Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for December, 2009

What You Liked, 2009 Edition

December 30, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

Breaking news isn’t really my thing, but it does bring the traffic.  The article I wrote after attending CATO/Glenn Greenwald’s release of the Portugal decriminalization study was the most popular post this year.  And the snowball war post came in at number three.

White America’s Existential Crisis was the second most popular post this year, and the one that garnered the most discussion and cross-posting (I think).

My post about how hard some Americans worked to exclude non-Christian immigration was fourth most popular.  I have to thank the Carnival of the Godless for some of that.

And the fifth most popular was the one I wrote about the movie Revolutionary Road.  I was surprised at that one, as it didn’t get a lot of hits at the time.  But they keep trickling in.  I have the distinct impression that kids are getting assigned this movie in school and are looking for paper material.

As for all time popularity, the first two slots for 2009 actually beat out the former all time front runner (which now comes in at number three) – Would you Rather Have Balls or Heart.

So my takeaway is that you want me to talk about drugs, cops, discrimination, the despair that is American life, and balls.

Poor Man Can’t Eat, Rich Man Can’t Sleep

December 28, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Criminalization

I used to shoplift as a kid.  When I was about fourteen, I was busted with a purse full of makeup and banned from Rite Aid for life.

My father was unusually rational about the whole incident.  Clearly, all the crap I had in my room could not have been purchased with my babysitting money.  And my parents weren’t giving me money to buy clothes or makeup or anything else.  I don’t think my father had lost his business or had his stroke yet, but it was only a short time away.  I suspect he was feeling guilty or inadequate about not being a good “provider”.

So instead of my parent’s usual tirade and grounding my father simply explained to me that I was hurting people.  He said it probably didn’t seem like a bit of makeup from a huge company would even be noticed, but thousands of people doing what I did added up.  And that company, he said, wasn’t going to let their profits suffer.  They were going to raise prices or lower wages to make up for it.

I never wanted to hurt anyone.  And I never stole anything again.  But if I were starving and couldn’t see another option, I would steal.

I confess my past (and possible future) thievery because of a post last week on The Freethinker.  Apparently, a Yorkshire vicar told people that they should shoplift if they need to. A couple of us godless actually had to side with the vicar on this one.  Not surprisingly, others objected.  One commenter, Ash Walsh, pointed out that

Criminality only entrenches poverty. If a Thief gets a Criminal Record, the Thief will find it a lot more difficult to get a job thus starting a poverty cycle that is difficult to break out of.

That is absolutely true.  But why do we place the blame squarely, and solely, at the feet of the thief?  Doesn’t the community also bear some responsibility?  If the thief was stealing out of necessity, the community failed in providing its members with the things they need to survive. If the thief (like my fourteen-year-old self) just didn’t see the harm they were doing, then the community failed to educate them.   If the thief didn’t care that they were doing harm, then the community failed to teach them morals.

And if our system of retribution ensures that a thief has virtually no opportunity to turn their life around, then the community has failed yet again.

I was lucky.  My father felt some responsibility for what had happened and so reacted with compassion instead of just harsh judgment.  And it wasn’t just him.  Had the manager of that Rite Aid called the cops, I might have ended up in juvi instead of home with my parents.  Things could have gone very badly.

But all too often thieves receive no compassion at all.  They are dehumanized and vilified to the point that we accept whatever is done to them.  We don’t blink when someone gets a life sentence for theft or shot by people “protecting” their property from “looters” after Katrina.

We live in secure buildings in gated communities with alarms and trained dogs.  We authorize armed guards, police, and mercenaries to shoot anyone who breaches security.  We are terrified of being robbed by our fellow citizens.  And all the while, the biggest thefts are happening behind the scenes and are perfectly legal.  Where’s the guard to protect your pension from Goldman Sachs?

Not long ago, a would be robber in Long Island was thwarted by the owner of the store he was trying to rob.  The store owner showed him some compassion, gave him some money and bread, and didn’t call the police.  Months later, the robber repaid the store owner and sent the man a letter saying that he got his life back together.

