Our latest song demo…

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“Keep Your Flowers Off My Grave”

Dean and I are still writing songs, and having demos of them made.  I don’t want to post every song we write here, but since this is one that we feel is particularly good, I will mention it here.  It’s our first attempt at a 12-bar blues song, and it’s in a minor key, which may also be a first for us.  Link: Keep Your Flowers Off My Grave.

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Connecting the dots

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington (August 28th), Michelle Alexander (whose book, The New Jim Crow, I mentioned and quoted from here) posted the following Facebook status update:

For the past several years, I have spent virtually all my working hours writing about or speaking about the immorality, cruelty, racism, and insanity of our nation’s latest caste system: mass incarceration.  On this Facebook page I have written and posted about little else.  But as I pause today to reflect on the meaning and significance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I realize that my focus has been too narrow. Five years after the March, Dr. King was speaking out against the Vietnam War, condemning America’s militarism and imperialism  famously stating that our nation was the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”  He saw the connections between the wars we wage abroad, and the utter indifference we have for poor people, and people of color at home.  He saw the necessity of openly critiquing an economic system that will fund war and will reward greed, hand over fist, but will not pay workers a living wage.  Five years after the March on Washington, Dr. King was ignoring all those who told him to just stay in his lane, just stick to talking about civil rights. Yet here I am decades later, staying in my lane.  I have not been speaking publicly about the relationship between drones abroad and the War on Drugs at home.  I have not been talking about the connections between the corrupt capitalism that bails out Wall Street bankers, moves jobs overseas, and forecloses on homes with zeal, all while private prisons yield high returns and expand operations into a new market: caging immigrants.  I have not been connecting the dots between the NSA spying on millions of Americans, the labeling of mosques as “terrorist organizations,” and the spy programs of the 1960s and 70s – specifically the FBI and COINTELPRO programs that placed civil rights advocates under constant surveillance, infiltrated civil rights organizations, and assassinated racial justice leaders. I have been staying in my lane.  But no more.  In my view, the most important lesson we can learn from Dr. King is not what he said at the March on Washington, but what he said and did after.  In the years that followed, he did not play politics to see what crumbs a fundamentally corrupt system might toss to the beggars of justice.  Instead he connected the dots and committed himself to building a movement that would shake the foundations of our economic and social order, so that the dream he preached in 1963 might one day be a reality for all.  He said that nothing less than “a radical restructuring of society” could possibly ensure justice and dignity for all.  He was right.  I am still committed to building a movement to end mass incarceration, but I will not do it with blinders on.  If all we do is end mass incarceration, this movement will not have gone nearly far enough.  A new system of racial and social control will be born again, all because we did not do what King demanded we do: connect the dots between poverty, racism, militarism and materialism.  I’m getting out of my lane.  I hope you’re already out of yours.

Amen, sister.  The side of Dr. King that challenged America by calling it the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world” is the side of him we conveniently look past, ignore, or forget.  It sure as hell was never going to be the quote that we’d put on his monument in Washington, was it?  But non-violence was part and parcel of what he was all about.  As Americans we’ve always justified our violence by claiming that whatever historical bogeyman was current at the time required it.  In Dr. King’s time it was communism.  Now it’s terrorism.  Of course there are real threats in the world  there always have been and always will be  and some degree of self-defense against them is necessary.  But amplifying these threats beyond what they actually are is a cynical ploy by those with their hands on the levers of power (both in government and in corporations  which are increasingly indistinguishable from each other).  These hands are banking, quite literally, on our continued fear, which they proceed to ratchet up at every opportunity.  Don’t let them do it anymore.  Be clear-eyed, but unafraid.  And refuse to stay in your lane.  And start connecting the dots.

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“Mom! He’s looking at me. Make him stop!”

What sibling doesn’t have memories from childhood of saying something like that to his/her mother?  Most moms know how to handle such episodes without resorting to throwing the offending kid down to the ground and choking him out.  Most moms, in other words, are smarter and much more mature than the Miami-Dade police officers who tackled and choked out a 14-year-old kid who was BOTTLE-FEEDING A PUPPY (!) for LOOKING AT THEM THE WRONG WAY.  The cops said later that the kid was giving them “a dehumanizing stare” and then refused to stop doing it when asked to do so.  The poor, put-upon cops.  Imagine having to endure that!  Basically, then, the cops said, “See that kid!  He’s looking at me.  I’ll make him stop!”  And so they did.  And now the kid has been charged with a felony count of resisting arrest with violence and disorderly conduct. In other words, if convicted as charged, this kid’s life is basically ruined.


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To Hear Us Talk

Robert Frost (from New Hampshire):

On a Tree Fallen Across the Road
(To Hear Us Talk)

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not to bar
Our passage to our journey’s end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are

Insisting always on our own way so.
She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,
And make us get down in a foot of snow
Debating what to do without an ax.

And yet she knows obstruction is in vain:
We will not be put off the final goal
We have it hidden in us to attain,
Not though we have to seize the earth by the pole

And, tired of aimless circling in one place,
Steer straight off after something into space.

