Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Red Atlantis Again

“Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking – A Memoir of Food and Longing,” by Anya Von Bremzen, 2013

This is not really a cookbook, although there are some classic Soviet recipes at the back.  It is more a social history that focuses on food. It is filled with conventional anti-Soviet clichés most U.S. readers are used to – some true, some not.  Von Bremzen’s ‘boho’ mother was very anti-Soviet and her hostility is one side of the book.  In a visit back to Moscow in 2011 on “Victory Day,” she complains about ‘tanks and banks’ in ‘Putinland.’  There is no parallel reference to the more numerous tanks or bigger banks of the U.S.  Both author and mother seem to be apolitical people at bottom.
Food Politics

But the other side is the author’s very real social nostalgia growing up in the Brezhnev 1960s and 1970s as a ‘sad-eyed bulimic’ young girl, even attending an elite school just outside Stalin’s old dacha in the Kuntsevo Woods.  It is a look into how mostly urban people in Moscow lived during the workers’ state period. Given Anya’s grandfather was a functionary in naval intelligence, they probably lived a bit better than most. She and her mother emigrated from the USSR to the U.S. in 1974.

Food is central to Anya, though she was brought up on piano lessons, Rachmaninoff, Tolstoy and Pushkin. Von Bremzen writes about the various editions of ‘The Book of Tasty and Healthy Food,’ the enduring Soviet cookbook and their “Joy of Cooking,” initiated by Anastas Mikoyan.  She comments on the joyous 6th International Youth Festival during the ‘thaw’ under Khrushchev as well as her beloved Moscow Central Market, a former farmer’s market, now a high-end bourgeois mall.  The book covers Red October Chocolate and the rest of the products produced by the USSR’s food industry, some of which still exist. 

After leaving the USSR, she and her mother invite ex-Soviet friends over to their apartment in Philadelphia for special events in which they try to recreate a typical Soviet meal for each decade, pre-revolutionary to glasnost.  This forms the food structure of the book.

Food, of course, is central to human and daily life, and its production is key to how a society functions.  In the USSR, because of the vast number of ethnicities and nationalities, the variety of possible foods was huge.  Besides Russian staples there was wine from the Caucasus; Sovetskoye champagne; Moldavian kebabs and feta strudel; central Asian quail pilaf; Kalmyk tea; Ukrainian borscht and sausage; a Georgian stew called chanakhi and a creamy walnut-sauced chicken called satvisi,; Armenian dolmas; Abkhazian apples and corn mush; Lithuanian sakotis cake; Koland melons; Korean kimchi (chim-che); Azerbaijani sturgeon salad; Byelorussian herbal vodka; Crimean fruit; Dangestan brandies; Baltic herring rolls.  

But at the same time, because consumer goods were low on the bureaucrats’ priority list, food was limited or of low quality, so a black market and informal ‘bhat’ relations formed to provide what the state would not.  With the looming end of the USSR under Gorbachev, food almost disappeared in cities as normal supply channels collapsed.  When Anya and her mother immigrated to the U.S., their ‘First Supermarket Experience’ in the U.S. was epic, given the choices.  But they also found U.S. food to be plentiful but tasteless or bland.  Russian black bread made ‘Wonder Bread” seem pathetic.  Tangy Sovok mayonnaise showed ‘Hellmans’ to be substandard. Soviet sosiski were more flavorful than American ‘hot dogs.’

Von Bremzen tells some valuable family stories and retails some facts:
The cloth strait jacket - heavy, hot , hard to see and move, hard to wear.

