a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Issue #2 (July 15, 2009)

By the Cuyahoga River, Kent Ohio

Photo by Mike Safran.

From the drawers of Joe Carducci…

Something odd about the reporting from Urumqi that lines up with what I’ve noticed generally about news coverage of conflicts overseas. There’s no racism involved. No matter the bodycount: None. The newsmedia seems to reserve the term “Racism” for America. It doesn’t seem to matter what the Han think of the Hui, the Uighurs or the Tibetans, or how heavily they sit on their cultural or national aspirations, or how many of them they kill. “Ethnic tension,” well that‘s to be expected. You can say the Hutu and the Tutsi in Rwanda aren’t racist for what that’ll get you. But the Chinese, as contemporary citizens of a classical civilization, do have the cultural arrogance -- a wounded one at that -- that can lead to what you’d have to call racism. But it’s not called that by the American and British press because I suppose that in and of itself could be considered racist. And though they don‘t echo the Chinese press’s blaming of exiled Muslim terrorists, the NYT, WSJ and others did dutifully ID Xinhua’s Dalai Lama-of-East Turkestan, Rebiya Kadeer, a mother of eleven who in her spare time became the richest woman in China doing laundry.

The best known Chinese cultural export, the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), tracks with the outlines of old Hollywood cross-race romances -- the Manchu princess kills herself at the end, leaving her lover -- a Xinjiang bandit likely a Hui or Uighur -- to grieve. The western twist, courtesy of James Schamus and Ang Lee, is to have the “high race” character sacrifice herself, although in the original novel she only fakes her death. In the classical Hollywood narrative it was the “low race” who died to save the “high race” lover who was left to fully relish his nobility reflected in the low lover’s submission to it.

Today there is motion in Chinese culture and the new middle class has interest in travel, and ethnicity, but there is still a hair trigger xenophobia that is stoked by the state as often as it is suppressed. My sister has studied, worked, and traveled in China since 1986, and her Chinese friends in Shanghai and Beijing couldn’t comprehend her interest in seeing Tibet or Xinjiang. They considered those people “dirty.” Her Fudan U. room-mate move to the U.S. and after fifteen years here understands that interest.

The original trigger of a supposed rape of a Han woman by a Uighur man certainly sounds familiar to Americans as the classic pretext of a riot or lynching. The Chinese media found the woman and she claimed she merely stepped into a room occupied by Uighur men and let out an involuntary cry and left -- I bet that sounds familiar to black men in American -- but the Han men who heard her did beat several of those non-rapist Uighur men to death.

Monday’s FT reports on India’s fear “that Beijing is extending its power to control shipping lanes in the indian Ocean and Arabian Sea -- waves that it prefers to rule.” Like Russia, China is just not a good neighbor; Russia lost many of its internal colonies when the Soviet Union collapsed, but China still has its internal colonies, and covets Taiwan and, if certain Chinese academic mapmaking historiography is to be believed, North Korea and parts of Mongolia and Siberia. Excuse me but I didn’t finish college, is this all in post-colonial studies’ purview?

Iranians are the inheritors of a similarly classical civilization. And yet they make up barely half the population; other groups are Azeris, Arabs, Turkmen, Baluchis, and Kurds. Perhaps there’s some ethnic tension here too. The reporting about their election that turned into street demonstrations and repression, doesn’t even broach the subject. One is left to wonder whether the split is rural/urban as in Thailand and Italy, or tribal as in Kenya and Ukraine, or is it something unique? If its unique that might be because sophisticated Tehran is largely Shi’a which is a pre-modern blood-line vision of Islam, in contrast to Sunni’s clerical meritocracy. I foresee further trouble.

In Ukraine, the east has been so Russified that those votes might just as soon vote to secede and join Russia. And so the dynamic there has the eastern vote blocking western votes for integration with Europe and NATO. The Orange revolution was achieved by round-the-clock street demonstrations which succeeded in reversing an election apparently stolen by Viktor Yanukovych with the connivance of Putin and the FSB who recommended vote-fraud when they failed in their bid to kill his opponent, Viktor Yushchenko, by poison. I thought that first handshake between Putin and Yushchenko after the reversed election was great theater; I imagine Putin was doped up on every known antidote from the FSB medicine cabinet.

