Tina K. Russell

September 12, 2007

Petraeus Ex Machina

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 2:51 pm

A New York Times editorial eviscerates the General’s testimony, and thank the Lord for it. Their basic premise is that the surge has achieved none of its benchmarks that were laid out in advance, and Gen. Petraeus merely dismisses those metrics rather than acknowledge how royally we’re screwed in Iraq (and recognizing that is our only chance of keeping our troops safe). Instead, and I hate to say it, but Bush and co. want to keep our troops in Iraq until they can eke out something that can be creatively passed off as victory to the American people. Already, as the NYT says, Petraeus is taking credit for the most positive development for the past couple of months, which is Sunni militias deciding they hate al Qaeda more than America. It’s a positive development, but certainly not one reflecting or related to the surge, and the surge was supposed to support infrastructure that will last after we are gone, which certainly would not include an authority-less, unarmed Sunni neighborhood watch… especially not one that, I suspect, hates the Shiites more than either us or al Qaeda.

I don’t mean to be dour, it’s just that a really cold, unfeeling evaluation of the situation is what is needed to keep our troops on the ground safe, and to return the trust that they show in us by serving their country. They expect–and deserve–only the most qualified on-the-ground analysis, undefiled by political motivations, and instead they’re getting a general’s song-and-dance about how we may even be able to draw back to pre-surge levels if the surge continues its… uhhh… “success.”

There’s a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle at work here… if the President is watching, it changes the General’s testimony. That is to say, it gives it a little bit of spin. How depressing… wake me up when it’s all over.

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Good Grief

Filed under: new york, us — Tina Russell @ 2:03 pm

Here’s an NYT article on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg trying to move the city past mourning and into healing. I think that’s a really great idea. I always thought that the idea of building a majestic “Freedom Tower” atop the ruins of the World Trade Center was really insensitive, like you’re trying to make a theme park out of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. It’s healthy to grieve and it’s healthy to move on, and I hope that the memorial that eventually exists at ground zero–whenever all the red tape finally subsides–is something modest and somber, reflecting on the great lives that these people lived, and not congratulating ourselves for our false humility or opulence in the face of tragedy.

Anyone whose lost someone knows that you have to mourn, you have to grieve, you have to move on, and you have to remember… I think it might be best to let those who lost loved ones grieve in their own way, and let them know that the city and state of New York, and America, is there for them, for whatever they need. I think that might be best. The almost celebratory tone of each year’s 9/11 coverage is an insult to those who died, but I think those who lost loved ones probably know best what to do, and perhaps we should start following their lead instead of making up our own.

The office of the mayor of New York cannot afford to continue being president of 9/11… I think it might be best to move on, and find some way, some modest, humble way of remembering those who died and letting their loved ones know they will never be forgotten.

August 19, 2007

Serbs Them Right

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 11:50 pm

The NYT asks, can Iraq be partitioned, like Bosnia was in the 1990s? Then, it answers, not a chance. It’s actually a really interesting article. Partition is sort of in vogue among liberal circles and this article basically says “pffft.” I have my doubts myself… it’s not like seperating India and Pakistan led to a fluorishing of peace.

I think people fail to realize that Sunni and Shiite lived together quite peacefully during Saddam’s reign of terror. The populations are still pretty intermixed and the battle lines unclear. A lasting effect of the war in Iraq is Shiites fleeing Sunni-majority areas and Sunnis fleeing Shiite-majority areas when previously they had no reason to do so. When we took out Saddam–an admirable intention, if misguided–we created a power vacuum that everybody and their dog tried to fill. I’m not saying it’s our fault it happened, but you have to admit, it’s pretty %&(@! stupid we didn’t know it would. (Actually, my fear was that somebody just as bad would take his place; once again, liberal pre-war worst-case scenarios look like pipe dreams compared to what actually happened.)