*  On March 8, International Women’s Day, 1927 in Tashkent, 10,000 Uzbek women threw off their veils (a massive shroud of heavy horsehair) and burned them.  One of Von Bremzen’s Communist feminist relatives was there.  After that Muslim traditionalists raped and murdered some of these women for this act of rebellion.
*  Mikoyan (who she calls the ‘Red Aunt Jemima’) went to the U.S. and brought back the idea of the hamburger but without the bun, which became the ubiquitous Soviet kotleta.  He also introduced the ‘Eskimo pie’ to the USSR.  And then there was kornfleks and even ketchup.
*  The ruling nomenklatura had plenty of high-quality food, their own cooks, supply chains and farms.  According to evidence, Stalin became quite the gluttonous gourmand.  Though how that compares with the diets of today’s U.S. or Russian billionaire oligarchs is unsaid.
*  Russia turned away from Islam because Islam forbade alcohol, including the culturally significant vodka.  In 988 the king of the Rus adopted the Byzantine Eastern Orthodox Church, which allowed booze.
*  The limitations of communal living in the cities were not so much in the ‘communal’ as in the tiny spaces that people had.  They slept on aluminum cots (raskladushka) in hallways, in kitchens, in closets and had no privacy.  It took years before Khrushchev and later Brezhnev began building identical apartment blocks that had a bit more room, but these were not in the central city areas.
*  The old Bolsheviks were quite abstentious in their food habits.  Lenin was against the working class drinking alcohol. Wiser heads prevailed and the alcohol tax monopoly was reintroduced in the 1920s.
*  Von Bremzen’s grandfather in naval intelligence confirmed the evidence that Stalin ignoring multiple warnings of a surprise German attack in 1941.  This led to 750,000 casualties, 3 million Soviet soldiers captured and Nazi armies at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow.  This ‘mistake’ almost ended the USSR.
*  Recycling was common in the land of the Soviets.
*  She retails the Sovok traditions of drinking vodka, which she calls ‘co-bottling’ – done in 3s, never alone, with a zakuska (appetizer) of sorts.
*  She asserts that ‘multi-culturalism’ - actually the right to self-determination for each nationality written into the USSR’s constitution - ultimately blew up the Soyuz (Union).  Historically, no national votes took place, only a meeting between Yeltsin and 2 other republic leaders.
Zakuski (Appetizers)

This book suggests that had if Soviets had paid more attention to the consumer sector instead of the military sector – i.e. music, clothes and especially living spaces and food - they might have maintained support among the working-class and rural farm populations.  According to Von Bremzen, standing queues (stoyat) are where people socialized, and quite plainly their discussions were not complimentary to the food regime.

Von Bremzen includes recipes for:  Salat Olivier, potato salad with pickles; Kulbiaka, pastry filled with fish, rice and mushrooms; Chanakhi, stew of lamb, herbs and vegetables; Super Borshch, soup with beef, mushrooms, apples and beans;  Blini, pancakes with the trimmings. 

Other reviews on the USSR:  Travel series on St. Petersburg/ Leninsburg/ Leningrad.  Books: “How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin,” “Reinventing Collapse,” “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” “Secondhand Time,” “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” “Soviet Women.” Event: “Slavs and Tatars.”

P.S. Vegetarianism was frowned upon in the USSR.  A ‘vegetarian society’ was established in 1901 with influence from people like Leo Tolstoy, but in 1929 it was outlawed.  The Great Soviet Encyclopedia called vegetarianism a ‘false idea’ with ‘no followers’ in the USSR.’  The word itself disappeared from Russian dictionaries.  At that time, vegetarianism meant more than just not eating meat – it was pacifist and semi-political too, so it was seen as threatening.

And I bought it at May Day’s excellent used/cutout book section!
The Kulture Kommissar
February 20, 2019

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Rebellious Little Bird

Monroeville, Alabama & To Kill a Mockingjay

Monroeville is a town in the southwest part of Alabama, below Montgomery and above Mobile.  It is the literary capital of the state, made famous by the most popular work of U.S. fiction according to a 2018 poll on PBS – “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Nelle Harper Lee.  It was her home town and also the childhood home of Truman Persons (Capote,) her next door neighbor.  Capote was the writer of “In Cold Blood,” “Breakfast at Tiffanys” and many stories and a few novels, including another hidden, supposedly true-crime ‘non-fiction novel,’ “Music for Chameleons.”
The Old Courthouse - Nicest Building in Town

A visit to Monroeville gives you an idea of why Nelle left, though reading “Go Set A Watchman,” her first book, also explains her move to New York City. As anyone who has lived in a small town will tell you, they are ‘small’ in more ways than one.  Monroeville is a typical rural town, whose old town square remains with a selection of stately homes stretching out beyond it.  At the same time it is overrun on its south-side by chain stores and the 1960s concrete-block car-culture of gas stations, fast food joints, automobile repair shops and car-part stores.  The line of cars at the local McDonald’s drive-through window tells the tale.

I asked at the Chamber of Commerce if the county was dry, as I had not seen a bar or roadhouse after my long, thirsty drive.  They kindly pointed me to the Mexican restaurants out of downtown.  It seems only Mexicans would think of drinking here …

There is no bookstore in Monroeville, though I was told some books are sold out of an antique store down the block from the town square, the location of the old county courthouse and also the new county courthouse.  The old county courthouse and museum is well preserved, stately and run by the historical society.  It was the setting for the trial in Mockingbird and also the model for the set in the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck, who stayed at a hotel just off the town square that is now the library.  Nelle and Truman, given the paucity of entertainment in so tiny a burg, enjoyed watching trials from the court balcony.  This balcony was made famous by the book as the place where African-Americans were allowed to view the proceedings.