§        §        §

Johann Georg Hamann (from Golgotha and Sheblimini; translated by Kenneth Haynes):

However, suppose that there is a social contract: then there is also a natural one, older and more genuine, and the conditions of the natural contract must be the basis of the social one. Through it all natural property becomes conventional again, and man in the state of nature becomes dependent on its laws, i.e., positively obliged to act in accordance with the very same laws which all of nature and especially the nature of man has to thank for the preservation of existence and the use of all means and goods contributing to it.  Since man bears duties to nature, he accordingly has least of all an exclusive right to and hateful monopoly over his abilities, neither to the products thereof, nor to the sterile mule of his industry and the sadder bastards of his usurping acts of violence over the creature made subject, against its will, to his vanity.

Not to him, not to him alone, is the moral capacity to make use of things as a means subordinated, but rather to those laws of wisdom and goodness which light our way in the immense kingdom of nature.  All the conditions under which the predicate “felicity” may belong to the subject “duty-bearer” are invested in him as such and not as one who holds a right through the law of nature and the law of natural justice and of his own reason.  He therefore has neither a physical nor a moral capacity for any other felicity than the one intended for him and to which he is called.  All the means which he makes use of to attain a felicity not given to him as a blessing are a heap of natural offenses and decided injustice. All lust to improve one’s existence is the spark of a hellish turmoil.

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Deborah Bird Rose

I just found this excellent presentation by Deborah Bird Rose, anthropologist, and author of books such as Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture.  It’s just under 45 minutes in length.  There are several other videos of Professor Rose online (easily found using your favorite search engine) that are also very good.  I purchased and read Dingo Makes Us Human years ago, and it made a deep impression on me, but I had never heard/seen any of her talks until now.  I deeply admire her passion and commitment to the plight of animals, especially animals that have been deemed pests and are being killed on a massive scale.  I just ordered a copy of her recent book, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (Under the Sign of Nature).  I am also delighted to learn, via the Amazon preview of this latter book, that she refers to Lev Shestov as one of her “great teachers in life.”  Me too!

Posted in Animal theology, Rose, Deborah Bird, Shestov, Lev | Leave a comment

The New Jim Crow

Bridge[I am currently reading Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, The New Jim Crow.  In it, she lays bare the ugly truth that America has constructed a system for racial control that is more subtle than, in that it has a veneer of race-neutrality, but quite as devastating as, Jim Crow.  I cannot recommend her book highly enough.  The following selection from it provides an excellent summary of her thesis.]

§    §    §

From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, p. 185 ff.:

How It Works

Precisely how the system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage can best be understood by viewing the system as a whole.  In earlier chapters, we considered various wires of the cage in isolation; here, we put the pieces together, step back, and view the cage in its entirety.  Only when we view the cage from a distance can we disengage from the maze of rationalizations that are offered for each wire and see how the entire apparatus operates to keep African Americans perpetually trapped.

This, in brief, is how the system works:  The War on Drugs is the vehicle through which extraordinary numbers of black men are forced into the cage.  The entrapment occurs in three distinct phases, each of which has been explored earlier, but a brief review is useful here.  The first stage is the roundup.  Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. They are rewarded in cash – through drug forfeiture laws and federal grant programs – for rounding up as many people as possible, and they operate unconstrained by constitutional rules of procedure that once were considered inviolate.  Police can stop, interrogate, and search anyone they choose for drug investigations, provided they get “consent.”  Because there is no meaningful check on the exercise of police discretion, racial biases are granted free rein.  In fact, police are allowed to rely on race as a factor in selecting whom to stop and search (even though people of color are no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites) – effectively guaranteeing that those who are swept into the system are primarily black and brown.

The conviction marks the beginning of the second phase: the period of formal control. Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not.  Prosecutors are free to “load up” defendants with extra charges, and their decisions cannot be challenged for racial bias.  Once convicted, due to the drug war’s harsh sentencing laws, drug offenders in the United States spend more time under the criminal justice system’s formal control – in jail or prison, on probation or parole – than drug offenders anywhere else in the world.  While under formal control, virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system, and any form of resistance or disobedience is subject to swift sanction.  This period of control may last a lifetime, even for those convicted of extremely minor, nonviolent offenses, but the vast majority of those swept into the system are eventually released.  They are transferred from their prison cells to a much larger, invisible cage.

The final stage has been dubbed by some advocates as the period of invisible punishment. This term, first coined by Jeremy Travis, is meant to describe the unique set of criminal sanctions that are imposed on individuals after they step outside the prison gates, a form of punishment that operates largely outside of public view and takes effect outside the traditional sentencing framework.  These sanctions are imposed by operation of law rather than decisions of a sentencing judge, yet they often have a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars.  These laws operate collectively to ensure that the vast majority of convicted offenders will never integrate into mainstream, white society.  They will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives – denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.  Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In recent years, advocates and politicians have called for greater resources devoted to the problem of “prisoner re-entry,” in view of the unprecedented numbers of people who are released from prison and returned to their communities every year.  While the terminology is well intentioned, it utterly fails to convey the gravity of the situation facing prisoners upon their release.  People who have been convicted of felonies almost never truly reenter the society they inhabited prior to their conviction.  Instead, they enter a separate society, a world hidden from public view, governed by a set of oppressive and discriminatory rules and laws that do not apply to everyone else.  They become members of an undercaste – an enormous population of predominately black and brown people who, because of the drug war, are denied basic rights and privileges of American citizenship and are permanently relegated to an inferior status.  This is the final phase, and there is no going back.

Posted in Alexander, Michelle, Civil liberties, Current events | 1 Comment