Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago – The Atlantic ow.ly/FBpKN
Papa non fumigant [The Pope does not smoke] (I assume).
Me neither, but I tend to disagree with his recent comments on marijuana legalization. He said that
“even limited attempts to legalize recreational drugs ‘are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.'”
We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”
If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.
Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.
Papa don’t preach!
In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.
Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.
These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.
But I think it makes sense to put marijuana in another category. If you look at the statistics on deaths caused by substance abuse, alcohol is the obvious outlier. There are no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption. You can read an article on the matter from American Scientist here.
The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed
As a practical matter, prohibition has failed.
In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.
Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.
What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.
Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.
This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”
Legalize, tax, educate
My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.
A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.
In my opinion, popular culture (as in everyday culture) is often a good indicator of a cultural mainstream at a given time. Therefore, if we look at a seemingly banal or innocent artifacts, that may give us clues about the zeitgeist of a period. Theodore R. Johnson, III over at NPR thought so, too, and examined the origins of a famous ice cream truck song going back to the minstrel shows of the nineteenth century (go and read the article, it is great!). And he found a 1916 record by a Harry C. Browne, courtesy of Columbia records, that contains lyrics like this (warning: incredibly racist):
Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”
Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”
Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”
Almost a century later, such open forms of racism are quite shocking and thankfully would be unacceptable in mainstream advertising. That is not to say that popular culture today is free of racism. But I would argue that these days, for the most part, racism manifests itself in subtler forms. I am not talking about the realm of politics. There, as a regular observer, I note a lot of dogwhistling, especially since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama for POTUS. But that discussion is for another time.
The most intellectually challenged man in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), strikes again with an extraordinarily dumb and incendiary statement. After an anti-gay TV show was cancelled due to protests, Gohmert called this a “fascist intolerance.”
The fact that increasing numbers of people are speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination is interpreted by Gohmert as “exactly what we’ve seen [. . .] [in] the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”
Twisting the reality of long-standing discrimination against sexual minorities by religious zealots like himself, Gohmert claims that conservative Christians are victimized by being called “‘haters’ and ‘evil’.” Furthermore, in all seriousness, he claims that this increasing resistance religious bullies are facing is just a prelude to book burnings—you know, just like in Nazi Germany.
That is of course nonsense, pure hyperbole.
Being called out on your bigotry does not equal discrimination against you
It is quite telling how the American Christian Right perceives their declining ability to discriminate against LGBT people, or the fact that they get called out on their bigotry these days, makes them feel as if they are being victimized, that their freedom of speech is being taken away.
I obviously interpret freedom of speech very differently. You may be legally free to say whatever you wish (such as nonsensical Nazi comparisons), but you are not guaranteed isolation from any opposing views.
That, my friends, is because freedom of speech also applies to everybody else.
Last time I checked, there were no government-sponsored book burnings in the U.S. Neither should there be. Ideas should debated in the public space.
And in my opinion, the anti-LGBT hatred promoted by religious fundamentalists and other bigots is a bad idea that should go the way of the dodo for the sake of humanity.
By the way, self-proclaimed defenders of ‘Judeo-Christian Biblical marriage’ might want to consider the interesting variety of marriage arrangements in their holy scriptures. They will find that the often-promoted version of ‘one man, one woman’ is one among many.
“[R]adicals on the right” who will nominate candidates who “aren’t capable of beating the Democrats [have taken over the GOP].” – Pat Robertson, televangelist
The irony of this statement is not to be underestimated, coming from one of the key figures of the American Christian Right that has been the driving force behind the GOP’s cultural drift towards ultraconservative social politics in the past decades.
As one can easily discern from a random sample of Robertson’s statements, past and present, he is the very embodiment of the sort of religious extremist that turns off voters who might otherwise be interested in the GOP’s platform.
Rancher refuses to pay grazing fees on federal land, rallies armed militia and drives away federal agents (for now)
In the middle of April of this year, a Nevada rancher and his armed militia supporters went into a standoff with federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management over the removal of his cattle from federal land. For the moment, the agents of the BLM have retreated because they did not want to risk a violent confrontation with the armed anti-government militia.
The rancher in question had been using federal land for letting his cattle graze and had failed to pay the required grazing fees for twenty years. By the way, there are thousands of other ranchers who use federal lands and pay these fees.
He says that he does not recognize the authority of the federal government on the matter and believes it belongs to the state of Nevada. And if federal agents came to take his cattle again, he and his supporters would fight them with their guns.
It is not over yet:
Feds play waiting game at Nevada ranch | TheHill, April 15, 2014 http://ow.ly/vSxmt – Includes some interesting facts about the history of grazing rights on federal land.
Wilstein: Fox’s Hannity Stokes Tension Between Harry Reid and Cliven Bundy | Mediaite, April 16, 2014 – http://ow.ly/vTIkO
A conspiracy theory debunked:
Shortly after the standoff, a conspiracy theory made its way on the Internet. It claims that Senator Harry Reid and a Chinese company building a solar plant were behind the standoff between federal agents and the Nevada rancher.
snopes.com debunks that conspiracy theory here: http://ow.ly/vSxu0
Violent anti-tax protest and race: Who gets away with what?
In Nevada, the heavily-armed militiamen and the rancher in question are white. They managed, for the time being, to drive away federal agents by threatening violence. But violent agitation against taxes and fees does not always turn out that way. In another recent example, a black Chicago man did not like to pay a 22-cent Soda tax and decided to pull out a machine gun, threatening the clerk. The police arrested him.
Man Refuses to Pay 22-Cent Soda Tax, Pulls Out Machine Gun in Response | Mediaite – http://ow.ly/vSyf7
Update (May 2, 2014): Militias set up illegal road ‘checkpoints’
A Democratic congressman from Nevada recently sent a letter to the Clark County sheriff, bringing his attention to the fact that
“the armed militia supporting rancher Cliven Bundy have set up checkpoints to verify the residency of anybody passing through [emphasis mine].”
So now there is a situation in Nevada reminiscent of tribal areas in Afghanistan. I am curious as to how long this challenge to the state monopoly on violence will last. After all, just because these men call themselves a militia and are heavily armed, they are neither the police, the military, or anything similar with the authority to randomly inspect other citizens.
My guess is that at some point, these men will either voluntarily remove those illegal checkpoints, or there will be a violent showdown with some federal law enforcement agency—which is what some of these militiamen probably long for anyway.
The Huffington Post has an interesting set of maps that shows how the U.S. South fares in regards to poverty, minimum wage, economic mobility, health care coverage, health issues, teen pregnancy, and overall happiness.
In comparison to the U.S. overall, the South is at a disadvantage in many of these areas.
And then there was this ‘brilliant’ (moronic) piece of political analysis: An anti-gay pastor blames the Ukraine crisis of the past months on—wait for it—the gays.
And because of Russia’s state-sponsored discrimination of LGBTI people, this ‘Christian’ leader lauds Russian President Vladimir Putin as “defender of true human rights”—”true human rights” meaning the right to discriminate against the LGBTI community.
