17 January 2000

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Time marches on: xerox, email, Facebook, Twitter ....

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave — the one you know — changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition — this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. (And of course, also the descendants of people brought to the country in chains.) Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US — this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a White guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American. Yeah, these days we can celebrate it seeming almost unremarkable to have a Black President of the United States, but reading reading the whole thing you cannot help but realize that we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. Read it again, especially if you are White; it remains timely. The “Dream” speech is great, but White people focus on it too much.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you ....

I also highly recommend the comment on the method of the Civil Rights Movement and its benefits “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”

02 January 2000

Titles test

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level One

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level Two

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level Three

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level Four

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level Five

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

Heading Level Six

Etsy tumblr salvia flexitarian, single-origin coffee put a bird on it freegan blog chillwave shoreditch PBR viral occupy. Butcher mixtape food truck, bushwick godard dreamcatcher marfa. Tattooed gluten-free four loko wayfarers narwhal master cleanse. Chillwave leggings locavore tattooed, vinyl beard small batch vegan blog jean shorts farm-to-table wes anderson. Fingerstache williamsburg craft beer ennui, whatever cred farm-to-table keytar salvia occupy vinyl. Artisan marfa lo-fi food truck twee viral. Banksy beard art party +1, photo booth raw denim bushwick mustache sartorial twee trust fund butcher.

Cliche truffaut mlkshk, polaroid PBR you probably haven't heard of them umami mumblecore put a bird on it semiotics occupy thundercats. Single-origin coffee flexitarian letterpress kale chips banksy, seitan marfa wayfarers typewriter salvia 3 wolf moon occupy mustache cray. Whatever cred mlkshk, letterpress single-origin coffee artisan irony biodiesel mustache food truck banksy wayfarers polaroid 3 wolf moon. Irony artisan +1 DIY craft beer synth. Iphone whatever brooklyn bushwick, locavore irony tattooed ethical before they sold out wayfarers next level helvetica. Gluten-free godard readymade, banksy fingerstache organic bicycle rights. Tattooed pop-up fap, twee put a bird on it shoreditch odd future pitchfork cray.

01 January 2000

Index page

I didn't really post anything on 1 January 2000.

This is really just a hack for creating a place for "timeless" posts.

The Candidate

“Dear God,” I muttered. “I think the Candidate has bolts in his neck.”

It was true. B-roll from SPKF coverage spilled across the television screen, and there they were, just under his shirt collar, accidentally revealed by a make-up artist as she tried to relieve his unearthly grey pallor. A steel bolt in either side of his neck, marked with the unmistakeable sooty scars of electrical contact.

The Candidate's long gaunt face displayed no emotion other than, perhaps, the sadness of a very old man waking up to discover that he is in fact still alive. The make-up artist sighed, pouted as she adjusted the Candidate's collar, and went back to trying to scrape gravemoss out from under his fingernails.

My assistants were over in town, stuffing date-rape pharmaceuticals into police officers and reprogramming them into believing they craved sex with bears. I had the house to myself, and it was just as well. This new development required Professional Thought. My hands still shake occasionally, and I spilled much of the necessary nutrients for Brain Work over the cat. So I snorted the cat and began Thinking.

The Candidate selection process for the Party In Opposition had been the usual retard farming. General John ended his political career when he put his arm around an aZian-American kid at a photo-op and grinned, “You know, back in the War, I used to fuck gooks like your daddy right in the lung tissue.” There was a Doctor from Vermont who had a scream on him like Peter Finch in Network and eyes that rolled around inside his head like a stoned Muppet. No-one told him that a President from Vermont is like a Pope from Berkeley. Old Joe Lebensraum had the best shot since Bugsy Siegel at showing America that Jews can be evil truthless dogfuckers too, and it remains my fervent wish that a thousand generations of his ancestors pull themselves out of their graves and bite the little bastard to death. Dennis Kukikikithing, cursed with the look of a Valiumed-up schoolteacher who'd been repeatedly hit in the face with a shovel, registered on the Richter scale of American politics like a fart on the moon. No-one gives a damn how smart you are when it looks like it takes all your strength to open your eyes and not shit yourself in public.

So we were left with The Candidate. A man who was in a War but appeared neither to have eaten babies or indeed prepared them with fire, nor to have introduced his penis into any part of the Enemy. A man with a full head of hair—no-one has yet noticed that the hair appears to belong to an overfed chinchilla—and none of the strange physical tics endemic to professional politicians that can sink a Presidential campaign.