I’ll bet they both ate that day and slept really well that night.

Times Are Tough

December 25, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

Some Things You Might Have Missed

December 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

Everyone wants to think that they are a good person.  But the truth is that all of us are capable of doing horrible things.  As a Nadder! points out in Milgram, Rape & Silence, “It is much safer to acknowledge your violent potential since then you’re better placed to watch out for signs things are going wrong. And to help maintain social circumstances that curb violence in others.”

Evo Morales is often vilified in U.S. media as another leftist friend of Chavez.  Admittedly, I haven’t been closely following his policies, but the fact that the New Bolivian Constitution Guarantees Sexual and Reproductive Rights makes his government put ours to shame.  It’s particularly incredible in the context of Latin America where women are dying or jailed because abortions are illegal.

Migrants and refugees are a permanent underclass all over the world.   Whatever rights citizens have managed to claim for themselves have only left non-citizens that much more vulnerable to abuse.  And the lines between migrants and refugees, always fuzzy, are only getting more blurred.  Today’s refugees are joining other poor people in urban slums.  This isn’t just an appalling injustice.  It’s a powder keg.

Speaking of violence, Aretae has an interesting post up.  Is brief physical pain actually less harmful than long emotional pain?  Interesting question.

And I leave you with yet another post from Trust is the Only Currency wherein Mira Luna says:

If you want to wait to get permission to have an economic (r)evolution from the same kinds of people that created the need for one, then fine, please do. But I am not going to sit around and wait for permission. I am starting one here in my community right now. And if we do it right, it make be so attractive so as to create a spark that lights the world on fire… this time in a good way.

Snowball War Update

December 21, 2009 By: Mel Category: Criminalization

The agro cop that pulled out his gun at the snowball fight might actually be in a tiny bit of trouble here.

Yesterday, when I wrote about this, there were only a few articles around.  Now there are so many that I can’t even begin to give you all the links.  It’s being covered everywhere from the Huffington Post to the BBC to the Sydney Morning Herald to the South African News Blog.

That guy is known worldwide for being afraid of snowballs.  I almost feel sorry for him.  (O.k., not really.)

Washington City Paper reports that Detective Mike Baylor (that would be agro-cop’s name) is now on desk duty.  The Associated Press reports that Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier called his actions “totally inappropriate.” (Duh!)  And the Washington Post has a pretty good overview in today’s paper.  I’m not going to hold my breath that anything major will happen, but the fact that this went worldwide made it impossible for them to ignore it.

That horrible article from the local news that I linked to yesterday is still up.  Some German based news site has made it even more sensationalistic with their headline, Wild D.C. Snowball Fight Was Fun Until The Anarchist Show Up. DCist reports that CNN picked up the phony protest story. And the Scottrossblog has coverage of Faux News picking up the protester angle also.  It looks like Faux subsequently dropped that part of the story and the rest of the coverage I have seen left it out.  Good thing there were so many cameras around.

Some of the comments on the articles and blogs were hilarious.

“Stupid environmentalist wacko liberals… bringing snowballs to a gun fight.” LevonTostig at USA Today

Isn’t a Hummer built to withstand the impact of a snowball?” MillardFil at TPM

There were a lot of other, more annoying and more troubling, comments on different blogs and articles.  But I don’t have time to be thoughtful about them right now, so I’m going to leave them for another day.

Bad Cops, Lying Media, and Anarchist Scapegoats

December 20, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

I’m having a really hard time deciding who are worse – police or media.

As you may have already heard.  There was a giant snowball fight at the corner of U and 14th in Washington, DC.  I was there from about 2:30 to 3:00 and it was fun as hell.  Maybe 100 or 150 people were gathered, split between the east and west sides of 14th.  Whenever the lights would change, everyone would yell “Charge!!” and start pelting the other side with snow.