“Scott Lively Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis, Lauds Russia As Human Rights Leader Of The World.” (Brian Tashman, Right-Wing Watch, 2014/03/11)
The updated new version of Cosmos, the famous 1980 science documentary with Carl Sagan, is being broadcast on American television (on FOX, of all places). Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has become a famous science communicator and Internet meme himself even before , and is co-produced by Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan, who was already involved in the first instalment.
As in the original series, the new show’s premise is to present the current scientific knowledge about the universe and how humanity acquired this knowledge.
Here is the official trailer:
Scientific facts hit the Christianist half of America
In the American context, where roughly half of the population are creationist Christians (46 percent believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” in 2012, according to a Gallup poll), the program has sparked a considerable controversy among the faithful—twenty-first century scientific knowledge sharply contradicts the Bible-based creation myth of young-earth creationism.
Anti-Science rears its ugly head on Twitter
Some of the Christian fundamentalist viewers are taking to Twitter to promote their crude anti-science beliefs even after being presented the scientific facts on the program. Some examples:
Space dust is not as cool as earth dust, which the Bible claims god made humans from:
Here’s the Bible quote:
“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7, King James Version
Science is described as a religion:
Science is of course not a religion, it is based on scientific facts acquired through research. Science as a process does not believe everything that is written in a book just because it is there. Scientific hypotheses are falsifiable. In theory, scientific results can be reproduced by other scientists. That is the key difference to faith.
The problem with this argument is that it could be used for any book to claim anything. Hobbits, dragons, witches, talking trees—all of these appear in Lord of the Rings. But it would be difficult to find many people who conclude from this that Middle Earth is a real place.
Unwavering faith in a particular creation myth in the face of evidence to the contrary—this is a clear sign of religious fundamentalism, considered a virtue by the true believers, and the exact opposite of scientific inquiry, which is, after all, a self-correcting system.
A nineteenth-century battle in the twenty-first century
If this sounds familiar, it is probably because there are historical parallels. Long before the advent of networked and mobile personal computers, in 1925, there was the Scopes Monkey Trial. Even though that (in)famous episode in American history revolved around evolution—Charles Darwins’s On the Origin of Species—versus Christian creationism and not cosmology, the pattern is similar. If science and religious belief are contradictory, the religious fundamentalist chooses to ignore, or, as in the case of the creationist movement, fight science.
One strategy of the creationists to accomplish this goal in the case of Cosmos is by demanding equal airtime to promote intelligent design—Christian creationism cloaked in the mantle of science. This way, they seek to promote the idea that both concepts are equally valid—a classic case of the balance fallacy. They are of course not. Science works through observation of the natural world and the testing of hypotheses, while creationism works backwards from the revelations of particular holy book (in this case the Bible).
Go science TV!
Hopefully, more people will learn about the current state of human knowledge about the cosmos through this piece of television. I love Carl Sagan’s work and think Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.
I can’t wait to see the show and learn more about the cosmos myself!
“Cosmos & the Creationists: Why Some People Hate Science on Television.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/10)
“Cosmos Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Facts.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/17)
“Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Really Starting To Scare Conservatives.” (Amanda Marcotte, The Raw Story, 2014/03/18)
“Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe.” (Adam Lee, Alternet, 2014/03/20)
“Neil deGrasse Tyson Squashes Creationist Argument Against Science on National TV.” (Dan Arel, Alternet, 2014/03/17)
http://www.startalkradio.net – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show / podcast
“‘[T]he hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities,’ especially the women’s studies departments, ‘should all be taken out and shot.'” – Austin Ruse of the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) expressing his violent fantasies on American Family Association talk radio
Where to start with this? I do not share the assessment that most American universities are in the business of promoting “human-hating” or that ‘the hard left’ runs them. There are certainly many who are not Christian fundamentalists and socially liberal in higher education. But the idea of a communist takeover of American universities is insane.
And then there is the obvious: Fantasizing about murdering people you disagree with is clearly not the best way to show your own love of humanity. Take note, Catholic fundamentalists!
New study: political polarization in American presidental elections is indeed fueled by the Culture War
As an interested student of American politics, it almost seems like a truism to me that the culture war is driving the current political polarization in American elections. Social liberals usually vote for Democrats while social conservatives usually vote Republican. Yes, there are of course also libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. But they fall somewhere in between the two camps on the simplified left-right one-axis model of the political spectrum.
The wedge issues are well-known: the separation of church and state and the connected conflicts around abortion and LGBTI rights, regulation of firearms, taxes and how they should be spent (healthcare, social safety net in general), but also civil rights and immigration. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘god, guns, and gays’.
But now there is more empirical evidence for this wide-spread assumption of the culture war’s influence on electoral politics. In a recent study, economist Stefan Krasa and economist/political scientist Mattias Polborn—both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined voter behavior since the late 1970s “by combining a theoretical model of voters’ decisions with data from the American National Election Survey.”
Their research confirms that cultural issues are of greater significance in American politics today than they were back in the late 1970s, when Carter campaigned against Ford in 1976.
[i]n 1976 [. . .], a voter’s social liberalism or conservatism played only a minor role for his vote choice [. . .].
Three decades later, a very different picture would emerge:
In 2004, however, [. . .] social and economic preferences play an approximately equal role in determining the vote [emphasis mine].
Krasa and Polborn are also able to assign a number to the growing importance of cultural issues in American electoral politics. And is it quite staggering:
The cultural policy differences between Democratic and Republican are about 300 percent larger for the elections in the 2000s than they were in 1976. In contrast, economic policy differences in the 2000s increased only by between 15 and 45 percent relative to 1976 [emphasis mine].
Who went from voting Democrat to voting Republican since 1980? The Reagan Democrats—”disproportionately white, low-to medium skilled workers, and considerably more religious than the average.”
Vice versa, those who went from voting GOP to voting Democrat were “disproportionately well-educated, secular and non-white.”
“Party realignment on cultural issues is responsible for increased political polarization in presidential elections.” (Stefan Krasa and Mattias Polborn, USAPP Blog, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2014/03/03)
“You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers. [. . .] Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick.” – Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the false balance in American media when covering science
“Neil deGrasse Tyson tells CNN: Stop giving ‘equal time to the flat Earthers.’” (David Edwards, The Raw Story, 2014/03/09)
Massachusetts High Court declares ‘upskirt’ photographs legal, lawmakers react quickly
In what looks like an insane victory for creepy peeping tom types, the Massachusetts High Court has recently ruled that it is not illegal to secretly take pictures up a woman’s skirt, according to a report by Think Progress.
But why in the world would they decide like this, you may ask yourself?
According to the report, the court concluded that
[a] female passenger on a MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is `partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,
It seems that current laws are not keeping up with developments in technology, above all the ubiquity of camera-equipped smartphones.
Current “Peeping Tom” laws in Massachusetts “only protect women from being photographed in dressing rooms or bathrooms when they are undressed.” And because “upskirt photos are taken of fully clothed women in public, they don’t count,” reasons the Massachusetts court.
I think that it is not ok to take such pictures. I do think that this is a form of sexual harassment.
