Of gas stoves and football helmets

I couldn’t care less about what will one day be known as The Amazing 2023 Gas Stove Incident, in which the feds consider banning gas stoves, except that it’s a segue to my own safety pet peeve: cars. Everyone knows that car accidents are a leading cause of death and of traumatic brain injury. Every sane person must also know that wearing football helmets while driving would reduce these deaths and brain injuries. So why no mandate for football helmets? We could argue about percentages, but that some lives would be saved is indisputable. And think of the savings in hospitalization. Not to mention the carbon footprint of all those ambulances and hospital machines using up resources to keep brain damaged accident victims alive. I’d start a Change.org petition if I could figure out how. Meanwhile, please ramp up the buzz:

MANDATED FOOTBALL HELMETS IN CARS!

Rest assured. If I sustain a head injury in an auto accident, I will sue my local, state, and federal government for their negligence in not forcing me to wear my helmet. And in the continued spirit of civic zeal, I will spend every penny of my settlement not on myself but on my next public safety project – rubber bumpers on cowboy boots – you know, the kind of bumpers they use for kids in bowling alleys. Why? As a sometime hippie in a honky tonk, I can tell you those damn boots can do real harm. Well, maybe not as much real harm as the harmful words Stanford has recently vowed to eliminate, but to be fair, any physical violence would fall short of the carnage caused by such words as “walk-in,” “tone deaf,” “submit,” “field” and “you guys” – all on the Stanford chopping block. My “boots with bumpers” law may not save as many people from harm as Stanford’s forbidden words list, but if it saves even one stray hippie from hospitalization or death, isn’t one life worth it?

Until next time . . .

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY!

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The midterms come down to this

Who gets the last-week microphone? Right or wrong, that’s what matters.

If Dems can keep the spotlight on abortion, they win (as a large majority favors Dems on this issue).

If the Repubs can keep the spotlight on crime, they win (a majority favors Repubs here).

Secondary issues:

If the Dems can focus on how undercutting election integrity is now part of the Repubs’ fixed platform, this helps them.

If the Repubs focus on inflation, this helps them (absurdly, since inflation is worldwide and the US numbers are better than the global average).

In the fight for the mic, it seems Repubs are winning in the home stretch. As for me, I’d like to see the biggest spotlight on abortion, due to the enormity of what’s at stake for average families. Just imagine your daughters (and sons) going to college where they make one dumb mistake and abortion is a criminal offence, where your daughter doesn’t want her doctor to have information that might be used to track her periods, or where every text message about her period could be tracked and seized as criminal evidence.

Choose your meme and get it out there. Keep the focus where it should be this week. Don’t wait for the media to do it.

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The Republican Commitment to America, 2022

Larry Kudlow of Fox News recently noted that Liz Truss’s economic plan for Britain “looks a lot like the basic thrust of [Republican] Kevin McCarthy’s Commitment to America plan.” (9/23/22)

If you haven’t been listening, Liz Truss was the UK prime minister from Sept. 8 to Oct. 20 (the shortest-lived prime minister in UK history). “In her 45 days in office, her central economic plan was ditched, she lost two senior ministers, her poll ratings nosedived, her authority was destroyed, her parliamentary party rose in mutiny, and the UK’s international reputation was left in shreds.” (Euronews, 10/21/22)

Not to mention, in those brief weeks, the British pound plunged to a record low, yields tumbled, and “fears of a housing market crash mounted as UK banks pulled mortgage deals and lending rates skyrocketed … The Bank of England stepped in on Sept. 28 to stabilize markets.” (CNBC, 10/21/22)

When even your Fox News allies say your 2022 plan for America is like Liz Truss’s plan, that should be a chilling message for voters.

(And that’s not even counting the Republicans’ eagerness to dismantle women’s abortion rights.)

I’m not saying I like the Democrats much either, but it seems we need to do anything right now to keep the Republicans at bay.

(For the inspiration to ply this blog back into the perilous waters of politics, I thank Makita Yuki, friend and resident dignitary of Tokyo. May God and the rest of you forgive me.)