The Lee house and the Faulk house, where Truman was dumped on relatives by his mother, were on South Alabama Avenue, two blocks from the town square.  Both houses no longer exist.  The Lee’s is an ice cream drive-in, the Faulks, some rubble rock walls in an empty lot.  Boo Radley’s house two doors down is also gone under a gas station. But there is some truth in the Boo story, as one of Nell’s neighbor kids was kept in the house by his strict father as punishment for breaking some windows. 

I visited the courthouse museum and took pictures, while talking to a volunteer and a staff member.  I had not seen a copy of Lee’s early work, “Go Set A Watchman” in the gift shop, although numerous copies of Mockingbird were spied, so I asked if they had one.  They had one, seemingly under the counter.  The volunteer told me there is a coldness in town towards the female attorney of the Lee estate who allowed publication of that book in 2015.  The attorney does not visit the courthouse museum, perhaps because of that coldness.  And so Maycomb, ah, Monroeville continues.

Now “Go Set A Watchman,” (full review below) is more of a personal description by Nelle of her time in Monroeville, including some first encounters with a boy which do not go well and her arguments with her father.  Her father, a.k.a. Atticus Finch, was actually a segregationist who believed black people were ‘children.’  He supported segregation, opposed black voting rights and attended White League meetings, though he said it was ‘just to keep an eye’ on the real racists.  So the reveal of the book was that the educated white middle class of the south were not ‘saviors’ but part of the oppressive system of Jim Crow.  This is one of the secrets of Monroeville's middle class. 

Finch, a lawyer, does defend an African-American man unjustly accused of rape by a white girl from a destitute white family outside town, the Ewells.  Nell explains their shabby financial situation in Mockingbird.  So ‘equality before the law,’ a liberal standard, is upheld in Mockingbird.  But the laws of Jim Crow – and there were many – were not questioned by her father.  After all, many times the worst crimes are those embedded in the law.  The class question that comes to mind is if the ‘slatternly’ Ewell girl had been a member of one of the prominent business families in town, would the trial would have gone quite the way it did?  I doubt it. 
Harper thinking about Monroeville

The volunteer told me not to read ‘that’ book (Watchman) while the staff member said she considered it more badly written than Mockingbird (true…) and a ‘prequel / sequel’ to the second book.  I told them that I had a different take on the Watchman book than they, as it is far more truthful than the later glossy version.  From their unease in this discussion, I did not ask the second question, perhaps even more embarrassing to Monroeville.  Was Nelle Harper Lee a lesbian?  This is a common question, and almost no one who looks into this issue thinks she was heterosexual. 

She / Scout grew up a ‘tomboy,’ didn’t get along well with the Monroeville boys, hung around with an effeminate male friend Dill who became a famously gay friend Truman, wore baggy pants throughout her life, dated once or twice, never married, didn’t wear makeup or jewelry, … so the suspicion is there.  It is seems to be the sub-text of her life. There will be no absolute proof, but the evidence is multiple.  Even using the pen name of “Harper” as a first name suggests a male author, which might be beneficial in a male-run industry, but also indicates something else.  Being a closeted lesbian from a small bible-belt southern town in the 1950s must have been suffocating. I spared the ladies their feelings.

All of which explains why Nelle moved to New York when she was able, got a job as an airline ticket agent and began writing Watchman for 8 years, before her publisher friends told her to just concentrate on the trial story.  And so she did.

P.S. - I have a suspicion the writer of the "Hunger Games" series was aware of the potency of the 'mocking' bird in southern life and literature, but realized it needed a bit of a punch.

Other reviews on this topic, below: "Go Set A Watchman," "White Trash," "Southern Cultural Nationalism," "The Neo-Confederate States," "Struggle & Progress," "Why the South Lost the Civil War," "Hunger Games."  Use blog search box, upper left, to find these articles.

The Cranky Yankee
February 15, 2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Feast or Famine?

“The Hedonism Handbook – Mastering the Lost Arts of Leisure and Pleasure,” by Michael Flocker, (2004)

The author’s name reminds me of a movie.  “Hey, Flocker!” 

At any rate, the reason I read this book is to answer the question, is this the new “Right to Be Lazy” that was written by Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law so long ago?  Or the new manifesto from the Situationist Internationale? Or just some middle-class comedic fantasy?  Lafargue’s book was written in 1883.  It addressed workers as to the benefits of a ‘slow-down’ in the work process and for them to turn to socialism.  Even in the 1800s, labor was constantly under the whip of long, long hours, hammering assembly lines, child labor and tyrannical bosses.  This was the period of the ‘Protestant’ work ethic utilized by capital, which meant that the only good worker was an exhausted worker. 
The Middle or Upper Class Version

Today, as the U.S. has become the most workaholic society on the globe, the issue remains the same.  Short or no vacations, high-intensity labor, consistent short-staffing, digital connectivity 16 hours a day, the need to work overtime to make more money, or the need to work 2-3 jobs – it all adds up to a tiring shit-storm.  Many white collar workers are slaves to software and hardware, which controls their work pace.  Then there is the possibly long, ugly commute home.  And if you go home and take care of children?  The second unpaid shift starts. No time, as they say.  No time at all. 

