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Bill Maher, Islamophobia, and Political Correctness

 

FSM

Breaking News! Bill Maher, host of Real Time and the now defunct Politically Incorrect is politically incorrect!

So say students at UC Berkeley, who are petitioning the administration to rescind Maher’s invitation to speak at their December commencement, claiming Maher “is a blatant bigot and racist who has no respect for the values UC Berkeley students and administration stand for.”  Over 4000 have signed the petition. To sign a counter-petition, click here.

Maher has been accused of bigotry and racism elsewhere as well, for his jokes and comments on the Muslim religion, to wit: “Islam is the only religion that acts like the mafia that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing.” The students’ petition calls this “hate speech.” I call it the truth.

Bill Maher is one of the world’s most ardent atheists, and gives equal time to all religions. As noted on SF Gate, “Maher, along with Oxford professor Richard Dawkins and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, are among a group of prominent atheists who have taken a no-holds-barred approach in their outspoken disdain for religious doctrine of all faiths.”

As Maher once said, were he alive during the Crusades he’d be raving primarily about Christianity—which he still does—but he’s living now, when ISIS is beheading people. “Islamophobia!” scream his critics.

Well, count me in as an Islamophobe: whether it’s coming straight from the Koran or a perversion of the religion, had I been born in one of many burka_2679987bpredominantly Muslim countries I’d have to go out covered from head to toe and could be stoned to death for adultery. As a Jew I wouldn’t have visited Germany during Hitler’s reign; as a woman I won’t visit Iran now.

Oh, but the politically correct cry self-righteously, we must respect religious customs! Why? Why should I respect any religion that treats women as pariahs? It’s time we stopped this hands-off bullshit of forgiving misogyny and oppression in the name of religious doctrine. For the record, I’m also critical of Orthodox Judaism for barring women from certain religious ceremonies, the morning prayer in which men “thank God I’m not a woman,” and the baffling, bizaare custom of making women shave their heads and wear wigs. As for the Catholic Church, it continues to ban abortion and even contraception, damaging millions of women (and men, and children) with outmoded, antisex edicts.

Ironically, it’s primarily liberals who toss around this term Islamophobia. “Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles,” Maher said during a round-table discussion. “But then when you say in the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking, then they get upset.”

Bill Maher might just end up with a fatwa on his head, like Salman Rushdie who lived in hiding for years, like the cartoonists who portrayed Allah unfavorably, like the filmmaker who was murdered for doing the same. If that isn’t intolerance in the name of religion, I don’t know what is. Why should we respect it?

 

 

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Inhuman Conditions

Solitary confinement

Solitary confinement (Photo credit: Chris.Gray

What people do to one another in this world is so distressing I can hardly stand it. To name just a few items aired in this morning’s news reports:

• Big celebration today as an ex-Panther was released from prison. Good news, right? Except his release came after two decades in solitary confinement. I can’t bear to hear these stories about people in solitary for so long, and it seems like recently they’re all coming to light. Why wasn’t I aware of this, if it’s been going on for 20 and 30 years? And I only just learned they throw children into the hole also! Do the powers-that-be really believe that a kid who spends any amount of time all alone in a cell is going to come out improved? Or unharmed, ready to live a full and responsible life? WTF is wrong with these people?!

drone

• Old news but they were talking about it again this morning on Democracy Now: One of Obama‘s drones attacked a group of Yemenis on their way to a wedding, killing something like a dozen people, turning what was to be a joyous day into one of grief. Apparently they believed some big terrorist was “hiding” among the wedding party, but survivors say they never heard of the guy. Even if they had—it seems we no longer believe in or practice the judicial system to which this country was once strongly devoted. No more innocent until proven guilty. And that includes YOU : Uncle Sam is also gunning down his own via the drone method. Our, ahem, liberal president looooves those drones: so neat and clean. Thus, no more messy, complicated trials. It’s just Kill Baby Kill!

cop

• Another kid was killed by a cop because he had the misfortune to be holding something in his hand. Must be a gun! This happened on the kid’s turf, in his own living room—cops came around looking for the dad who violated parole, and  burst in on a teenager playing electronic games. Startled, he raised his hand with the game’s remote in it, and one of the cops blew the kid away. Oh well, shit happens. Shit happens a lot lately.

pesticide sign

• Atrazine, a pesticide used on corn, is turning little boys into girls, apparently flooding their bodies with estrogen so they develop not only secondary sex characteristics but primary ones as well, like ovaries and the whole reproductive she-bang. The company using this stuff claims it’s harmless, and has fired the whistleblower, who’s now getting death threats—but he’s still talking. Good for him!