Aside from the bolts.

I mean, there's appearing stiff on camera. And then there's being dead.

The B-roll had been leaked out to me by an acquaintance at SPKF—people send me this stuff thinking it'll galvanise me back into writing. It didn't and won't—if people didn't listen to me before, they damn well won't now—but I confess that I still find it interesting. And this, this was fucking fascinating. The Candidate was leaning sideways. And leaning. And leaning. It was like watching a tree fall over in slow motion. It took the people around him a moment to realise what was happening. There was shouting from his handlers. A short PA with grey pubic hairs in his mouth lurched into the shot, carrying a car battery. The Candidate's collar was pulled down again, and clips were attached to the Frankensteinian bolts. The full whack of the battery was delivered into the would-be next President's neck. As he jerked, his hair shifted, and I saw that the pelt was affixed to his head with a masonry nail. The nail sparked and all the hair stood on end. Somewhere in that foresty mass, an animal's eyes suddenly stared in stark existential horror.

The jolt wasn't enough. Staffers scrambled in, ripping his jacket off, pulling his shirt open. Under his clothes, there was a hideous tangle of long surgical stitches. The Candidate was a patchwork quilt of various decaying skin tones. There was half a tattoo. And three nipples. Two of which appeared to have originally belonged to gentlemen of colour.

A crash cart clattered into the small room. A giggling doctor was masturbating frantically on to the electrical stimulation pads. “It's better than conducting gel,” he laughed, “and it will gift him with my personal Powers. And possibly a few diseases.” A handler punched the doctor in the throat, and the camera captured pus-flecked semen spattering over the Candidate's shoes. It hissed on contact and began to dissolve the leather uppers. The handler stamped on the doctor's liver, screaming like a violated chicken. “You pervert! We are the Party In Opposition. We do not DO sex anymore! This man is going to be President! We could have selected from eight different penises for this man, and we didn't give him ANY!” He snatched up the pads, spat on them, and jammed them into the Candidate's chest. Sadly, he didn't say “clear!” first, and the unlucky make-up artist, doubtless educated by television and hanging on to the Candidate's neck, was instantly electrocuted.

She fell across the Candidate's lap as he revived. Grey eyes rattled around in his grey head and came to rest on the poor smoking woman. His lips moved, gradually baring sharp, stone-coloured teeth.

He began, slowly and inexorably, to eat the dead make-up artist.

“Ah, fuck it,” a staffer was heard to sigh. “It's the first hot meal I've seen him eat in months.”

I looked for the TV remote and couldn't find it. So I repeatedly threw the cat at the screen until it shattered. And then I threw the cat some more until the screen shattered, too. The Hate screamed in my veins. This was the Party In Opposition's best possible shot at unseating a criminal, drug-crippled Fake President who was handed the gig by paid judges and his own mutant family? Why didn't they care? I walked outside. It had gotten late. The sky was red, bright and awful. I sat down on dead grass and watched the sun go down on America.

After a while, I put on my shades.

-- Warren Ellis

(Reprinted without permission, because I understand it to be intended as a publicly distributed work. I'll take it down if I learn otherwise.)

The Kevin letters

In late 2004 I got into a dialogue with Kevin, a conservative blogger who maintains the weblog Strategy Revolutions, who made some interesting comments to a series of my posts. This is an index of all of those posts, plus a few relevant posts from his website.

Tough decisions

The post that started it all. I note Bush's repeated use of the expression "hard work" during the first Presidential debate. In comments, Kevin suggests that I pay a visit to his blog "for a different perspective on the debate and other things."

Why should I hire you?

A post on Kevin's blog. He argues that John Kerry is a particularly lazy Senator, and therefore unqualified to be President.

The Cowboy vs. The Professor

Another post on Kevin's blog. He argues that though John Kerry — the “professor” — is intelligent and knowledgeable, George W. Bush — the “cowboy” — has a superior work ethic, and therefore is better equipped for the hard work of the presidency.

All hat and no cattle

My first open letter to Kevin. I answer some of the criticisms that he leveled at Kerry, and suggest that Bush's hardworking cowboy image is only a manufactured image, very different from the reality. I tell Kevin that I find his reading of Bush's and Kerry's personal characters "puzzling," and ask him to further explain how he came to see them that way.