Not long after I got there, some hilarious anarchists showed up with a sign that said “No War but Snowball War.”  Everyone loved it.  They joined the snowball war on the west side.  Occasionally, the west side would chant “Whose Snow?  Our Snow!”  Here are some pics I took.

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Scary right?

Well, apparently some DC cop thought it was scary because, after I left, he pulled a gun at the snowball fight.  You can read about it on Gawker and in the City Paper.  There is also a good account of what happened over at DCist.

The only thing I will dispute about the DCist account is that I saw lots of snowballs tossed at cars as they rolled through the intersection.  I’m sure some cars found it annoying, but it wasn’t dangerous.  It was a blizzard.  I was walking faster than cars were driving.  What was dangerous was driving on roads not cleared of snow.  Without a snowplow, you really had no damned business being in a car yesterday. (I included some street pics in the images above to give you an idea of how desolate the streets were.)

As incredulous as I am about that cop pulling a gun, the thing that is pissing me off even more is how Channel 7 news decided to cover the story.

A lively snowball fight on D.C. streets took a dark turn Saturday when anti-war protesters dressed in anarchist garb showed up, and a D.C. police officer pulled his weapon out of his holster.

Channel 7 also claims that the anarchists started pelting cars.  That is a lie.  That started before they got there.  And I saw many snowballs coming from the east side of the street (the opposite side from where they were).  More importantly, who cares!  They were f’ing snowballs!

So a vile, power drunk cop uses his gun to stop a snowball fight and the papers blame some good natured anarchists with a sense of humor.  This is so typical.  This is why people aren’t out in the streets about all the BS that happens every day.  News media isn’t in the business of watching police and government any more.  They just serve as their lying, sensationalist, propaganda arm.

Some of the comments I have seen on the reports are just killing me.  I think my favorite was the person who said the cop was protecting his property.  WTF!  From snowballs?!  And why the hell is a cop driving a hummer?


Anarchy as Responsibility

December 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core

Conservatives like to talk about personal responsibility.  By that they mean taking responsibility for your own well being and perhaps that of your family and community.  But if you are not within the circle, what that comes down to is “fend for yourself.”

Liberals talk about taking responsibility for the less fortunate.  By that they mean donating time or money to organizations (that employ other liberals) and letting them help people in need.  But that creates dependency and doesn’t question the privilege underlying their altruism.

Anarchism, as a system based on cooperation, addresses the weaknesses in both liberal and conservative philosophies.

Like conservatives, anarchists think we should be taking personal responsibility for ourselves, our families, and our communities.  But where conservatives want to put up a wall, beyond which their responsibilities don’t go, anarchists have always understood that resolving our problems requires taking responsibility on a worldwide scale.

Like liberals, anarchists are concerned with the vast majority of people who struggle to have even the basic necessities of life.  But anarchists don’t want to install themselves in positions of power where they can met out drips and drabs of whatever liberals have been willing to give up.  Anarchists want to work side by side with people, questioning the hierarchies and privileges that cause those inequities.  We are not creating dependency, we are recognizing interdependency.

And anarchist principles work.

Worker managed coopertives are more productive than hierarchical models.  Community policing is more effective than conservative models.  Community involvement in schools means better results for kids.  Community involvement in budgeting means better allocation of resources.  The more people around when a conflict begins, the less likely that conflict will escalate.

These examples aren’t perfect representations of anarchism by any stretch of the imagination, but they do exhibit anarchist principles of responsibility and cooperation.  They demonstrate that we can solve our own problems.

Its easy to sit here and criticize our “leaders”.  But what did we expect?  Did people think we could just pull a lever every few years and then go back to watching American Idol?  If we want problems to be solved, we need to take responsibility for solving them.  And anarchism is a philosophy built around taking responsibility.

Things You May Have Missed

December 16, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

I can’t remember how I came to this post about Gandhi’s letters to Hitler, but it’s fascinating.

