The Dust Journals – Part XVI

Monday, May 16, 2157

Yeah. It’s been over a month. I’m just now settling down to doing this again. I wanted to give myself time and space. I didn’t want to pressure myself. At first I felt the guilt of not updating hard. And it became worse with each passing day, because when you’re stressed out, there’s nothing better than to beat yourself up even more, give yourself more reasons to get upset. So I did this for a while, until finally I said, “Fuck it. I’ll write when I feel like it.” Problem solved.

I spent the last month and a half or so living in the moment, allowing all the feels and emotions to wash over me, allowing myself to get as angry as I wanted, as self-hating as I wanted. Though I did not try to kill myself again, at least not overtly. I figured that eventually, either this thing would sort itself out, in which can I would write about it, or it wouldn’t, and I’d be dead.

Had I died, or became otherwise unable to continue this thing, ending it with the line “Fuck the A-zoners” wouldn’t have been a bad way to check out. I still feel that. A-zoners are a culmination of all the imbalances produced by the sordid history of humanity. Folks during depressions didn’t know for haves and have-nots. Folks during wars didn’t know for haves and have-nots. We have constructed a planet where your survival depends solely on where your parents live when they conceive. If it’s in an A or B Zone, swell. Life’s good. Otherwise, you’re fucked. And there ain’t a goddamn thing you can do about it. This world has no social mobility, not even a hint of it. Arm guards keep you the hell out. And so-called lotteries to let in a trickle at a time don’t.

It used to be that your skin color would determine your fate in the same way. Because we’re all a bunch of mutts now, that legacy has largely (not entirely) passed. Not entirely? Of course not entirely. In A-zones, you’ll see mostly fairer skin, not exclusively, but mostly. Of course the funny irony is that white folks, like they were known a couple of centuries ago, couldn’t survive in this world. They connived and contorted the world to fit their reality, to maintain their majorities, to control the institutions that ruled over everyone, to tilt the game in their favor, but Mother Nature got the last laugh. My great-granddad used to say, frequently, that scientists will figure out a cure from melanoma, as the suns rays became more and more punishing. Like with so many things, he was wrong. So what ended up happening, of course, is what history now calls the Great Merging. Interracial dating and procreating suddenly became patriotic duties, a thing. Darken your color line, but not too much, just enough to keep you from getting sick. I think it was the first President Bush who referred to his grandkids as his “little brown ones” and got into shit about it. My great-granddad referred to me in the same way. Ha. Ha.

Another myth that arose was that a bubble would be created, either in space or terrestrially, that would protect the northern latitudes from the punishing solar rays. Infighting kept that project from getting off the ground, literally and figuratively. So they are frying and getting too hot like the rest of us, but at least they have their desalinated water to keep their whistles wet, to water their plants and pretty lawns, to maintain the fiction that the world still exists. I still say: Fuck ‘em.

So I’m still alive. I’m still writing. To understand where I am and how I got here, I want to take some time to tell. I’m not going to do it all right now. But I’ll get to it.

The Dust Journals – Part XV

(Editor’s note: Find previous installments here.)

Sunday, March 20, 2157

We had to take the car to our next adventure. It has a three-hundred mile range, he said, though he rarely went farther than about 100 miles. Our destination was barely 10 miles. Still, it felt good to be out.

Views of the Bay Area still haunted me. No buildings, no people, no plants, no animals. Just endless rocks, dirt, and water, which menaced like a half-sleeping blob. I felt the vague murmuring of the voices, trying to bring me down again. I held on to Walter. That kept them at a safe distance.

We stopped at a little what concrete building. A shack. It looked like a bomb shelter. We got out. He plugged the car in. Then he used a key to get inside. When is a shack not a shack, he said. When it’s a TARDIS? I said. He laughed. We went inside.

It was bigger inside, but only because a stairway led down a ways. Then we got to an elevator that took us further down. Down, down, down, down, down. I didn’t think we’d stop. Then we did. The door opened to a long, dim corridor. I could hear a dull rumbling sound. Are we supposed to be here? I asked. No, he said. But no one will find us, he added.

We went down this corridor for a quarter mile. Bomb shelter was all I could think of, probably a result of my new obsession, Dr. Strangelove. Then we came to an old, rusty looking door. Walter had all of the keys. He opened the door.