Kevin responds, criticizing Kerry as a flip-flopper willing to say anything to get elected, and expresses concern over Kerry's use of the expression "global test" during the first debate.

Global test

I discuss what Kerry meant by “global test,” saying that Kerry used it in reference to the Bush administration's failure to provide a credible reason for our invasion of Iraq.

Kevin responds that he does not accept my reading of Kerry's meaning, and that the problems in justifying the invasion represented an intelligence-gathering failure, rather than deceit on the part of the US.

Honorable?

I explain why I believe that the US's rationale for invading Iraq was deceitful, talking about both the information available and evidence of the Bush administration's deceitful character. I suggest again that Kevin's thinking reflects an assumption that the Bush administration is honorable and that Kerry is deceitful, and ask why he holds those ideas.

Kevin responds that in the examples I cited, Bush was speaking metaphorically and Colin Powell's aides were untrustworthy observers. He describes telltale signs of deceit in Kerry's rhetoric, including vague references to unspecified plans.

Not just semantics

I confess that I'm trying to find underlying reasons why Kevin trusts Bush and distrusts Kerry, and point to examples of these varying levels of trust surfacing in his reasoning. I specifically point to how Kerry's plans are hardly unspecified, but rather well documented on his website. Then I confess that my three main reasons for opposing Bush do not hinge on his administration's deceitfulness: fiscal irresponsibility, Iraq undercutting the war on terror, and torture.

Kevin responds with a range of points. He again paints Kerry as ineffectual and irresolute, and credits Alan Greenspan as having more influence over the Federal budget than the President. On torture, he argues that "torture is bad, but so is terrorism," and suggests that Abu Graib reflects degraded cultural values which represent “the society that Senator Kerry would have us live in.”

Red state thinking

In a post not addressed explicitly to Kevin, I quote Mark A.R. Kleiman talking about some good reasons why many Americans distrust liberals. I note the regional character of Kleiman's example of the Civil Rights Movement, saying that this helps explain the anti-liberalism of the South.

Kevin comments on the post, saying that he does not trust liberals because he believes in "personal responsibility," that Kerry's "tax the rich" plans are unappealing, and that it is arrogant for the North to claim moral superiority to the South because many workers in the North were wage slaves.

Vote, but in your own country!

A post on Kevin's blog, in which he asserts that “pasty-face English liberals” who participated in a UK Guardian-sponsored letter-writing campaign to American voters urging them to vote for Kerry “are as much terrorists as those in Al Queda.”

In comments, I suggest that he reconsider this statement. Kevin responds that it follows from the logic of John Kerry's reading of terrorism. I comment again, disputing that logic.

Missing the point?

I try to clarify the red state thinking post, emphasize the differences between Southern slavery and Norther wage slavery, and pointedly ask Kevin to clarify some "strange moral points" he has made: that Southern black slavery was equivalent to wage slavery, that the Guardian letter-writers are equivalent to Al Qaeda terrorists, and that the 9/11 attacks justified Abu Graib.

Kevin responded with a defense of his comments, saying that I exaggerated them. He says that I practice a rhetoric of insults in describing his position, and also in accusing the Bush administration of lying.

Commenter Thread asks Kevin to clarify how his link of Abu Graib to Senator Kerry's conceptions of duty and rights. Kevin responds with a discussion of the basis for rights claims, including narrow interpertation of the Constitution's protections. He and I follow up with posts about the language protecting rights in the Constitution.

I give up

Looking in detail at the red state thinking and missing the point? posts and their comments, I confess that parsing Kevin's comments, and attempting to respond thoughtfully, has become demanding and unrewarding.

The Demondoll letters

Interracial dialogue
In this long post, I talked about a kind of communication breakdown that I've noticed tends to happen in interracial dialogue. Some time after well after I posted it, Demondoll2001 posted a provocative comment, eventually prompting our ongoing dialogue.

Dialogue dialogue
The dialogue kicks of with DD raising some questions about sincerity in anti-racist practice and the metaphor of "color." I respond with some ambivalence of my own about color metaphors, and some frustration about identifying effective antiracist practice.

Who am I?

I'm a hyper-verbal urbanite man of letters and adventure. You know the drill: cufflinks, gym membership, esoteric job, thousands of weird books, no TV, INTP.

