29 September 2009

I'm No Foreign Policy Expert...

I'm no foreign policy expert...

...in fact, I know next to nothing about what kinds of policies we have regarding individual nations with whom we are either allies or enemies.

But after watching parts of the G-20 summit, and the reactions by our esteemed political gabfest regulars, I am convinced that a seasoned kindergarten teacher could do as good a job as the so called "experts" when it comes to understanding the motivations behind the actions of our rivals.

Because if you look at the proceedings in Pittsburgh dispassionately, what you see is the same scuffling for attention that five year olds do when they are on the playground.

Now we see everybody under the sun howling about Iran gaining the power to arm their very own nuclear weapons. I thought our own president, Mr. Barack Obama himself, who, at the very same G-20 summit where all of the news about a secret reactor in Iran began to come out, said that "no one nation should try to dominate another nation."

"Responsibility and leadership in the 21st century demand more. In an era when our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed. No balance of power among nations will hold. The traditional division between nations of the south and north makes no sense in an interconnected world. Nor do alignments of nations rooted in the cleavages of a long gone Cold War."

President Barack Obama
Address to United Nations General Assembly

Why do we say these things when we really don't mean them?

Because if I'm the ruler of Iran - not Ahmadinejad, but the people he answers to - and believe that my national sovereignty is as valid as any other country's ability to decide its own fate, then I'd probably tell the UN Security Council to go jump off a cliff.

In many ways, it is analogous to the "family meeting" concept that caught on in the 80's, where everybody in the household got together to discuss major issues affecting the entire family. Who had the veto power in those meetings? The parents - the people who were paying for the very room in which the meeting was held.

I'd much rather have my president tell it like it really is - that we get all the say so because we are paying the lion's share of the United Nation's bill with some of the money we've borrowed from the Chinese; that we'd really like to quit building these nuclear weapons because they cost too damn much, but we don't have the muscle to make India, Pakistan, North Korea or Russia give theirs up; that we consider the nukes in France and the United Kingdom to be the same as being located behind our borders; and that we give Israel a pass, mostly for having the moxie to claim an official policy of "nuclear ambiguity" with a straight face when we all know they've got them.

I won't be holding my breath waiting for anything like this to ever happen.

As a communication tool between sovereign nations, the United Nations was a good idea, but the pomp and circumstance and posturing that passes for diplomacy has gotten in the way almost since the beginning.

And if you stop a minute, and think about the facts that are involved - if you take a long, long look at the picture of the little boy in the picture above, who was burned to a crisp in Nagasaki, Japan in 1945 - the only country I can think of that has ever used nuclear weapons in a wartime conflict is...

...the United States of America.

20 September 2009

If You Call Me By My Real Name...

9/12 Washington Tea Party
Picture by NineTwelvePhotos

If you call me by my real name, the legal middle name that I was given at birth, I won't hear you at first, because it is used so infrequently.

I chose instead to use a shortened version of my middle name.

If you keep at it, though, with the version I've mothballed, I'll respond, although inwardly I will feel that you have changed the nature of our relationship in a way in which I really don't want you to get too comfortable with.

But there gets to be a point, after I've heard you say it a half a dozen times, when I am liable to get ticked off, even though it says right there on my birth certificate and my bank statement and any other legal or business document I posses that this is my actual name.

I imagine President Obama, who went by "Barry" for many years before reverting to his given name of "Barack", wrestled with the need to fit into a society chock full of Bills, Toms and Johnnys the same way I did with my given name "Krishna".

I brought this up because I can look at my hit counter and show you by the spikes in my visitor report just about every time I have used the word "white people" in a title. Those have turned out to be some of the heaviest traffic days I've gotten in the last year.

I can write "fringe", "subset", "few", or any one of those other words that mean "some" or "minority of" all day long, but it doesn't matter - to the many vocal critics on this blog and others who are turned off by this latest turn in our nationwide dialogue on race, any mention of the word "white people", it seems, is an indictment of all white people.

The one thing I have noticed in all my reading - and I have read many, many millions of words over the years - is how little the phrase "white people" is actually used in our newspapers or on our news reports. On the other hand, minority groups are identified by name so often, that to hear someone say "black people" or "asian people" or "Hispanics" sounds normal.

Kind of like hearing the shortened version of my name sounds normal to me.

Writing the phrase "white people" seems to really bother these people who rush to fill the comment sections of this blog and others like it, who are bringing a different perspective to political discussions, with their indignation at being singled out formally, as if every usage of this phrase pricks away at what I can only assume is the neutrality that these sensitive folks feel they enjoy in America.

