Reactions to Nelson Mandela’s death

Nelson Mandela died yesterday. This prompted reactions pretty much everywhere, because if nothing else, the whole media-accessible world agrees that he’s a memorable and comment-worthy man. The most frequent reactions so far seem to fall roughly into three categories: right-wingers who hate his guts; right-wingers trying to appropriate him; and liberals trying to appropriate him.
This is where, usually, the “the liberal appropriation is worst” or”at least the right-wingers are honest” sort of stuff goes, but that’s crap. These are all crappy reactions to the death of Mandela. Yes, the right-wingers are the least wrong when they scream about what a communist and terrorist he was, since a)he worked closely with communists and believed freedom from poverty was a human right; and b)was the leader of a “terrorist”*/guerrilla organization before his arrest. But lauding them for that is a bit like lauding the fucker who smeared shit all over the bathroom for getting some of that shit into the toilet as well: the right-wing calls everyone they hate a terrorist and communist, sooner or later they were bound to hit someone who actually can be labeled like that with decent accuracy.
I’m not gonna bother saying much about right wing politicians appropriating Mandela. Because what exactly can I say about e.g. Santorum using his name in his battle against healthcare for poor people that doesn’t just speak for itself? I’ll just leave this handy list here, and also this UK-themed text-image**, and move on.
As for liberals appropriating Mandela? That has two parts. The first is people like Bill Clinton “remembering” Mandela as a friend, when he was still on the terrorist watchlist during Clinton’s presidency; when his administration did a lot to harm the new South Africa. I’m not saying Clinton didn’t think of himself as a friend, but you know… he was probably that kind of a friend; the kind that makes enemies superfluous; and now? Now he gets to bask in reflected glory. Swell.
In the long term, the second part is even worse. The second part is where the owners of history re-write Mandela’s biography as more palatable, squishy, cuddly, liberal-friendly. Now begins the same process that scrubbed all radicalism from the memory of MLK; the kind that takes the fact that after release from prison he chose not to be an agent of vengeance but of reconciliation and extends it beyond all reason to calling Mandela a symbol of “the power of peaceful resolution in even the most intractable conflicts” as a New York Times piece just did. No. As a note circulating the internet said:

Nelson Mandela used peaceful means when he could, and violent means when he couldn’t. For this, during his life they called him a terrorist, and after his death they’ll call him a pacifist — all to neutralize the revolutionary potential of his legacy, and the lessons to be drawn from it.

And his Unwillingness to reject the sometime need for violent resistance “when other forms of resistance were no longer open” is not the only part of his legacy that’s being erased. His left-wing politics, his anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism*** are all being erased (which gets us back to the part where a man like Bill Clinton gets to remember his version of Mandela; in public, for the public memory), smoothed out to make him more palatable as a hero for the still-existing kyriarchy.

There’s a 4th kind of common reaction to Mandela’s death: the people who are trying to set the record straight. Writers and commenters reminding people of the “radical histories of Mandela and MLK”, reminding them that “Mandela Was No Care Bear”, that he was an Unapologetic Radical, that he “will never, ever be your minstrel”, that “Conservatives Can Own Reagan, But You Don’t Get Mandela”, that “leadership knows how and when to follow and how and when to be unpopular; that resistance can not always be non-violent; and that perseverance is the cornerstone of revolution”. A few of the people doing these corrections do so because they think his radicalism and acceptance of sometime violence was a flaw that must be remembered; far more (I hope) will point out that sometimes oppression cannot be ended solely by non-violence, solely by clinging to civility and a moral high-ground built entirely to favor the status-quo in maintaining itself.

P.S.: A Mandela Reading List I didn’t manage to stuff anywhere into the body of this essay.

– – – – – – – – – – –
*in the sense it’s often used, meaning private persons or organization using violence and/or property-destruction as methods to fight against established governments
**if you can’t see the UK-themed image, it says

Mandela will die soon. Today, tomorrow, this week, next week. It won’t be long. Remember this.
When Cameron latches on the Mandela bandwagon this week remember that in 1985 he was a top member of the Federation of Conservative Students, who produced the “Hang Mandela” posters.
In 1989 Cameron worked in the Tory Policy Unit at Central Office and went on an anti-sanctions fact finding mission to South Africa with pro-apartheid Lobby Firm that was sponsored by P.W Botha.
Remember this when he tells the world he was inspired by Mandela

***in the Cold War, the USA was on the side of the Apartheid regime; the USSR on the other hand sided with the ANC. Such are the vagaries of history.