Things I think are interesting include motorcycles, movies, interaction design, feminist theory, urban planning, natural philosophy, hermetic philosophy, cocktail recipes, haberdashery, and other forms of occult knowledge.

Yes, I wear a coat and tie almost every day, and I have worn my hair long since the Reagan administration.

2000:

2010:


2011:


Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

For more than a decade, I've been spamming people with this note every year. Time marches on: this year the primary medium for that will be Facebook. If you were here this time last year, read it again anyway.

Really. Take a few minutes. I think it's important.

Most people have forgotten that at the civil rights march on Washington DC on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King was not the featured speaker. He was not the icon of the movement that we think of today. He was a major player, yes, but there were others more famous, respected, and important at that time. The speech he gave — the one you know — changed that.

The importance of the speech is distinctively American. The United States, unique among nations, is a frankly artificial creation. France is the place in Europe where people speak French, but the US has no ethnic definition — this place is full of immigrants who decided to be Americans, and their children. Japan is an island, but there's nothing natural about the borders of the US — this place wound up a nation through a chaotic combination of war, purchase, legislative decisions, and (oh yeah) genocide. The US is an idea. Something we just made up.

This is why we have the peculiar veneration of documents that we do. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the holiest of holies in our civic religion because they are made of words, made of ideas. Through acclamation over the years we have chosen a handful of other documents that tell us what the United States is, like Lincoln's Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech. In that speech, the power of King's rhetoric and ideas was so great that hearing it transformed our understanding of what the nation was about. I know, I know, that's a White guy thing to say: it's not like plenty of folks didn't know about American racial injustice. But on the level of shared understanding of shared destiny, King gave voice to ideas implicit in the American national promise that had too long been denied. And still are denied today.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.

Go read it right now. It will only take five minutes of your time. With no exaggeration, I think it's your duty as an American. Yeah, this year we can celebrate it seeming almost unremarkable to have a Black President of the United States, but reading it you cannot help but realize that we have a lot of work left to do.

And while you're at it, take a little more time and read Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I know you did it back in school. It's worth doing again.

And if you really want extra credit, go read what he said on the last full day of his life and T. Thorn Coyle's sample of King's writing against war, or listen to an NPR piece on the “Dream” speech itself.

Gentrification

This original version of this post hit too much of a note of “shut up with your resentments”. I don't want to be that guy, so I've revised it where it originally stood, including a link back here in service of being honest about what I wrote originally.


I originally wrote this as a response to a Facebook post which said: “Gentrification: Ethnic cleansing, with a liberal twist!”

That's a little ripe. By which I mean completely offensive. “Ethnic cleansing” is a euphemism for racist genocide. Gentrification is bad, but it just isn't in that weight class.

Yes, liberal bourgeois Whites moving into urban cores and other neighborhoods predominantly populated with Blacks and other people of color (like me!) are creating disruptions that result in serious hardships for the less-prosperous residents of those neighborhoods. Yes, we are are as a rule maddeningly naïve about the effects we are creating. Yes, this betrays the liberal political agenda we think we represent. Yes, the smugness about our political and cultural liberalism is often annoying as hell. Yes, we have a deep responsibility to get more sophisticated about how national and local politics and governance create a context in which their migration into urban cores has those consequences. Yes, we need to not only become more sophisticated but also to become more active in changing those politics. Yes, we have generally failed to even make gestures in the direction of meeting those responsibilities.

But.

Responses to the evils of gentrification entirely focused on cultural resentment of The Gentrifiers Moving Into The Neighborhood — instead of talking about what we can do about the political, economic, and material context which is making this migration of bourgeois Whites into a problem — are not helping.

We have a generation of bourgeois Whites who are migrating to these neighborhoods because they just don't have the kind of bigotry which produced the white flight from the cities of their parents and grandparents' time. That shouldn't be a problem; that should be an opportunity. Every time I see the racially-mixed patrons of bars and restaurants in downtown Oakland I think this looks like the America I was promised.

Let's make that that not just how it looks but how it is.

I'm not kidding myself that we Gentrifiers are devoid of bigotry, and racism is over, and so there's no problem. The process of racist injustice is still working, and there's still plenty of White bigotry backing it up, but there is significantly less White bigotry in play than there was not so long ago. That's good news. Part of that process of racist injustice is a set of powerful forces arrayed to keep The Gentrifiers naïve and disinterested in how the process works. Let's focus on those forces and not on resenting The Gentrifiers, shall we?

