affect the concept of clear and present danger. 

Let me once again remind the reader that the 1st Amendment's right of free speech is not absolute, just as none of the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights is absolute.   The court has long held that certain types of injurious speech can be regulated.   Whether it's false advertising, libel or slander, obscenity, or gag orders relating to a court case, the court has approved regulating speech when there is a clear danger of harm to others or, in the case of gag orders, to the impartial process of jury deliberations.   In such cases, the state's interest in regulating the speech outweighs the protection granted by the 1st Amendment.   

Clearly Trump's lies and misinformation made it virtually impossible for people who believe him, he was the President after all, to render a reasoned verdict on who they should vote for.   All politicians lie occasionally, including Presidents, but the systematic manipulation of facts by equating lies with "alternative facts" and the truth as "fake news" has no precedent, at least in modern American history.   

Trump is an expert proponent of the "big lie," a propaganda theory perfected by the Nazis.  Adolf Hitler in his book, Mein Kampf, wrote of the value of using a lie so huge that no one would believe that one would have "the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."   

Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, went on to expand, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

If the reader things my Nazi reference is uncalled for, Trump stated very clearly to Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes that his purpose in bashing the press, calling it "fake news," was to discredit them, to create a reality in which his supporters would not believe the allegations that he knew would be made against him by his opponents.   This is a classic use of the big lie.

But free speech advocates argue against regulating political speech because it does not harm someone, it is an exchange of ideas, which is critical to the proper functioning of a democracy.   They say there is no threat of "imminent lawless action" or "clear and present danger" which the Court has required.   Forgetting that those standards have been used by the Court to judge speech that advocates the use of force or violation of the law.   And so regardless how outrageous or damaging, free speech advocates claim he should be allowed to speak for the sake of our democracy. 

What is the impact of technology, of social media, on discussing this question?  As recently as 25 years ago, a politician or President could have made the kind of comments Trump makes routinely and it would have had little effect because it would have gotten little exposure and/or he would have been exposed for what he is in the news, both print and TV.   All news media, at least major ones, were mainstream, whether liberal or conservative. 

But with the advent of Fox News in 1996, and then the social media platforms of Twitter and Facebook in 2006 and 2004 respectively, the ability of someone to propagate their own fake news, their big lie, went viral.   As we've seen with COVID-19 and the election, there are innumerable right-wing media outlets that will propagate the lies and misinformation of the President.   And through social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the President had the ability of directly communicating with his millions of followers, and so they got the word from him undiluted and unquestioned.  The result was disastrous.

Regarding the election, although no one was "harmed" in the classic sense such as false advertising or libel, this situation is more analogous to the gag order.   There it is the process of justice that must be protected and kept impartial.   Here it is the process of the election, which while certainly not impartial, must allow people to exercise a choice, to reason.   That is what lies behind the concept of freedom of speech and its essential nature to democracy. 

And so I would argue that Trump's constant stream of lies and misinformation through social and other media did and does constitute a clear and present danger to the process of our elections, which is the process of democracy.   And so his speech can be prohibited. 

Regarding the pandemic, his lies and misinformation not just presented a clear and present danger, but it did in fact result in great harm to millions of people, indeed to our entire country.  We're not just talking about those who died, or those who have been infected, were talking about the effect of the pandemic on people's lives and their financial and psychological well-being.  Such speech can and should be prohibited.

The question then is should his rights be suspended for a short period of time or should he be banned from Facebook?  Given the pathological nature of his lies and misinformation and the fact that it occurred almost daily during his entire presidency, I think there is justification for holding that the ban can and indeed should be permanent.   Even out of office, he poses a huge potential threat to our democracy if he is given a media platform to speak to the people. 

For the sake of our democracy's well-being, the Facebook ban on Trump should be made permanent. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Trump's 1776 Commission Report - An Extension of Fake News

One of Trump's last acts as President was releasing the report of his 1776 Commission, members of which included no professional historians but did include right-wing conservative activists and "thinkers."  

It's no surprise therefore that just as Trump legitimized his fake news, his alternative facts, by calling the authentic mainstream news fake news, this report lambasts liberals and progressives for hijacking the founding documents and the intentions of the founders and indoctrinating the youth of this country with liberalism and instead calls its highly conservative version of our founding as being the real facts.   It even disputes the impact of slavery on the founders and our history and criticizes the Civil Rights movement as not being true to the founders' intentions. 

When I read a summary of some of the reports main "findings" I thought it sounded suspiciously like the writing of Matthew Spalding in his We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles.   And so I Googled whether he was on the commission.   He was in fact the Executive Director. 