A supreme court decisions roundup

an oddly large number of important supreme court decisions happened in the last few weeks. Instead of commenting on them individually and separately, I decided to put them all together; I don’t think it’s possible to get a decent idea of where the U.S. is heading, legally speaking.

1)United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry — These are the DOMA and Prop8 cases, respectively. The most important positive bit here is that in states where gay marriage is legal, gay married couples will now be treated the same as straight married couples at the federal level. The major bad part is that the way these two cases were handled, state-level bans on gay marriage are still perfectly legal, and states don’t need to acknowledge other states’ marriage laws. Basically, they turned gay marriage into a “states rights” issue. Still, this is at least 2 steps in the right direction: end to federal-level discrimination of already legal gay marriages, and the death of Prop * (and therefore restoration of gay marriage in California), but int he case of Prop 8, at a very high price, because the whole “standing” thing is arbitrary and can be used in really shitty ways to deny people access to courts.

2)Shelby County v. Holder and Arizona v. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona — These are the decisions that (at least for now) defanged the Voting Rights Act and are very likely going to lead to massive voter disenfranchisement: while the court didn’t strike down the pre-clearance provisions(i.e. the requirement that certain states must submit to federal oversight and can’t change shit about their voting rules w/o the federal “go ahead”) themselves, it killed the Section that defined which states/counties/whatever the pre-clearance provisions apply to. So right now, they don’t apply anywhere, until Congress gets their act together (lol) to create a new formula “justified by current needs”. On the one hand, that sounds reasonable, because there’s many places in the US right now that are threatening voters’ rights that are not covered by the original formula, so the formula seems insufficient for modern needs. On the other, it only sounds reasonable to claim that the formula is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day” if you believe the BS about how “things have changed dramatically” in the South, meaning that the states who had Jim Crow laws then wouldn’t happily revert to whites-only voting if given the chance.
Which brings us to the second case noted above, which on the surface looks like a win because it invalidated one part of Arizona’s ID law; but if you look deeper, you’ll note that it pretty much describes a method of getting around the ruling. Plus, apparently, the supreme court just decided that the constitution only allows Congress “to regulate how federal elections are held, but not who may vote in them”. So discriminatory restrictions are A-OK, as long as you’re not on the currently non-existent list of entities subject to pre-clearance. :-/
Definitely a GIANT step back; wouldn’t be so bad if the US had a reasonable and functional Congress that could quickly provide a more updated formula. But then if that’s how the US Congress worked, this problem wouldn’t have occurred in the first place, since the formula would already have been adapted to modern needs (which would still include most of the South, but now with added “OMG teh illegalz are voting!!!” ID-issuing states.

3)Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin — this is a case dealing with affirmative action. It basically says that a university cannot simply declare that it needs affirmative action in its admission process to increase diversity; rather, it needs to show, in the court of law, that it doesn’t have other, non-race-based, means of achieving greater diversity. Since that didn’t happen, the case was kicked back to a lower court so that the lower court could make that determination. That decision does two good things: one, it reaffirms the importance of diversity and its validity as a rationale for how to weigh admission applications; two, it reaffirms that the constitution doesn’t demand colorblindness at all costs, i.e. that an exception for remedying racial injustices embedded in society does exist. Given the make-up of the current Supreme Court (see: Scalia and “racial entitlements”), that alone is surprising and counts as a victory. Still, it may make the continued use of affirmative action a lot more difficult in the future. For now, I’m counting this one as not moving us either direction.

4) University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar and Vance v. Ball State University — these are both workers’ rights cases, specifically worker protection and rights in relation to the Civil Rights Act. The first case is about workers being protected from retaliation by the employer after complaining about discrimination; the second case is about when an employer is liable for discrimination. The ruling in the former says that a worker has to prove that the sole reason for being discriminated was retaliation (good fucking luck with that; an employer needs to come up with only one other plausible reason, and they’re off the hook). The ruling in the latter states that an employer is only automatically liable for a case of discrimination when the person doing the discriminating has the direct ability to hire, fire, or promote the discriminated against person (e.g. racially motivated negative performance reviews don’t count; harassment doesn’t count; always being assigned to be the person who makes the coffee in meetings doesn’t count). Both decisions are massive losses of workers’ rights against discrimination and harassment.

