Saturday, April 26, 2008

A ridiculous democracy (continued)

Previously in "A ridiculous democracy"

An election in which a Democrat winner would be of especial historic significance -- either Barack Obama as the first black man, or Hillary Clinton as the first woman.

Clinton sometimes sounds like a feminist, but always piggybacks on her husband's success.

Obama, one of first African-American leaders to appeal to non-black Americans and thus be a "viable" candidate, seemed for long at pains to avoid political blaxploitation.

Not inevitable, but Clinton did, eventually, play the race card herself (or her husband did, or campaign did) (January 24).

ABC ran a report (March 13) about Obama's "anti-American" pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, evidently taking at least some quotes out of context (see video below). Making Obama anti-American by association (after all, he already is half-foreign, or Muslim, or something, so it follows logically that he must be anti-American. Because all of those folks hate America, don't they?)

Obama was forced into the difficult choice of publicly embracing/rejecting his spiritual mentor (against the backdrop of persistent questioning of his Christianity).

Obama passed test with flying colors, saying of Wright:

...he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Oddly enough, the Chicago Sun Times, which reported that Obama defended his pastor (March 26) today said he distanced himself from his pastor (April 25). And ABC, which started the Rev. Wright furore with the mishmash of soundbites, also said in yesterday's video (below) that Obama "distanced himself" but doesn't clarify from what/whom. For the record, Obama distanced himself from Wrights divisive remarks, and explicitly not from Wright the man or Wright the preacher. It's not true what they say about history being written by winners. Most of the time, it's written by bozos who can't complete a thought.

So, what it boils down to is this: America is refusing to be color-blind. When a black man runs for president as a person, and not as a black person, he is forced to address the fact that he's black. And the same America which forces him to address that fact (the media, some politicians, and sections of the electorate) compound that circumstance of birth with other similarly irrelevant circumstances, like having the DNA of someone who's Muslim. US media and politicians try to force identity politics upon those who have done everything to rise above it. This is the tragedy of racism in America.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bisphenol-A in your kitchen?

Image source: The New York Times

It's not as if we need more reasons to say no to plastic, but anyway, here goes! There is no question that Bisphenol-A (BPA) leaches from containers into liquid and solid foods. Experiments on rats suggest BPA poses a potential cancer risk and accelerated puberty. Researchers are only now beginning to monitor people's exposure to BPA. It's not easy to tell what plastics in your kitchen do or don't contain BPA. In the circumstances, the best way to take responsibility for your own health is to follow the steps excerpted below (click here to read the whole article):

How do I lower my exposure?

Switch to frozen or fresh vegetables. Use glass, porcelain and stainless-steel containers, particularly for hot foods and liquids. If you don’t want to use a glass baby bottle, several companies, including the popular brand Born Free, now sell BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups. For formula-fed babies, you can switch to powdered formula rather than liquid.

Although many plastic products claim to be microwave safe, some scientists warn against putting any plastic in the microwave. “There is such a wide variety now, from disposable containers to actual Tupperware,” says Dr. Anila Jacob, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I don’t know of anyone who has done definitive testing of all these different types of plastic containers to see what is leaching into food.”

Good luck keeping plastic out of your body and life. If you know anything about BPA in toothbrushes, or if you have general plastic-avoidance strategies to share, please leave a comment.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Shifting the dream

Here's an old favorite REM song, from New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It always reminds me of Geraldine Page's character in Interiors walking into the sea until she disappears.


Nothing could be bring me closer.
Nothing could be bring me near.
Where is the road I follow
To leave it, leave?

It's under, under, under my feet.
The sea spread out there before me.
Where do I go when the land touches sea?
There is my trust in what I believe.

That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me down,
To leave it, believe it,
Leave it all behind.

Shifting the dream
Nothing could bring me further from my old friend time.
Shifting the dream
It's charging the scene
I know where I marked the signs.

I suffer the dreams of a world gone mad
I like it like that and I know it
I know it well, ugly and sweet,
I temper madness with an even extreme.

That's what keeps me
That's what keeps me
That's what keeps me down
I say that I'm a lightweight
I say that I'm a airplane
That never left the ground.

That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me down,
To leave it, believe it.
Leave it all behind.

Lift me, lift me,
I attain my dream.
I lost myself, I lost the
Heartache calling me.
I lost myself in sorrow
I lost myself in pain.
I lost myself in clarity,
Memory, leave, leave.

That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me down,
To leave it, believe it,
Leave it all behind.

That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me,
That's what keeps me down,
To leave it, believe it,
Leave it all behind.

Lift my hands, my eyes are still,
I'll walk into the sea
Shoot myself in a different place
And leave it

I've longed for this to take me,
I've longed for my release
I've waited for the callin'
To leave, leave.

Leave, leave.
Leavin', leavin'

Friday, April 18, 2008

Poetry and politics

Image source: Reuters

I learned about the poet Aimé Césaire unfortunately late in my life -- during my second stint in grad school (thanks, Sue O'Brien!). Césaire was born in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, in 1913.

Césaire met the Senegalese writer Léopold Sedar Senghor while he was a scholarship student in Paris in the early 1930s. He is credited with creating the concept of négritude. Even as a young student, he understood the power of culture, and began to actively oppose cultural imposition by metropole France on colonized peoples. He did this by starting L'étudiant noir (the black student) in 1932, together with Senghor and the Guyanese Léon-Gontran Damas. In this journal, black writers challenged traditional models of French literature. Knowing how academia functions today, I wonder his faculty put pressure on him to stop or leave. Anyhow, Césaire graduated from the Ecole Normale Superieure.

Césaire returned to Martinique, and became widely known in the late 1930s for his Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (notebook of a return to the native land). In Martinique, he taught Frantz Fanon. Obviously, Césaire belonged to that now-nearly-extinct species, the truly courageous engaged academic.

Césaire was mayor of Fort-de-France, Martinique, from 1945 to 2001, and a deputy in the French assembly for Martinique. More radical politicians, who favored independence, saw his role in the departmentalization of the colonies as a compromise. A long-time member of the French Communist Party, he grew disillusioned with Communism after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.

In 2005, Césaire refused to meet Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister, because the latter's party had supported a law that would glorify French imperialism in schools. The law was repealed by Chirac's government.

Césaire died on Thursday, at the age of 94, in Martinique. Here's a list of his writings.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Wishful thinking?

I am quite amused to see the Guardian (a paper I admire) has a strange headline on its world page as of 7:34 am (3:04 am in London) on April 15, for a news item staying Italy is about to get its most rightwing government in 14 years, which will include 'post-facists' but no moderates, after Veltroni conceded defeat. The headline says, "Berlusconi concedes defeat in Italian elections". I wish!