It fascinates me, though… I remember reading somewhere that Iraqis, by and large, prefer life in this chaotic hellhole then life under Saddam. I think people who stand up for strongmen, for Japanese internment during World War II, or slavery in its day fail (and failed) to realize that there’s an incredibly start difference between being free and not being free, so stark that being free and in constant mortal danger outclasses living in totalitarian security.

The argument about whether or not we should stay in Iraq always boils down to that we need to fix the mess that we created, and I abhor that argument. If we’re going to come even close to that goal we need to admit that we’re never going to make Iraq the way it was, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to. We cannot undo our mistakes. Economists say you should never take “sunk costs” into account in your decisions, because money that’s spent is spent and you’ll never get it back. Similarly, we need to stop looking to the past on Iraq and stop pretending that we can turn this mess into a paradise overnight. (And on the other end, we should stop easy-way-out talks of of a clean partition or, worse, installing a new strongman in Saddam’s place.)

I think we should get out. In fact, it surprises me that we haven’t already. We cannot keep pouring American lives into a civil war we cannot control. And yet, perhaps we could have a presence, under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi government. However, any status as “peacekeeping forces” is undermined if we represent ourselves and only ourselves.

Once we give up the ghost of “fixing” Iraq or undoing our mistake, we need to get to the harder task of curbing the very worst of the violence in Iraq. We need to recognize that the country is not going to get better overnight and that we are not going to be able to fix our mistake. We have to do what we can, but stop pretending that we can do anything. And if we have to leave, if that would be the best thing for Iraqi peace and development, then we need to leave. I find the argument that Iraq would descend into civil war if we pulled out disingenuous because Iraq has already descended into civil war and America’s presence has not brought anything resembling peace or stability, and I hardly think the general’s report in September will make one iota of difference in that. There’s only so much we can do when Sunni and Shiite factions stubbornly refuse to cooperate and instead turn to killing each other. The war in Iraq was based on the false premise that we can march in and fix a country overnight, and we need to excise that notion from our heads if we are to move ahead.

I think conservatives and liberals both err in thinking that there’s an easy solution. Well, except for this: do what we can. No more, no less. We need to stop harboring illusions about what we can do. We owe a huge debt to Iraq, no doubt, for screwing it up so royally. However, it makes no sense to stay and make it worse… some would say we’re making progress, but I would remind them that Vietnam was characterized by winning battles and losing the war. Terrorism is more like a plague, a virus, and it attacks from all sides… there’s no way to describe, in conventional military terms, a war against an enemy all around you. It’s a war we cannot win, and a war we must pull out of. Whatever our responsibilities and moral obligations, we cannot change the fact that American power is finite. I think we would all sleep a little easier at night if we could know that America is out of Iraq and blood from the civil war is squarely on the factions’ own hands. It’s our job as a country of diligence and respectability to intervene when we can make a difference… I suspect Iraq is not a case like this. We stumbled into the conditions for this civil war and I hardly think we can get our way out. Getting rid of Saddam, excising the Ba’ath party from government and firing the Iraqi army was supposed to usher in a new era of peace and democracy (ha! ha!). I’m not sure exactly what we should do at this point… I’d say we should help the Iraqi government if I felt it had a lick of legitimacy. That said, it is a democratic government and leaders are best chosen by ballots, not bullets. So, if we help the Iraqi government we need to do so with a heretofore unseen humility recognizing that this is not our country and there is only so much we can do.

It’s frustrating because America was founded from the ashes of war, and though the French helped us out it’s not like they invaded America, bombed Jamestown, killed the colonial leaders and ordered a Constitutional Convention. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to create a lasting democracy, but I’m not a “loyal Bushie,” so what do I know? Anyway… I know from my own experience that if you try to do more than you know you can you only hurt yourself. So, I hope we learn our limitations and stop trying to fix the world in a day… even if it means having to accept our own, deadly mistakes. The only easy way out of Iraq is to admit we screwed up, and leave.