The violence that followed the election in Kenya was initiated by the Luo tribe whose candidate Raila Odinga had the election stolen by the sitting President, Mwai Kibaki from the Kikuyu tribe. The theft was obvious and in dramatic disconnect with the parliamentary results that favored Odinga’s party. The Luo were left with having to lump it, or dramatize that the cost to the Kikuyu would be high, even if it would be paid largely by themselves. This violence might be said to have been in necessary defense of democracy. It succeeded in forcing Odinga into a coalition government but those who got him half his victory will now be named by Kofi Annan to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court. Good thinking by the Right-Thinking folks at your U.N.

Saturday’s WSJ describes “China’s Ethnic Fault Lines” and how the regime cooks the official statistical breakdown, claiming that 91% of China’s population is Han -- the rest split between 55 minority groups. Dru Gladney writes, “The supposedly homogenous Han speak eight mutually unintelligible languages…” Linguistically speaking, China is a Europe, rather than a single country. Europe was held together by Rome and the Pope until wrenching wars tore the empires apart, and then with the collapse of the Soviet Union evolutionary changes began to pull the nations back into supranational formation. But the EU overreaches when it does anything more than streamline trade. Its technocratic center in Brussels is not politically accountable and so gets into trouble in country after country as it grabs for state-like prerogatives. China does reveal evidence of its latent “Warring States” constituent pieces when Beijing steps in whenever local provincial corruption gets exposed by horrific disasters like such as the Aids-tainted blood scandal, earthquakes, poisoned baby formula, mine explosions, etc. Maoism no longer holds this supranational entity together and the Party seems to be encouraging religion, especially Christianity, as Islam is tied to Xinjiang, and Buddhism is tied to Tibet and the now outlawed Falun Gong.

When it looked like Iraq was going to fly apart I thought that maybe the realists were right to advise investing nothing in democratization projects, even when they seem to serve our national interests. But a nuclear arms race in the Islamic world might be something worth avoiding at any cost. It’s a little too tempting a form of martyrdom for them to resist, I’m thinking, and since as Al Gore states our number one concern is global warming and any nuclear exchange between or betwixt Shi‘a, Sunni, Jew, Hindu, and/or Chi-com might raise temperatures another 0.114C in Tennessee we may are being called on to stop it now.

The United States in any case is put on the hook for these calamities by elements of the left and right, as well as by the news media -- both CNN and Michael Jackson pulled us into Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia in 1985 though they were Soviet bloc basket-cases. I’m agnostic on American involvement in these rescues and wars, but its no surprise that its us on the hook. We are the isolated neutral; the only possible trusted arbiter. The British, France, Russia, India, China, are all distrusted by neighbors or ex-colonies. This is resented and so a kind of anti-American bluff is touted loudly, but it isn’t real, or to the point anyway. France’s third-way was vaporized at the fall of the Soviet Union. They began to speak of the American hyper-power during the Clinton administration. That was only the geo-political surface of their unease. Underneath that was their truly frightening sense that America had got its act together on race. All the proud European nations that had to accept American aid for decades after WWII, took a covert, or not so covert, satisfaction in the brutal racism of America. The news through the fifties and sixties seemed to confirm Soviet propaganda which trumpeted incidents of racism in the south and in northern cities as proof of the terminal sickness of capitalism.