The rumbling sound grew louder, but still sounded dull, like a distant thunderstorm. And the gangway we traversed rumbled a little. The bombs were going off, decimating everything.

We reached the end of the gangway. There, he said. I looked and we were walking along the biggest, fattest, scariest looking pipe I had ever seen. It had to be a quarter mile thick, at least. And here I thought Walter’s talk of thick pipes last night was just foreplay. No. Well, maybe. But it was also in preparation for this, the world’s thickest pipe that stretched farther than we could see, beyond the lights that dimly lit the space we were in.

This is where it all comes from, he said. This is all the water there is, all that there can ever be, he said. It all comes from the plant, he said. Millions of gallons, all from the plant. I asked where was it being shipped to. Everywhere, he said. Seattle. Vancouver. Anchorage. Toronto. All the A-zones. This is their water. All of it.

Then he turned to me. And, he said, all the water you had in your C-zone, until they switched it off. That came from here, too.

No. Son of a bitch. We had all been told that our water came from the Sierras, what was left of it. Lies, Walter said. And the A-zones, they all had deep wells and shit to get their water. More lies, Water said. That water was spoiled decades ago, he said. Fracking, he said.

Fracking?! My great-granddad loved fracking. We made millions off of it. He absolutely loved it. Great-granddad did it again.

They took the water away from you, Walter said, so that they could keep up with the demand in the A-zones. They are growing, Walter said.

Growing how? What about population control? What about two kids per family? Lies, lies, lies, he said. A-zones are fantasylands, he said to me. Like Disneyland was a fantasyland. Like those virtual reality arcades are fantasylands. They are bubbles of fantasy, which are maintained by this huge pipe.

The water coming from that pipe could feed the Bay Area, the Arroyo and everything around it. It could grow trees in the C and D zones, make them habitable again. It could help maybe make this planet livable again. Instead, it’s going off to feed a fantasy.

Suddenly I wished I had a bomb, a big bomb to ride on like Slim Pickens, right on top of this mother. Fuck the A-zoners.

The Invisible Killings

I went to a talk by legendary former South African jurist Albie Sachs the other day. He spoke about his role in bringing marriage equality to South Africa. Albert “Albie” Sachs was born in South Africa and early in his youth, he explained, he began resisting the racist apartheid government of his country. For his first offense, he, a white man, sat on a park bench reserved for “blacks and coloureds.” Later on, he went into exile and it was during this period that the government of his homeland tried to assassinate him by putting a bomb in his car. He survived, but lost his right arm and the use of one eye in the incident. After the fall of apartheid,  the legally trained Mr. Sachs was appointed to the South African Constitutional Court.

He said something during his talk that caused me to hurriedly scramble for my iPhone to scribble it down.

You can discriminate by rendering people invisible.

He would know. Apartheid rendered people invisible. Blacks could not live in the large cities, only in townships and Bantustans, places away from whites. Soweto is a township of Johannesburg. It is very dense and filled with shanties. Bantustans were the equivalent of Native American reservations, often located in parts of the country that lacked resources, such as water and arable land. Bantustans were meant to be semi-autonomous countries, but with no resources of their own, they depended upon a government that wished that they did not exist at all for basic needs.

The US has a long history of rendering people invisible. Native Americans are but one example. Blacks are rendered invisible, too, by their low representation in the media; by often being corralled into less desirable places to live, through lack of economic opportunities; and by lack of representation in the upper echelons of economic and political power. The presidency does not make up for lack of representation elsewhere.

The killing spree of black men by the police also has been made invisible, even in plain sight. Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown with no cameras in sight, only his account and the accounts of witnesses, which often contradicted each other. Daniel Pantaleo killed Eric Garner by holding him in an extended chokehold. A video taping of the encounter showed the incident unfurl, but police argued that it did not catch the full context of the encounter. What context it failed to show I’m not sure. No officers, including Pantaleo, have been charged with a crime.

The killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina by now-former Officer Michael Slager would have followed a similar course had it not been for the video taping of that incident. Slager said he shot Mr. Scott in self-defense, after Mr. Scott had tried to get a hold of his taser. The video contradicted this account. It first shows Mr. Scott running and Mr. Slager taking aim with his gun and shooting him in the back. It then shows Mr. Scott being hit and falling to the ground. Finally, the video shows Slager picking up the taser from one location and walking it over to place it next to Mr. Scott’s dying body. Mr. Scott did not have possession of the taser until he was dead, in other words.

Slager had the full support of his department and the mayor of North Charleston, until the video came out. After the video came out, completely contradicting his official report, his department fired him and arrested him on murder charges. Mayor Keith Summey made this statement during a new conference:

When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.
-from NY Times

If only Mayor Summey’s words enjoyed universal adoption. The norm is that officers involved in the killing of black folks have protection and cover for their deeds. And all signs point to the system wanting to keep it that way. Feidin Santana filmed the Walter Scott killing and almost erased it. He feared that the police would target him for taping the killing. Had it not been for his courage, Michael Slager would probably still be a police officer and his killing would have gone unpunished.

Mr. Santana’s fears of police harassment are not unfounded. Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the killing of Eric Garner, has been arrested several times by NYPD and is in jail currently. His family has also been the subject of extensive police interest (read: harassment) since the taping.

Meanwhile, a bill currently working its way through the Texas legislature would make it illegal to stand within 25 feet and video tape police while on duty.

While Mayor Summey has the right idea, that anyone who does wrong deserves to be punished under the law, the reality is that we do not live in a society where this takes place. We live in a world eloquently described by Justice Sachs, a world where we render a people invisible and practice discrimination against them at will.

The Small Planet of Governor Pence

There’s a Gumby cartoon that has stuck with me over the decades. It’s called “The Small Planets.”

Gumby decides that he’s sick of being bossed around, told to do this chore and that chore, so he hops into a book about planets, dons a spacesuit, and speeds off in a flying saucer to the asteroid belt in search of a new home. His pony pal Pokey accompanies him. While Gumby extols their new freedoms, Pokey sounds notes of caution and hesitancy. He likes the Earth, he explains, and feared loneliness. No! Gumby insists. We’ll be free!

They hop around from asteroid to asteroid, but find each of them already inhabited by another child. The first kid has a ridable toy train set, with tracks covering the entire small world. He tells Gumby that he left home so that he wouldn’t have to share his train set and to get away from “people like you!” He then fires a rocket at Gumby’s spaceship as it flies off.

The second asteroid they land on has lots of craters. Pokey finds, to his horror, that each is filled with a dinosaur-looking monster. He and Gumby flee back to the spaceship and take off. The “monster” turns out to be a little girl with a fondness for frightening people. She laments, however, that no one stays to play with her.

They fare no better on the third and final asteroid. At first, Gumby and Pokey think they have the place to themselves. But then they hear music. They walk around and find a boy playing the piano. It’s an outer worldly piece. Gustav Holst meets Bernard Herrmann. Then Pokey sneezes and the young maestro Loses It. “Who sneezed in my arpeggio? My beautiful arpeggio ruined!” After Gumby apologizes for the intrusion, the kid goes lycanthropic on their asses, sprouting fangs and pointed ears, and tells the intruders “I never want to see you again! BEAT IT!”

Humbled by his travels, Gumby heads back to Earth, much to Pokey’s relief. He admits that he’s looking forward to returning home and even doing the chores he once dubbed as “slavery.”

Like most Gumby cartoons, the message, though cleverly delivered, is hardly subtle. To be a good kid, one must (a) share, (b) not act anti-social, and (c) not behave like a freak. To be sure, I can think of at least one noted musician who is notorious for going off during performances when someone sneezes (or coughs) in their arpeggios, but that’s neither here nor there.

For me, the cartoon epitomizes the idea that no person is an island: we’re all in this together. So this Gumby short always comes to mind whenever faced by behavior antithetical to that simple notion. This would include Indiana’s descent into insanity. Governor Mike Pence insists that the law he just signed protects “religious freedom” and that it does not target the LGBT community. That known homophobes stood around him while he signed it and that he also has a long history of opposing LGBT civil rights, like repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, supposedly mean nothing. Or so he would like us to think.