Talking about race in America is uncomfortable. It calls into question a person's own sense of morality. It forces people to examine closely all those inequities we have learned to rationalize instead of challenge.

Watching our punditocracy in action this week, both in print and on TV, twist Jimmy Carter's carefully chosen words into a blanket pronouncement fitting the narrow minded narratives of yesteryear that seem to run continuously in their heads, I have come to the realization that I am tired of the same old same old AARP crowd holding the political conversation in this country hostage.

And I am not amused by the rest of the entertainers posing as political prognosticators who populate our airwaves with commentary that begins at the ridiculous and goes downhill from there.

One of the real challenges we face in America when we talk about race isn't just the empirical evidence and the undisputed facts - it is the degree to which we are willing to accept other viewpoints as legitimate.

George Stephanopolous asked President Obama the obligatory question on race and the statement made by Jimmy Carter better than I would imagine any of the other interviewers in the president's TV news show marathon did today, posing it not as a either/or, "is the claim legitimate or not" fill in the blank query, but in more realistic terms that asked instead to what degree is the claim relevant.

Stephanopolous asked, "Does it frustrate you when your own supporters see racism that you don't think exists?"

President Obama answered, "Look, I think that race is such a volatile issue in this society - always has been - that it becomes hard for people to separate out...race being sort of a part of the backdrop of American society versus race being a predominant factor in any given debate."

"A part of the backdrop of American society."

Like the names the president and I were given at birth, whether we want to acknowledge them or not, race is as important to the American story as the percussion section is to a symphony orchestra. Excluding any acknowledgment of the way race has helped to fuel the fire of discontent about the healthcare debate or concern over the notion that this particular president's administration is aiming to "take over everything" means we are not willing to fully explore the sources of the animus and vitriol that lie at the root of recent group protests and individual protestations.

I will repeat the end of the last sentence - subset of white America's recent group protests and individual protestations - for those of you who eyes usually miss this explicitly stated demarcation.

The irony in all this is, the only time I am happy to hear my full name called is when the issue of healthcare is involved - specifically, when I visit the doctor's office - because when I hear the nurse with the clipboard read my name, it means it's time to head back to the examining room and see the doctor.

16 September 2009

Staring Wide Eyed At The Evening News

9/12 Washington Tea Party
Pictures by NineTwelvePhotos

These white Americans you are seeing on your TV every night hollering and yelling and screaming about our president's Kenyan roots need to be put on the hot seat, to get backed into a corner, to be force fed until they choke on the ugly truth that underlies the relationship between blacks and whites in this country.

It is their special brand of unrestrained, self righteous indignation, as if all the right thinking people are lined up behind their sneering eyes whenever they utter a derogatory racial pronouncement about our African American president that make me want to throw something at my damn TV.

Yesterday, as I watched the news, this circus reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago, something that sadly, is still true:

"White folks, and white men in particular, have always found ways to alter, bend, or just totally ignore the rules they've made up when something doesn't suit them."

The Black Folks Guide To Survival

S. and I shook our heads and rolled our eyes all through the news last night as the newscaster talked innocuously about the nature of the recent protests across the country while pictures of angry white people filled the screen behind him. It was as if the news announcer was playing charades, avoiding any mention of the one word his viewers were looking for to describe those protestors.

We both stared wide-eyed at the TV as Jimmy Carter came on to thoughtfully but reluctantly say what we have known since the beginning of this mess - that there are a lot of white people in this country who aren't willing to accept a black man as their president. Why were we so wide eyed? Because the old joke in the black community was that nothing existed unless white folks said it did. No alternate points of view were relevant unless white people said they were.

All I know is, I am not taking the weight for the racial problems America has brought on itself.

The "go along to get along" days are over.

Living in America will be more complicated as a result.

And in the end, there may not ever be an answer to racism.

To the people who are gearing up for this weekend's hate rally, whatever part of the country you are in, I've got a news flash for you - the otherness of black people is bound only by your limitations.

Think about it for a second.

Why would I delineate for myself a perimeter around my humanity just because my skin has a different hue? Just because my nose has a different shape?

Why wouldn’t I want to be able to take myself less seriously? Why wouldn't I want to experience the gloriousness of complete and total freedom? Why wouldn't I want to experience a weightlessness that consigns all boundaries of my existence to the nether regions of my consciousness?

My own level of perception is at once panoramic and precise, the connections between my ocular and my cerebral functions requiring exactly the same amount of electrical activity as yours, the osmotic properties between my dendrites and my synapses identical to those that course along your nerves.