But the dynamism of the American economy, where new players and new sectors rise quickly to challenge or eliminate seeming behemoths (ITT, IBM, GM…), has a cultural impact as well. The achievements of black individuals sink roots and get marketed and their examples mainstream quickly. The integration of sports and military service probably accomplished the most in the modern era and then the history of American music in the twentieth century is a further train of accommodation. The American left credits the Supreme Court above all as if all progress was top down from the point of 1954. But there wasn’t that much more work to be done after four hundred plus years of living together, or at least next to each other, in the new world. Perhaps the heavy immigration of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century actually retarded racial progress as the country accepted large numbers of Catholics and Jews from Ireland and Eastern and Southern Europe. It took these new Americans of recent European heritage fifty years to even accept European intermarriage. My parents marriage was a form of rebellion for each of them and their parents (his Italian, hers German) took it for that I’m sure, despite both families being Catholic.

When I moved back to Chicago from L.A. in 1986 I watched and read the local news including the Defender. I also listened to Lu Palmer’s radio show on WVON. Palmer, more than any one individual had convinced Harold Washington to run for Mayor. Once in office Washington had to distance himself from Palmer because he wanted to administer City Hall as something more than a black machine. Palmer used to reject the circumlocution “African-American” for his own construction, “I am an African in America.” This he’d pronounce calmly in the most patient voice imaginable. When one of the black activists went round-the-bend over the Jews, Washington distanced himself further from these street pols of the south side. Palmer explained over the radio that he couldn’t tell whether there was hate in the heart of Steve Cokely but that he could stand by his brother. Cokely lost his job in the city administration as I recall.

I saw Palmer get off the bus outside of the Huddle House diner at North & Ashland one morning. The Rostenkowski ward was now majority Hispanic and the Washington forces were working to take it from the Vrdolyak 29 and finally take control of City Hall. (It was damn hard to avoid being registered to vote in Chicago back then!) I asked if he was Lu Palmer, and he looked over and saw me wearing a Blackhawks sweatshirt and answered guardedly, “Yes,” as if he expected God-knows-what to follow. I said, “You do a good show.” and he nodded and smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Today in America, racism suffers a kind of inflation, because there is so little of it. This inflation will be on display this week as the Sotomayor nomination hearings proceed. The racism she and her backers will talk about wouldn’t raise an eyebrow outside our borders where they still dream of final solutions and redrawn borders. Here, thankfully, its a question of etiquette or respect. Meanwhile it’s become clear to the French that they are where America was decades ago, and they do not have a way for immigrants to become Frenchmen and women. It’s true of the rest of European nations as well. And they hate us for that, and though they were all for Barrack Obama last year, they hate us for our President today as well. We’ve set the bar quite high.

The newsmedia in this country is conflicted, and as they take their cues from the BBC and the Economist they aren’t likely to figure it out anytime soon. It takes Dorothy Rabinowitz of the WSJ to say something as called-for as, “We must face the truth about ourselves, no matter how pleasant.”

[First inset photo: US Embassy Commercial Section, Beijing, May 15, 1999. photo: Chris Carlsen]


And speaking of race, Brett Ratner, film producer and director, has launched a boutique publishing company with one of the better car-wrecks of what might be called white-negro lit, James Toback’s “Jim: The Author’s Self-Centered Memoir on the Great Jim Brown”. Toback (noted film producer, director, writer, actor) was a classic early seventies male libertine in the years before feminism got traction, and his book is dated in a good way. It’s a nice little book production, though expensive. When the movement’s best white allies were this self-absorbed over blackness you really have to marvel at the patience of black folk. ((Caution: Never mind the ‘N’ word, Toback loves the word Spook.))


Meanwhile, in Alligator, Mississippi...


Mike Hynson of “The Endless Summer”; the rest of the story.
When surfing isn’t buzz enough.


Economist Robert H. Frank wrestles with Adam Smith and Charles Darwin from Sunday’s NYT. He doesn’t mention Marx or Kropotkin but I think Freud might say that brain-workers feel threatened by body-workers, intellectuals by businessmen, and everyone but Jesus took what he could get.


After you read my books, read Bruce’s novel, Sub-Hollywood;
with luck he’ll finish another one.


Short list of words to avoid: Notion… and, uh…, Notion.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

Along the Crest of the Verdugo Mountains

Photo by Chris Collins

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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