This right-wing take on our founding documents and the founders is a travesty of historical research and interpretation.   When Spalding's book was published in 2009, I was aghast because it had the same title as my 2004 book, We Still Hold These Truths: An American Manifesto. 

When I edited the Wikipedia entry for "We Still Hold These Truths" to include information about my book - it just had included Spalding's book - here is what I said:

"Hirsch has a very different reading of those principles found in our founding documents. This is not as surprising as it may appear, for as Hirsch says in his book, 'in [the Declaration’s] interpretation lies the core of both the Liberal and Conservative ideologies that have run through American political life and the tension between them.'"

"Hirsch looks at the words of the Declaration and finds an all-embracing, profoundly Liberal, statement of the equality of all people and that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that, as stated in the Declaration, the role of government is to secure these rights. Hirsch then goes on to use the Declaration of Independence as a touchstone to examine nine key areas of government policy." 

"Ironically, just as Spalding feels that Progressives eroded the founding principles, Hirsch believes that, “our nation stands at a crossroad. There is a radical Republican movement afoot to fundamentally alter the balance that our system has struck between private rights, the public good, and government. The issue is not simply big versus small government, high versus low taxes. At risk is the heart of our democracy, our historic values.” 

"Hirsch states that current Republicans focus solely on rights of the individual, quite divorced from their responsibilities as citizens and from the rights of others and the common good. Since the Declaration states that all men are created equal and all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the system can only work if one says that each person has this liberty so long as it does not harm others or impinge on the rights of others. This last proposition is in fact the basis for all government laws and regulation, whether of individuals or corporations. "

President Biden almost immediately disbanded the 1776 Commission, but its report will probably not just gather dust, as most reports do, because the far right loves to be able to justify their beliefs and actions based on the Constitution.   They love the legitimacy it confers. 

Whereas for some perverse reason, liberals and progressives do that seek to actively use our founding documents to support their cause.   Perhaps they feel it's so obvious; but to much of the country obviously that is not the case.   Whenever I've sent my book to top Democratic politicians, I've only gotten an acknowledgment at best, despite a pre-publication endorsement from James Fallows, the well-respected national correspondent for The Atlantic.   Liberals do not flock to my book for support like the far right flocks to Spalding's book.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Republican Representatives and Senators Must Be Held Accountable

When Congressmen take the oath of office, they swear that they will "support and defend"  the Constitution.   A central part of the Constitution concerns our electoral process.   It is a core element of our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power.

If there were indeed evidence of fraud, and the courts for some reason refused to acknowledge that evidence, and so they objected to the votes of electors on solid ground, they would be doing their job because a fraudulent election is not in furtherance of our democracy. 

However, that is not the case here.   In no court case, in no appeal to their supporters, has anyone connected with Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election brought forth one shred of evidence of widespread fraud.  Wild conspiracy theories, yes, but no evidence.  

Despite the lack of evidence, three contested states obliged the President and conducted recounts or audits.   The results were unchanged; no fraud, no missing ballots, were found.   And in two of those states, the Secretary of State that was responsible for overseeing this examination was a Republican.   Every court that heard Trump's complaint of fraud smacked the complaint down, often quite forcefully, and many of the judges who so spoke were Trump appointees. 

Yet in the face of this universal proof and judgment by the responsible officials that Trump's allegations were baseless, more that 138/121 Republican Representatives, roughly 60% of  the Republican caucus, and 8 Senators voted to object, to not accept, the votes from Pennsylvania and Arizona, respectively. 

They must  be held accountable.   They must be censured, at a minimum.   Really they should be impeached, but that won't happen if for no other reason than the number of people to be charged is huge and the result would be extremely disruptive to the work of Congress. 

And what about those Congressmen who actively engaged in urging the crowd last Wednesday to commit violence against the government?  As reported in The New York Times, Rep. Mel Brooks told the crowd before going to the capitol that they should "kick ass" and urged them to "fight for America. "  Representatives Taylor Greene and Boebert, speaking before the surging crowd, both referred to the day as "Republicans' 1776 moment."  All three were inciting the crowd to commit violence against the government, in violation of their oath of office. 

They and any other Republican congressmen who engaged in such statements should be impeached.   What they did amounted to treason. 

Now it is also reported that some Republican Congressmen may have led insurgent groups on tours of the capitol the day before the riot.   This allegation is now under investigation.   If found to be true, they should also be impeached for aiding and abetting the insurrection.   At a minimum they must be censured. 

It is a sad day for our democracy when elected members of Congress actively engage in the destruction of our democracy.   It is all too scarily close to the action of the Nazis as they rose to power legitimately through the democratic electoral process and simultaneously engaged in violence and sabotage to destabilize the government.