July 17, 2007

Leverage

Filed under: iraq, us, war — Tina Russell @ 11:39 pm

Thomas Friedman nails it. For those of you behind the TimesSelect barrier, here’s his key point:

President Bush baffles me. If your whole legacy was riding on Iraq, what would you do? I’d draft the country’s best negotiators — Henry Kissinger, Jim Baker, George Shultz, George Mitchell, Dennis Ross or Richard Holbrooke — and ask one or all of them to go to Baghdad, under a U.N. mandate, with the following orders:

“I want you to move to the Green Zone, meet with the Iraqi factions and do not come home until you’ve reached one of three conclusions: 1) You have resolved the power- and oil-sharing issues holding up political reconciliation; 2) you have concluded that those obstacles are insurmountable and have sold the Iraqis on a partition plan that could be presented to the U.N. and supervised by an international force; 3) you have concluded that Iraqis are incapable of agreeing on either political reconciliation or a partition plan and told them that, as a result, the U.S. has no choice but to re-deploy its troops to the border and let Iraqis sort this out on their own.”

The last point is crucial. Any lawyer will tell you, if you’re negotiating a contract and the other side thinks you’ll never walk away, you’ve got no leverage. And in Iraq, we’ve never had any leverage. The Iraqis believe that Mr. Bush will never walk away, so they have no incentive to make painful compromises.

You can only do so much… if you think you can fix everything in the world, you’re only going to hurt yourself. No more soldiers or civilians should die in Iraq because Bush thinks that the war can still be salvaged.

Bikes in Paris again

Filed under: environment, new york, portland, transportation, us — Tina Russell @ 10:40 pm

I wrote something about the Paris bike-share program yesterday, and how we should do it here in Portland, Oregon, from which I hail. Well, this guy in the New York Times says they should try it in New York. Come on, Portland! We can’t lose to New York. Let’s show those East Coasters what’s what.

…By that I mean hurry and adopt a program like this before they get the chance, all in the spirit of friendly competition, and the fact that our city is way better. Also, our city is way more bike-friendly, and a much better pilot city for this kind of project. So, come on! One and all! Support a Portland bike-share program because it wil help our people, it will help the economy, it will help the Earth, and because we are totally awesome.

He Who Is Free of Sin

Filed under: politics, sex, us — Tina Russell @ 8:22 pm

I guess you all know by now that Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisana has been engaging in repeated shady deals in smoke-filled back rooms, a veritable “money-for-sex” scandal (so much worse than the more widespread sex-for-security schemes). Well, now he’s apologized, and taken some time to attack “political enemies” for, uhhhh, something. I guess, pointing out what a big fat hypocrite he is for pushing his own view of “family values” on everybody else while practicing none himself.

I should note here that this man is in the most unenviable position in American political history. Usually, when something like this happens–a legislator has been soliciting prositutes, Congressional pages, the milkman, etc.–the legislator in question jumps ship and catches the first flight out of Washington, leaving his party to spin the issue endlessly and disown him or her (okay, it’s always a him) so thoroughly that you wonder if he ever even had a mother. But apparently this man, in favor of tightening fiscal policy and loosening shirt buttons and bra straps, is going to have to ride out his term. Why? The governor of Lousiana, Kathleen Blanco, is a Democrat and does not plan to run for re-election. Meanwhile, thanks to a convenient hurricane killing all the black people while FEMA sat on its ass (…makes you wonder…), the next governor will almost certainly be a Republican. So, David Vitter will have to wait it out until then, a good year and a half as the lamest lame duck of all time. Not even a lame duck, a quadriplegic duck. He’s like the Stephen Hawking of ducks, except not quite so smart. If he looks like a lame duck, limps like a lame duck, and wheezes a pathetic half-quack like a lame duck, he’s a lame duck. …

Anyway, it’s true though. He’s absolutely right. Just like with Don Imus, we’re watching before us an opportunistic, hypocritical pile-on, as though none of us ever succumb to the same temptations. Human emotions cannot be suppressed, they must be managed. Flogging anyone who reveals the open secret–that humans have sex drives–is not really going to help anybody. (And, in Imus’s case, the secret is that we all say really @#%!ing stupid things we wish we hadn’t said…)

July 16, 2007

Paris’s Bike Program would be Perfect for Portland, Says Tina

Filed under: environment, france, obesity, portland, us — Tina Russell @ 11:04 pm

Here’s an interesting piece on a new communal bike program in Paris. Basically, you pay nominal fees at bike-docking stations throughout the city to use a bike for half an hour at a time, or more for a surcharge. “A one-day pass costs 1 euro ($1.38), a weekly pass 5 euros ($6.90) and a yearly subscription 29 euros ($40),” which is a good deal.

