Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Four things US President Barack Obama did not say in response to Republican Congressman Todd "Legitimate Rape" Akin yesterday:

"JUSTICE IS JUSTICE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of justice we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are white, making justice decisions on behalf of people of color."

"MURDER IS MURDER. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of murder we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are imperialists, making military decisions on behalf of innocents abroad."

"CLIMATE CHANGE IS CLIMATE CHANGE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of climate change we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are corporate stooges, making harmful resource extraction decisions on behalf of human and nonhuman cultures and ecosystems."

"HEALTHCARE IS HEALTHCARE. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of healthcare we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people and certainly doesn’t make sense to me. So, what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are in bed with insurance and pharmaceutical corporations, making healthcare decisions on behalf of the poor and vulnerable."

Instead, the first US President to ever have a "kill list" and assume the authority to command that any person, anywhere, may be killed for any reason, at any time, said that rape is rape, and that we shouldn't parse it, and that "we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making healthcare decisions on behalf of women."

And now I am angry and confused. The de facto dominant mass cultural message emanating from people repulsed by Akin's utterly repugnant ideas about rape, women's reproductive rights, and human biology, seems to be that since some or many US Republicans will support laws that negate women's rights, the coming federal elections are a referendum on these rights, and so Democrats must be supported in these elections.

But there is a fallacy here. Democrats, and Barack Obama chief among them, have a record of sustained campaigns of terror against women. Every time a bomb is dropped, a rocket is launched, or a bullet is fired by US military abroad, we must consider these to have targeted women. Every time a trained killer, who must obey orders and not his conscience, is stationed somewhere, he is a threat to women. Every time a vote is cast to increase the cash flow from struggling folks to the Pentagon, it is a vote against women. Women, specifically. Women suffer the most in war. They suffer the most from the belligerent occupying forces, the exploitative corporations, the local creeps taking advantage of the chaos.

And women suffer the most in wars that are undeclared, but are wars nonetheless. Obama has proven himself an enemy of the environment. His policies, from his embrace of nuclear power to his enthusiasm for hydrofracking to his duplicitous zeal for tar sands mining to his commitment to "offshore" oil drilling, are contributing to the horrendous condition of our air, water, soil, climate. The effects - fires, floods, food scarcity, toxics everywhere, and so forth - are felt hardest by the most vulnerable in all societies. These are never politicians, never (white) men, never the wealthy, anywhere on Earth.

What was Obama saying about rape last week? Where was his concern? Women were still being raped, were still being harassed for seeking healthcare, were still being denied their rights. Obama's most important piece of legislation has been his giant gift to health insurance companies.

The political expediency of his response to Akin reveals exactly who he is: not committed to social justice issues. Like all rat-bastard politicians, including his opponent Mitt Romney, he is committed to himself, and satisfying the whims of those who pull his strings. Now I'm thinking about how fast he suspended his political campaign and rushed to Aurora, Colorado, when James Holmes shot up a movie theater there. And now I'm thinking about how he did not do that when Wade Michael Page did the same to a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin a few weeks later.

I am witnessing not just politicians, but their supporters, segregate their moral concern. It is intellectually dishonest and it is ineffectual in bringing about real social change. Today I saw an inspiring statement: Rise Up or Shut Up. It is a reminder of what it means to be truly committed to social and political change. Someone who is genuinely committed to the rights of women does not wait until a "Legitimate Rape"-ist like Todd Akin speaks before advancing the notion that actually no, women should rule their own bodies. Someone who is genuinely committed to the rights of women does not bomb them, does not starve them, does not torture their brothers and sons, does not run toxic pipelines across their farmland, or their aquifers, or their sacred sites, does not accept political bribes from corporations that toss women and men out of their homes, or that draft legislation funneling them into lives lost in the for-profit prison-industrial complex.

Perhaps the argument I am trying to make is convoluted. I am writing while I am angry. I am angry because I don't distinguish between men who rape and men who legislate rape. And I don't distinguish between kinds of rape. And I don't segregate the victims of rape. It is a rapist mentality that keeps bombing people in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen. It is a rapist mentality that drills into the seabed looking for oil. And I think we can struggle against the individual rapes and the collective rapes, the Republican rapes and the Democrat rapes, without feeling ourselves thrown into the clutches of a different rapist on election day. We will not stop this rapist culture with votes. Rise up or shut up!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I don't know any cops. I see them on the street but usually they don't see me, because I don't fit the profile of the people they target for harassment, kidnappings, and murder.

Maybe you know some cops? A few weeks ago I was discussing the New Jim Crow with two friends, women who also want to see a fast end to the institutional racism in the US that preys on people of color to fill its prisons, ghettos, and morgues. I made the totally uncontroversial statement that all cops are bastards, only to remember, as I spoke, that one of my friends is the daughter of a cop.