Bitcoin sexists

Arianna Simpson's blog post This is What it's Like to Be a Woman at a Bitcoin Meetup has been making the rounds.

Surprise, surprise: what is it like to be a woman at a Bitcoin meetup? Not fun.

Entirely uninvited, and before I even have a chance to react, one guy proceeds to grab me by the waist and pull me into an awkward, grope-y side hug next to him on the bench. To reiterate, I’ve never met this man in my life. I try giving him the benefit of the doubt and make some quip about his being a friendly sort, but it gets uncomfortable pretty quickly when he puts his hand on my leg and leaves it there until I squirm uncomfortably.
I just smile it off and start explaining my interest in the international implications of widespread bitcoin adoption, especially in countries where currency manipulation by corrupt governments has caused rampant hyperinflation and a host of other economic woes. I conclude the thought, and he (again, staring like I’m some sort of extraterrestrial creature), goes, “Wow. Women don’t usually say that type of things”.

I mean, what do you even respond to that?

Undeterred, I try to sidestep it and go on with my argument, concluding that what I am describing is “much more effective and efficient” than the current system. “Well,” he says looking at me knowingly, “Women don’t usually think in terms of efficiency and effectiveness” ....

A Facebook Friend linked the article, and on the thread (which is public at the time I post this) drew this bizarre commentary from someone pretending to be Andre de Castro:

Fuck that I was there this girl is an idiot! the event organizer s the nicest guy in the world. She needs a man
In addition, he complimented her, and she turned it into a story since she has no idea the difference between a compliment and a come on. I could simply do the same to her. I feel sorry for her incapable ability to see it for what it was. Insecure imbecile, Easy to pass judgement. Maybe she can challenge me or just go back to Cali or wherever she came from... If she would like she can debate me. Andre De Castro, I live at [false address] and I am well aware of her insecurities. want to reach me by phone? That lack of brains can at any time by simply dialing [false number]. I am on vacation in Rio however her big mouth and lack of sense disturbs me. She should be glad that others are working hard to encourage the community to work together. she should go back to the sorry place she came from.
Ooops was that out loud? I am just simply giving her a bit more material for her next blog. She can use my comments to justify her initial false recollection of the events. This time however she will have the proper ammunition since she can feel free to quote me from my facebook post by name. We can get ready for a flame war since I think between me and a few friends I am sure she will love the volume of crap people will write about her sorry ass. Employers will also love what they see when they google her name. Ball is in her court. I double dare her!!!
let me just add... one of my companies just built a proof of existence platform on the BlockChain. Every message and image of her some anonymous people may post will live for eternity. It will be fantastic for her future family and children to read. We can take this even further since the posts that are about to be released even governments will never be able to take down. Yes, I made this fight my own. I triple dare her!
Please please quote me. You would be doing me a favor to immortalize me as the asshole who you believe I am.

At the time I originally posted this, I had what I had reason to believe was good confirmation of the commenter's identity as de Castro. But it turns out that this was not correct. (The contact information also turned out to be likely wrong, suggesting that this was may have been a weird two-step effort to harass someone.)

So someone thought that playing off of industry sexism would be an effective, or at least “entertaining”, prank. Which is its own lesson in pervasive sexism ....

Cargo Cult

This is my original post from 2 December 2012. It was written a little hastily, so in its original position on the timeline I put a revised version about a week later, which is my preferred edit. I'm keeping this version here for posterity.

Yesterday Burning Man announced their art theme for 2013: Cargo Cult.

For the reader unfamiliar with cargo cults: they are an amazing phenomenon. The story goes that during the Second World War the US built airbases on numerous small islands in the Pacific, many of them places with paleolithic civilizations which had experienced little or no contact with technological society up to that point. After the war ended, Americans abandoned the islands ... but the islanders then built fascimiles of airbases out of local materials, in hopes of luring the airplanes, with their useful cargo, back to the island. There's a lot more to it than that, of course, but that's the core of the tale.

It's a story that makes a good symbol. I've alluded to it myself at work, talking about “cargo cult design”, borrowing from a talk by the physicist Richard Feynman, Cargo Cult Science. He used cargo cults as a metaphor for the kind of pseudoscience which offers charts and numbers and impressively scientific-sounding language without doing real science.

they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land

Similarly, the organizers of Burning Man are turning to the cargo cult as a metaphor, offering a sly critique of technocratic consumer culture.