I think this would work really well here in Portland, Oregon, which is where I hail from and the town whose borders I type these words from within. Portland has wonderful public transportation and bike lanes, and a very bike-friendly, environmental culture, but bike-riding as of yet is still limited to sort of a subset of the population, still seen as something only for “enthusiasts” and not something you’d simply ride to work. I think just about everybody is willing to try, though, and in order for that to happen, you’d need to make it cheap and easy, and economically feasible for the government to try out. This is both, and it would work in Portland not just because of our bike lanes and our culture, but because all our various bike shops would jump at the chance to work with the city government and make something like this happen.

There’s another reason this would be good, besides improving life for citizens, increasing efficiency in the workforce, and taking a meaningful stand against pollution in a world full of totally meaningless stands (if you get one of those “don’t buy gas on such-and-such a day” E-mails, delete it and remember that changes in habit are the only ones that count): obesity. Thanks in part to our wonderful farming laws that reinforce a sick economic system where our poorest are also our fattest (farm subsidies lean towards junk food, while produce is hard to buy on food stamps), Oregon is both number one in hunger and number one in obesity in the nation. Oregon may have, sadly, lost its bid to be the host of the premiere of The Simpsons Movie, but we’re still a state stuffed full of Homers. It’s not their fault, though: we simply have a culture and an economy that encourages excess and discourages moderation. A little exercise on the way to work would do a world of good for people’s health, as well as their pocketbooks and environment. It’s a win for everybody, and Portland is the perfect city for this to begin.

July 11, 2007

Winds of change

Filed under: environment, new jersey, us, wind power — Tina Russell @ 2:29 pm

Everybody’s angry about the noise of this guy’s windmill in his backyard in New Jersey.

Now, I don’t know… I hear ambient noise of just about everything in my house. The fridge, the furnace, the air conditioning, the fan, the computers and their fans (which I hear all through the night)… I should tell you that, when my parents left the house for a week (I’m twenty and live with my parents, or at least I will for a bit longer), I turned off their computer–which is in the dead center of the house–and quickly realized how completely eerie it was not to hear its fan. I mean, it sounds enlightening–the noise of a heathen Windows box give way to an aura of silence–but instead, it was actually terrifying. Counterintuitive as it may be, I turned it back on just for the purpose of the ambient noise. Otherwise, I was going to freak out, like Bill Gates in a black cloak would sneak up behind me and say, “It looks like you’re trying to write a letter, bitch!

So I think ambient noise is pretty relative. If anything, we should be distracted by the crime of all the people who die each year from air pollution, all the windpower in the world that goes untapped, and the power barons (quite literally) who have our personal finances–and the governments–by the genitals with their supply of the power that we depend on. So, I mean… if the noise were more like an aircraft taking off, or an LA freeway, I would say that windmill is ahead of its time. As it stands, there’s so much ambient noise in anybody’s house I hardly think something to generate clean power should be a problem. The NYT says it’s about the level of “light traffic, or a noisy refridgerator.” I’d say that’s the noise of freedom, and that kind of damn-the-system innovation ought to be supported, not punished.

The Man Behind the Mosque

Filed under: pakistan, us — Tina Russell @ 1:59 pm

The smoke has cleared, scores are dead, and Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan scores another meaningless, Phyrric victory as the Red Mosque crisis ends.