Hedonism Handbook
Flocker is the New York-based author of the “Metrosexual Guide to Style,” and at one time did red-carpet events and celebrity interviews - all of which should produce suspicion.  But he’s a funny tongue-in-cheek writer, making whoopee out of our over-worked society in clever and insouciant ways.   He’s sort of a junior Tom Wolfe, though he aspires to be Gore Vidal. The succinct description of this book is ‘Ape the rich, but not too much! You see, he’s a ‘Great Gatsby’ kind of guy. He uses Aveda hair control paste, if you must know.

As he doesn’t know, different classes have to ‘relax’ in different ways.  He does have a section on the working stiffs in cubes and workplaces, advocating doing the essential and not everything.   But I suspect this section is mostly aimed at harried managers.  He is especially an opponent of perfectionism – the idea that you have to be perfectly good, which is perfectly stupid.  Behind this is the dim understanding that your work is not your life – it’s a job, you are being used, so stop trusting the outfit you work for.  Do what you need to get the job done. The impact of the book goes beyond setting up one room in your house as an ‘Oriental’ opium boudoir smacking of French Colonial rule, which he suggests – perhaps with his tongue stuck right through his cheek.  Reading the book might get a regular ol’ wage worker to back-off and jack-down the hurry and laugh instead.
The Original Thing

Lafargue on the other hand wasn’t advising the tired factory owner, businessman or country land lord to sleep past noon, drink more champagne, visit his mistress or contemplate the natural marvels of his estate, as Flocker does for the modern ‘lords.’ Lafargue wrote his essay against the ‘right to work’ idea pushed on wage workers, which was a dialectical corrective to the worship of work pushed by the capitalists of the time and even by some leftists.  Lafargue spoke against the ‘dogma of work’ which made humans into ‘machine slaves.’ 

Lafargue enjoined workers to ‘enjoy,’ not to suffer like the Christian parsons encouraged.  Work was supposedly a cure for sin and vices according the capitalists and the church.  Hunger was even embraced by a priest of the Anglican Church as a boon to work. Holidays were suppressed.  Ultimately this love of suffering led to drained human beings and physical damage.  Lafargue opposed bourgeois moralism and set against it the Cooperative Commonwealth, where “human passions will have free play.” 

Flocker also notices the repressive and hectoring spirit of religion, especially the role of Christianity in the U.S., still a promoter of workaholism.  But he does not name the sprite behind it all, capital.  After all, the enthusiastic pats on the back might stop if he took that tack.  At this point in developed capitalist societies there is so much food, possible luxury, commodities, entertainment, booze and drugs that 'hedonism' has become the subtext of the whole consumer culture. 

The overwhelming misery of factory and associated work in Lafargue’s time was christened ‘progress.’  And indeed it was – for some.  So while Marx and Engels understood that labor actually created human beings, Lafargue added that too much labor results in destruction.  The point of communism shared by them all was to abolish overwork and to use the technology and science developed by capital to reduce working hours to a rational minimum.  Lafargue figured about 3 hours a day, with the rest reserved for ‘leisure and feasting’ instead of the ‘religion of abstinence.’ 

Of course, not every class was working that much.  As Lafargue notes: 
“The women of fashion live a life of martyrdom, in trying on and showing off the fairy-like toilets which the seamstresses die in making.”  
“To fulfill his double social function of non-producer and over-consumer, the capitalist was not only obliged to violate his modest taste, to lose his laborious habits of two centuries ago and to give himself up to unbounded luxury, spicy indigestibles and syphilitic debauches, but also to withdraw from productive labor an enormous mass of men in order to enlist them as his assistants.”
Things have not changed that much.  But his point is that we should not let the upper classes ‘own’ time.

As can be seen in the U.S., capitalist automation, artificial intelligence, cybernetics and computerization result in overwork for the employed.  For displaced wage workers they now have to get 2-3 jobs, hipsterly called ‘gigs’ or ‘side hustles.’  (Oooh!  How cool!)  This is an obvious contradiction that is worrying the policy wonks of capital even now, so they have come up with the warehousing placebo, the Universal Basic Income (UBI). 