Governor Pence, and the wackos in the Indiana state legislature who voted for this outrageous law, need to put down their turgid Ayn Rand novels and go watch “The Small Planets.” Watch it again and again if necessary, until the message sinks in. And if that doesn’t work, then go find yourselves a spaceship and take off. Find an nice, lonely asteroid where you all can reside, away from all those pesky people whose mere existence causes you such sturm and drang. And then the rest of us can stay here on Earth, together and in peace.

(But watch out for lycanthropic pianists.)

Citizenship and the Presidency

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas announced his candidacy for US President. The thought that went through my mind was, how can he run? He was born in Canada. For most lay people who are into such things, we believe that in order to be eligible to run for US President, one has to have been born on US soil, either in a state or a US territory. From that standpoint, Senator Cruz would clearly not qualify. Ah, but the constitutional language is not that clear. Enter the world of legalistic nuance.

Article Two, Clause Five of the US Constitution states:

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
(from Wikipedia)

So, one has to be (a) a “natural born citizen” or a citizen at the time the constitution was adopted, in 1789; (b) one has to be at least 35 years old; (c) and one has to have lived in the US at least 14 years.

Point (c) is fairly easy. If you were born here, and then travel and live abroad for an extended period, say 20 years, then when you return, you have to live in the US for at least 14 consecutive years before you can run for president or vice-president. Point (b) is the simplest point: you have to be 35 years old. I’m sure it’s possible to get legalistic about this. For example, does one have to be 35 during the election or only at the point when one has to take the oath of office, that is, by January 20 at 12:00 noon? I can see people niggling over something like that, but to date it hasn’t happened.

But because the Constitution does not define a “natural born citizen,” point (a) becomes subject to interpretation and has fed legal discourse for years. Indeed, the “Natural-born-citizen clause” article in Wikipedia cites interpretations of this clause dating back to the 19th century. Congressman John Bingham argued in 1862 and 1868 that anyone, black or white, who is born within the boundaries of the US are by default US citizens. The question of race would have been a pressing one during the Civil War years; the Dred Scott decision famously disenfranchised all blacks, free or slave.

Murmurs about citizenship and qualification for the presidency arose in 2000 when Senator John McCain first ran for president. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. At the time of his birth, he would not have been a US citizen, because the PCZ was unincorporated territory. However an addendum to the US Code of Laws passed in 1937 retroactively granted citizenship to those born in the PCZ back to February, 1904.

Citizenship and qualification famously for came to fore when Barak Obama won the Democratic nomination and later the presidency in 2008. Questions about his citizenship continue to this day, alas. At this point it is fair to say that all such speculations are based on racist assertions that because President Obama is a black man, he is not qualified to be president. President Obama was born in Hawaii in 1962, three years after Hawaiian statehood. His mother was a US citizen and his father was a subject of the British realm; Kenya was a territory of Britain until 1963 when it gained independence. But because he was born on US soil, that settles the issue for all but the most hardened racists.

So back to Senator Cruz, then. How can he run for the presidency when he was born in Canada? The US Code, specifically 8 U.S. Code §1401, defines who are nationals and citizens of the United States at birth. Specifically, part (c) states:

a person born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person
(from Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute)

Senator Cruz’s mother was born in the US, his father in Cuba. His family moved to Texas when he was four years old. Several scholars believe that because his mother was a US citizen, Senator Cruz is a “natural born citizen” and thus can run for president. But most scholars also believe that without a US Supreme Court ruling on the subject, the question of who is a “natural born citizen” remains legally squishy.

It’s interesting to note that Senator Cruz has thus far not faced his own form of “birther-gate” of the sort that has bedeviled President Obama, even though Cruz is a Hispanic-American born outside the country. Had President Obama actually been born on non-US soil, could you imagine the hackles? I wonder, in fact, if more serious actions would have been taken to disqualify him from running back in 2007, when he announced his candidacy. This smacks to me of a double-standard. Either because Cruz is conservative or because he has fair skin, and can thus “pass” as white, he has escaped this type of bigoted scrutiny.

If established legal scholars generally agree that the Senator can run, based on the US Code or other legal doctrine, then I’m fine with that. Even though I likely disagree with Ted Cruz on a variety of issues and think he would make a disastrous president, I do not think he should be disqualified over the citizenship issue. There are plenty of other reasons to disqualify him. But it still sticks in my craw a bit that he is allowed a free pass and President Obama, six-plus years into the job, still faces questions about his citizenship and “legitimacy.”