First, %&#@^! the militants. They all seemed like jerkwads, anyway. Trying to impose conservative Islamic law on the nation and issuing fatwas for bear hugs, they seemed like huge idiots to me. I hate it when people issue circular argumments for why everybody should live a certain way. Because it’s Islamic law! Well, everybody has their own interpretation of that… we all talk endlessly about our “Judeo-Christian values” here in the States, but I don’t know when the last time someone was put to death for working on the Sabbath was, for instance (although we continue the practice of male circumcision–a decree that God mercifully put forth in the Torah to replace the previous practice of child sacrifice–and male circumcision has no place in a society not completely riddled with AIDS). I think it’s dumb that these people would issue fatwas left and right and try to reduce people’s personal freedoms. But also, they make me wanna cry because I know I’m the sort that doesn’t fit in, the kind of people they’d go after and declare a demon prostitute and enemy of Islam or something, and that just makes me pout. I bet some of the people they issue fatwas against, I’d feel like they’re my sisters if I ever met them, I bet. So, it all just makes me sad.

That said, I think Musharraf really screwed the pooch on this one. Being a fairly benevolent dictator–from what it sounds, the best dictator Pakistan has ever had–doesn’t really forgive being a dictator, and considering that Pakistan has the bomb I think we should do whatever we can to ensure monarchy can be phased out in Pakistan to be replaced by some form of democracy (without, you know, making it worse). It’s a delicate situation, and it must be handled with care, and though I wouldn’t support a revolution in Pakistan I think that the Bush administration is making the wrong decision by putting all their eggs in Musharraf’s basket. You can work with the guy in important matters in the “war on terror” and not have to put up with the fact that he’s a dictator… we can let him know that we support him and still nudge him towards democracy. After all, if he really is such a great leader, than he has nothing to fear in a general election. Meanwhile, by placing all our chips on Musharraf we automatically lose favor with whoever replaces him… and if there isn’t a system in place for Musharraf being replaced democratically, he will inevitably be replaced in a violent revolution, which would be an absolute disaster because it would result invariably in anti-US extremists–or worse, if you can imagine–getting ahold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. It’s pretty clear that Musharraf is trying to make himself a permanent autocrat, and that’s a dangerous game that the US should have no part in.

So, as far as the mosque goes, I’m not exactly sure what changed. I mean, if the military wanted to go in, guns blazing, they could have done so at any point, right? Why did they wait for days? I suppose the reason must have been to tire them out, since the Pakistani military wouldn’t be under as much stress, being able to take shifts and rest in comfortable homes and not have to be weighed down by the subconscious knowledge that your cause is hopeless and you ought to pack it in and become a newsanchor on “Wackos Today.” So, it makes some amount of sense. It’s just that, innocent people, students, were trapped in that mosque… Why not wait it out longer? It seemed to me like the Pakistani military had all the time in the world, whereas the militants had a limited supply of food and motivation. (Hell, when the leader’s brother tries to slip away in a burqa than you know there’s a morale problem…) Of course, the students must have had a limited supply of food, too, which is difficult. Perhaps they could have supplied the militants with food for the students, like a wheelbarrow full of sandwiches (of course the militants would have probably hogged any rations, but there’s not much of a choice when you need to make sure the students get fed), and just waited it out, waited for the militants to give up, since, after all, Pakistan could have shifted off the military for as long as it wants whereas fatigue would inevitably have set into the militants. It would have taken longer than a few days, but it would have resulted in fewer being killed.

The militants have an ironclad, fervent ideology, but that’s not everything… it’s a powerful force, to be sure, but even it runs out (hence, trying to escape in a burqa). No, I have a sinking feeling, like the parliamentarian Baloch in the article, that they were trying to appease the Top Gun, playing-on-an-aircraft-carrier faux-military ideology of President Bush and his cohorts. I can’t back that up, but it’s plausible enough to make me want to barf.

So, all in all, this was a failure, not a victory, for Musharraf and friends. Yes, those militants were crazy evil, hiding behind hostages like the cowards they were. But I think that the Musharraf government was cowardly to go in, guns blazing, before all other options are exhausted. People will say (well, they might) that I’m advocating treating terrorists with kid gloves, and I’m not… I’m against treating delicate hostage crises with a sledgehammer. And, I’m against people dying. That’s where I make my stand.