I know, I know: I haven’t included names, dates, links, or other details to back up any of the above, or direct readers that might want to follow up on these news items; but if I wait until I can do the research and put all my ducks in a row I won’t get to it for a long time, if ever. Besides, I really need to rant.

I might not have done research, but I did manage to fire off a few protest letters to governors and other authorities in the interest of ending solitary torture, since I can’t even think about this without feeling sick. I wonder if I have an extra empathic gene or something. Considering what goes on in this world, someone’s gotta have it.

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Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones RIP

BARAKA-LargeAmiri Baraka, formerly LeRoi Jones, died today at the age of 79. Baraka was a poet, a playwright, and a political activist. Rather than write about my feelings towards Baraka or how and why they changed over the years, instead of doing the IMeMine routine, I decided to post one of his poems, saved a lifetime ago when I tore it from the pages of the Village Voice. Re-reading it I fell in love with his work all over again.

For Baraka’s bio, facts, photos, politics, and controversies, Democracy Now is doing a whole hour on him today, and numerous other sources of information abound.

When We’ll Worship Jesus
Amiri Baraka

We’ll worship Jesus

When jesus do

somethin

when jesus blow up

the white house

or blast nixon down

When jesus turn out congress

or bust general motors to

yard bird motors

Jesus we’ll worship jesusimages

when jesus get down

when jesus get out his yellow lincoln

w/ the built-in cross stain glass

window & box w/black peoples

enemies we’ll worship jesus when

he get bad enough to at least scare

somebody—cops not afraid

of jesus

pushers not afraid

of jesus, capitalists racists

imperialists not afraid

of jesus shit they makin money

off jesus.

We’ll worship jesus when mao

do, when toure does

when the cross replaces Nkrumah’simages-1

star

jesus need to hurt some a our

enemies then we’ll check him

out, all that screaming and hollering

& Wallering and manking talkin bout

jesus, jesus in a red

check velvet vine & 8 in. heels

jesus pinky finger

got a goose egg ruby

which actual bleeds

jesus at the apollo

doin splits and helpin

nixon trick niggers

jesus w/his one-eyed self

tongue kissing johnny carson

up the behind

jesus need to be busted

jesus need to be thrown down and whippedimages-2

till something better happen

jesus aint did nothin for us

but kept us turned toward

the sky (him and his boy allah

too, need to be checked

out!)

we’ll worship jesus

when he get a boat load of AR-47’s

and some dynamite

and blow up abernathy robotin

for gulf

jesus need to be busted

we aint gonna worshp nobody

but niggers getting up off

the ground

not gon worship jesus

unless he just a tricked up

nigger somebody named

outside his race

need to worship you self fo

you worship jesus

need to bust jesus (& Check

out his spooky brother

allah while you heavy

on the case)

cause we aint gon worship jesus

we aint gon worship

jesus

we aint gon worship

jesus

not till he do something

not til he help us

not till the world get changed

and he aint, Jesus aint, he cant change the world

we can change the world

we can struggle against the forces of backwardnessimages-3

we can change the world

we can struggle against our selves, our slowness,

our connection with the oppressor,

the very cultural aggression which binds us to our  enemies

as their slaves.

We can change the world

we aint gonna worship jesus cause jesus don’t exist

Xcept in song and story except in ritual and dance, except in

slum stained

tears or trillion dollar opulence stretching back in history, the history

of the oppression of the human mind

We worship the strength in us

We worship our selves

We worship the light in us

We worship the warmth in us

We worship the world

We worship the love in us

We worship our selves

We worship nature

We worship ourselves

We worshp the life in us, and science, and knowledge, and transformation

of the visible world

But we aint gonna worship no jesus

We aint gonna legitimize the witches and devils

the spooks and hobgoblins

the sensuous lies of the rulers to keep us

chained to fantasy and illusion

Sing about life, not jesus

Sing about revoltuion, not no jesus

Stop singing about jesus,

Sing about creation, our creation, the life of the world and fantastic

nature how we struggle to transform it, but don’t victmize our selves by distorting the world

Stop moanin about jesus, stop sweatin and cryin and stompin and dyin for jesus

Unless thats the name of the army we buildiing to force the land finally to change hands.Unknown

And lets not call that jesus, get a quick consensus on that.