Self-Haters Gonna Hate

Self-haters gonna hate.

Earlier this week, gay Italian fashion designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana made harsh statements about same-sex couples raising children.

We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one… No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.

They further called children born via in vitro fertilization “children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”

I suppose it never occurred to them that some straight couples have used similar procedures to have children, but I guess straight folks get a pass.

And, not shockingly, the pair, who were a couple for over 20 years before splitting up, is also anti-marriage equality.

They cite their traditional backgrounds as the reason for their beliefs, but that’s just a smokescreen for their self-hate. They internalized the bullshit that LGBT people are unworthy of raising children or even marrying. A part of me feels for them. Self-hate is very real and very damaging. But my sympathy stops the minute they start voluntarily broadcasting their crazy. By doing so, they add to the homophobic bedlam closeted and questioning people already hear, giving them more false justifications to hate themselves. Out celebrities are potent weapons against homophobia. But when they turn out to be self-haters themselves, then they often can do more harm than good.

I congratulate Sir Elton John for speaking up against their hate and calling for a boycott of their products. At first Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana ridiculed Sir Elton, calling for people to boycott Elton John. They also declare that Sir Elton was intolerant of their views. Why do haters always insist on tolerance for their intolerance? As the call for a boycott widened, though, they have tried to tone down their crazy. But you can’t tone done stuff like “synthetic children.” That’s just rude.

The designers’ self-hate added to the antigay dialogue and gave aid and comfort to those who oppose marriage equality and LGBT folks raising children. Another likely self-hater in the news this week did worse than that during his abortive career.

Soon-to-be-former Congressman Aaron Schock (Rep.-IL) relished his status as the most buffed congressman in the country. Shirtless pictures of him are ubiquitous on the Internet. He also loves bling. He pimped out his office to look like something from Downton Abbey. He buys expensive clothing – one wonders if Dolce and Gabbana suits hang in his closet. He takes private jets to exotic vacation spots, in the company of an equally buffed male companion (wink-wink, say no more).

Questions arose about how he paid for his expensive lifestyle and whether he improperly used taxpayer and donor money to finance the bling and pay the way for an unsalaried full-time personal photographer who wasn’t his boyfriend (wink-wink, say no more) to travel with him. He did not have good answers for the questions and promptly resigned when they became burdensome. Besides hiding his money sources, many have wondered if the buffed congressman has been hiding something else about himself. If so, then it’s part of an old, tired story.

Mr. Schock has a big, fat 0% rating on LGBT issues from the Human Rights Campaign. He opposed repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He opposes the repeal of DOMA. Like Dolce and Gabbana, he does not support marriage equality. Also like the Italian self-haters, he cites his religious faith as the reason for his views on all things gay. He has publically denied being gay. And his own father has stated that his son isn’t gay, he’s just “a little different” and that he “wears stylish clothing.”

Ever blunt Barney Frank, retired congressman from Massachusetts, quipped that while he didn’t know anything about Schock’s sexuality, Schock “spent entirely too much time in the gym for a straight man.” Yeah, that and the parade of topless photos. Hmmm.

So here we have two examples of folks who want it both ways. They want to cling to outmoded, hurtful, “traditional” ideas about the family and relationships while at the same time enjoy the benefits a more open society has offered LGBT folks. Dolce and Gabbana enjoyed a 23-year relationship before breaking up romantically – they are still business partners. Back in the good old days that they claim to cherish, such an arrangement would have been close to impossible. They certainly couldn’t have been open about it. And being openly gay no doubt has helped their company’s bottomline, at least until now. Furthermore, Mr. Gabbana once toyed with the idea of having a child with a female friend via artificial insemination, shortly after breaking up with Mr. Dolce. Seriously? Hypocrisy, thy name is Dolce and Gabbana.

Then we have swank Mr. Schock, living the dream, taking trips with another young man (wink-wink, say no more), all the while voting against the interests LGBT Americans nationwide. All three of these guys have behaved cowardly and in a counterproductive manner.