Update: Massachusetts lawmakers thought so, too, and passed a bill outlawing taking unconsensual upskirt pictures, including people of all genders.
Hipster beard hilarity: facial hair transplants in NYC
There is a new trend in plastic surgery, facial hair transplants, to be precise. Among the hipster population of NYC (and probably elsewhere, too!), men in their thirties and forties are getting them to grow “fuller beards,” according to a report by abc News. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons have noticed an increase of four percent in the demand for such procedures since 2012.
Stranger than fiction: serpent-handling pastor dies of snakebite
A zeal for the Holy Spirit, reality TV, and venomous snakes. What could go wrong if these three ingredients are combined? As it turns out, it is a recipe for disaster.
As CNN reports, a snake-handling pastor of a Kentucky Pentecostal church, who had lately been the star of National Geographic reality TV show Snake Salvation, has died after being bitten by a snake and then refusing treatment at a hospital.
Despite earlier accidents including
‘losing half of his finger to a snake bite and seeing others die from bites during services,’ Coots ‘still believe[d] he must take up serpents and follow the Holiness faith [emphasis mine],’
according to National Geographic’s channel website.
A religious tradition of rural southern Appalachia
Snake handling as a test of faith is a tradition among some Pentecostal churches across the Appalachian region, mostly in the rural South.
The origins of the practice lie in “a passage in the Bible [that] suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.”
In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:17-18), it says
And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover [emphasis mine].
And thus, the faithful not only take up deadly snakes, but also
ingest a mixture of strychnine – a highly toxic powder often used as a pesticide – and water, often from a Mason jar.
That, however, is still not enough for some, who also
will bring Coke bottles with oil-soaked wicks to the church so they can hold flames to their skin.
A deadly faith for over a century
But despite the unwavering faith of its practitioners, the tradition, which started “in the east Tennessee hills in 1909,” has repeatedly claimed its victims, thus far around a hundred “serpent handlers.”
For instance, in 2012, pastor Mack Wolford of West Virginia died of a snakebite. His father, also a Pentecostal serpent handler, had suffered the same fate before him in 1983.
According to CNN, experts estimate the number of “serpent handlers” at several thousand people.
U.S. state life expectancy compared to countries around the world [map]
Over at the Atlantic, there is an interesting map [not the one to the right in this article]. It compares the life expectancy in U.S. states and imposes the the names of countries around the world with a similar life expectancy onto the respective state. Thus, Mississippi becomes Syria (75 years and I am not sure whether this takes into account the ongoing bloody civil there) and California becomes Liechtenstein (81 years).
The best thing about the map: You can go to http://www.measureofamerica.org/maps/, a project of the Social Science Research Council, and see how well individual states fare by a variety of measures, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), education, health, or income.
The George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin case is devolving even more into an absurd media spectacle
Just when I thought that the tragic case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin could not become any more bizarre, I am proven wrong again.
After we saw Zimmerman posing at a gun manufacturer shortly after being acquitted of murder charges for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman selling ‘patriotic art’ of dubious originality, and Zimmerman being arrested for threatening his ex-wife and her father with a gun, there is now this: a boxing match in the making between rapper/actor DMX and George Zimmerman.
The aggressive politicization, the racial circling of wagons stoked by polemic media in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death now seems to culminate in the ultimate absurdity–a celebrity boxing match based on the premise of symbolically pitting black America in the form a (former) gangsta rapper against Zimmerman, the light-skinned Hispanic defended by a large swathe of trigger-happy conservative white males.
All of the above merely adds insult to injury.
Whereas Zimmerman, now walking as a free man, clearly lacks any tact and tries to make a quick buck off his new-found celebrity paid for by the death of an unarmed black teenager, boxing promoters are circling like vultures over the tragedy in order get theirs, too.
And does rapper DMX think that if he were to knock out Zimmerman, in reality, but at the same time symbolically, like in the cartoonish heroes and villains portrayed in American wrestling, that would counter the black thug stereotype that was at the heart of the developments leading to Trayvon Martin’s death?
I think that this celebrity boxing match, if it actually take place, is death-sploitation of the worst kind.
Check out this clip from TheLipTV:
A quarter of Americans did not read a book in 2013, study finds
A new study by the Pew Research Center found that in 2013, almost a quarter of Americans
did not read a book. And this included e-books and audiobooks.
I wondered how bad it is over here, in Germany. Well, not much better, actually. According to a study by statista.de (in German), it was around fifteen percent in 2013.
As a general advice for life, I would recommend picking up a book from time to time.
Fox News insists that Santa Claus and Jesus are/were white
And now to the really important things in the world. As the Christmas season (or holiday season, depending on your personal preference) is approaching, America’s culture wars tend to shift their attention towards certain religious and cultural icons.
It’s the ‘War on Christmas’ all over again
You might remember Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s invention of the ‘War on Christmas’ that is supposedly being waged by ‘the left’ against virtuous, red-blooded Middle America, because, as Bill would like you to believe, American liberals all hate America with a passion and are plotting to destroy all cultural traditions.
Non-white Santa Claus and Jesus versus ‘Murica
Now, Fox News is stirring up the latest controversy: Multiracial Santa Claus and Jesus. The liberals are now coming for white American Santa Claus and white American Jesus, so the story goes. What happened?
AIsha Harris, an author for Slate, suggested that Santa Claus should not be depicted only as a bearded white man, but maybe also as black, to be more inclusive and speak to all kids.
Unsurprisingly, this led to Fox News talking head Megyn Kelly insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus are/were in fact white.
Depictions in popular culture versus history
There are two different aspects to this, naturally. First, the depictions of Santa Claus and Jesus. Both the commercialized Santa Claus, prominently featuring in commercials for Coca-Cola, for example, and Jesus have indeed for a long time been portrayed as white in America (in Europe, there’s the phenomenon of white Santa and Jesus, too).
‘Beyond the pale’: a Greek bishop and a Mediterranean Jew
Second there are the historical figures, assuming for the sake of argument that both existed. As the Raw Story article points out, the historical Jesus was a “Jew of Mediterranean descent.” Santa Claus is based on the Dutch Sinterklaas, who is in turn based on the fourth century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, which was part of Greece at the time and is today part of modern Turkey. Migration aside, the average person from either of those regions does not look exactly like the white Europeans from Western and Northern Europe. The historical Santa Claus and Jesus are ‘beyond the pale’ (pun intended!).
In regards to the looks of the historical Santa Claus and Jesus, Fox News is therefore just wrong on the facts.
Just one more Culture War distraction
In my view, the permanent manufacturing of outrage over alleged assaults on a white (Judeo-)Christian culture in America by liberals is part of a wider strategy of Fox News and NewsCorp to distract their audience from economic policies that are in fact detrimental to many of their white middle class supporters. Even though many views held by individuals on either side of the political spectrum are sincerely held, functionally, the culture war mainly serves to deflect people’s critical attention from economic policies.
Here is the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:
Here is the progressive talk show Majority Report with Sam Seder on the same topic:
Fox News responds to critics with more of the same. Here is the reporting from The Young Turks on how Megyn Kelly portrays herself as a victim of race-baiting.