Every once in a blue moon I think about going to grad school for about half a second.  Then some wise person comes along to remind me why academia is not for me.  This post is written by just such a person (with thanks to @JamesTulsaALL)

Tomorrow, December 17th, is the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.  SWOPUSA has a list of events around the country.

White America’s Existential Crisis

December 14, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Stratification

People have, apparently, lost their minds.  There seems to be a panic that we have lost the fabric of our society and I’m having trouble getting a handle on what has happened that is so drastic that people would think its tyranny or fascism or hitleresque or stalinesque (Jon Stewart)

That quote is from Stewart’s interview with Lou Dobbs (video below).  Dobbs never really answered Jon’s question, so I’m going to try.

There is a certain segment of the American population that really believes in the American foundational myths.  They identify with them.  They believe that America was built by a handful of white, Christian, men with exceptional morals.  Their America is the country that showed the world democracy, saved the Jews in World War II, and tore down the Berlin wall.

These people have always fought changes to their mythology.  They have always resented those of us who pushed to complicate those myths with the realities of slavery, Native American genocide, imperial war in the Philippines, invasions of Latin American countries, and secret arms deals.

And we have been so busy fighting them to have our stories and histories included in the American story that we sometimes forget why the myths were invented in the first place.

No myth illustrates the sleight of hand behind our national mythology quite like the myth of the cowboy.  In the mythology, the cowboy is a white man.  He is a crusty frontiersman taming the west and paving the way for civilization.   He is the good guy fighting the dangerous Indian.  He is free and independent.  He is in charge of his own destiny.

Read Richard Slatta’s Cowboys of the Americas and you will get a very different picture.  In reality, the first American cowboys were indigenous people trained by the Spanish missionaries.  In reality, more than 30% of the cowboys on Texas trail drives were African American, Mexican, or Mexican-American.

And cowboys were not so free.

Cowboys were itinerant workers who, while paid fairly well when they had work, spent much of the year begging for odd jobs.  Many did not even own the horse they rode.  Frequently, they worked for large cattle companies owned by stockholders from the Northeast and Europe, not for small family operations (a la Bonanza).  The few times cowboys tried to organize, they were brutally oppressed by ranchers.

So what does all this have to do with Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, teabaggers and white panic?

Marginalization and myths have always been about economic exploitation.  White supremacy is not simply personal bigotry.  It is the systematic exclusion, dehumanization, and erasure of the majority in order to preserve economic dominance for the wealthy minority.  And while white men may be in most positions of wealth and power to this day, only a very few of them really benefit from our current economic system.  White supremacy helped distract poor and working class whites from targeting their economic exploiters.  White supremacy helped mask the lie of equal opportunity.

When you know the real history of the cowboy, it makes the selling of Reagan and Bush as cowboys seem like an inside joke.   The mythological cowboy is the heroic figure that many Americans wish they were.  The fact that the cowboy was actually an exploited worker is virtually unknown.

When Americans vote for a president, they want to see that heroic version of themselves looking back at them.  They want to see that free cowboy of the mythology.  No matter how poor or exploited white people were, they could always take subconscious comfort in the fact that, when they looked at the highest power in the land, they saw an idealized version of themselves.

And then came Barack Obama.


It’s a powerful thing to be able to identify with the people who are your leaders, to feel like they are one of you.  It’s a feeling that many people in the United States felt for the first time when Barack Obama was elected.  It’s equally powerful when your elected leaders are clearly not like you, when the fact that they do not represent you is glaringly obvious.

I had my whole life to get used to the idea that the government was never made to really represent my interests.  Many of these angry people are the very white, Christian, men that this country was supposedly built by and for.  And this is the first time the myth of America has been unmasked for them.

Undoubtedly, there are some bigots out there who are just angry that they have a black president.  Clearly, even for those who don’t feel motivated by personal bigotry, there is a healthy dose of racism underlying the fact that it took a black president for them to realize that their government is as dysfunctional as it is.  But I doubt the people we are talking about have an understanding of the difference between bigotry and racism.