Lets damn sure not call that black fire muscle no inivisible

psychic dungeon

no gentle vision strait jacket, lets call that peoples army, or wapenduzi or simba

wachanga, but we not gon call it jesus and not gon worship jesus

Throw jesus out yr mind. Build the new world out of reality, and new vision

We come to find out what there is of the world

to understand what there is here in the world!

To visualize change, and force it

We worship revolution.

Writers and Other Laborers

 

PayWriters

Ever since I began blogging in 2007 I’ve posted an annual Labor Day semi-rant defending the high salaries of baseball players (yes, defending them) and complaining about the economics of being a writer. Writers have much in common with baseball players—but not, unfortunately, the money. You can still read the baseball half of the post here , but I decided that since writers have far more in common with everyday working people in these dark economic times (actually dark political times), this year I’m leaving out the ball players to focus entirely on the writing segment of the American labor force.

It goes without saying that poets and writers do not make big bucks. What we have in common with baseball players, however, is wide misperception of our work. People seem to think that writers, especially those who don’t have a dozen fat books on the shelves of Barnes & Noble (e-books haven’t yet achieved the same status) don’t deserve to be paid, because we aren’t really working: writing, like baseball, is viewed by most people who’ve never done it as child’s play. They imagine writers as dilletantes who loll about all day in our pajamas fiddling with words. Unlike the factory worker or waitress or computer technician, we have fun doing what we do. Besides, what of any import have we ever contributed to society?womanonsofa

I readily admit that my work is not as laborious as, say, a day in the coal mines. I do, however, work hard, and like other workers I deserve a living wage—yet I’ve been shown over and over again that few people agree with this principle. For instance: several years ago I taught a creative writing class for seniors in the upscale apartment complex where I lived. I charged a mere $5.00 per class, after trying for $10 and nobody showing up. But wait—that isn’t the crux of this anecdote.

I didn’t mind the pennies too much since I love teaching and hoped that by doing it I’d get my name out and attract clients to my writing services . Sure enough, I soon received a call from one of my students’  friends who was working on a memoir and needed help. This is just my line! Helping another writer structure her work, eliciting someone’s story and talent, editing her words and sentences–this is my favorite kind of work. Besides which, this woman’s story held elements of fascination for me, and we talked for a good half hour. I told her how I work and explained the process by which I’d help her complete and revise her book, and also advise her on publication routes. We scheduled an appointment for our first meeting. Before we hung up I said, “The only thing we haven’t discussed is my fee.”

After a moment of dead air she said, her voice dripping with outrage, “You mean you charge for this?”Money-Tree

I had never met this woman. She didn’t know me. She called me out of the blue and actually thought I’d be glad to donate my time, experience and skills out of the goodness of my heart. Can you imagine calling a car mechanic, or a piano tuner, or any other skilled professional expecting free service? This incident still knocks me out when I think of it—and believe me, I’ve run into dozens more like it.

Okay, that’s “creative writing.” So let’s talk journalism—surely a profession, no? Except for the few journalists who live at the top of the heap—those who publish in Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, for instance—we’ve never been paid fairly. Before the online phenomenon burst into life,  I wrote for magazines and newspapers, earning $50 here, $100 there, sometimes a whopping $800. I wrote for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the East Bay Express, and even the SF Chronicle, with an occasional coup such as once for Mother Jones.  Since the coming of the Internet, however, I cannot believe I complained about the low pay.

pay-here2With all these entrepreneurs getting rich online, we writers thought our rate of pay might also rise. Instead, things went from bad to woefully worse. Go onto the job sites—Elance, Guru, Media Bistro—and browse through the ads; go ahead. Online employers offer $10 or $20 for 500-word articles of the kind that once brought in $100. They want ghostwriters to do 300-page books for $500. My proposals are consistently rejected for fee estimates that are “too high.” Recently someone wanted an editor to put together an erotic anthology. You’d think since I’ve done a dozen of them I’d be a shoo-in. Not! Knowing they’d never pay it, I lopped off half the $3000 I used to get for the same work—and was rejected once more because it was “too high”.