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Welcome to the New America

A couple of stories from the past 24 hours, just from my region of the USA. Who knows how many similar stories across the country are ongoing and unreported. Click for links.

“LOUISIANA HOSPITAL DENIES ABORTION FOR FETUS WITHOUT A SKULL”

“COURT SAYS 16-YEAR-OLD PARENTLESS FLORIDA GIRL ISN’T ‘MATURE’ ENOUGH FOR AN ABORTION” 

Not to mention …

 

 

 

 

 

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The Roe v. Wade problem

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had blocked states from denying abortion rights to women, is no doubt a 50-year setback for women’s rights. No way around it. But besides the problem that millions of women will now face in their personal lives (many of whom will have to carry unwanted pregnancies to term), there is also the immediate political problem. Republicans/conservatives had held a very large advantage going into the 2022 midterm elections. Because about 2/3 of Americans favored keeping Roe v. Wade, there will no doubt be some swing against Republicans in favor of women’s rights. But beware of overconfidence. The Republican advantage has gone from large to small but they are still likely to gain some seats in Congress. And Democrats/liberals are famous for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The 2016 presidential election is a case in point. The Republican nominee (Trump) was probably the most spectacularly unqualified candidate in U.S. history, both in terms of competence and temperament, and the Dems found a way to lose. And after the election? Did Dems look in the mirror to see how they may have alienated so many voters that they were thrashed by the worst candidate in history? No, they doubled down and wrote off everyone who disagreed with them as racist. Perhaps a harmless strategy if you are preaching to the choir, but hardly a way to win back some of those you have alienated.

So what’s the problem today? Just looking at the electoral side for now, the problem is stopping the Dems from self-destructing. A large majority is on your side on abortion rights. Don’t give away the electoral advantage this gives you. Two pitfalls in particular are easy to avoid, and yet I fear they are exactly the kind of pitfalls Dems generally dive into.

  1. Don’t frame this as women against men. Nothing the right-wingers would like better than to split us along gender lines. If it’s the pro-choice camp (most men and women, most moderates and liberals) against them, they are far outnumbered. (A Pew poll last week found 58% of men and 63% of women think abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.”) It’s really the men and women who are pro-reproductive rights against the men and women who are against reproductive rights. The problem is that right-wingers get a lot of help from progressives on this point – progressives whom I already see on social media framing it as men v. women, drawing a battle line that gives far too much to the other side.
  2. Don’t let this get twisted into the far less popular views associated with progressives these days – a fear of using the word “women” because it may somehow be offensive to some trans activists (activists who are fighting a noble fight, but as with broader justice movements in race and gender, have to deal with factions within that are counterproductive if not downright destructive). Don’t let it be broadened into the amorphous idea that Americans are generally a bunch of racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic idiots. Yes, some Americans are like that, and yes, that is a branding of liberals and Dems largely initiated by their opponents, but please don’t help them to do it. “You’re a bunch of racist, sexist idiots who should vote for me” is not a winning electoral slogan. Don’t forget that there are a lot of Americans out there who are fighting the good fight in their small ways, if not on the front lines.

Now I understand that I may get some pushback on #1 and #2 from my younger progressive friends – fair enough, we can haggle out how to hone the ideology and prioritize strategies as we go forward. But if there is pushback, remember that I’m actually on your side. Multiple and diverse points of view is good, not bad, in the same way that genetic diversity moves the species forward. Mainly, though, just be careful how you frame your case. It could be the difference between having 2/3 of the country at your back or having things go as they did in 2016.