July 7, 2007

Race

Filed under: martin luther king jr., race, the boondocks, tv, us — Tina Russell @ 8:59 am

I just saw The Boondocks. I’ve been watching this show for a while, the show based upon the Aaron McGruder comics. By “a while,” I mean a week or two. I got it from the library, a service which Michael Moore deftly reminds us is, you know, socialized reading.

That is, I got season one from the library. It’s pretty good. The animation is beautiful. And the girl with the puffy pigtails is so cute, I would intensely like to devour her. But, that is not the point here, today.

I saw the episode in which Martin Luther King, Jr. comes back from the dead. It’s really, really super-depressing. (This is episode… hmmm… nine, I think, of season one.) He turns on the TV and sees rappers in fistfights, rappers beating their wives, a whole mess of what we consider to be “urban entertainment” (certain at-risk, urban entertainment, certainly)… and he asks, “what has become of my people?”

“I guess,” our hero, Huey, says, “we’ve all been waiting for you to come back.”

“The Martin Luther King Jr. they’re waiting for,” King replies, “died long ago.”

It’s severely depressing. Basically, The Boondocks spends a lot of time admonishing, well, black people, as though to ask, “how did we end up in this mess?” How did we universally decide to stop fighting for our rights and, instead, start fighting over the white man’s scraps while buying “bling” (my least favorite thing in the world, to be sure) (well, I dislike the movie “Brazil,” Windows bluescreens, and any use of “an historical” more, but “bling” is up there) and Bluetooth headseats to try and prove that we made something of ourselves. That’s pathetic… if you want to show how successful you are… _be_ a success, don’t wait for anybody’s permission, certainly not the white man’s. And don’t use your possessions to show off your “status…” you’re only reflecting how poor you are, but more importantly–and more damagingly–how clearly ashamed you are of it.

Now, I’m white… as white as they come, actually. My mother is all-American, had ancestors on the Mayflower, and could join the Daughters of the American Revolution if she didn’t find them repulsive. My dad had a Norwegian father and a German mother, and was born in Oslo, and moved to Chicago when he was five. From that mix, I like to think of myself as of Norwegian descent, ’cause I like Scandanavia, land of efficiency, diplomatic relations with Palestine, Norse mythology, tiny houses, universal healthcare, and _scary_ high living standards (can you believe they have a population crisis… the other way?). Also, my Norwegian blood–the Viking in me–makes me hella tall and skinny, something I’m quite proud of, since it means I’ve attained the American ideal without any actual effort. (Just so you know, fat people generally aren’t of unsound morals or discipline, that’s just a stereotype… I’m just lucky that I was born skinny, although even hella skinny women and men get eating disorders from the pressure to be _absolutely perfect_, which nobody is without a Photoshop makeover.)

Anyway, where was I? So, yes, I’m Whitey McWhiteperson, and I’ve never had any shame in that. Us white people, well… we’ve created some good things in our time. Let’s see, there’s Spider-Man… well, Stan Lee is Jewish (does anybody know of Steve Ditko’s ancestry?), and they come in all colors, so I guess that doesn’t count. Well, there’s Sonic–no, those are Japanese creators. How about… uhh… Star Trek? Gene Roddenberry isn’t Jewish, is he? …

What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never felt ashamed for being white, other than, you know, centuries of oppression of other people, but that’s more _human_ than white, you know? Give one guy more guns and convince him he’s different than the other guy, pretty soon he’s shot the other guy full of holes and considers it God’s will. At the same time, the “black problem”–that black people still live in something of a permanent underclass, a kind of American caste system, that’s tough to break out of–has always been a strong interest of mine… my dad listened to blues music as I grew up, so maybe that has something to do with it. (He, in turn, had racist parents who wouldn’t let him listen to “black music,” or “race music” as they called it back then. Now we call it “urban music.” Is anybody but me sick of people trying to talk about race without really talking about race?) I also read Milestone comics (one of which, Static, was the basis for the TV series “Static Shock”), studied the civil rights movement in high school, and the NAACP in college (which is, incidentally, a _thoroughly_ badass organization). So, yeah… I like black people, I guess, or at least learning about them.