I’ve gotten nasty emails telling me I’ve got chutzpah asking for so much money—and I give back as good as I get, with my own workers’ rights messages. One reasons they get away with paying so little is that the Internet makes it seem as if anyone and everyone can write, and all writers are created equal. There’s always a newbie or incompetent willing to write for bubkes. You may have noticed the quality of online writing, or rather lack of same.

Writer4I’ve done online work that, when I added up my hours, paid less than minimum wage. A few months ago I began editing manuscripts for  a publisher who paid $75 per. Each manuscript took me 15 to 20 hours. After I did four of them I calculated my earnings: $3.75-5.00 an hour. When I asked for more I was flatly refused, and the publisher stopped sending me work. Was I better off with $75 or with nothing? I imagine other writers ask themselves this question, and must sometimes answer by continuing to work for less than minimum wage.

Speaking of other writers, I am not alone. I’m not the only one who can’t make a living at this anymore. While it was hard ten or fifteen years ago, many of us managed to eke out an impoverished existence. We can no longer do even that. To expand my base of colleagues, the same goes on these days in the fast food industry, retail establishments, corporations, small offices, non-profits, upscale restaurants, hotels—name an industry and the people who work in it are doing 40 or more hours a week, have two or three jobs, and yet have to sleep in their cars WallSt.Protestsor worse;  they jump through hoops for food stamps (a whole other topic); go hungry so their children can eat; and let us not forget mothers, who get paid for none of their work (another whole topic: next year). We’ve heard the stories and we know the causes. We’ve demanded change in a million ways. Will it ever come? Will people ever make a living by honest labor again? I don’t know.

Happy Labor Day to all my writing compadres and other workers! Enjoy taking the day off—if you can.

The Silver-Tongued Devil: President Barack Obama

…don’t you know he’s the devil 

Barack Obama

Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

Hidin’ intentions of evil ….
All he’s good for is gettin’ in trouble
and shifting his share of the blame…
              —Kris Kristofferson, The Silver Tongued Devil and I

I’m starting to tune out President Obama’s voice the way I tuned out previous presidents—the two Bushies, to name the most recent. It’s a defense mechanism. Having gone through a period of rage at Obama for his actions as President, I can’t afford to expend anymore emotion on him. And yet, my outrage towards this president is greater than what I felt for the others, being aggravated by disappointment and near-disbelief. I’ve never been able to comprehend people who say one thing and do the opposite. The word for that kind of person is hypocrite, which is precisely what Barack Obama has turned out to be.

My friend Tommy never votes, about which he and I have fought bitterly. He espouses the anarchist’s point-of-view: “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.”  Larry, another friend of mine, said when Obama came on the scene, “I won’t vote for that guy—who the fuck is he?” Leftists have long cautioned us against being seduced by an apparently caring candidate who throws around jargon like transparency and extols the virtues of the working and middle classes. The theory behind this caution is that we’ll become enamored of the wrong person and believe all is well, no need to keep fighting the good (but exhausting) fight any longer. We can all go home and rest now, imagining we’re free to leave the running of the country to the paragon we just elected.

Well, guess what? Those theorists and anarchists were correct.

Artist: Barbara Jorgen Nance

Artist: Barbara Jorgen Nance

I wasn’t as gung-ho for Obama the candidate as some people were, but I admit that my heart leapt with hope listening to his rousing yet mellifluous speeches. He still talks a good line—which is why I call him The Silver-Tongued Devil—only now instead of leaping, my heart hardens and my head spins, and I wonder “How can he say that when he’s doing ——(fill in the blank)?” As I said, I have a hard time comprehending hypocrisy.

A few white people have accused voters of all races of backing Obama “just” for the color of his skin—and indeed, some voters did. But a vote for a black man as president isn’t a “just”—it’s a significant vote, and it was a significant reason to vote for Obama. I draw the line, however, with those who don’t care what he actually does in office, who think that breaking the White House ceiling is enough. Not only isn’t it enough, it’s downright dangerous: when I said the anarchists and leftists were correct, I meant that we were seduced by Obama’s silver tongue. Fortunately, many people see the disconnect between Obama’s words and his actions, and they’re making plenty of noise about it, from the Occupy movement to the Trayvon Martin travesty. (By the way, in saying he looked like Trayvon as a teenager Obama wasn’t saying, or doing, anything to alter the circumstances that led to Trayvon’s murder.)

