On the day we honor Dr. King:

The dramatic “I Have a Dream” speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is the most often cited of the great man’s many public addresses and sermons. It is a remarkable moment in American history.

I think there is another speech that captures the man and the movement, and it came long before that 1963 day in Washington, D.C.

On Dec. 5, 1955, Dr. King was asked to speak at a meeting in Montgomery, Alabama, on the eve of what would become the famous and effective Montgomery Bus Boycott. (Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a city bus and subsequent arrest sparked the boycott.) He was asked because he had less political baggage than the other, older black leaders. He wrote his speech very quickly.

Below are excerpts from the speech at the first mass meeting of the Montgomery Improvement Society, copied from “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Global Struggle” on the Stanford University maintained site of King archives. Bold sections are particular favorites of mine.

My friends, we are certainly very happy to see each of you out this evening. We are here this evening for serious business.  We are here in a general sense because first and foremost we are American citizens and we are determined to apply our citizenship to the fullness of its meaning. We are here also because of our love for democracy,  because of our deep-seated belief that democracy transformed from thin paper to thick action is the greatest form of government on earth.

But we are here in a specific sense because of the bus situation in Montgomery. We are here because we are determined to get the situation corrected. This situation is not at all new. The problem has existed over endless years. For many years now, Negroes in Montgomery and so many other areas have been inflicted with the paralysis of crippling fear  on buses in our community. On so many occasions, Negroes have been intimidated and humiliated and oppressed because of the sheer fact that they were Negroes. I don’t have time this evening to go into the history of these numerous cases. Many of them now are lost in the thick fog of oblivion, but at least one stands before us now with glaring dimensions…

Just the other day, just last Thursday to be exact, one of the finest citizens in Montgomery- not [just] one of the finest Negro citizens, but one of the finest citizens in Montgomery–was taken from a bus and carried to jail and arrested because she [Parks] refused to get up to give her seat to a white person…

And you know, my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression. There comes a time, my friends, when people get tired of being plunged across the abyss of humiliation, where they experience the bleakness of nagging despair. There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November. There comes a time.

We are here, we are here this evening because we are tired now…

And we are not wrong; we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I want to say that in all of our actions, we must stick together. Unity is the great need of the hour  and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you.  We are not afraid of what we are doing, because we are doing it within the law…

We are going to work together. Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people…a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization….”

Huck Finn would be in juvy lock-up today.

It’s that time again. Another round of the predictable outcry in a school district over Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

(A good opinion piece about it by New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani, here.)

The argument is always the same: Twain’s use (a zillion times) of the word “nigger” is insulting and racist, and not appropriate for discussion by students in this enlightened time. His novels should be banned–or worse–rewritten to remove the offensive words.

This fight always leaves me very cranky.

First, because I have always secretly disliked the novels of Mark Twain, which is like hating puppies. I’ve made a vow to try them again this year, just in case my literary tastes have matured. So, stay tuned on that.

Second: Why is it that the opponents to Twain’s writing are almost always such obvious misfits? Unpopular professors seeking to make a name for themselves; wacky PTA presidents, pastors of some church way, way off the mainline.

I’ve always wondered why Twain gets picketed and Louisa May Alcott doesn’t. God knows there is more truth in his view than hers…what family is as happy as the March clan? As for bad influences: Clearly Jo was a lesbian who marries that old guy just to get out of the house. And what about Beth’s mysterious death? Oh, and P.S., maybe Daddy March ought to get a real job, hmmmm?

For months now I’ve been working on a project that has me immersed in reading about our sinful history of slavery; of lynching, the civil rights movement and, more recently, Vietnam. Erasing this hateful word from literature doesn’t erase that history. It just makes it a bit easier to pretend it didn’t happen.

Here’s what I know for sure: We can’t learn and change without reading and seeing the stuff of the past. And if we don’t teach kids the nuance and import of context, they are royally screwed. Left without one of the most important tools for making decisions and forming personal ethics.