5)Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International — This case was about a foreign aid rule that stated that organizations receiving money from the US to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria had to be strictly against prostitution; meaning that sex worker’s rights groups and those dealing with HIV/AIDS prevention for sex workers weren’t given a penny even though they are one of the most at-risk populations. The Supreme Court ruled against the constitutionality of that rule. This is good. It’s narrow, because it only applies to broad issues not directly subject to the funding, meaning (in more familiar terms) that not allowing abortion as part of family planning when using federal family planning funds is still ok, but demanding a wholesale anti-abortion position from recipients wouldn’t be; so demanding an anti-prostitution position from recipients has been declared a violation of the 1st Amendment. Still, this is a good step forward, and a HUGE one in terms of actually helping marginalized people.

6)American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant — this one is about arbitration agreements (about one between corporations, but according to the Supreme Court, corporations are people, so…); basically it concluded that a contract that precludes class-action arbitration or lawsuits is valid and therefore class action suits are forbidden if you signed one. Specifically, the argument that you can’t defend your claim b/c it’s too expensive for an individual is not a legally acceptable reason to void a contract.
And I’m willing to bet you’ve signed at least one contract forbidding either class action suits or forcing arbitration (e.g.: paypal has one).
Giant step backwards for worker rights and also for consumer rights.

7)Salinas v. Texas — 5th Amendment case, specifically about the “right to remain silent” and not have that taken as evidence of guilt. The Supreme Court decided that you can’t just clam up and assume that this will protect you. Apparently, you need to state, for the record, that the reason you’re shutting up is that you’re pleading the 5th, because apparently intent is what matters, not the right not to be forced to incriminate yourself (and now, that rule even applies when you’ve not been informed of this fact i.e. when you haven’t been read your Miranda rights cuz you’re not being arrested); therefore, officially, the dude in this case didn’t even use the 5th Amendment. And we still lucked out with this horrible result, because if the court had actually decided to consider the actual constitutionality of the case, we’d be discussing whether your silence can be used against you even if you do plead the 5th as long as you’ve not been arrested; and at least Scalia and Thomas very much think that you can only remain silent and not have that used against you is if you’ve been officially arrested and therefore didn’t “volunteer” to talk to cops nor can leave whenever you want to (how one could leave or not-volunteer to talk to cops when that behavior could now be used against you is a mystery to me).
Bad result, and definitely a step backward, but I don’t actually know much about the standard M.O. of cops to know how much of one. If it has until now not been the case that simple refusal to voluntarily talk to people (or leave, or say “i won’t say anything more without a lawyer, or whateverthefuck) could be used as evidence for guilt in court, then this permission to do so will have horrible effects on people and people’s rights; if cops and courts have already been doing this anyway, and the court case was an attempt at a novel defense from that behavior, then this changes nothing but “merely” enshrines a certain behavior in law; that would be a much smaller step back.

8)Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl — this is a very complicated adoption case, so I’m gonna actually talk about it in its own blog-post. ATM, I’m just going to note that
a)the kid is NOT actually going back to the people who were trying to adopt her, even if it sided with their interpretation of which NDN children the ICWA applies to. That’s because the people who wanted to adopt “baby Veronica” hadn’t yet done so, and tribes have priority rights in placing children who are (eligible to be) members of their tribe, and baby Veronica is definitely a member of the Cherokee Nation (you can ignore the BS about how she’s “1% Cherokee”, because that’s not how it works; the Cherokee Nation don’t consider themselves a race but a nation, and the kid qualifies for citizenship).
b)The court ruled that the IWCA didn’t apply in the original case so the bio-father didn’t have overriding rights to custody, but now there is an established residence with the tribe, so NOW it might apply, and a new case will likely be required to sort this shit out.
c)Regardless of the details, choosing the narrowest definition of the IWCA is definitely a step back for tribal rights at least; and could set a horrible precedent in which NDN kids taken away at birth wouldn’t be considered eligible for the protection under the IWCA.

Overall judgment: recent Supreme Court cases have set back the rights of marginalized people massively: the exceptions were DOMA and the sex worker case, but these exceptions can’t and shouldn’t overshadow the regressive and oppressive trend.

My comments on the American Atheists racefail; and their defenders

So you made a sign highlighting a pro-slavery line, with an old image of an African slave, to make an argument that African Americans should reject Chistianity because it supports their enslavement?

Well, isn’t that just fucking cute. I thought you knew that all Christians cherry-pick their bibles, since that book is so contradictory it’s absolutely impossible to follow all of it? And if you knew this, why the fuck would you think that African Americans would recognize that line as in any way relating to their Christianity? And as a consequence, why do you think they’ll consider you relevant to their lives, if you’re attacking something that isn’t part of their flavor of Christianity, while using the struggle of their ancestors as a rhetorical tool without any visible sign that you are also engaging with the struggles that are part of their everyday experience?