By now you’re probably wondering, So what’s so bad about the guy? What exactly did he do? Ironically, I may have chosen the wrong time to let loose with this tirade, since the administration just announced a change in policy regarding the war on drugs that’s filled the country’s prisons to overflowing and created a whole new class of cons and ex-cons. Despite the possibility that he might do the right thing about this, I herewith present a list of five deeds—not words, but actions—initiated and carried out by the Obama administration. (And there are plenty more where these came from.)

1. DronesDrone

New American magazine  recently dubbed President Obama “The Kaiser of the Kill List.”  Obama has overseen 80,000 missions and the death of thousands by drone strike—and he has no idea how many assassinations he has approved. During his first three years in office Obama ordered five times the number of drone attacks that George W. Bush ordered during his entire two terms. (Shocking, isn’t it?)

2. Surveillance

Several months ago the world learned, via Edward Snowden of the NSA, that the Obama administration’s idea of fun is browsing through Americans’ phone bills. No need to worry, however: nobody’s listening to what we actually say on the phone, they’re only following who’s calling who so as to connect the terrorist dots. Not only is the NSA spying on U.S. citizens, they’re also snooping into the emails and calls of other governments, including those of our allies.

Edward Snowden3. Whistle Blowers.

#2 segues conveniently into #3, Obama’s attitude towards and treatment of those citizens, journalists, and others who inform the public what their government is up to, people known as whistleblowers. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks has been Ecuador’s houseguest for over a year, knowing that if he returns to the U.S. he’ll face punishment, possibly even torture. Edward Snowden was, ironically, granted asylum in Russia! for the same reason. These are the high-profile cases, but if you click on some of the links here you’ll find story after story about people who fear for their lives because they did their jobs, i.e., reported what this government is up to. The effect of these heavy investigations is to put a serious damper on journalists’ ability and willingness to keep reporting the truth.

The Obama administration has charged six government officials accused of providing classified information to the media with violations of the Espionage Act, a World War I-era law meant to prohibit “aiding the enemy.” These are more uses of the Espionage Act for that purpose than under all previous presidential administrations combined.

4. Transparencyobamastern

I never liked the word to begin with. The first time someone used it to describe intimate talk between friends I cringed: it confirmed my suspicion that transparency is just trendy rhetoric lacking any real substance. The idea of transparency in government was heavily promoted by Obama’s campaign. He and his minions swore in endless stump speeches that an Obama administration would be completely open and honest with the citizenry, that we would truly have a government of, by and for the people, something we’ve yet to behold in modern-day America. Obama began by posting all sorts of truths on his campaign website. The citizenry was elated.

Ah, but have you recently visited that website, Change.gov, first put up in 2008 (it seems a lifetime ago!)? Well, don’t bother trying—it was taken down some time around June. However, it can still be viewed at The Wayback archive for an interesting exercise in disappointment – you can see how much has not changed, or perhaps what has, only for the worse.

5.  Talk v. Action, or Hypocrisy

In 2005 then-Senator Obama gave a speech in which he expressed righteous outrage about spying by the NSA, especially warning letters sent to citizens to let them know they and their property were going to be searched, and they had no right to decline or even to call a lawyer. Apparently once upon a time Obama was against spying, but that was before he found himself in the seat of power. You know what they say: Power Corrupts.

More recently, in a speech about the NSA/Snowden affair, Obama claimed he would have been perfectly glad to see the country engaged in rational debate on these issues. If that’s true, then why didn’t he start such a debate before his back was up against the wall?

When I first chose to name these five elements of Obama’s mode of governance, I didn’t realize how much alike they are and how they overlap. Having done research on each, I conclude that all of it can be summarized by that one word: Hypocrisy. Not for the first time, we’ve got a big fat hypocrite sitting in the Oval Office, pushing buttons and having a field day playing with power. We’ve been through worse I suppose. Next time let us remember:  “The new boss is the same as the old boss” no matter how he’s packaged, and that includes the color of his wrapping.

Recommendations:

The Lethal Presidency of Barack Obama by Tom Junod in Esquire

Website of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)