Here’s an idea: You educators, parents and others who fear that the language of Twain will embarrass or disrespect or corrupt our youth — why don’t you go to work on a study guide that runs through the various points of view on the matter. Tell us how and why it became unacceptable to call a grown African American man, “boy.” Explain why it took so long for the big newspapers to use Mr. or Mrs. or Miss when referring to black people–just as they did when writing about white folks. Trace the timing and thought behind the migration from “colored” to “negro” to “Negro” to “black” to “Black” to “Afro-American” to “African American” to a person of color.

Sanitizing language is silly. It’s a teaching moment, so get on with it.

In 100 years someone will be agitating to ban your study guide. I promise.

Why I won’t whine about federal taxes.

If you’ve ever tried to find an issue of the Congressional Record from say, April 18, 1959, you too know that it is much, much easier to find a particular episode of Law & Order playing on TV at any given time.

I spent much of yesterday morning searching for page 5696 on that date.  No luck.

Photo from columbia.edu/Corbis Bettman

Finally, I threw in the towel and emailed the Library of Congress. I expected I would hear back in a week or so. Twenty hours later, the answer is in my mailbox.

The anonymous Digital Reference Section did what elected officials always want government programs to do: Gave me some help, and then provided the tools for me to do the job myself next time.

The librarian attached Cong Record April 18 1959.  She or he was careful not to rub my nose in this failure, explaining that the 1950s were not available online, and oops! — the page numbers were 6252-53, not page 5696. Next time I know to go to a Federal Depository Library (all cities have ‘em) and get the stuff.

Oh, and the clip I was seeking? It announced an NAACP  youth march in Washington, D.C., in which thousands of young people, black and white, planned to demand equal rights for all.  “And they won’t take no for an answer.”

So, that’s why I won’t complain about taxes.

“Scottsboro” by Ellen Feldman

“Scottsboro: A Novel” by Ellen Feldman (Norton, 2008) -

The case of the “Scottsboro Boys” in 1931 proves that real-life stories, are in fact, stranger, meaner, more shocking and riveting than the made-up stuff can ever be.

The Alabama case of nine African American teenagers charged with the rape of two white women stretched on for years, a spectacle still unrivaled. The Jim Crow racism that allowed the trumped-up charges to stand is well known, but Ellen Feldman’s excellent novel tells of the other forces at work.

The International Labor Defense (legal arm of the Communist Party), the NAACP, various writers, and other defenders of the Scottsboro nine kept them alive, each questioning the motives–even the true goals–of the other. As one character remarked in accusing another defender: Some activists knew that nine martyrs were more politically useful than nine free men, and so actually hoped for their convictions.

Some of the novel’s characters have rich real-life histories, such as Sam Leibowitz, the tireless defense attorney–also known as a CommieNewYorkJew, who was a hero, an opportunist, and a figure who provoked both pride and fear in other American Jews. (The Scottsboro case explains much about new waves of anti-Semitism during the years that followed.) The two women, cast as victims by Southern white-supremacist myth, emerge as a pair of the most sympathetic liars in modern history.

A fine book, well grounded in history and crafted with skill.

Land of (limited) milk and honey.

We Americans have a hard time deciding if we’re a Land of Opportunity or Opportunism.

We’ve got a thriving “income defense industry,” which New York Times writer Paul Sullivan defines as “accountants, lawyers and financial advisers employed by the wealthy — and the merely affluent — to manage their financial affairs.”  (See the entire article, here.)

Now, there’s nothing wrong with holding on to your hard-earned gains, but much of what these defenders do amounts to standing on the necks of those living way down the food chain. The money-guarders’ machinations mean more tax dollars are growing interest off in distant accounts, not here at home paying for schools and roads.

Yet some of the tax dollars that are collected end up funding programs that do help the little gal. Case in point (and written about in the same issue of the NYT) is the feds’ 203(k) mortgage program. This little-touted method of borrowing allows us to buy ailing properties with small down payments and then renovate them under what seem like some wisely strict regulations. (Lynnley Browning’s article, here.)

Even when we have a good idea that benefits the worker bee in our society, we seem to make sure it doesn’t fully succeed. (For a start, can’t someone give better names to these tax-status things? Let’s branch out to punctuation marks at least: the 203(!) program would look a lot more upbeat, wouldn’t it?)

What we need is a better income defense industry for the regular folks. That used to be the job of elected officials, but, well, they’re busy elsewhere.