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Critical Race Theory Flip Flops

Let’s face it. I skip much of the pulp (non-) fiction on cultural politics in today’s media, but I’ll occasionally find a bit in The Atlantic worth reading.[1] This one by Conor Friedersdorf, e.g., shows how “outrage entrepreneurs on either side” of hot-button issues like racism sometimes dance each other round until they swap places. Maybe I like this one because I have argued the same in this fine blog, sometimes humorously, as in my entry on Jonathan Swift and the Arc of Liberalism, sometimes more pedantically, as in my entry on Buckling and Curling in the US Political Spectrum. In any event, if you skip the Atlantic link, you can at least link to my previous entries for more entertaining, equally informative, and much shorter elucidations of Left and Right dancing around in their little (we can hope) death spiral 😊

Conor Friedersdorf article here

[1] The Atlantic is one of the few media outlets that has not zipped itself into an ideological straitjacket in the past few years. It leans left and includes new (woke)[2] progressive voices like Ibram X. Kendi, but also includes regular contributors such as former George W. Bush speechwriter, David Frum, and anti-woke liberals such as John McWhorter.

[2] A note on terminology: I am sometimes criticized for using the word “woke,” as if that aligns me with a conservative rhetoric. Although the term was at first amply used as a badge of honor for left-leaning politicians like my own New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, it is true that the right has seized the narrative and largely turned “woke” into a slur. In my case, I have always identified as progressive, not conservative, but for clarity today I need to distinguish between “progressive” as rooted in the 1960s radicalism of MLK and the hippies (which favors free speech and less racialization in our value judgments about people) and “woke progressive” (the identity politics sort, which favors stifling dissent and emphasizing race in value judgments about people and interactions). Thus, I use the term to distinguish two very different versions of progressivism which are often conflated because they carry the same “progressive” tag.

7 thoughts for a new radicalism

It’s time to move radicalism beyond the old, deadening left-right spectrum. If you’re on the left, you’re not radical. You’re as trapped in the old spectrum as the right. Here are my thoughts for a new radicalism, one that I hope disregards all current allegiances.

  1. Favor every form of “cultural appropriation” in every direction. Carry the integrationist torch to an extreme that would appall today’s progressives and conservatives equally. Bust open the cultural lockboxes and play with each other’s stuff, continually wear the other’s shoes – black, white, female, male, every ethnicity and sexual orientation – incorporate, collaborate, and share a laugh when cultural cross-pollination becomes clumsy, as it often will. Distrust any form of liberalism or conservatism that says we need to respect walls of separation. Better to throw open all the doors and windows than to build barricades around your turf.
  2. Never dissuade artists from representing characters and events outside of their own demographic. When creatively identifying with people from other races, genders, etc., becomes the #1 cultural sin, we have pretty much lost everything the Civil Rights movement fought for. Celebrate each other in every direction. Never stay in your lane.
  3. Go with Obama on free speech: “I believe in free speech, whether politically correct or politically incorrect.” This doesn’t mean infinitely free. Harassment laws have a place. But be prepared to engage dissent, not stifle it. As genetic variation pushes the species forward biologically, multiple voices at the table push us forward socially and culturally. Try to find the good in those with whom you disagree.
  4. Recognize continuing inequalities, racial and otherwise, and join hands across demographic lines to fix them, without regard to whether the hand in yours is white, black, or other, and whether that means flaws to be noted or sins to be expiated. Just join hands and cherish each other. Just say no to those who would play the old shame and division game.
  5. Take care of the environment. This is not a partisan issue.
  6. Forget everything you learned about politics, especially if you went to college. Throw it off like the dead snakeskin it is. Start over by engaging your neighbors near and far with the only tools left after those preconceptions are tossed – heart and imagination.
  7. Remember our shared humanness. We are all on spaceship Earth together and will flourish or crash together.

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Two takes on whiteness

Some decades ago on a daytime TV talk show – I’ll never find it – the African-American public intellectual, Cornel West, was seated next to some Ku Klux Klan members, and the host said something about the KKK representing white people. West gestured at the white supremacists next to him on the stage and replied, “These people don’t represent white people; they represent morons.” That encapsulated the norm in anti-racist discourse in the post-1960s trajectory (post-MLK/post-hippies). It was not black vs white but, as Dr. King called it, a “coalition of conscience” on one side and racists on the other, “for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny . . . that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom” (“I Have a Dream,” 1963).