Coming out is a personal journey. Normally I say that one should be allowed space to do it at one’s own pace. But my sympathy ends when folks play out their internal battles externally. That leads to harm and hurt. I advise Congressman Schock and Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s advice:

The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts, and that is where all our battles should be fought.

 

Out of Step With the Times

I see a continuum between the foul mouth frat boys shouting racist obscenities on a bus and the 47 senators signing a letter that belittles and attempts to undermine the authority of the president. Both groups cling to a used-to-be that has become increasingly recognized as outmoded, even vilified.

The brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon declared that their group would never allow blacks, or rather niggers, to join their ranks. However, it quickly came out that the University of Oklahoma chapter of SAE has had in its history at least two black members in its ranks. Both have since graduated. And the national SAE organization states on their website that nationwide 20% of their members are non-white. Even though the University of Oklahoma chapter had blacks members at one time, it apparently is a rare enough occurrence that the current generation of now-former members felt empowered to boast in ribald, beer hall fashion that “niggers” can swing from trees rather than be allowed in their little club. Kids in their late teens and early twenties sang this ditty, people born in the 1990s. How did they become so clueless? Privilege. They don’t have to know anything about the history of African-Americans in this country, because they have been told that that history has no bearing on their lives. And clearly they lack any empathy towards others unlike themselves. Privilege does that.

Which brings us to the US Senate, one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. It’s old news that Republicans do not like President Obama. It’s also old news that race has contributed to their unease with him and anything he supports or promotes. As I wrote before, when Congressman Joe Walsh yelled “You lie!” while the president addressed a joint session of Congress, most black folks heard him really say, You lie, boy! He didn’t have to say the “boy.” It was implied, a given.

Until recently the slights taken against President Obama have been limited to this type of petty backbiting. This year, though, their hatred and disdain has taken international proportions. First we had Speaker John Boehner invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without the advice or consent of the White House. Unprecedented, folks yelled. This has never been done before!

Then next came the letter. Cooked up by Senator Tom Cotton from Arkansas, it purportedly sought to explain to the Iranian government that the president cannot negotiate or enact treaties and international agreements unilaterally, and that such matters had to be confirmed by the Senate. Otherwise, they warn, what one president can do the Senate can undo once the president is termed out of office. Therefore, don’t get your hopes too high about a deal regarding nuclear weapons.

The whole letter was a condescending mess from the start. Addressing the letter simply “Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” was no better than writing “To Whom This May Concern.” You don’t send letters to world leaders addressed as “To Whom This May Concern.” That’s tacky. Then, the constitutional lessons the letter claimed to impart were faulty at best. The leaders of Iran, should they require an education on how our government works, would be better off consulting Wikipedia. There’s even a page on the US Constitution in Farsi.

While the Senate letter was condescending towards the leaders of Iran, its main target of condescension was President Obama. They felt it their right to push him aside and deal directly with a foreign power. Why? Privilege. They didn’t like what he was doing, so it was perfectly alright for them to take over. Or worse, they pretended like he does not exist, the same way the SAE frat at OU pretended like their fraternity never had any black members. It’s perfectly OK, and expected, for members of Congress to disagree with the president on issues. It’s not OK to throw temper tantrums and debase the presidency.

At least a couple of the frat brothers from the video have expressed remorse for their actions. I don’t buy all of the excuses used — drunkenness is too easy, too hackneyed an excuse in these situations — but at least they acknowledged on some level that what they did is not acceptable. It’s out of step with the times. Meanwhile, the whole world is laughing at the Senate letter, yet Senator Cotton and most of the others who signed it have yet to see how ridiculous they look. They, too, are out of step with the times, and are likely to stay there for as long as possible. Perhaps forever.

Racism, Inc.

A long-lived urban legend states that cities have a quota system in place for parking enforcement officers. One retired traffic officer in LA recently said that this is no legend, but a hard fact. In particular, says the retired officer, at the end of the year, when the LA Department of Transportation is preparing to close the fiscal books, ticket officers are instructed to work overtime and write 32 tickets during a 4-hour overtime shift. So watch out during the holiday season in LA. They are apparently coming to get you.

“Coming to get you” takes on a whole new dimension in Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson. While Mr. Brown paid the highest price, African-American citizens of Ferguson have routinely been targeted by the police and criminal justice system to raise money for the city. This is what Attorney General Eric Holder summarized during his presentation of the Justice Department’s investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. I note in particular Mr. Holder calling the police force in Ferguson a “collection agency.”