“Megyn ‘Santa And Jesus Are White’ Kelly A Victim Of Race-Baiting”
[Update, 2013/12/17] Bill O’Reilly, inventor of the ‘War on Christmas’ weighs in
After Fox News’s Megyn Kelly defended white Santa and white Jesus, Bill O’Reilly himself weighed in on the matter [article + video]—by briefly insisting that she is right about white Santa and Jesus and then going off on a tirade about how the liberals hate Fox News because they see it as racist conservative propaganda machine.
Having at this point watched many typical clips from the network, I think that is for the most part an accurate description of Fox News. And Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the usual suspects working under Roger Ailes know exactly how to play to the emotions and irrational fears of white conservative America.
Watch another entertaining clip from the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:
“O’Reilly Defends White Santa & War On Christmas Continues”
The Smithsonian’s Historic 101 Objects That Made America
Cultural artefacts embody history and tell stories. They can be a great starting point for learning about historical developments.
The Smithsonian has recently published a new book titled 101 Objects That Made America and features a gallery of selected items on its website, including a baseball from the Negro Leagues of the 1930s, a wooden stamp from a ship sunken in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War Two, or the Pill. Out of a wealth of historic objects, the Smithsonian’s curators faced the difficult task of selecting the most essential.
Ayun Halliday over at OpenCulture has written a nice article about the project including some interesting pictures and links. Please do have a look and enjoy visual history of the US.
States Trivia From PolicyMic
Here’s one for the long, cold winter evenings ahead. PolicyMic has compiled a nice map of the US featuring interesting trivia about each state.
For instance: Did you know that North Dakota consumes the most beer among all states?
Have a look and impress your friends!
[Note: The map in this post is just a placeholder image. The trivia map is in PolicyMic’s article.]
New online archive “The Lantern” covers US media history
This is great news for anyone interested in media history of the twentieth century in the US.
The Lantern is “a new open access, interactive library” from the Media History Digital Library in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communication Arts featuring 800,000 pages of documents covering the history of radio, film, and television.
The archive allows for full text searches in vintage magazines. You can also browse through the cover pages and get inspired by the imagery. A quick glance at the main search page reveals how different the designs and layouts from a few decades ago look compared to contemporary magazines.
Please also check out Kate Rix’s longer article over at OpenCulture.
Poll: Americans Drink Less Beer, Turn Towards Wine And Liquor
Americans are slowly turning away from beer as their alcoholic beverage of choice, a Gallup poll from July 2013 finds.
As the Atlantic reports, the last twenty years have seen a decline in the popularity of beer and an increase in the popularity of both liquor and wine among both black and white Americans.
Here are some of the Atlantic’s explanations for the trend:
- A general higher awareness of healthy living.
- The (white) working class is suffering from the economic crises in the early 2000s and since 2008.
- Since the late 1990s, liquor ads have been shown on television.
- Americans are discovering affordable and tasty wine while the exports of American wines are increasing.
“U.S. Drinkers Divide Between Beer and Wine as Favorite.” (Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup, 2013/08/01)
“Why Are American Drinkers Turning Against Beer?” (Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, 2013/08/05)
Visual history: Photographic essays on 1970s America from Documerica at The Atlantic
I recently discovered a fantastic series of photographic essays covering the 1970s in America over at Alan Taylor’s photography blog In Focus on the website of The Atlantic.
The material is originally from Documerica, a photojournalistic documentary project conducted by the EPA between 1971 and 1977 that sought to “capture environmental problems, EPA activities, and everyday life in the 1970s.”
The photographic essays available on The Atlantic’s website so far portray life in different parts of the United States at the time, among them New York City, The Southwest, Chicago’s African-American community, Texas, and The Pacific Northwest.
It is great stuff for anyone interested in American history of the late twentieth century. I highly recommend taking a look!
Yoga: Christian Conservatives Fearful Of ‘Satanic Possession’
Are you one of those stressed city-dwelling young professionals who need to relax once in a while? If you attempt to relieve your tension by doing yoga, you might be OF THE DEVIL, according to Christian conservatives.
For many, yoga is a trendy recreational activity. But because of its origins in Hinduism, Christian conservatives in the US are afraid that yoga may lead its practitioners away from the one true faithtm (theirs).
As the Atlantic reports, E.W. Jackson, a Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial contender in 2008, argued that as the aim of yoga “is to empty oneself [spiritually] . . . . [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it.”
A number of conservative Christian clerics share this point of view. For example, Mark Driscoll, pastor of a megachurch called Mars Hill, which is based in Washington State and could be described as a neo-fundamentalist church for hipsters, called yoga “demonic” and warned his flock of attending such “demon classes.”
But it is not exclusively American evangelicals who seek to expose the evils of yoga. In 2011, the Vatican’s former chief exorcist (!) called yoga (and Harry Potter books, too) “satanic.” And in 1989, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, later to become Pope Benedict XVI, said in 1989 that meditation, if used as a ‘spiritual’ practice, might lead to “moral deviations” among Catholics.1
Within the framework of belief in a demon-haunted world, all of this makes perfect sense.
A fun statistic: According to a 2012 survey by Public Policy Polling, 57% of all registered voters in the US, both Democrats and Republicans, believe in demonic possession. Among Republicans, the number is even higher at 68%.
[Update, 2013/06/13] E.W. Jackson, the former contender for Virginia lieutenant governor now claims about the opposite of what he implied in his 2008 book:
“I do not believe that yoga leads to Satanism. One of my ministers is a yoga instructor. Christian meditation [as opposed to Hindu yoga?] does not involve emptying oneself but filling oneself…with the spirit of God. That is classic biblical Christianity [emphasis mine].”
- In my opinion, the primary moral deviation among Catholics that the Vatican should invest more energy into correcting is its very own systematic and decades-long cover-up of child abuse. Once these child-molesting priests are convicted in courts rather than being shuffled to another parish, where they are free to continue the abuse, we may talk again about morality. ↩
NRA Makes 180 Degree Turn On Violent Hollywood Movies
Guns don’t kill people, movies and video games do
In the wake of last December’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association‘s then-CEO Wayne LaPierre pointed the finger at violent video games and movies for causing such horrible tragedies in America.
As anyone peeking into the current debate on gun control in the US, I have noticed that the NRA even opposes seemingly uncontroversial, mild, dare I say sane limitations on gun ownership, such as background checks for people with mental health issues or criminal records.
As I understand it, the NRA in its current iteration holds that in order to make America safer, all avenues should be explored except for one: stricter regulation of firearms.
Violent Hollywood filth is corrupting America…
So if lax gun regulation is not the culprit, who is to blame? Hollywood, of course!
As Talking Points Memo reports, LaPierre blasted Hollywood as “a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.” He specifically railed against violent movies as “the filthiest form of pornography.”
…except when we love that Hollywood filth!
One might be tempted to take the NRA seriously, were it not for the following blatant hypocrisy on their part:
The NRA’s publication The American Rifleman recently—after LaPierre’s
rant speech against violent movies— published a list of “the coolest gun movies” on their website.