How times have changed. Many in the (ironically named, some would say) “progressive” movement have swung around to suggest that the KKK, in effect, DOES represent white people, as the KKK expresses more overtly what is implicitly baked into white people. Whereas West’s witty remark of yore would marginalize racists and foreground Dr. King’s coalition of conscience, the most prominent voices among today’s anti-racists give the KKK center stage.

“All white people are invested in and collude with racism . . . The white collective fundamentally hates blackness” (Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility).

“The way in which people have constructed whiteness, and even their identity, or even the identity of white people, prevents them from seeing this white terrorist threat for what it is” (Ibram X. Kendi, interview 01/12/2021).

Though Kendi’s remarks are less demoralizing than DiAngelo’s, they still emphasize the battle lines between white and black – not anti-racism as a (rainbow) coalition of conscience against racists, but anti-racism as a battle against “whiteness.”

The two takes on whiteness, in any event, are clear. The post-1960s anti-racist angle was that whiteness was neither here nor there, not a blessing and not a scarlet letter. In the coalition of conscience, whites and blacks joined hands to combat racism and racial inequality, without probing into the color of the hand next to you and whether that color meant secret sins that needed to be called out. The post-woke angle, on the other hand, is that whiteness is indeed the problem. It comes dangerously close to recapitulating the old blackness vs. whiteness dichotomy favored by Bull Connor and the racist segregationists that liberals fought so hard against in the 1960s.

Some of you might find anti-racist inspiration in the woke discourse, and I suspect I might find some myself if I push into it harder, but the overall thrust is a hard sell for me. The idea of teaching children, black and white, the Robin DiAngelo quote above, and how that might affect them socially and psychologically, is frankly a little chilling. The other angle on whiteness, the angle that I have identified as post-1960s (as opposed to post-woke), the angle I associated with that decades-old quip of Cornel West (my more up-to-date readers can comment on whether his position has changed since then) – that’s the angle I like. It allows all people of all races to celebrate each other, to work hand-in-hand to fix continuing racial inequality, each able to express one’s own heart robustly, with full confidence in oneself and one’s fellows in the coalition, not cowering in self-doubt about one’s own goodness or casting suspicious eyes on those around you.

Best that each of us, black or white, express the power of beauty and goodness in the heart without impediment, in the brazen manner of William Blake, or better yet, Walt Whitman:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself…
My tongue, every atom of my blood…
Nature without check with original energy…
The smoke of my own breath…
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.

I know I am solid and sound…
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow…
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood,
I exist as I am, that is enough,
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

(Song of Myself)

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Never trust any ideology that …

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that emphasizes division between races rather than our shared humanness.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that uses shared humanness to avoid viewing and fixing racial inequality.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that encourages us to visualize and bring out the bad in each other rather than the good in each other.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that encourages you to prejudge anyone of any color by their race.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that says we should respect walls of separation between races.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that ignores the human consequences of wealth inequality and environmental destruction.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that ignores the human consequences of unequal access to education, health care, and natural resources.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that says that we cannot fully identify with all our fellow human beings because some stupidly reified concept of race prevents it.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that says we cannot creatively identify with people from other demographics in our artistic expressions. When putting oneself in the shoes of other races and demographics becomes the #1 cultural sin, we have pretty much lost everything the Civil Rights movement fought for.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that suggests we should not celebrate cultural cross-pollination in every direction, continually playing with each other’s cultural stuff, continually wearing the other’s shoes – black, white, female, male, every ethnicity and sexual orientation – incorporating, collaborating, and sharing a laugh when the cross-pollination becomes clumsy, as it often will. Better to throw open all the doors and windows than to build walls around your turf.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that vilifies one race or demographic to elevate another.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that says only people who “look like me” can relate to my struggles.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that does not inspire you to celebrate our differences without denying our shared humanness.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that does not welcome different and dissenting opinions to the table.

Never trust any ideology, left or right, that obscures the fact that we are all on the same spaceship Earth with limited time and a shared fate; whatever our surface differences, we will sink or swim together as the mothership flourishes or founders.

Never trust any ideology. Turn off the news and love your neighbor.

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