But this truth telling about race doesn't really confer any benefits to me so long as you insist on rejecting these assertions, so long as you insist on avoiding the facts, so long as you cling to your sanitized versions of our God awful past relationship.

America was going to have the same warts whoever got elected.

The economy was going to be in bad shape. The banking system was going to be broke. Afghanistan was going to be an albatross. Immigration was going to be a hot topic. And ten million people would have become unemployed, regardless of what ANY president was able to do in the last eight months.

You know all this.

If you don't, you have no business holding up placards denouncing things you don't understand.

It would make much more sense for you to be in Connecticut right now, demanding some of the trillions back that you have loaned your Wall Street bankers, the same bankers who are even now repacking the exact same securities that caused this financial collapse in the first place, with a shiny new name and one of those gold stars from the ratings agencies that are about as valuable as the ones a kindergarten teacher gives out, for resale to the people who run your 401(k).

But that black bogeyman is still one of the most powerful agitators in the business of politics.

I'm still waiting for someone, somewhere, to bring O.J. into this.

12 September 2009

The Resident Diva Goes To College

It is an ending and a beginning, all in one day.

It is a ritual that has become as American as baseball and apple pie.

Moving away from home and into a college dorm is the beginning, for many teenagers, of the rest of their lives.

After spending a good part of the morning yesterday lifting boxes and carryalls and suitcases, I thought, "this girl sure has a lot of stuff." I remembered my own trek from South Carolina to Atlanta twenty five years ago, with a trunk and a couple of suitcases and a couple of plastic bags and a boom box that took my brothers and my parents ten minutes to unload from the back of the station wagon.

The other rooms I passed on the way to the Diva's, though, looked like showrooms at a furniture store compared to the Diva's minimalist design scheme.

Who would have ever thought that a college dorm room would have a design scheme?

I stood in the middle of her room and said, "my first dorm room stopped about right here." I walked around the big expanse, still talking. "Come to think of it, I think I could have reached out and touched my roommate, his bed was so close to mine. We had no choice but to talk to each other before we went to sleep."

The Diva will be fine. She's been to enough sleep away camps to know the roommate protocol, and she has gotten the jump on her roommate by getting checked in first, so she can rest easy, knowing that she wasn't forced to take the bed that was left.

I guess S. may rest easy in a few weeks, as she slowly gets used to the idea of an empty bedroom upstairs, and the reality of a student with a key to the whole wide world who is living away from home.

You can already tell the difference. It is the quiet of emptiness - or it will be, when S. stops walking around in the Diva's room after a couple of days, rounding up the items that now are all important because somebody didn't take my advice and start packing her stuff two weeks before leaving.

Oh well.

I learned a lot of things the hard way myself.

08 September 2009

Where Are The White People With Good Sense?

"Most little white children come from families powerful enough to shut out reality."

Jonathan Schwarz
"Four People Turned Stupid By Power"
A Tiny Revolution

I don't know if I agree with the modifier "most" that Schwarz uses here, but I can certainly see the point Schwarz is trying to make. And if there ever was a moment in time that this quote summarizes, it is today, Tuesday, September 8th, when a certain frenzied subset of our paler population will withdraw their budding genuises from school so that Little Johnny will not have to be subjected to listening to that bad, bad man, Mr. Barack Obama himself, otherwise known to us real Americans as the president of the United States.

"I am not going to give him unfiltered access to my kids."

I imagine HBO will see a drop in its subscriber base soon. I expect sales of the video game Grand Theft Auto will tail off into nothingness. And IPod's will litter landfills across the country. These predictions would make sense if these parents were telling the truth - that anything untoward should never come within a hundred yards of little Johnny's pristine ears unless it has been filtered.

What planet are these people raising their kids to live in? Johnny can't stay on the curb of his cul-de-sacs for the rest of his life.

Since our TV producers can't seem to come up with any other creative ways to get you to watch their news product this week, all we will be seeing is these people who will be snarling and howling and shrieking and yes, CRYING, as if Beelzebub himself is going to whisper his evil thoughts - study hard, read more, make goals for yourself - into little Johnny's ears.

So what I want to know is...

...where are all the white people with good sense these days?

Are they still on vacation?

Have they left the country?

Or are they just so ashamed of these people who look like them, who may be their cousins, or their coworkers, or their in-laws, that they don't want to be mentioned in the same sentence with them?