A state for the robber barons.

Columnist Paul Krugman takes a tough stand in his New York Times column. Consider this excerpt:

“…if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.”

As Krugman points out, everyone gets to whine…but things are really going south when Forbes magazine runs a cover story saying that President Obama “is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, ‘anticolonialist’ agenda, that the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.”

These rich people are obviously terrified. And of what, exactly?

Maybe it would be easier to let this one percent of super-wealthy Americans have their own state. They can elect their friends to leadership positions, ban all state income taxes, and call in their state’s militia when anyone tries to cross the border who doesn’t think the way they think.

Of course, it might be tough to form a state militia. Or get the living rooms cleaned.

As for that clogged bathroom drain…unplug it yourself, moneybags. All the little people are busy helping the President figure out ways to screw you out of your last buck.

Review: “The Warmth of Other Suns”

An excerpt from my Seattle Times review of Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.

Many of us see the history of African Americans as bracketed by slavery and the televised moments of the 1950s-’60s civil-rights movement. Coverage of Barack Obama’s historic election replayed those midcentury milestones: cruel, brave, jubilant, violent moments. The past unrolled in footage of powerful speeches; attack dogs and fire hoses; a dignified, unblinking dark-skinned girl walking into a Southern school with white adults screaming abuse all around her.

Isabel Wilkerson’s exceptional book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” moves the story to a much larger screen, as she chronicles the migration of some six million African Americans who left the South behind between World War I and the 1970s. Her extensive demographic and social-history research, thousands of interviews and select oral histories create a fresh, rich book.

Wilkerson, who teaches at Boston University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times writer. She spent more than a decade on the book, which is framed by the migration of three very different people in this revolutionary exodus out of Jim Crow segregation.

See the whole review, here.

Sweet land of liberty. Wait, not so fast.

Right on schedule: Times are tough, jobs are scarce, so the loudmouths look around for someone to bully.

The Sunday New York Times tells me:

1. Half of the 14.6 million people out of work have been that way for more than six months.

2. A group of senior Republican senators wants to revisit the 14th Amendment, which allows American-born children citizenship, regardless of their parents’ status. And, across the country there is frantic railing against plans to build Islamic mosques–especially a proposal for one near the World Trade Center’s graveyard.

Regardless of how you feel about people who come here following the ideal of freedom or those here who insist that they should be able to worship who/what/where they wish–you’ll surely agree with this:

If the Republican senators  put their considerable energy, taxpayer-provided resources and powerful media platforms to work on solving the unemployment problem, they could do it. If the likes of mediagenic Sarah Palin, a vocal opponent to mosque construction, joined in…even better.

Instead, they are repeating mistakes of the past that will exact a price far greater than we can afford.

Keep your tired, your poor...

We perfected this behavior long ago, when the Civil War ravaged the Southern economy and led to a new kind of racism and segregation. The period called Reconstruction promised a lot to African Americans. Almost all of those promises were broken within a few years. Then, as now, citizenship was something to be denied, then granted, then denied again by the ruling class.

It took the South a century to recover and begin to thrive economically after legislation and social mores forced “free” blacks to the back of the bus and denied them the basic rights that came with citizenship for their white neighbors.

Along with the xenophobic and racist policies, the region got a culture that worked white mill workers (including their children) literally to death, and ensured they’d die in debt to the company store. Citizens and de facto slaves alike woke up to a land stripped of coal, timber and other resources by the same folks who promised that segregated mills would lead the South out of its poor past. Fast forward a few decades and see how it played out: The images seen around the world of dogs and fire hoses being used to govern are still synonymous with “the South” and “civil rights,” despite the enormous progress of the last 60 years.

We’re out of work, we’re broke, we’re scared and we’re going to fix it all by putting our collective foot on the necks of whomever we can keep down.

It won’t work this time around either.

(NYTimes stories: “Jobless And Staying That Way” by Nelson D. Schwartz and  “I’m American. And You?” by Matt Bai. Also, “Across Nation Mosque Projects Meet Opposition,” by Laurie Goodstein.)