The working class has little alternative but to work in order to survive.  However, we should raise our heads above the grindstone and see who created this situation and why it shouldn’t continue.

Other reviews on this topic: ‘In Letters of Fire and Blood,’ ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft,’ ‘Time Wars,’ ‘Marxism and the Oppression of Women,’ ‘The Precariat,’ ‘Modern De Facto Slavery,’ ‘Marxism is Abolitionism,’ ‘Factory Days / Office Lights,’ ‘New Dark Age.’  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at the library!
The Kulture Kommissar
February 12, 2019

Friday, February 8, 2019

Maoism in Retrospect

“You Say You Want a Revolution – SDS, PL and Adventures in Building a Worker-Student Alliance,” edited by John Levine and Earl Silbar (2019)

This is a book of remembrances by 23 activists from different U.S. cities radicalized by the 1960s and their involvement with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Progressive Labor Party (PL).  PL was for a time the official Maoist organization in the U.S., which happened when it split from the Communist Party in the early 1960s.  This is the first book that concentrates on PL, adding to a number of books on the New Communist Movement, RU/RCP, the SWP and the CLP in the 1960s and 1970s.

The book’s value is in the individual, but at the same time, common stories they share.  The amount of useful left-wing work described here is extraordinary – the first demonstration against the Vietnam war; the first trip to Cuba; the formation of the first anti-imperialist student organization, M2M; PL’s strong role in campus SDS, an example being the San Francisco State strike; activism in the reactionary U.S. south; opposition to HUAC; work at a GE plant and glancing references to Bill Epton and the Harlem Rebellion.   The list is multiple. 

But Not Like the Beatles...

There are a number of general themes.  One is the fondness most ex-members and fellow travelers seemed to have had for Mao ZeDong, a fondness that has faded or disappeared.  The second is an understanding of the difference between the more middle-class hippie counter-culture and the more working-class political protest culture of the time.  The third is the growing awareness of PL’s very undemocratic and sectarian functioning.  Very few of the writers link this to PL’s historical and ideological roots - a number think the problem might be ‘Lenin.’  No one mentions Stalin.  The concept of ultra-leftism is never mentioned either.  

Fourth is the important role PL played in their political development, a ‘basic course’ in Marxism and class understanding that countered the middle-class ‘youth’ or adventurist politics of other factions in SDS.  Most importantly, the continued participation in progressive efforts by most of these individuals gives the lie to the corporate myth that every ‘60s and ‘70s radical ‘sold out.’  They did not by a long shot.

The memoirs mostly focus on the period between 1967 to 1970, with minimal references outside that time period.  PL’s efforts in the 1970s against the war, the Detroit Mack Avenue sit-down, the Boston busing project, nationwide efforts against racist IQ tests and anti-racist / anti-fascist work in INCAR are not mentioned.  The remembrances are centered in 5 places – Texas, San Francisco, Iowa, New York and Boston.  Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, LA, Philadelphia and other cites where PL had branches are not included here. 

Like the rest of the Maoist/ Trotskyist/ Marxist/ Stalinist hard-left of the day, within PL most members and supporters did not really know what was going on outside their own city unless they read the ‘heroic’ distortions in Challenge/Desafio, PL’s newspaper.  Nor did they know what other left groups were doing, so the ability to have a national and even international organizational and political understanding was impaired. 

There is one very funny and obnoxious remembrance here, wedged in among the more straight-forward.  This is a valuable book for present activists or cadre who want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Maoist left of that day, issues which also reflect on present organizations and politics.  After all, this is not the first go-round…

Full disclosure:  I was a ‘grunt’ member of SDS/PL/WSA/INCAR from 1971 to 1978(?), then went on to join the OCIC, support the Spartacist League, join the Marcy-inspired RCL(I), join Socialist Action, join the Communist Party and lastly join LPA, then the Labor Party, before volunteering at May Day Books.  At present I see Marxism as the best approach to politics.  I'm refraining from analyzing PL from a more personal perspective in this review.

Other reviews on this topic, below:  “Heavy Radicals,” “Revolution in the Air,” “The Communist Necessity,” “A Threat of the First Magnitude,” “Maoism and the Chinese Revolution,” “Is the East Still Red,” “The Fall of Bo Xilai,” “The Rise of China.” Use blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at May Day Books! (Only Mpls. bookstore to carry this book right now!)
Red Frog
February 8, 2019

Monday, February 4, 2019

WTF Series, #2

Are ‘White’ people white?  Are ‘Black’ people black?