I've been thinking about these irrational parents that have been featured rather prominently on TV lately. You know who I'm talking about. They are wild eyed, or teary eyed, and sanctimonious, and all of them are white, and they swear that if President Barack Obama so much as breathes in Johnny's direction during the school day, he will have their kids calling each other "comrade" by the time they come home.

Which is interesting, because many of these parents don't even know what socialism really is. Couldn't tell you what the tenets of communism are if a years worth of gas for their SUV was at stake.

I've been thinking about these parents quite a bit lately, because some of them are my neighbors. They are the people who will just about have a stroke if their child's teacher assigns their kid homework on the weekend, that sacrosanct time here in LaLa Land that is mandated to be filled with fun, fun, fun - four wheeling and jet skiing and hunting and fishing and SEC football games and soccer matches and birthday celebrations.

But if Johnny doesn't listen to his parents now, as any outing to a local restaurant will confirm, then what makes these moist eyed mommies think that their "wittle munchkins" are going to listen to the president while he talks on a TV screen in their classroom?

Another phrase, one that I've heard through the years that may hone in a little closer to what I want to say today is this:

"If you want to see where stupid children come from, follow them home."

That point was driven home Saturday night while I was reading an article by a friend of mine:

"Tom Hui is a self-described video game lover. Michelle Liu calls herself a nerd. Marissa Pan simply likes books, and Tanya Nguyen prefers balance in her life.

What do they have in common? All scored 2400 on the SAT, putting them in the elite company of 297 nationwide and 10 in Georgia earning perfect scores last year."

Gracie Bonds Staples
"Four Area Students Score 2400 On SAT — Perfect"

Atlanta Journal Constitution

After reading a story like the one above, why are the white parents that will be paraded across our airwaves today, prattling on about the president's powers of hypnosis, even relevant?

These four real American children in the excerpt above all attended public schools.

I live less than five hundred yards from a public library, which I frequent several times a week. There are so few white children in there at times, you would think you were in a foreign country instead of an Atlanta northern suburb.

What I want to know is what these people are going to do when this brownskinned president stays on their TV year after year? Even if you only watch FOX News, guess what? They don't have a storyline if it doesn't include Obama. When are they going to do when he stays on the front page of their newspaper week after week?

Are they going to lock Johnny in a closet, like the child abductors in the news this week? Are they going to build ideological bunkers behind their houses, and set off air raid signals whenever the stench of liberalism draws near?

The best protection for your child is an appreciation of knowledge for knowledge's sake. An understanding of the basic tenets of critical thinking. And a facility with the English language that includes mastery of a vocabulary large enough to recognize the nuances that differentiate the meaning of one word from the next when someone is speaking to you.

But that, as my mother would say, is too easy. Makes too much sense. Instead, these people will do the thing they always do, the way Rick Pitino did when he went into a rampage a couple of weeks ago at a news conference while discussing the latest allegations from his adulterous sexual dalliance - claim that the truth is what they are telling you, and that everything else is all lies.

Where are the white people with good sense these days?

Are you out there?

Right about now, if the script was flipped, and these were black people doing this, I would have already been approached by someone white by now who would ask me, point blank, "why are they doing this?"

But if they don't want their Johnny listening to the president of ALL of these United States as he gives out the kind of simple advice - study hard, read more, make goals for yourself - that helped to get Obama where he is today, that's fine.

Put President Obama's speech on for the black kids.

Jamal WILL be listening.

Put it on for the Asian kids.

Jiao WILL be listening.

Put it on for the Hispanic kids.

Javier WILL be listening.

Put it on for the Indian kids.

Jharma WILL be listening.

Put it on for the children of all our immigrants, for their parents who have defied every challenge in the book to get to the real America, the one that has "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" tattooed to the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The thing about white people with good sense is...

...they are boring.

The same way black people and Asian people and Hispanic people and Indian people with good sense are boring.

Which is why you won't see them in front of any TV cameras today.

They'll be the ones soberly helping their children to master their A-B-C's and 1-2-3's. Demanding that homework get done before play time begins. Adding enrichment programs and activities on their own to bolster what the school teaches. Helping their children learn, one day at a time, how to navigate this thing we call life without having to depend on slogans and jingles and propaganda of any kind to give them their own sense of personal direction.

Training them, in other words, to deal with the world and its realities rather than look for an excuse to opt out.

I don't know what these people are worried about.

Because if Barack Obama was really the Malcolm X type of political radical they make him out to be...

...he'd schedule a speech to school children every other week to MAKE SURE these people took little Johnny out of class each and every time.

01 September 2009