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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Words

Barack Obama in PhotoshopA letter I wrote was printed in Madison's Capital Times, which can be seen here. A part was edited out that took away a bit of the thunder, but I didn't expect the letter to appear at all. Here's the original version:

To the editor:
Tuesday's column by John Nichols, "Bush badly botches Mideast conflict," is something he could have written in his sleep. It is good writing, and is factually correct, but it goes nowhere. It's just more chatter, and to the degree that it is read, it gets filed away with the rest of the chatter.

One key phrase is a hologram for the whole article, and is the key factor in why the piece is almost irrelevant: "Bush's failed Mideast policies."

Policies. The Bush regime has policies.

The Bush regime does not have policies! (Think Jim Morrison shouting "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!") It is a criminal organization. Not a legitimate political organization that advocates solutions to problems. They only have schemes. Everything they do is with criminal intent, from the rigging of the 2000 election, the active negligence in advance of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the lying to get the country riled up for the invasion of Iraq, the rigging of the 2004 election, the active negligence in advance of and after Hurricane Katrina, kidnapping and torture worldwide, spying and developing databases on citizens within our borders, treason in the exposure of an intelligence officer, to the firings of honorable U.S. Attorneys, who were replaced not by mere political hacks, but criminal operatives with the purpose of prosecuting opponents.

This is an important distinction. If you just talk about this regime's failed "policies," the argument goes nowhere. If you call it what it is, a criminal gang, you change the dialogue, and the likelihood of actually doing something about this regime is greatly enhanced.

The reasons for not referring to the criminal Bush regime as criminal are twofold: It is beyond the bounds of thinkable thought, and of "polite" conversation. It's a self-fulfilling fallacy, because it is only because the "intelligentsia" will not call this regime a criminal gang that it is beyond the bounds of thinkable thought.

The second reason is derivative of the first: Career survival and advancement. If it is conventional wisdom that Bush is incompetent but well-intentioned, then he can be criticized in endless op-eds, editorials, books, and radio and TV commentaries. It all goes nowhere. Bush continues with his criminal schemes, and the news media can do fluff coverage of the presidential "horse race."

Meanwhile, the country continues to sink, having no direction, and little sense of how close we are to collapse as a functioning social system. Chatter, anyone?
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I could have done a little editing myself. I thought the Jim Morrison reference should have been left in, though. It captured the mood I was in, and lightened the piece up a bit (Yes, I have surrendered to using the word "piece." There aren't enough words available.).

The point was made, though. The language we use frames how we think and perceive. If the news media started referring to Bush as the criminal that he is, he would be out of office quickly, possibly even in the jail cell he so richly deserves.

It's understandable in practical terms why the mainstream media, known as the MSM, can't refer to Bush and his gang as criminals. The Capital Times is a pretty good newspaper, but it would be no newspaper at all if it loses its subscribers and advertisers.

We do need, however, to find a way to challenge the language used in our popular discourse. Because the Bush criminal organization has a concentration of power, it can spin any event, issue, or scheme in language favorable to itself. The list is endless in the twistings of language to advance agendas: No child left behind, compassionate conservatism, pro life, Social Security reform, aggressive interrogation, and of course the worst and phoniest, the "war on terror."

Many have ridiculed the use of the term "war on terror" as a misuse of language. On the face of it, it is a silly term. You cannot send armies out to destroy fear. So what the "war on terror" actually means is a blanket justification for sending armies out for phony reasons. The terror part is amorphous, an unformed "enemy." (A good article on debunking spin can be seen here.)

Now that the "horse race" is on for the next presidential election, the corruptors of language are gearing up for a spinfest that will likely go well beyond what we have endured in the past. One myth in particular can be dispelled before it goes too far is the branding of Barack Obama as the "black candidate," or possibly the "first black president."