Actually not usually.  These are social constructs, based on racism.  First remember this biological fact:

1.     There is only one ‘race’ – the human race.  Look it up.

There is no such thing as ‘multi-racial’ or a need to check a box that asks, “What race are you?”  ‘Bi-racial,’ ‘mixed race,’ ‘interracial,’ ‘races’ and every other word or phrase that implies there are multiple races are bogus.  These commonly used words by the U.S. government, corporate HR offices, universities, the bourgeois media and even diversity liberals and ‘leftists’ just enforce racism. It was the colonial race theorists of the 1600s that insisted on there being different biological races, with different intellectual inheritances, so as to justify settlement and oppression.  The whole thing was based on bad science.

Makeup World

What we are left with visually are skin colors and some physical variations of faces, body types and height – basically trivial things given the real variations that could exist in DNA.  These latter variations also exist within different skin shades as we know. Skin shades are based on protecting the body from skin cancer in Equatorial and sunny climates, so it’s more of a geographic indicator than anything else.  Which is why the racists like to codify it and the class system likes to institutionalize it.

So are ‘white’ people really white?  Well no. Check ‘em out next time you look at one. As an example, Johnny Winter was an albino blues-rock guitar player from Texas with long white hair.  He maybe qualified as ‘white skinned’ but most ‘white’ people are not albinos. Then there are those scary white girls with ‘porcelain’ skin, who are still not really white.  Pale-faces, maybe…? So-called white people are actually mostly cream colored, beigy or light brown, sometimes badly tanned, sometimes pinkish or reddish when they get sun, a sunburn or drink too much, but they ARE NOT WHITE.

We are not including mimes, of course.  They are white.

So are all ‘black’ people really black?  Well not usually.  Most of the time so-called black people are various shades of brown, from very light to very dark.  This is no secret.  Yet Barack Obama was always called ‘black.’  He wasn’t – partly because his mother was not a Kenyan.  Are we now using the ‘50% or below’ rule to define people?  Is that a big improvement over the racist ‘1% drop of blood’ rule that was used by Jim Crow?  Same with Kamala Harris, whose parents are Indian and Jamaican.  She is already being called ‘black.’  She’s not, she’s light brown.  Look at her!  Call her ‘light brown’ if you must. Again, the 50% or below rule!

Unless you are an upper-middle class Catholic kid from Covington High School in Tennessee who wears blackface to your high school basketball game.  Then you’re black.

If you’ve noticed, Asians are not ‘yellow’ either. Where the fuck did the ‘yellow peril’ shit come from? Many Japanese or Koreans have lightly colored skin, and unless they have jaundice or are exceptionally sallow, they are not ‘yellow.’ That Japanese Mari Kondo woman could be your little ‘white’ mother!  Down towards the equator in the Philippines people get darker, and for good reason.  “East” Asians from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh are various shades of brown, to the point where some even look ‘white.’

MAC Makeup for the color-challenged

Nor are native Americans ‘red.’ After all, ‘redskin’ comes from the bloody mess left when native American heads were scalped by Europeans. (Thank you Washington NFL team for reminding us of that…) Indigenous peoples are varieties of brown, getting darker in Navajo or Apache country in the Southwest U.S., which makes sense.

Latinos are also various shades of brown from light to very dark, given the history of slavery and colonial rule over the indigenous in Latin America.  Some Latinos in Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia or Argentina – even Puerto Rico - are virtually 'light,' especially those closest to Spanish or Portuguese origins.  This is because their families did not intermarry with various indigenous or Latino-African people in Latin or Central America or the Caribbean.

The issue of parents or children with different ethnic or skin tone backgrounds doesn’t fit into the present ‘classification’ system.  Given the increased migration, transfers and mingling of peoples for years now, this system is outmoded. There is no box to check for all the variations!

Only a portrait painter or a makeup artist needs to keep track of these subtle and detailed variations in skin tones.  I’m sure they have better names for all the subtleties.  But now we have to too!  This whole racial, color-coding thing is really a SOCIAL and economic construct, a box if you will, a trap actually.  It is all bullshit.

The Cultured Marxist

Mediterranean complexion?

Athens, Georgia

February 4, 2019

Friday, February 1, 2019

WTF Series, #1

The North is Not the ‘Midwest!’

The media coverage of the polar vortex jet stream pushed south by warmer weather in the Arctic makes one consistent error.  It identifies the ‘midwest’ or the ‘upper midwest’ of the U.S. as the area most affected by the far below-zero temperatures and wind-chills.  This is common across all media – NPR, the Weather Channel, the mainstream TV news stations, the print press and internet sites. 