The list includes gems such as the 1980s action flicks The Terminator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Die Hard starring Bruce Willis, or Delta Force starring Chuck Norris and Lee Marvin, all products of Hollywood’s “corrupting shadow industry.”
Having seen most of those movies myself at one point, I dare to state the obvious: It would be an understatement to say that they all share are a certain aesthetization of violence.
I am not arguing the case that watching violent movies or playing violent video games necessarily makes violent people. In fact I hope that my personal consumption of such entertainment in the past has not had too much of a detrimental effect on my frame of mind.
But if you do, like the NRA, you cannot all of a sudden turn around and tell the world with a straight face how great all of these violent action movies are.
Conveniently applying that double standard makes you unprincipled and hypocritical. Maybe given the twenty-four hour news cycle, people can be forgiven for a short attention span.
But if the NRA calls Hollywood a cesspool and five minutes later jumps in it, I call bullshit.
“Background checks on gun sales: How do they work?” (Corinne Jones, CNN, 2013/04/10)
[Op-Ed] “Why the NRA fights background checks.” (John J. Donohue, CNN, 2013/04/10)
Zero Dark Thirty: CIA Propaganda Piece
Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.
And so Bigelow and Boal did.
What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?
- Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
- Intimidation of detainees with dogs
- A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
- The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees
Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.
Read and see more:
“CIA requested Zero Dark Thirty rewrites, memo reveals.” (Ben Child, Guardian, 2013/05/07)
“Newly Declassified Memo Shows CIA Shaped “Zero Dark Thirty”‘s Narrative.” (Adrian Chen, Gawker, 2013/05/06)
[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.
Torture and the hunt for Bin Laden
“Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It.” (Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 2011/05/06) – A study by the National Defense Intelligence College found that “rapport-based” interrogation works best, even with hard-boiled detainees.
Meet Jim Porter, The New NRA President
As unnecessary gun deaths continue to take their toll on American society, one might have hoped that the National Rifle Association would nominate a reasonable person for their president. In the face of the latest series of school shootings and other horrible gun violence, it is quite apparent that there is a demand for somebody who might negotiate a balance between the interests of gun owners and the public’s longing for safety. But moderation of any sort is definitely not where the NRA is going these days.
Jim Porter goes to eleven
Jim Porter, a former Alabama lawyer, is the new president of the National Rifle Association. And as you might have suspected, he is as extreme as they come. Judging by his statements, Porter is quite the dog-whistling, Neo-Confederate, conspiracy-mongering nutjob. Hyperbole, you say. Well, read on and see for yourself.
Where to begin? As the New York Times reports, he says that Obama is a “fake president.” His view of American history compels him to call the American Civil War the ‘War of Northern Aggression.’ He peddles conspiracy theories alleging that the Obama administration is conspiring with the UN to take all guns away from Americans. He also says that it is the NRA’s job to train Americans to fight against tyranny from their own government (the video of Porter speaking is linked in the New York Times article).
This strain of the political far-right in America surfaced in parts of the Tea Party Movement throughout the past years. But now the figurehead of America’s powerful gun manufacturers’ lobby is a race-baiter who is apparently driven by paranoid fantasies. Not a wise choice.
Students have to fight for integrated prom In rural Georgia in 2013
Here is another optimistic but also rather sad story that casts doubt on the notion of the ‘post-racial’ society, which for a short moment around Barack Obama’s first election as president in 2008 was omnipresent in political magazines.
As the New York Times reports, high school students In rural Georgia are fighting to have a racially integrated prom. Yes, this story is indeed from 2013 and I did not miss the mark by several decades. Racial segregation in social spaces around school is apparently still an issue, at least in Wilcox County in the rural South.
American talk radio is a phenomenon of its own with no comparison in the German media landscape. This is likely due to less strict broadcasting regulations on the US side of the Atlantic, especially since the fall of the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine in 1987, a much broader definition of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution in general, and the comparatively longer distances traveled in cars in the US. All of the above factors into the popularity of AM talk radio, especially political talk formats.
For the past decades, American talk radio has predominantly been the domain of angry white male conservative populist agitators, among them figures like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, who have made a fortune feeding their audiences’ fears of American decline, multiculturalism, and the whole palette of issues subsumed under the term culture wars. A key trope of most far-right talk radio hosts has always been the claim of defending ‘freedom,’ a term so vague in the arsenal of political rhetoric that it can easily be loaded up with the most illiberal ideas, not in the meaning of liberal as in political ideology, but as in the theoretical political concept.
Case in point: Recently, conservative talk radio host Michael Savage has called for a new “nationalist party” with a “charismatic leader.” Talking about the decline in popularity of the Tea Party Movement, the conservative populist movement that had emerged along with the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president, Savage said that “the rudiment” of that new party might be found among their ranks. Savage, who was born to Russian-Jewish parents, used the analogy of a “King David” that was needed to unite the American Right. Savage, who calls President Obama a “quasi-pseudo-crypto Marxist” thinks that the Tea Party Movement was not right-wing enough and that a new party should challenge the Republican party from the right on a platform of “borders, language, and culture.”
If that sounds eerily authoritarian, it’s because it is!
A severe economic crisis. Extreme nationalism. Calls for a charismatic leader. Writing from Berlin, I hear the jackboots stomping in my head.
“Jewish Wingnut Wants Nationalist Party With Charismatic Leader.” (Ed Brayton, Dispatches From The Culture Wars, 2013/01/10)
“Radio host Michael Savage calls for ‘Nationalist’ third party to challenge GOP. “(Geoff Herbert, syracuse.com, 2013/01/07)
“Conservative Radio Host: America Needs A New ‘Nationalist Party’ With A ‘Charismatic Leader.’” (Anjali Sareen, Mediaite, 2013/01/06)
“Top Conservative Radio Figure Calls For Nationalist Third Party.” (BuzzFeed, 2013/01/06)
“Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt.” (Umberto Eco, New York Review of Books, 1995/06/22 via The Modern World)
While glancing over the Open Culture blog, a resource that I highly recommend, by the way, I once again found a little gem for everyone interested in American popular culture of the twentieth century. The Library of Congress now hosts the digitized audio tapes of Joe Smith, a former record industry executive and DJ who in the late 1980s interviewed many of the then most famous stars of Rock’n’Roll and other genres in American popular music. His collection of interview tapes encompasses “238 hours of interviews over two years.” At the time, excerpts of these were made into his book Off the Record (Warner Books, 1988).