A summary at the beginning of the report has a section entitled “Focus on Generating Revenue.”

The City budgets for sizeable increases in municipal fines and fees each year, exhorts police and court staff to deliver those revenue increases, and closely monitors whether those increases are achieved. City officials routinely urge Chief Jackson to generate more revenue through enforcement. In March 2010, for instance, the City Finance Director wrote to Chief Jackson that “unless ticket writing ramps up significantly before the end of the year, it will be hard to significantly raise collections next year. . . . Given that we are looking at a substantial sales tax shortfall, it’s not an insignificant issue.”
– DOJ – Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department

In other words, the city told the police, in effect, we need money: write more tickets. Write harder. But that’s only the beginning.

Say you get a parking ticket for $151 and you can’t pay it. You then will have to face increased fines on that ticket, to the tune of, say, $550. Oh, and you’ll also have to spend six days in jail for failure to pay on time. A situation like this can continue on until you end up owing over $1,000. This is not a hypothetical situation. This is the plight of an African American woman in Ferguson, who still owes over $500 on top of the $550 on top of the original $151 parking ticket she received in 2007. One wonders if the officer who issued her the original ticket received a bonus, like a trader on Wall Street does after a good year. After all, the ticket has now inflated by nearly 700% over its original value. Markets get giddy over such numbers.

The report states that 67% of the population of Ferguson is African-American, but this population accounts for 93% of the arrests. So black folks are disproportionately paying for, well we can’t call them services, can we? They are basically being forced to fund their own oppression.

And African-Americans face oppression, massive oppression in Ferguson at the hands of the police and a very compliant justice system. The report cites many instances of dubious arrests, vulgar treatment, and physical assaults. To be black in Ferguson, Missouri in 2015 is to live under Jim Crow rules from a half-century ago. The only thing missing are the “White Only” and “Colored Only” signs.

Mr. Holder called for “concrete action” to correct these wrongs. After the Attorney General presented his report summary, Ferguson mayor James Knowles made statements to the press. He said that one of the three city employees cited in the report as having sent racist e-mails while on duty was fired. The other two are under investigation. “We must do better not only as a city but as a state and a country. We must all work to address issues of racial disparity in all aspects of our society,” Mayor Knowles said.

That’s not good enough. The report reads like an ante-bellum horror novel. Ferguson doesn’t sound like a city. It sounds like “Racism, Inc.,” a business that can oppress harder than anyone else, and for profit. The only way to solve the problem is to get rid of the current infrastructure and start over. The entire police department should be fired, from the chief on down. All city employees who participated in Racism, Inc. activities should similarly be dismissed. And any elected official who either aided Racism, Inc. or knowingly turned a blind eye to its practices should face recall elections. The evil must be rooted out and eradicated.

But that’s still not enough. Black folks have to vote. I remember hearing an interview during the Ferguson protests last year where one organizer said that voting isn’t a luxury that many black citizens can participate in because of work obligations or other life issues. As the Justice Department report makes painfully clear, being black in Ferguson is a life issue, even a life or death issue. During remembrances of the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March, we are reminded that the year after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, the racist sheriff who terrorized the marchers was removed from office. Black folks were finally able to register to vote without any bullshit. They did so, and they exercised their franchise to remove an evil. The same needs to happen in Ferguson.

How many other Fergusons are out there in the country? How many other cities and towns use their poorest citizens as piggybanks to stuff city coffers, terrorizing them in the process? These questions scare the shit out of me, because the answers are likely as incalculably horrific as the Justice Department report.

The Dust Journals – Part XIV

Saturday, March 19, 2157

Popcorn and a movie, that’s what we need! Walter said. Even without the unaccustomed enthusiasm overtaking his usual staid speaking voice, I saw this activity for exactly what it was: a date. And I giggled. He grew his own popcorn in the greenhouse and popped it in a plastic container in the microwave.