On the basis of skin color alone, Barack Obama is not "black." I found a couple of pictures of him on the Web, and matched his skin color to the color palette in Photoshop, and to the best palette reference I could find on the Web, Cisco. There are no color names for the hexadecimal colors that came up for him - #CC9966 and #CC9999. The closest names are burlywood 3, rosy brown, a variety of tan, and peru.

The term "black" for people of African slave ancestry has been around for a long time. In the 60s, the word was revived, replacing the then common term "negro." It started, in my own memory, on TV talk shows like Joe Pyne. Pyne had occasional guests on who were either "caucasian," or "white" "South Africans" or "Rhodesians" ("Rhodesia" is now "Zimbabwe"), or British journalists working on the "African" continent. It was heady to start calling people of "African" descent "black." It didn't take much time before civil rights activists like Stokely Carmichael started using the word, and the term "Black Power" was invented. Then came the Black Panthers.

Referring to Barack Obama as "black" has other problems. His mother was not of "African" origin, but "Caucasian." Her name was Ann Dunham, and she was from Wichita, Kansas. His father, Barack Obama Sr., was from Kenya.

So Barack Obama can just as easily be called the "white candidate." If you can label someone with one part of his or her ancestry, then you can just as easily label him or her with the other or others. The only problem with this for Obama is that all the other candidates except one are "white." The news media would have one less spin label. Bill Richardson, the former governor of "New Mexico," is predominantly of "Mexican" origin, though part "Caucasian."

Still another problem is that the term "African-American," also applied to Obama, is an insulting term. "Africa" is a continent. "America," at least as used in the "United States," is a "country." There's a bit of asymmetry for anyone given that ascription. For "African-Americans" of slave ancestry, country or countries of origin are difficult to trace, because for centuries they were bought and sold with no regard for family or tribal connections. The common practice of rape by slave "owners" further complicates their ancestry. The slaves were primarily from the western areas of "Africa," places like "Sierra-Leone," "Ivory Coast," and "Angola."

For Barack Obama there is no problem tracing his ancestry. We refer to people as "Irish-Americans," "German-Americans," and "Norwegian-Americans" in some contexts. Why can't Barack Obama be a "Kenyan-American?" It is a truer ascription than any of the others, especially given his mixed background.

The biggest problem, though, is the use of "race" to describe anyone. A good article to read on this subject is in the Scientific American. (A word of advice. Read it in sequence, clicking "next" to advance to succeeding pages. I tried clicking on "5" from the first page, causing a freezup.) My favorite part to quote is this: "Some groups do differ genetically from others, but how groups are divided depends on which genes are examined; simplistically put, you might fit into one group based on your skin-color genes but another based on a different characteristic."

If we abandon the use of "race" to group people, then the applecart of "American" social organization, and dialogue about it would be turned over traumatically. If we can't have "race," then we can't have "racists." This would cause a vacuum for the adherents of both the "right" and "left" supposed sides of the imaginary linear spectrum they hold to so dearly. I have written extensively in this blog about the meaninglessness and inappropriateness of the mythical "left-right" spectrum. If you also take away "race" as a rallying point, then bigotry becomes just bigotry. Self-righteousness has to find another slogan.

Maybe the Barack Obama candidacy will serve to destroy the myth of "race." As we have already seen with Tiger Woods, it is getting increasingly difficult to label people by "race." Woods is of "African," "Native American," "Chinese," "Thai," and "Dutch" ancestry. If Tiger Woods is not a member of any one "race," but is still a human being, then "race" is a term that has purposes other than accuracy or biology. It is a method of establishing "otherness." Woods is both "us" and "them" at the same time, an achievement equal to his golf mastery.

So on the basis of semantics alone, I support the candidacy of Barack Obama. On issues, I am gravitating towards Gravel. If you have read my past posts, you know that I am partial to the word gravel. Mike Gravel pronounces his name "gruh-vél," but it's close enough. The mainstream media call him the "crazy candidate," because he advocates immediate withdrawal from "Iraq." To which I respond Crazy media. Let the word games begin!
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Say the word and you'll be free.

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