Highlights from these interviews, according to the LoC, include:
- Bo Diddley talking about his own death
- Mickey Hart’s revealing story about his father
- Steven Tyler’s problems with drug addiction
- Peter Frampton’s short-lived popularity
- Bob Dylan’s surprising assessment of the turbulent ‘60s
- David Bowie’s description of Mick Jagger as conservative
- Paul McCartney’s frank admission of professional superiority
- Les Paul’s creation of an electric guitar in 1929
- Motown’s restrictive work environment
- Herb Jeffries’ and Dave Brubeck’s recollections of working in a racially segregated society
“Library of Congress Releases Audio Archive of Interviews with Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons.” (Kate Rix, Open Culture, 11/30/2012) – The article also goes into more detail about the musicians interviewed.
|Nurses (84%)||Firefighters (98%)|
|Pharmacists (73%)||Medical doctors (89%)|
|Medical doctors (70%)||Post office workers (86%)|
|High school teachers (62%)||Police officers (85%)|
|Police officers (54%)||Teachers (84%)|
The five least trusted professions:
|Members of Congress (64% ‘Very Low’ or ‘Low’)||Politicians (91% ‘Distrust)|
|Lobbyists (62%)||Corporate Managers (80%)|
|Telemarketers 53%)||Advertising executives (67%)|
|Car salespeople (47%)||Marketing executives (62%)|
|Labor union leaders (41%)||Journalists (56%)|
If you were a shameless impostor who wants to gain the the local population’s trust quickly (which I am certain you are not), you might go for the nurse outfit (in the US) or the firefighter look (in Germany). As an alternative, you could also consider wearing a white lab coat and/or a stethoscope (works in both countries). A police uniform might also help, although I do not recommend this—it is likely to be illegal. If you, American traveler, would like to enchant Germans, why not try post office chic? In both countries, If you carry around a few textbooks, you could pass for a teacher. People may like you for it.
Whether you walk the streets of Berlin or Washington, avoid looking like a person who just walked out of Congress or the Bundestag. And to you, German tourist, do not even think of starting the casual conversation by trying to sell a car!
On April 26, Dr. Ulrich Adelt, Junior Professor of American Studies from the University of Wyoming, gave a talk at American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series. His presentation was titled “Just Play the Blues: African Americans, Afro-Germans, white Germans and the Politics of Primitivism.”
Professor Adelt’s research interests include pop music, transnationalism, and racial politics.
In the 1960s, blues music underwent a shift from black artists and audiences to white artists and audiences. With the appropriation of the blues by white artists and audiences, the genre shifted away from its former black working class base. The white middle-class embrace of certain notions of blackness stood in contrast to black audiences’ increasing attraction to new music genres emphasizing civil rights and black power, such as Soul and Funk. For white audiences, black masculinity was perceived as a marker of authenticity. Nevertheless, African American performers often resisted such forced constructions of blackness.
Adelt used the American Folk Blues Festival, a music festival organized by German promoters starting in the early 1960s to illustrate the complex relationships between transnational popular culture and race during the Cold War.
The Transatlantic Dimension of the Blues
In the 1960s, blues music became a transatlantic phenomenon in its own way. Black American blues musicians, some of whom became expatriates, brought their music to eager European audiences. After a while, blues in an updated form was re-imported to the US, mostly through British rock bands.
As an example of an expatriate blues musician, Adelt mentioned Memphis Slim (1915 – 1988), who was portrayed in the June 1966 issue of Ebony magazine while living in Paris (You can read the issue in the Ebony archives). But this was not the norm. Most African American blues performers did not become expatriates.
Germany Gets the Blues (Sort of)
In Germany, promoters Horst Lippmann and Fritz Rau organized the American Folk Blues Festival, beginning in 1962. Their construction of the blues was highly romantic. It used the genre’s blackness to highlight blues as the primitive root of Rock’n’Roll. Lippmann and Rau saw the blues as a vehicle of Denazificiation and Anti-racism. In retrospect, however, they continued to deploy racial constructions that are uncomfortably close to that of the Third Reich.
Adelt argued that pop culture is not always a liberating force, but can also work to uphold racial hierarchies and oppression.
Primitivism in Germany
In Germany, positive racism in the form of appropriating the art of ‘savages’ has a long history. African bodies used in art were seen as modern, fresh, or lively. Examples of works of art in this vein include Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), Emil Nolde‘s Dance Around the Golden Calf (1910), or the enthusiasm for American-born French dancer/singer/actress Josephine Baker (1906 – 1975).
During the Third Reich, this former positive racism was replaced by negative racism, exemplified by terms such as Entartete Musik (‘Degenerate music’) (see also here) for jazz, and a fear of Vernegerung (‘Negroidization’) or Verjudung (‘Jewification’) of German culture through ‘foreign’ popular culture.
After World War II, certain Nazi imagery survived in popular children’s television series such as Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer) (1960). [There is a debate in Germany about whether Jim Button has to be read as racist or anti-racist.]
Racism was also present among parts of the white German left. Here, a “fascination with the real” drove the interest in the black embodiment of suffering.
Race in Germany Before and After World War Two
Transplanting the blues to Germany brought with it certain traveling problematic racial conceptions. While the US certainly had its own historic issues with race, the blues was entering a German culture that was no stranger to racist ideas, even before National Socialism. Among these were the ‘Black Horror on the Rhine’ (“Die Schwarze Schmach“)—fear of the presence of black French troops during the Occupation of the Rhineland following World War I, the vilification of interracial fraternization in the phenomenon of ‘Occupation Babies’ (“Besatzungskinder”) after World War II, caused by sexual relationships between black American GIs and white German women.
Such negative racial constructs were later challenged by Afro-German activists, for instance in the book Farbe Bekennen (‘Showing our Colors’) in 1986.
After the reunification of Germany, a wave of Neo-Nazi attacks on immigrants and non-white persons conveyed an urgency among ethnic minorities and sympathetic parts of the mainstream German population to organize against racial stereotypes. Within German popular culture, Hip Hop artists, especially multi-ethnic or Afro-German Hip Hop artists, such as Advanced Chemistry (early 1990s), Samy Deluxe (starting in the late 1990s), or Brothers Keepers (early 2000s) were involved in anti-racist activism.
Blues as Cold War Propaganda in East and West
The blues was used as a propaganda tool on both sides of the Cold War divide. The capitalist West promoted blues and Jazz as symbols of openness in contrast to the Soviet system. Nonetheless, during the early Cold War, the Jim Crow system was still very much intact in the US, and the Civil Rights Movement had not yet gained that strong a foothold.
The communist East was eager to point out these contradictions, presenting blues and jazz as a signs of resistance against the inherent racism of the capitalist system. In the German Democratic Republic, blues was promoted as music of the oppressed masses, embedded into a critique of US capitalism. On the other hand, there were crackdowns on long-haired blues fans nonetheless, and racial stereotypes were not absent.
Lippmann and Rau Bring American Popular Music to Germany
The organizers of the American Folk Blues Festival were coming from very different backgrounds. Lippmann was Jewish and his family had been persecuted by the Nazis. He saw similarities between black suffering in the US and the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. Rau, on the other hand, came from a family that had profited from the Nazis’ war buildup. He discovered Jazz in the 1950s and imagined the possibility of Dennazification and “rebirth through Jazz.”
When Lippmann and Rau began to organize jazz concerts featuring African American artists, for instance the Modern Jazz Quartet, they sought to give Jazz an aura of “respectability” by having artists wear tuxedos, advertising events with abstract art, and setting up concerts in symphony halls instead of small, smoke-filled clubs. As Adelt argued, this idea of having to make jazz and its performers respectable can be traced back to racial ideas of the Nazi era.