77 Words: “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot (Crown, 2010) -

Cells from Henrietta Lacks, a cancer patient in the 1950s, started something that seems more magical than scientific. Johns Hopkins doctors who took the cells from Lacks, a poor African American farmer, never imagined creating HeLa – the “immortal” cells grown in culture that live on and save lives around the world. This is tireless, deep reporting sensitively done and written with unusual clarity. The very talented Skloot erases the line between lab and humanity with inspiring deftness.
(For more “77 Words: Tiny Book Reviews, click here.)

Lena Horne, artist and activist, (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was more than a singer; she transported her listeners in a way few artists do. She was more than someone who broke the popular-entertainment color barrier; she was an intelligent, beautiful and tireless treasure.  Her New York Times obituary doesn’t quite capture her spirit and sound, but this vintage video clip comes close.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Horne.

Arizona: Toughen up that immigrant law.

I was away last week, traveling the highways of the Southwest and the byways of the Northeast. Now I’ve come home to ponder the brilliance of the new immigrant law in Arizona.

It’s ingenious, really. It requires local cops to grab anyone who looks suspicious and demand proof of citizenship. Simple, but brilliant. The last time a state took this kind of well-thought out initiative was back in the day when public restrooms in the South were marked WHITE and COLORED.

All this whining about violating the Constitution is silly. That Constitution applies to REAL citizens, not people who sneak across the border determined to live debauched lives of mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, picking fruit or babysitting white kids. Surely any citizens detained by mistake will understand that it is all for their own safety and well-being.

And the claim that local police are not equipped to administer such a law is simply not true. Who better to pick out sneaky illegals than the armed guy or gal who already protects the streets terrorized by these roving, Spanish-speaking law breakers?

Instead of hissing our disapproval, we should be grateful that Arizona’s lawmakers are willing to live with the occasional delay when they call 911 after a rape, burglary or armed robbery. (We’ll be right with you ma’am, we just need to finish the paperwork on this Garcia fellow.)

The only reasonable criticism of this new law is that it doesn’t go far enough. Why not require all non-citizens to attach a badge of sorts on their clothes? Something easy to spot, like a star, maybe. In a bright color like yellow or pink. It’s not high-tech or expensive. Anyone, even someone who doesn’t speak English, can understand this requirement.

And here’s the beauty part: We already know it works.

A snapshot of us.

Sometimes an hour with the newspaper is all I need to see the immense contradictions and ironies of this country. These New York Times pieces are a case in point.

A story by Katie Zernike ponders polling of resentful Tea Party supporters.  I am ashamed of these fellow citizens; their racism, their short-sighted, self-serving demands for a return to the so-called  “real America” — code for a class system that keeps them snug and well-fed while shutting others out:

“In the poll, Tea Party supporters …were almost unanimous in their dislike of President Obama. Overwhelmingly, they said he does not share the values most Americans live by and does not understand the needs and problems of people like them. They are significantly more likely than Republicans or the general public to say that too much attention has been made of the problems facing black people, and that the policies of the Obama administration favor blacks over whites and the poor over the rich or the middle class.”

Then I turned to the obit page and saw that another highly visible figure in the civil rights movement has died: Benjamin L. Hooks. age 85. Hooks, who headed the NAACP for many years, was a minister, businessman and the first African American to be named a judge in Tennessee’s criminal courts. He was also the first to be appointed to the Federal Communications Commission. Hooks struggled to keep issues of civil rights in the forefront when Americans began to take the gains of the 1960s for granted. He wasn’t the most compelling public voice in the movement, but to look at his life and work is to understand the crucial changes wrought by Americans who would no longer tolerate Jim Crow.

And, finally, a profile of Eddie Feibusch, the undisputed king of zippers, reminds me that this is also a land of opportunity, imagination and very good stories.

The piece by Ralph Blumenthal describes the indefatigable 86-year-old:

“He sold a zipper for Margaret Truman’s wedding gown when Miss Truman, the president’s daughter, married Clifton Daniel in 1956, he is proud to say. He sold zippers to Nike for Tiger Woods and Roger Federer. And a prison in North Carolina called for a zipper for Bernard L. Madoff. Why? He doesn’t know.