Let me explain:
Sure, many African Americans won’t care either way about this sign; some might even agree with the message, and that the message you meant to send was the one that’s being received (but those would have agreed with you before, so you’ve just wasted a fuckload of money to preach to the choir). But many don’t see it that way. Many members of the African American community don’t see their religion reflected in that quote. What they do see, however, is a billboard that ambiguously declares that slaves should obey their masters; one that could, in almost exactly the same design and wording, be run by a white supremacist organization as supporting black slavery, rather than repudiating religion. What they might also perceive is a stereotypically white organization using them as a rhetorical device, instead of seing them as real people: they won’t see atheist organizations helping their friends who got in trouble with the racist cops (the churches do that); they won’t see atheist organizations helping kids in neglected urban neighborhoods finish school (churches do that); they won’t see atheist organizations fighting voter-registration laws that disenfranchise them (churches do that); they won’t see atheist getting together to make sure members of their communities who have lost their homes find shelter (churches do that); but they will see atheists using the struggles of their ancestors for cheap point-scoring.
So, they will conclude that atheists are racist; that they are unconcerned with the actual lives and struggles and beliefs of African Americans, and instead just want to score rhetorical points.

Do you think that will convince the doubting and the closeted atheists to break their ties to the churches and join an atheist organization? really?

Oh, you say that’s not at all what you were trying to say with that billboard? That you didn’t mean any of what I just “read into” your billboard? Tough shit. Advertising (and that’s what you’re doing when you put up a billboard; you’re advertising yourself) is not about you. Why do you think companies shell out ridiculous amounts of money on customer-data? It’s because advertising is about your target audience, not about you. You want an effective message? You have to put in the bloody effort of researching what issues are perceived as relevant by that target audience; you have to make the effort to understand the cultural, historic, and socioeconomic context in which your message will appear, so that you can understand how to create one that will be read the way you want people to read it. Because it’s your fucking responsibility to make yourself understood. Because intent isn’t magic; not in any form of communication, but especially not in advertizing. If you don’t want to do that, if you’d rather whine about people misunderstanding and criticizing you than put in the required effort and research your target audience, then:

stay the fuck out of advertising, and stay away from demographics you are not part of, and thus lack any useful knowledge about.

**EDIT: and, in case this is unclear to some of the troglodytes who stumble upon this post: a failure to do the relevant research yet assuming that you can get your message across anyway is a manifestation of privilege (in this case, racial privilege); and the public recognition of and involvement with African Americans only when it’s rhetorically useful to score points against religion is just plain racist, because it erases them and reduces them to rhetorical devices; and because it ignores their perspectives by making an argument from a dominant (in this case, white) perspective even when the target audience is an oppressed minority (in this case, the African American community)**

**Post inspired by (and partially paraphrased from) this post by Sikivu Hutchinson, as well as the massive outbreak of stupid in this thread on Pharyngula**

Dispatches from an alternate dimension

1)apparently, Obama is just like Mugabe; also, “immaculate” is now a verb, with so far indeterminable meaning

2)Telling your congregation who to vote for, vilifying politicians from the pulpit, or making public statements about which politicians shouldn’t receive communion? Totally non-partisan and not worthy of removing tax-exempt status from churches. Reporting on the lies of Fox News? pure evil, AKA “unlawful conduct” meant to “‘disrupt’ the commercial interests of News Corp”.

3)and from the “alternate dimension I wish we lived in” department, Pelosi claims Democrats won’t let Republicans fuck them over like that again. ha hahahah ha haaaa…. *weep*

Link dump

there’s a few issues on my mind that don’t need a lot to have said about them (or, you know, render one completely speechless), so I’ll just collect them all here:

1)douchebag: now an insult also applicable to racists: Hey Did You Know Your Vagina’s Personality Is Based On Your Race?