While organizing blues concerts, Lippmann and Rau gave up on the concept of creating respectability and appealed to primitivist ideas instead. The American Folk Blues Festival, staged between 1962 and 1972, and 1980 to 1985, usually went for three to four hours and featured eight to ten headliners.
What was presented in these concerts can be described as nostalgic blues for white audiences. Both folk music from the 1930s and 1950s blues were at this point somewhat outdated. Older blues artists, such as Willie Dixon (1915 – 1992), were rediscovered during the 1960s. In this context, there was also a conflict between older black and younger white blues performers.
Lippmann and Rau’s posters advertising their events made extensive use of romantic primitivist imagery. The artwork often featured guitars and earthy colors, reminiscent of nameless black bodies. Overall, their design conveyed a “non-threatening” nostalgia.
The events themselves even surpassed the posters in their stagecraft. To enhance the atmosphere of the spectacle, concerts sometimes featured recreated juke joints and other scenery, and African American GIs were bused in as studio audience in Germany.
In 1967, Lippmann and Rau started booking Soul and Funk artists such as James Brown. With a turn towards these more contemporary forms of black popular music, the audience also shifted notably from white Germans to black American GIs.
Blues, Civil Rights, and Well-Meaning Racism
In 1965, Lippmann and Rau linked their American Folk Blues Festival to the US Civil Rights Movement. While well-meaning, in retrospect they upheld problematic racial constructions. In concert booklets, for example, blacks were presented as victims without an agency of their own. In a sense, Lippmann and Rau catered to their audience’s expectations of blues as a primitive, raw, emotional, but certainly not intellectual form of art.
Some African American blues artists developed what Adelt sees as strategies to counter such forced constructions of identity. At times, they spontaneously changed playlists at their shows. Some defied stereotyping by showing off their extraordinary skills and gimmicks in musicianship, for instance on the guitar. Stage antics, appearance in decidedly flashy clothes, or the performance of novelty songs were forms of resistance against expectations. White audiences did not always take this too well. In 1965, Buddy Guy (born in 1936) was booed for playing a medley of James Brown songs. To some degree, the blues resisted against expectations of white middle class respectability.
In conclusion, Adelt remarked that the appropriation of the blues by white German audiences was characterized by ambiguity. While there was great optimism about the prospects of Denazification through American popular culture, the project of transplanting the blues to Europe had a blind spot in its continuation of racial stereotypes.
Here is American Studies Leipzig’s video interview with Ulrich Adelt:
Today, historian Charles Postel of San Francisco State University and a visiting scholar at Heidelberg University, visited American Studies Leipzig as part of the Fulbright lecture series to talk about the rise of the Tea Party Movement in the US.
Postel, who specializes in populist movements in America, sees the Tea Party Movement as driven by a convergence of two different forces: ideology and economic self-interest.
The Founding Myth: The Boston Tea Party
He mentioned the myth of the original Boston Tea Party of the eighteenth century in American folklore, which is widely seen as a tax revolt, but was, according to historians, much more complex, involving political ideas about freedom and economic self-interest of Boston merchants and smugglers.
In order to illustrate the anatomy of today’s Tea Party Movement, Postel noted that federal taxes are at the lowest level since sixty years and that tax levels for the highest income groups have declined even sharper than for the average taxpayer.
Ideological Roots: Cold War Hard Right Paranoia
Postel held that much of the ideology of the Tea Party Movement derives from anti-New Deal conservative movements of the Cold War Era, in particular the John Birch Society, who saw social programs such as Social Security, trade unions, and the Civil Rights Movement as communist subversion of America. The enemies of those anti-New Deal conservative Republicans were for the most part moderate Republicans of the time.
The John Birch Society, which was the first grassroots conservative movement in the US, achieved a victory in mobilizing for Barry Goldwater as Republican candidate in 1964.
Robert Welch, the founder of the JBS, even went so far as accusing Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy as communist agents. In fact, anyone in favor of the New Deal and Civil Rights was seen as a communist.
In this video clip on YouTube, you can see Welch’s presentation (ca. 1965) of the JBS.
Other leading conservative intellectuals, such as William F. Buckley, distanced themselves from Welch and the JBS.
Welch and his allies, among them writer Leon Scousen, whose books have had a revival among Tea Partiers, built their own conservative movement on an anti-New Deal agenda.
For them, America’s fall from grace began in the early 1900s with the Progressive Movement’s social reforms.
The Birchers demanded the repeal of early twentieth century reforms, the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for the federal government to raise an income tax, and the abolition of the Federal Reserve. They also demanded that the Seventeenth Amendment be repealed, which allows for the direct election of Senators. This was subsumed under the idea that America was a republic, not a democracy.
The Tea Party Movement picks up many of those ideas. It aims at repealing the remaining elements of the New Deal. It wants to abolish the Fed and for the reintroduction of the Gold Standard. It wants to repeal the 16th and 17th Amerndments. It argues that President Obama is a socialist and points to the Affordable Healthcare Act or ‘Obamacare.’
According to Postel, Obama is actually a centrist Democrat. A health care legislation similar to Obama’s was first proposed by President Nixon in 1974. For a long time, Republicans endorsed this idea.
The Tea Party Movement sees any regulation of the health care sector as socialism.
The Comeback of Bircher Rhetoric
If the rhetoric reminds of Joseph McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, that is, Postel says, because the John Birch Society has a revival.
Leon Scousen’s books are advertised regularly on Fox News by opinion hosts such as Glenn Beck.
Right-wing corporate lobbyists, including groups like FreedomWorks or Americans for Prosperity, but also think tanks, such as the conservative Heritage Foundation or the libertarian Cato Institute promote ideas similar to those of the Birchers.
Overall, the Cold War Hard Right has made a comeback, and it has gained the upper hand within the Republican Party.
Moderate Republicans have become a pariah within their party.
[Update]: I just stumbled upon a recent example of Bircherite Tea Party rhetoric. Congressman Allen West (R-FL) suggesting that 80 House Democrats are members of the Communist Party (article from The Raw Story).
The Politics of Self-Interest: Medicare Is Fine, But Only For Me
Besides ideology, politics of interest play an important role in the Tea Party Movement.
Postel sees this embodied in the Tea Party Movement’s opposition to health care reform as fight against ‘big government.’
The size of the federal government has remained relatively stable over the last decades. Most federal spending has been shrinking in the last thirty years. The two big exceptions to this are military spending and Medicare.
Most Tea Party supporters are on favor of higher military spending.
Regarding Medicare, typical Tea Party supporters—older, better educated, white males—have in the past most profited from government programs.
In other words, the Tea Party Movement mobilizes in the name of defending Medicare for themselves.
Tea Party figures such as Michelle Bachman have argued to the effect that Obama would take funds out of Medicare to give it to younger people.
Postel mentioned that the Paul Ryan Budget, favored by Republicans, illustrated this interest: those over fify-five would keep Medicare, while everyone else will have to shop in the insurance market with private vouchers.
The Politics of Inequality
The Ryan Budget also includes tax cuts for top earners and budget cuts for social programs.