Like the islanders, most of us are many steps removed from the Cargo that entirely shapes our lives. We don't know how it's made, where it's made, or how it works; all we can do is look beyond the sky and pray for magic that will keep consumption flowing.
....
We feel sure our theme will attract many alien Visitors, and hope this will stimulate our planet's faltering economy.

That has some bite, no?

The theme description leans heavily on the image of John Frum, the mythic figure from the original island cargo cult who the legend holds will eventually return bringing gifts from the sky. The description begins with the question ...

Who is John Frum?

... and that has a lot of bite as well; I cannot resist a dark little chuckle at that one.

But notice how the cargo cult story provides such a seductive parable of the encounter between the modern and the paleolithic. We want this story so we can use it as a metaphor.

We need to stay wary of how the story of the cargo cult is a little too appealing. I'm told that there's a school of thought among anthropologists which holds that the formation of cargo cults in the first place springs in part from performing for the anthropologists who find it so fascinating. Plus the story connects to a bunch of stories we want to tell ourselves about the encounter between very different societies, stories we want to tell ourselves about Exotic Primitive Native People, stories that easily slide into racist ooga-booga cartoons.

When does talking about cargo cults cross the line into ho ho, let us now laugh at those colorfully-dressed islanders with their silly superstitions, too stupid to know that you cannot make an airplane out of coconuts like Gilligan and the Professor with all of the ugly bigotry that implies?

The Burning Man Organization seems incautious about this element lurking in the theme. Consider this quotation offered in the theme description, from a “Melanesian informant” describing John Frum:

’E look like you an’ me. ’E tall man. ’E live long.

That's a little too close to the minstrel show for comfort.

Now I don't want to suggest that Burners are a bunch of racist bigots who think Al Jolson performing in blackface is okay. That's obviously untrue. But Burner culture does include a lot of culturejamming remixing symbols from other cultures.

Many folks would call that cultural appropriation. Personally, I have some ambivalences about the way that cultural appropriation is sometimes criticized, but many Burning Man examples are not as innocent or witty as that Hello Kitty icon. Consider the story of a Burners' event gone badly wrong just a few years back.

Visionary Village — a loose group of artists and other young people who enjoy the annual Burning Man arts festival in Nevada — began routine publicity for a Burning Man-style “private event” at the Bordello on E. 12 Street in Oakland. The online flyer circulated on Tribe.net read: “GO NATIVE” in an Old West font set against a desert sun, and the dance party was advertised as a “fundraiser for the Native American Church.” Native-rights activists got wind of it and publicized additional text from the VisionaryVillage.org web site indicating four “elemental rooms” would be themed: “Water: Island Natives (Maori); Air: Cliff Natives (Anasazi); Earth: Jungle Natives (Shipibo); Fire: Desert Natives (Pueblo).” Ravers were offered a discount off the $20 door fee “if you show up in Native costume,” and the money would fund “neurofeedback research demonstrating causality between medicinal use [of peyote], improved brainwave patterns, and heightened mirror neuron activity in users.” The 140-year-old Bordello property abuts Interstate 880 and an ancient Ohlone Indian site dated to the 12th century B.C., which was also promoted.

Native American activists showed up to that event, and there were some rightly embarassed White people.

With prior examples like that, Burning Man does not get the benefit of the doubt on whether or not Cargo Cult constitutes play on a racist narrative about Primitive Natives and an invitation to a minstrel show.

I presume that the Burning Man Organization doesn't mean it that way, but if they know that the theme will be read that way, as they should, then they are giving offense intentionally. If you give offense intentionally, that's an insult. It says to people of color that the Burning Man Organization does not care if Burning Man feels hostile to them.

Burning Man is overwhelmingly a White People Thing and the insult to people of color implicit in cultural appropriation is one of the big reasons why. That's a problem for an event which counts radical inclusion as the first of its foundational Ten Principles.

I have to ask what the Burning Man organization does intend with this theme. The legend of the Cargo Cult is a legend of people using the form of the airstrip without understanding its essence.

So is that statue of Ganesh at the front of a Burning Man theme camp cargo cult Hinduism?

Is the Cargo Cult theme itself cargo cult anthropology?