New York City’s garment industry once had lots of zipper shops, some bigger than his, Mr. Feibusch says. But little by little they relocated, to China, India, Costa Rica. Then came the Sept. 11 attacks. ‘They couldn’t get their goods in,’ he said. “That was the end of the business.’

But not for Mr. Feibusch, a prewar refugee from Vienna who overcame not just the Nazis but also Velcro…”

Holsters and health care.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has answered a question that’s been nagging at me: What’s really behind the strong opposition to the health care plan?

I know that some people worry that changes in insurance regulations will erode the coverage they already have. I’m convinced that out-and-out racism plays a role and that some opponents are more interested in seeing President Obama fail than taking care of their neighbors.

But these things don’t explain the fiery anger, the bold willingness to stand up in front of the entire world and say NO to better care for more Americans, including millions of children, hardworking adults and folks with chronic conditions that can be labeled “preexisting.”

Barbour’s now much-quoted remark about guns turned the light bulb on over my head:

“I do not believe the United States government has a right, it has the authority or power to force us to purchase health insurance any more than, in the name of homeland security, they can force every American to have to buy a gun,” the governor said.”

Setting aside for the moment that this statement is historically inaccurate (look up the Second Militia Act of 1792 in which folks were indeed required to go forth and get guns), Barbour’s sound byte speaks volumes. On some level these opponents simply do not believe that decent health care is something every person needs, therefore they see no reason to create laws that ensure its delivery. They see health care as an option, a luxury; something that people elect to have, like the premium cable package.

Here’s what I’d like to see: A running ticker like the ones in Times Square that report stock prices. Only this one would chart each visit to a doctor or medical facility by an elected official who votes on health care measures, state or federal.

Brothers under the skin

I’ve just finished two books chosen with my patented speed-browsing library technique (see earlier post) and it was a gratifying, if odd, mix.

One is the autobiography “Black is the New White” by Paul Mooney, a groundbreaking stand-up comedian in his own right, who wrote and inspired much of the late Richard Pryor’s comedic work. The other is “Cheever: A Life” by Blake Bailey, about writer John Cheever. The latter is usually called something along the lines of “the foremost…” or “the defining…” writer of post-World War II America. (Both books were published in 2009.)

On the face of it, these men could not be more different. Yet, as it turns out, there are some real and remarkable similarities.

Mooney is a man of color who refused to knuckle under to white Hollywood and who bulldozed barriers that opened the way for Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, Wanda Sykes and countless other smart, hilarious, definitely-not-Caucasian performers. Cheever was the ultra-WASP; the suburban family man who went on to craft fiction that won every coveted prize available, and whose novels and short stories changed the way readers read, teachers taught, editors edited and writers wrote.

Both men were ground-breakers, originals. Both were fueled by powerful anger at the so-called ruling class: Mooney versus white America; Cheever against the established squires of society and the educated men of letters he so envied.

Mooney found a way to make his otherness matter; Cheever did the same, although through a much more tortured route. He wrote to keep his demons at bay, hiding behind a Brooks Brothers facade, terrified that his closet bisexuality, alcoholism and various self-identified failings would come to light and ruin him.

I moved between the books depending on my mood. I like to keep a serious book and a lighter one going at the same time. As it turns out, they are both serious books. They are both about men who shaped the culture in ways never imagined before their work came along.

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Simon Spotlight Entertainment., 264 pages, ISBN: 9781416587958

Knopf, 770 pages; ISBN: 9781400043941

Judging books by their covers…it works

My local library branch shelves the newly acquired books on a long bookcase right inside the front door. The books are divided into fiction and nonfiction, but otherwise no distinctions are made.

I’ve developed the habit of zipping through the section, picking a few books for late-night recreational reading based on such deep thinking as liking the cover design, typeface, title and story blurb inside the front cover.

I quickly reject any book:

–touted as the tale of a family “torn apart” by a tragic accident;

–about women who triumph after being dumped by their dirtbag husbands; or

–set in the future.

Some things get grabbed without hesitation:

–trashy novels or history set in Great Britain, past or present;

–Cop stories and military memoirs;

–New takes on race relations or the 1960s Civil Rights era;

–Stuff on FDR, Lyndon Johnson or Muhammad Ali.