This plan is proposed within the context of rising inequality within the US. While problematic for many, Postel noted that tens of millions of Americans have also benefited from rising inequality.
So far, Tea Party-influenced legislation at the state and local level has fostered inequality, with a clear anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-reproductive health, and anti-voting rights agenda.
Currently, about twenty percent of Americans sympathize with the Tea Party Movement.
The Tea Party Movement has links to corporate lobbyists. Postel highlighted the Koch Brothers, the fourth wealthiest individuals in the US with an industry conglomerate in petrochemicals. The Kochs bankroll the Tea Party Movement through lobby groups such as Americans for Prosperity. They founded libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, and ALEC, a legal think tank. Fred C. Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, was a founding member of the John Birch Society.
Despite the involvement of the Kochs and others, Postel said that the Tea Party Movement cannot be called purely an ‘astroturf’ or fake grassroots movement.
Postel also held that while the mass media often emphasize the Tea Party Movement’s anti-elite rhetoric, there is not very much of it on closer look. Rather, all political movements in the US since the nineteenth century have used some form of anti-elite rhetoric, out of necessity.
Blowing Up The Social Contract
For Postel, the core agenda of the Tea Party Movement is “blowing up the social contract.” While in Europe there is general agreement about the validity of some form of social contract, even among right-wing populist parties, who want to limit the beneficiaries of that social contract, Tea Partiers want to end it. To American Tea Partiers, European right-wing populist parties might look statist, which is opposite to Tea Party ideology.
Many Tea Partiers call themselves ‘tenthers,’ in reference to the Tenth Amendment, which gives established the federal system giving states all rights not granted to the federal government. Postel noted that in the US, political movements have always swung for or against states’ rights and federal rights, depending on whether the legislation in question aligned with their particular agenda.
Postel ended his talk noting that, ironically, the Tea Party Movement has nationalized politics more than anything else in the recent past.
Charles Postel is currently working on a book chapter for an anthology on the Tea Party Movement.
Here is a video from American Studies Leipzig featuring an interview with Charles Postel after his talk:
Last weekend, I attended American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports,” organized by the second year MA students. I have to say that the two days of conference were very pleasurable as a guest. Great organization, nice hosts, interesting speakers, and an impressive location: the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. Not to mention quite a bit of tasty food and beverages, which bring me back to the overall conference topic and what I should do afterwards—sports.
On the first day, the keynote speech was held by Prof. Dr. Dorothee Alfermann of the Institute for Sport Psychology and Pedagogy at the University of Leipzig on “American and German Sports from a Socio-Cultural Perspective.”
In her talk, Alfermann traced the development of sports in the US and Germany, and highlighted the very different trajectories in both countries.
While in the US, sports tends to be more about performance, competition, and record orientation, in Germany, sports as a mass phenomenon emphasizes exercise and recreational activity.
These general differences have a historical roots.
In Germany, for instance, the Turner Movement of the early nineteenth century around Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, underpinned by German nationalism, aimed at training young men for military service, while rejecting the competitive aspect of sports.
Nationalism in sports was not limited to Europe. In the late nineteenth century, Americans tried to forge their national identity in contrast to Europe, which also expressed itself in the development of own national sports, in particular baseball since the 1860s, American football, and basketball.
The organization of sports differs greatly between the US and European countries such as the UK or Germany. While schools and colleges play a central role in the US, European countries have historically organized sports around sports clubs.
One particularity of sports in the US is the combination of physical and intellectual education, embodied in college stipends for student-athletes. Sports becomes a means of getting a higher education, even though many aim for professional athletic careers.
Some similarities do exist about sports in the US and Germany today, Alfermann concluded. Sports contributes to (national) identity and produces heroes. It attracts huge crowds, is a big business, and men’s sports tend to be held in higher regard in the public eye.
More posts to follow soon.
Tomorrow I will be going to American Studies Leipzig’s third graduate conference, organized by the second year MA students.
This year’s topic is “Global Games, Global Goals: Locating America in the Cultural, Social, and Political Realms of Sports.”
As the website describes it, the conference
will explore different notions of sports in a forum integrating students and professionals. Since sports touches upon many aspects of life such as politics, media, popular culture, history, and health, it offers a myriad of possible research foci. In fact, American sports and sport lifestyle(s) influence cultures around the world while simultaneously being subject to influences from other cultures as well. The study of sports within an American context is thus not limited to the national level: Sports organizations, sports gear enterprises, and athletes of all possible types operate internationally, making the topic of sports highly relevant on a global scale.
As a ‘veteran’ conference organizer (I was part of the organizing team in 2010), I am of course very excited to see how this year’s MA class manages to pull it all off. I am confident in this year’s organizing team, as the previous conferences went quite well.
I am also curious about the presentations and certain to learn about many aspects of sports that I had not thought about earlier. If I find the time, I will put up some more posts after the weekend.
On Sunday, I attended the reading by Iranian American writer Parochista Khakpour, supported by the US Consulate Leipzig.
Khakpour was born in Tehran in 1978 and raised in the Greater Los Angeles Area.
At the Leipzig Book Fair, Parochista Khakpour read excerpts from her debut novel Sons and Other Flammable Objects (Grove, 2007), which is set in suburban California of the late 1980s and deals with questions of identity among Iranian immigrants to the US and their children. The negotiation and struggles of identity, both Iranian and American, is a key theme of the novel, and Khakpour noted that the figure of her father is central to treating this issue in her work.
Khakpour also presented some excerpts from an autobiographical essay titled “Camel Ride, Los Angeles, 1986,” originally published in Guernica, an online “magazine of art and politics.” In the essay, she describes the traumatic experience of being taken to a camel ride in the Los Angeles Zoo by her father.
Parochista Khakpour also spent a semester in Germany in the Winter Term 2011/2012 as Picador professor at American Studies Leipzig and worked on various writing projects. Khakpour remarked that writing about identity in a foreign country gives an author a different perspective, that she liked Leipzig as a city very much, and made friends while there.
Currently she is working on her second novel and a number of essays.
The US Consulate Leipzig is present at the Leipzig Book Fair this year with a booth in hall 4, E301, and it supports a number of authors and performers from the US and dealing with US-related topics.
Among the featured artists are:
- American writer David Guterson (Seattle), Ed King.
- American writer Holly-Jane Rahlens (New York/Berlin), Everlasting.
- American writer Jaimy Gordon (Baltimore), Lord of Misrule.
- American writer Jeffery Deaver (Glen Ellyn, Illinois), Carte Blanche.
- American Indian singer/songwriter Mitch Walking Elk, There Will Be No Surrender.
- Iranian American writer Parochista Khakpour (Picador Guest Professor at the University of Leipzig 2011-2012).
- American poet Peter Gizzi (Holyoke, Massachusetts, USA)
- Tobias Endler (Heidelberg Center for American Studies), After 9/11: Leading Political Thinkers about the World, the U.S. and Themselves.
The full list can be found here (.pdf).
Please note that not all events take place at the fair ground. For details, see the pdf document.
I am certainly going to attend some readings between Thursday and Sunday. As I am particularly interested in US politics, I hope I can make it to the 9/11 reading.