But, of course, I know that if I, as a white person, or rather, as a person in general, am not doing something to solve this hideously entrenched underground system of institutionalized racism, I’m just a part of the problem… of course, the Supreme Court just ruled that we live in a perfect, colorblind society (pah!), so maybe I should just hang it up and go home.

No, really, I want to know what I can do, but I know the answer to that is “don’t be a dick,” because, in general, the civil rights movement gets stalled by some white person being a dick, and moves ahead with the help of some white person not being a dick. So, if I can just live with my internalized prejudices–which everybody has–be aware of them, and be nice to people, then I’m good. I think…

It’s just that… I know there’s a “black problem” in America, and I want to know what I can do to help. If I ruled the world… well, if I got to make the decisions… I would have my own reparations program, as Martin Luther King, Jr. called for in his day (a good century after “forty acres and a mule” fell flat; I think a white person keeping his or her promises is the sort of cataclysmic event that allows civil rights to move forward). Mine would be one of unprecedented trust and generosity… we would simply find out what black America needs, and give it to ’em, no questions asked. You need better housing in Chicago? No problem. Better schools in Baltimore? We’ll hook you up. A massive payout–which most white people fear and, I would think, few black people really seek–would only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and be a perfect way to put a big pile of money through, essentially, a giant shredder of infinitesimal divvying (like the Bush tax rebate, only at least well-meaning). What we do need to realize is that we, the United States of America, as an institution, have wronged the black people of our nation, grievously, and heinously, and we need to make restitution for our crimes… and we will, gladly, because it’s the right thing to do, and it won’t exactly put white America in the poorhouse. Besides, as Dr. King so deftly put it in his day, it’s a bargain compared to paying the back wages of black peoples’ enslaved ancestors, wealth that they earned but neither they nor their grandchildren never saw a penny of.

So, basically, when white people decry reparations as collective punishment, I want to cry… but I also want to clarify. I think nobody seriously wants to go door to door and say, “hello, you’re a white person, I’m here to bill you for your slaveholding ancestors.” Nobody should have to pay for the crimes of their ancestors, that’s not right. What we should do is attempt to fix some of the damage done by our country as an institution, a country founded on liberal ideals that soon came into contact with the black legacy of slavery. It took time for us to shake off the shackles of slavery, and America is much better off for it; pro-slavery activists in their day threatened that a removal of slavery would precipitate economic collapse, but such was hardly the truth when the South was, and to some extent still is, an economic shithole compared to the vastly wealthier North, an empire based on things like employment, wages, and retirement. It’s just that black people today still have marks from their ancestor’s enslavement, and that’s unfair. Dr. King justly argued that black people should thus be helped along, to compete on a just and equal basis… and nobody listened, and now we’re all the worse off for it.

Seriously… trying to make life hell for illegal immigrants in this country has only turned them into an underclass, an economic pestilence unable to rise above its means. Similarly, the Republican-Democratic “let’s forget about black people” agenda has only served to starve this underclass… We’ve achieved integration only in the sense that white people often slip into the ranks of the poor as well, and some black people can, with some gumption and some available resources, rise to the point of success at which people wonder aloud on talk shows about whether or not he or she is “really black” (I hate that). America is still spectacularly divided along the color line…

And what I mean is that when there are poor among us, it only hurts all of us… I’d like to see such a drive for the construction of infastructure, of education, of jobs for black people… and whites, too, of course, we just should not hide, or shy away from, the sorry state of black America and the fact that it’s pretty much our fault. What I mean is… regardless of what transpired in the past, we should help black America _because it is right_, but also because a permanent African-American underclass helps none of us. Trying to crush people to bits with economic misery… the poor, blacks, immigrants… it’s always intended to “free” us from them, as though they are some kind of burden, keeping us from reaching our full potential. But the truth is, it’s when you try to marginalize these people that they become an economic ball and chain… “the problem of the South” is what they used to call it. Now, I guess, it’s “the problem with black America”… and it’s telling that the government, or at least the “loyal Bushies” appointed by our esteemed and incompetent (with all due respect) President, would let New Orleans drown before sending any help. Maybe if the black people would all just _die_, they think, perhaps, we’d be free of the “black problem,” forever.