It’s obvious how I feel about Walter. That he feels similarly about me gave me a pulse. I haven’t dared to talk about it. I certainly do not possess the skills to carry off a conversation like that. Hunter-gatherers aren’t great conversationalists. Walter knows other ways of communicating, though. It’s always been that way, since day one. Without a word of gripe, he has twice given up his bedroom to me so that I may heal, first when I arrived and more recently after my “episode.” With Walter there are no words, no declarations. He communicates by doing. Popcorn and a movie, it still makes me giggle.

I told him about my Mad Max obsession. He laughed. He had Max Mad, so we watched it. Plus, he had the sequels, which I hadn’t seen since childhood. Then he put on his favorite movie, Dr. Strangelove. Apocalypse night at the movie, he declared. I don’t know how the hell I missed that one as a kid. My parents succeeded in keeping it from me. It definitely was not their cup of tea. Subversive, that’s how they would label it.

I thought he was sending another message. There was a time when our attraction would have been called a strange love. Those days, at least, are over. Only a handful of yahoos go on about it, under the guise of concern for humanity’s continued existence and the need to procreate. They are easily ignored.

For real, though, any love in this day and age seems a strange thing. Perhaps it’s just the hunter-gatherer in me talking. Moving about solo, scraping to get by, means few attachments, and until recently I’ve had none. Though one seems to be growing. As Strangelove got stranger and stranger, we began sitting closer to each other, and touching.

As it started to get dark outside, Walter put on this movie about a guy who gets irradiated and turns into a giant. Then he terrorizes Las Vegas. Like Strangelove, it’s in black and white. I love black and white movies. In the end, the Colossal Man falls over Hoover Dam, tumbling into the rushing waters.

Are we the giant? I asked. Have we irradiated ourselves into monsters that ultimately have to be destroyed? He pondered my questions, but gave no real answers.

Then Walter asked if I had ever seen Hoover Dam. No, I said, I haven’t. He said that he had, when he was a boy. Lake Mead was a shell of its former self. The dam, he said, looked like an anachronism, holding back a third of the water it was designed to hold.

They took a tour of the dam, way down inside where the hydro turbines were. He talked about the big pipes he saw. They were enormous, he said.

By the time the film ended, it was dark outside. It was late. We opened up the sofa into a bed and slept together for the first time. It was beautiful. It wasn’t just the sex that made it beautiful. Sex I’ve had. Sex gets it done. It’s cool. But cuddling with Walter fulfilled a long-forgotten need.

Pensativa

Robert RussellAfter Mom died, I couldn’t listen to Brahms for about four years. Truth be told, all classical music remained highly problematic. For whatever reason, though, Brahms topped the don’t touch list, the trigger-warning list. I can recall a conversation between my mom, one of my brothers, and me, rhapsodizing about the music we loved. Brahms featured prominently. Maybe I was remembering that conversation. Maybe it was just the highly emotive way Brahms wrote. I have no logical reason why I attach certain music to certain situations or feelings. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of proximity, a tune became popular with me or in general so that I heard it often during a particular highlight in my life. Other times, I hear a certain note or phrase and it reminds me of a situation, a feeling, a conversation, a touching moment, an atmosphere. Music is the true communicator. It’s much more direct than words.

A few months before my brother Robert died, I heard “Pensativa” on the radio. I felt the familiar drop of my stomach, the signal of an emotional pang coming on. “Uh-oh,” I muttered to myself. I knew instantly what it all meant.

During our family band sessions, we often played “Pensativa.” Robert loved bossa nova. His fingers fluently played the bass line with all the right pauses and syncopations. I can’t hear the tune without thinking of him or seeing his hands gliding on his axe. It’s a carefree, laid-back tune. It conjures images of tropical settings, palm trees and cooling drinks made for warm climates. It’s sitting on the beach and watching the sunset music. It’s the music of people enjoying themselves with good food, good drink, good company. It’s the music of life. It’s a perfect representation of my brother.

So on this first anniversary of his passing, February 11, I’ll play “Pensativa” from time to time. I’ll see his hands on his bass. I’ll hear the lines he played so well. And I’ll think of him with that mix of magic and melancholy that often attends memories of the dearly departed. It’s not like after Mom died, nearly twenty years ago, where I couldn’t listen to Brahms without breaking down or feeling very uncomfortable. I feel the pangs of loss with “Pensativa,” but I can listen, think, and reminisce.

I miss my brother.