I confess, and here I reveal myself to be even more…well, mercurial would be kind: I also tend to pull out novels with (1) good titles; and (2) author names that appear to be Jewish or Irish.

The latest great score to come out of this imperfect approach is “Hold Love Strong,” a novel by Matthew Aaron Goodman and published in 2009 by Simon & Schuster. Goodman’s book met a number of my criteria–grabby cover, arresting blurb, likely Jewish author name, good title, race-relations subject matter.

This is a wonderful novel about an African American boy named Abraham Singleton who must navigate his blighted neighborhood, skirt the crackheads, cops and other dangerous types, and sort out the complicated feelings and demands woven into that thing we call family.

The book opens this way:

“The first pain came at noon but she didn’t tell anybody about it. My mother was thirteen and she went about the afternoon being every part of such a precarious age. She watched TV. She popped pimples and studied her face in the bathroom mirror. She listened to the radio, sang along with songs, and laughed along with the afternoon DJs. She wrote in her diary, ‘I still can’t Believe! I’m pregnant…’ “

The word “lyrical” is ubiquitous in blurb copy on new fiction. In this case, it’s accurate. Goodman has a very rare gift for telling harsh truths in beautiful language–without losing veracity, without being sentimental, without straining to take on the voice of a young boy using a strictly vernacular style.

The nimble young human brain, and heart, are capable of such rapid, wild swings and shockingly wise insights. Capturing them is something of a miracle. Goodman does it.

My rec-reading selection system may be a little flimsy, but it worked this time. Check this one out.

Time for groundshaking change

Why is it that earthquakes always hit so hard in the poorest areas?

The erudite New York Times columnist David Brooks reminds us that poverty means shakily constructed buildings, inadequate water, sewer and medical services even before the disaster strikes. He offers grisly evidence of how that plays out: The 1989 quake in the Bay Area and the recent one in Haiti were the same magnitude: 7.0. But while 63 people died in California, upwards of 50,000 are dead in Haiti.

The United States sends trillions in aid to poorer counties like Haiti, and it clearly hasn’t helped enough. Brooks raises our dismal record at bringing about economic growth around the globe. He cites the various reasons: We’re basically clumsy at this sort of thing; micro-aid, while important, is only one piece of the puzzle; and — most interesting to me — our concerns about cultural correctness.

Brooks, comparing Haiti’s poverty to the Dominican Republic’s progress, puts it this way:

“Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth — with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.”

Haiti, he writes, has resisted progress for a number of reasons: the influence of voodoo religion that emphasizes life’s capriciousness; mistrust of authority; widespread neglect and abuse of children. (Who presumably do not grow up equipped to improve things.)

“We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures,” Brooks writes. “But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.”

The point here is not to hold back dollars to Haiti, but to use this nightmarish earthquake to take a hard look at how US aid can be used to help other countries grow out of poverty. We don’t have a great track record in this, but we do now have the right person in the White House to push the issue — someone who can speak plainly on the traditions and cultural behaviors that block progress.  The rest of the world will listen to President Obama when he talks about culture, poverty and duty.

Oppression 3.0

I’ve been thinking about division of labor lately and I realize just how dramatically the who-does-what-around-the-house process has changed for me.

Twenty years ago, the question of who emptied the dishwasher was a feminist issue. Ten years before that it was completely non-negotiable because I flatly refused to do any “traditionally female” activities. This hard-ass attitude was less impressive than it might have been, given that I had neither dishwasher nor many dishes in my household…nor, come to think of it, a man. But, hey, the principle was still valid.

I’m not less of a feminist now; in fact I may be giving off a higher reading on the Sisterhood Geiger Counter. But two things have changed, one of them positive, the other anything but.

The positive is that I’m married to a man who is a feminist, which means a load of laundry is just a pile of dirty clothes, not a teaching moment. On the downside, I’m more worried about other kinds of bigotry–that based on race and class.

I wonder what my younger self would have thought if someone had prophesied about the open-ended ransom being paid now to banks and other protected corporations, while the folks ponying up the dough are losing homes, cars, jobs. Or what I would have made of the spreading Neo-Klan mentality that’s come to light during the discourse on that Congressional moron insulting the President.

It’s enough to make me miss the days when my big worry was who did the vacuuming.