And I don’t believe it is just blackness that makes Barack Obama different and symbolic.  It is also his intellectual cosmopolitanism.  He is a symbol of the privilege that is replacing whiteness – the educated professional/managerial class.  And there is a significant amount of animosity directed towards those people who justify their privilege by virtue of their intellect.

And so these people who have lost their foundational myths are out in the streets.  They are using all the synonyms for “bad” that our pathetic school system and media have taught them – communist, fascist, totalitarian, socialist, nazi.  All the words are interchangeable.  They all mean not American.  They all mean not them.


December 11, 2009 By: Mel Category: Religion

It’s time for my annual holiday season bitching post.  Feel free to skip this if you are not in the mood for a rant.

I get it.  Like 76% of people in the United States consider themselves Christian and you all think Christmas is a big f’ing deal.  I’ve written before about the violence and discrimination Christians used to make this a 76% Christian nation, so I won’t go on about that here.  But I would like to point out a few things:

1.  76% is not 100%.  Try not to act shocked when someone tells you that they don’t have plans for “the holidays”, cause they don’t actually celebrate your holidays.

2.  To my fellow Jews.  We all know that Hanukkah is way, way down on the list of important Jewish holidays.  There isn’t near enough suffering involved in Hanukkah to make it a big deal.  Yom Kippur, a day of starvation and guilt, is a Jewish holiday.  Passover – nights of sitting around a table for several hours while someone occasionally feeds you a bite of some repugnant, symbolic item they claim is food – is a Jewish holiday.  I know many parents tried to pump it up to make us kids feel less left out during the month of December, but we don’t really have to keep up that farce do we?

3.  It is completely inappropriate that we have a Christian holiday for a national holiday.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a paid day off from work for anything.  I’d celebrate Hitler’s birthday.  But you don’t get to claim that it’s secular.  Which brings me to…

4.  The rule is, if you are in the majority, you don’t get to tell the minority how to feel.  I don’t care if you think Christmas is secular or if you insist that it isn’t exclusionary or if you think it is perfectly harmless to have life in December revolve around the births of Jesus and materialism.  You don’t get to tell me what to think about that.  I assure you that I do not find it secular in the least.

5.  Christmas cards are dying.  Let them go.  I know some of you think they are a quaint way to keep in touch with friends and family once a year.  We don’t need them anymore.  I’m on Facebook.  I know what you ate for dinner, what you thought about the last episode of True Blood, and that you found a black sheep on your farmville.  TMI.

6.  If on a personal level you insist on killing the trees, so be it.  However, the sending of Christmas cards from a business is absurd.  The sending of Christmas cards from a business that is supposed to be “green” like mine is super absurd.  The sending of Christmas cards from an organization that is supposed to be international and culturally sensitive is just gross.  If you tell me, the atheist Jew, that I have to help you send out these Christian, tree killing, pointless cards – you are going to get some attitude.  Deal with it.

7.  I’m all for parties, even Christmas parties.  I’ll be happily attending the snow ball tonight and Santarchy tomorrow.  However, to all of you organizations that wonder why you fail miserably at diversity, you might want to rethink your Christmas party policy.  Do you think having your biggest deal of the year revolve around a Christian holiday sends the right message to your non-Christian staff?  Not all your Muslim employees will find jokes about their getting drunk at the office Jesus party to be hilarious.  And for Christ’s sake, stop throwing in vague, obligatory mentions of other holidays.  You are making a public display of your Christianness.  You don’t get to pretend otherwise.

And finally

8.  I will not participate in any obligatory gift giving.  I do not want any more candles, lotions, picture frames, or t-shirts with pithy sayings.  I will not be going into the heart of darkness (the mall) to buy you a candle, lotion, picture frame, or t-shirt.  I can; however, be talked into a drunken trip to the mall parking lot to change people’s Jesus fish to Darwin fish.

And with that, I go to eat my Christmas cookies.