This idea seems to be based on the notion that anything west of the Appalachian Mountains is the ‘West’ - an idea rooted in the 1600s and 1700s when Europeans sought to colonize native American land in Ohio, west of the eastern coast.  In the modern world, this idea is flat out wrong geographically.  Look at a map.
Tell The Directionless Media About It

The Mississippi is a far more likely candidate for the real natural divider between ‘east’ and ‘west.’  The actual geographic ‘center’ of the country is near Lebanon, Kansas in the northern part of that state.  Lebanon is several hundred miles west of the Mississippi.  On this map, even the rise in elevation from the 'green' corn and soybean fields to the higher plains cow grazing areas near the Rockies is just west of the Lebanon line. “Midwest” means ‘middle of the west’ in the English language.  So by the logic of the English language, and both the natural and the geographic center of the US, the ‘midwest’ or ‘upper midwest’ is NOT Minnesota or Iowa or the Dakotas or Nebraska or Wisconsin or Michigan or Illinois or all the other stupid locations they can find. 

The ‘midwest’ is actually around Colorado, Wyoming or Utah.  The ‘upper midwest’ is more like Montana and Idaho. And this area is still in the NORTH.  And Canada?  Really, really north.

So why do they call an area that is clearly in the NORTH, the ‘midwest’?  I have an idea.  You bet I do…

Back in the good ol’ days of the un-Civil War the area above the SOUTH was called the NORTH.  Remember?  Not anymore.  Now you might hear about the ‘Northeast’ around Vermont or Maine, but more likely it’ll be ‘New England.’  You might hear about the ‘Northwest’ – being Washington and Oregon, which weren’t even in the Union in 1860.  But the NORTH has been rechristened the ‘Midwest’, the ‘upper Midwest,’ the ‘Great Lakes Region’ – anything but the NORTH.  Rarely are they even called the ‘north central states,’ though you sometimes hear ‘northern plains’ which means Montana or the Dakotas where there are plains.  Again, disappearing a whole chunk of the NORTH.  

Why have they disappeared the NORTH?  On the flip side of the coin, no one hesitates in calling Arizona and New Mexico the Southwest; Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama the South; Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas and Virginia, the South or the Southeast.  The latter 2 groups get called simply ‘the South’ a lot.  A lot! 

Now I know the Neo-Confederacy has messed up on scientific issues like climate change, vaccinations, the efficiency of chastity, the 'truth' of different human races, the dangers of marijuana, the virtues of home schooling and so many other factual issues it is hard to count.  Facts don’t matter, you see.

We can add one more – the disappearance of the NORTH as a place.  For instance, the Weather Channel is headquartered in Atlanta and seems to only briefly cover weather news outside of the South and ‘East.’ They are too busy parochially yapping about the Stupid Bowl in Atlanta to care. 

The terminology is political, not geographical.  This misuse of geography is not unique of course. The Neo-Confederates have convinced everyone else in the U.S. – except a few ‘bold northerners’ of Minnesota and maybe some others - that geography is just an opinion.  And that the north does not exist anymore.

It does.

The Cranky Yankee
Athens, Georgia
February 1, 2019

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Do You Drive on Dead Indian Road?

“An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States,” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2014)

This is a relentless history of the U.S. viewed from the perspective of the numerous native nations that once populated the land of north America.  The ‘creation’ of the U.S. is here shown to be a settler-colonial war for land.  Dunbar-Ortiz is of mixed ancestry and lived her early life on an Oklahoma reservation.  She is also a leftist and believes in native American self-determination.
Read This Book

Genocide of the indigenous was foundational to the creation of the U.S.  This might be a cliché for some, but this book fleshes that out in detail. It was done with land seizures, continual war, the mass killing of indigenous women, children and the old, the burning of villages, the destruction of crops and animals - along with bribes, fake treaties and alcohol.  Dunbar-Ortiz argues against mainstream historians who insist disease was the main culprit, or that all this was ‘legal’ or that the U.S. government wasn’t really involved. 

Prior to the arrival of the British, north America was a heavily populated land full of roads, trading routes, villages and large towns and a human-managed sustainable environment.  Deer parks, created bison ranges, massive corn, squash and bean fields, large-scale irrigation – all shared cultural attributes with the Mayan, Aztec and Incan civilizations in central and south America.  Land was not privatized, a form of communism that First Nations try to follow to this day.

Dunbar-Ortiz covers the famous and infamous of U.S. history - people like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Kit Carson and even Walt Whitman. Of interest, the British expulsion of French-speaking Acadians from Canada to Louisiana was done because they intermarried and settled with native people instead of killing them.  

Dunbar-Ortiz notes the particular role of the Protestant Scots-Irish, who were first used by the British as violent shock troops against the Catholic Irish in the northern counties of Ireland, then against native Americans.  The Scots-Irish used scalping, which is the origin of the term ‘redskin.’ Especially in the south, these same poor Scots-Irish lost the land they stole to the developing plantation system…so they moved west.