But it’s not true… black people are here to stay, as are immigrants and aboriginals and all the marginalized people of America… as well as, you know, everybody else… I feel as though our government has declared war on the “average American,” as though the middle class is an aberration that should not be allowed to exist, and you should be either poor as dirt or the CEO of ExxonMobile. The poor aren’t the government’s concern… the rich are, and that’s sad because the government is supposed to stand up for _us_, be run by _us_ and look out for us when we need it. When New Orleans was flooding, people expected the government to come and help, because the government is supposed to be a proxy for the American people… and the American people, every last one of ’em, wanted to help when they heard about the flood. (Well, every last one except Brownie. Heck of a job!)

So, yes, we should do it, we should lend black America a hand, because of our crimes against them, because it will help us, but more than anything because it’s the right thing to do… it’s true that black America has lost its way, everyone’s expecting Martin Luther King to come back when he just won’t. But we can help… complaining about the sorry state of black America means nothing unless you are willing to help. And complaining that black children are all slackers and drug dealers or something means nothing unless you are willing to help the ones that are not… Stereotypes are convenient because they allow us to think that we’re doing the right thing, already. But we’ll never know what will happen until we try… perhaps fewer black children will end up as convicts if more of them had solid educations. In fact, I’m sure of it. There’s nothing that makes us different save for circumstances and means… if black people had the kind of access to resources that us white people have all the time, I’m sure they’d be just as well off as we are. Hell, education is the single most important factor as it is, I bet if every black child in America went to college we’d see the crime rate plummet in about twenty years. That said, maybe we could work on getting everybody into college, and simply prove that we really are some kind of colorblind society by recognizing that, if the problem is largely in black America, that’s where we will start fixing the problem, regardless of our own prejudices.

Most white people don’t like to talk about race, because they want to believe they don’t see race, that they are perfectly egalitarian and, oh, they have black friends, see? But, that’s a distracting sideshow… the truth is that race exists, even though it’s merely a cultural construct with no scientific basis. Some people accuse me of “tokenizing” when I say that we should, well, help the black man (and the black woman) out. I’d say they’re blind to reality… if we spend decades, centuries, trying to ground a specific group of people into powder, perhaps it would make sense to help them out now, so that there’s no animosity, we can all be friends and share a powerful, integrated economy where anyone can grow up to be a scientist (with the requisite talent and inclination) and nobody knows what “black” is because we’re so interbred that we’ve created a gorgeous rainbow of pink-brown skin colors.

It’s just the right thing to do… and it’s fun. Race is only a problem if you’re unwilling to confront it, to have fun with it, to find ways to solve it… that’s why I’m interested in the subject of race, and I think everybody should be. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and it shows a way we can help save the world. There’s no reason we should shy away from the topic… indeed, we should not when it’s so important to so many people. We should blow the topic wide open. Don’t be afraid of offending anybody… say what you mean, say what you feel. It’s the only way we can have a meaningful discussion.

And, we know you have a black friend. Stop talking about it, already. Yes, yes, you don’t see race, very nice, thank you…

…and, of course, the only way we can have this discussion is if petty liberals like me stop accusing people of racism whenever they say something they disagree with… I think “racism” as a word is both overused and underused. Don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to somebody’s confrontational idea… use “racism” for the kinds of policies that really deserve it, like the ones where we accuse illegal immigrants of being responsible for all the country’s problems. Bitch, bitch, bitch…

And “Lost in Translation.” I hated that movie.

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