2)something that’s quite old by now, but that I haven’t gotten around to respond: Walton linked to an article about a boy in London fighting the ban on cornrows in his school. The ban was being defended because it bans things associated with gang-culture. Someone else commented that it was “unprofessional”. That reminded me of how political black people’s hair is: how much racism there is in associating traditionally black hairstyles with criminality, and how much shaming there is (usually of women) for their natural hair, to the point where many of them end up damaging it to make it look like white people’s hair. Anyway, here’s a good article from the guardian about it: Cornrows? Non-traditional? What rubbish

3)News Corp trying to shut up critics, in a way that vaguely reminds me of something a certain someone recently did… News Corp’s Times Of London Cartoon Shows Starving Children Bemoaning Phone-Hacking Scandal Coverage

4)Limbaugh claims that current heatwave is a Liberal Conspiracy: Limbaugh: The Killer 116° Heat Index Is ‘Manufactured By The Government’

5)Sustainable development that’s actually sustainable: Permaculture in Cambodia (30 min documentary)

EDIT: one more, for good measure: Fox News: Are There Really Poor Americans?, from The Young Turks

Local vs. Global

Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about global (top-down) governance versus local (bottom-up, sort of) governance.

Most of it came from reading about the negative effects of the top-down “aid” aimed at developing countries/disadvantaged groups. A lot of it is basically a bunch of privileged people waltzing in and declaring they’re going to do something or other for the disadvantaged group, “for their own good”, whether they really want it or not. The most absurd and blatant examples are boarding schools for Native kids, to expunge their own cultures from them and turn them into little white-people-clones; and wars of aggression under the banner of “democratization”. But other things fall into that category, too: pretty much everything from large national projects that have a negative impact on local population (China being the best known example of this, with their massive dam projects; but they’re not the only ones doing it), to aid programs in the name of some abstraction or another (“democracy”, “freedom”, etc.) that ignore the uniqueness of the situation on the ground and the actual needs of the people that are supposedly being helped, especially the sort of stuff done by IMF and the World Bank, which destroys local economies in the pursuit of free markets, free trade, etc. So, yeah, I totally see how local self-determination, and local decision-making about how, when, where, and what kind of development should take place, and what kind of rules make sense, etc. are essential, and more suited to getting things right than oblivious top-down “helping” and establishment of what’s good, bad, useful, harmful, etc. Locals usually really do know better how to improve and run their own lives and what precisely they need and want.

On the other hand, Jim Crow. Pretty much all of the civil rights battles in the US were settled on the national level, by Supreme Court decisions. So, definitely top-down, definitely “impinging on states rights”, definitely not letting any sort of local self-determination happen. The same goes for legalization of abortion, and it seems to me the same thing will be necessary to finally settle the same-sex marriage debate. And this handling of it is good. It would have been absurd and inhumane to wait until the South would have deigned to desegregate itself. It is absurd that people are voting on the basic right of marriage for others, state by state, and some states aren’t even recognizing the marriages performed in other states, even though the law says that contracts from one state must be considered valid in others. Similarly, the issue of a national school curriculum is one of not letting provincialism take over education boards and school boards and therefore stuff creationism and other dreck like that into schools, thus disadvantaging kids for the future. Or the issues with local court systems being abused by nepotism or, again, the sort of strong in-group/out-group thinking that results in people who are different being abused by the law; or even the question of those New York “Justice Courts”, Ed Brayton was writing about. I want State and Federal oversight over these things, and national rules of how to run them. I also want a nation-wide healthcare with public option, and I don’t give a flying fig whether some state, or some county, or some town, might actually produce a majority that doesn’t want it and doesn’t feel like they need it.

And above that, there’s the international level. The real global level. We don’t even have much at that level, but it’s becoming very obvious to me that something is needed: to prosecute those that break international laws, and do so thoroughly and equitably (i.e. not according to the power and wealth of the perpetrators. American breakers of the Geneva Conventions shouldn’t be treated any different than African ones, just because one of them has all the guns); to have a source of law above the multinational corporations, simply because at the moment, they are literally above the law, since they operate above the national level; to be able to coordinate and enforce globally needed actions, most notably about Climate Change, but also about resource depletion and other problems that concern the whole world, because otherwise we just have to deal with the Tragedy of the Commons, where the thing that’s rational for each nation to do is slowly destroying us as a whole.

Soooo…. yeah. I’ve not the faintest clue how to reconcile those. How do I support local self-determination and self-governance on the one hand, but the banishment of creationism even from schools in creationist communities on the other? How do I support “local people know best what’s good for their community” without running into the Tragedy of the Commons, when the rational and understandable needs of these communities are killing the larger community? How do I support the right for people to determine themselves how to run their village/town/county/state/nation on the one hand, but at the same time feel justified to tell them that no, they don’t get to ban abortion, even if it’s “against their values” to have legal abortion?

This shit is giving me cognitive dissonance and a massive headache. I’m hoping that learning more about it will help me resolve these issues, but so far it ain’t looking good.