She shows how the U.S. military developed through wars against indigenous nations, then carried those methods abroad - into Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, Afghanistan.  U.S. counter-insurgency is now used across the globe in many other ‘Injun Countries.’  Understanding these methods of warfare is foundational to understanding modern imperialism.    

If you read one recent book on this topic, this is it. 

P.S. - "Dead Indian Road" is an actual road in Oregon.  There are many others like it.  It echoes that Sherman quote about 'the only good Indian..."

Other posts and reviews on this subject below:  “Loaded,” (Dunbar-Ortiz); “New Zealand Now,” “History of the World in Seven Cheap Things,”  “Drug War Capitalism,” “Sami Blood,” “Stop Tar Sands Oil…,” “Climate Emergency,” “This Changes Everything,” “Indian Country Noir,” “The Heart of Everything That Is – the Untold Story of Red Cloud,” “Empire of the Summer Moon,” “Red State Rebels.”  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I Bought It at May Day Books!  You can too…
Red Frog
January 29, 2019

Friday, January 25, 2019

TRUMP CHOKES - No pay, no work!

Sick Out Against the Shut Down!

The only force that can stop this anti-labor and illegal shutdown and lock-out is the labor movement itself – especially the workers who do the work of government.  TSA and Air Traffic controllers have the air transport system in their hands.  IRS and Social Security workers have a good chunk of the financial system in their hands.  Reported this week is that 10% of TSA workers were not reporting to work due to ‘financial’ issues.  Wednesday there were reports that many IRS workers are following suit, but also in organized protest. 
In the Palm of their Hands...

Tuesday on NPR a typically vapid interviewer talked to the head of the Georgia local of the American Federation of Government Employees.  The union ‘leader’ said nothing about the possibility of a sick-out, nor was he asked.  His only mention was that the shutdown might weaken security issues. He mentioned that the union was pointing federal workers to various charity programs.  Other airline unions yesterday questioned the issue of air safety.  The head of the Flight Attendants Union called for a general strike by the rest of labor, which was not publicized.  No doubt Trumka yawned when hearing this.

Hanging over the AFGE interview was the approach of the wretched Super Bowl in Atlanta in early February, which will result in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport being packed with wealthy fans transiting through.  Some TSA lines have already been shut down at Hartsfield because of absences, and hopefully this is a harbinger of things to come.

Vice News yesterday asked a union rep for the Virginia AFGE if they would go ‘on strike.’  The rep said it was illegal for federal workers to go on strike.  What was not asked was anything about sick outs, absences or employees working other jobs or quitting.  In other words, the interviewer and the rep ignored a tactic already being used.
A Shutdown that Ignores Labor Laws

IRS employees (30,000 of whom are still not counted in the 800,000 figure repeated by the corporate press – along with those from Social Security) are not showing up for work in Ogden, Utah and other processing centers, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.  If Social Security workers and Air Traffic Controllers also begin to ‘get sick’ or take absences, then you will see the howls seriously begin.   

It is hard for workers to leave their jobs when others are working and leave the work-load behind.  So it is incumbent that every government worker who is unpaid and working who can do it - calls in sick or takes personal time.  That is, if the decision can’t be made all at once by groups of workers.  For the AFGE, the best time would be in the days up to the Super Bowl and after.  But will the unions even suggest it under the table? It isn’t likely given the passive record of the labor tops, who are leaders who don't lead.  Sick outs and absences take the legal onus off of the union locals, and what you end up with is a ‘wildcat strike’ if it happens in quantity.   

Toothless and impotent photogenic protests in front of Congress or pointless Congressional votes, as happened yesterday, don’t work.  This shutdown is actually the living dream of Republican and libertarian political advocates who want to ‘drown the administrative state.’  If the working class stands up to Trump now in action, it will show that it is back on the stage of politics and history once again.  Shut Down Trump!  Workers Power!

P.S. - Friday afternoon, worker-hater Trump folded.  Absences of Air Traffic controllers at La Guardia led to a temporary closure of the airport.  Delays continue in Philly and Newark airports. Trump knew absences were going to snowball across the country.  To avoid having hundreds of thousands of workers ignoring him, he 're-opened the government' for 3 weeks.  This is more power than evidenced by Nancy Pelosi and the whole Democratic Party.  Next time this asshole uses a 'shutdown' as a bargaining chip, ( in 3 weeks?) NO ONE should show up from day One.  And in the very unlikely event that the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win federations stir themselves to call for a one-day protest strike nationwide ... that would be even better.  Workers Power!

The Cranky Yankee
Athens, Georgia
January 25, 2019