I did not take back my statement, or apologize, but I did listen as she described her cop father: a man, she said, whose inclinations were anti-racist, toward genuine public safety, toward justice, who complained (at home) about dirty deeds on the force.

A few days later, cops in Anaheim, California executed Manuel Diaz in the street. Diaz, a 25-year-old community member accused of no crime, was shot from behind, as he ran with two other men in the opposite direction of the armed men trained to kill who were chasing him. Diaz was unarmed. After hand-cuffing him, police shot him in the back of the head at close range.

Members of that same police force responded to the families, who assembled in the neighborhood to demand justice, just like a bunch of cowardly bastards, firing bean bags from shotguns, firing rubber bullets, and letting loose an attack dog. The small, unarmed crowd included infants.

These cops then offered cash in hand to people in the crowd for their cellphones, presumably to dispose of the evidence of their disgusting crimes, which anyway found its way to network news and the Internet. Within 24 hours, these same cops murdered another community member, Joel Acevedo.

"Known gang members" is the way the police force, and the compliant media, justified these murders. "Police involved shooting" is the way the press describes them, and the numerous other acts of lethal, extra-judicial aggression this particular police force has committed in 2012.

Here's a reminder: so far, this year, a person of color is murdered by the state or its vigilante proxies every 36 hours in the US. I don't have the exact numbers for when American cops initiate beatings, sexual harassment, sexual assault, public humiliations, violations of privacy, threats, thefts, kidnappings and so forth. You can look up the numbers on incarcerations for non-violent offenses, for the way folks are kidnapped from their communities and stripped - with classless, colorblind laws that target people of color and the poor - of their rights to work, receive public assistance, vote.

And since I began this piece, I read of Chavis Carter, a young man who was stopped by cops in Jonesboro, Arkansas, searched multiple times, handcuffed, and thrown in the back of a police car. At some point after this, a bullet entered his right temple and killed him, and the pigs say it was a suicide. These cops are bastards.

What does it take for a cop to not be a bastard? To denounce, loudly and clearly, this kind of behavior. To refuse to participate in it. To refuse to protect the State from the people it is entrusted to serve. To refuse to protect corporations from people protesting their misdeeds. To refuse to protect private power, period. To recognize the functional difference between municipal police and the military.

Want to be a hero to the community? Escort vulnerable folks, without a gun. Be helpful, without a badge. Be responsible, without a uniform. But if you wear a uniform, if you wear a badge, if you carry a gun, know that the State no longer sees you as an individual, but as a weapon yourself. That's how it uses you, that's how it dispatches and discharges you. Know that many of the rest of us see you that way too, and with good reason.

If you wear a uniform and a badge, if you carry a gun, go ahead and demand accountability from the force, see how far that gets you. Remember that you are supposed to serve the community, not the force. Remember that the mass incarcerations and killings by police are done in your name and that, wearing that uniform, we see you as duplicate expressions of the same idea. Are you a weapon against us? What are you a weapon for?

If the cop in your life is still a cop, it means that he (or she) has not threatened the good ol' boys club with demands for accountability, but really it means that he (or she) hasn't risked job and benefits in a society that criminalizes joblessness and health problems. It means that they collude (actively, or by their silence) with other members of the force to alter or hide evidence of police crimes. It means they go out on the street, trained to kill, with weapons loaded, knowing damned well that we live in a society that targets people of color, youth, and poor folks, and have the temerity to expect respect, even praise.

I am about done writing when I read another story about murderous cop bastards, this one out of New York City, where the mayor brags "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world." Two days ago a swarm of these forces loyal to arch-plutocrat Bloomberg confronted Darrius Kennedy in Times Square. I am going to go out on a limb and say that a reasonable response to being confronted by multiple armed killers is to protect yourself. Kennedy pulled a knife and started to back away. I suppose Kennedy had mental health issues, and if this society cared to address them, it wouldn't shoot him dead in broad daylight.

Ten shots, I think I read, to slow down this one agitated man, from a police force well practiced at containing thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists at a time for the past year. Brave? No. Accountable? No. Just? Not at all.

Again, what were these cops a weapon against? Who were they a weapon for? Here is an account from social justice activist Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, who writes that

Will we live in fear of the State's municipal police forces or will we demand accountability and exact justice from them? Are all cops bastards? Let the bravest ones lay their weapons down, step forward, and prove otherwise.

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Because it bears repeating,

and regarding the anniversaries of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, civilian population centers in a country ready to surrender,

and regarding the billowing plumes of black smoke spilling out from the Chevron refinery in Richmond, California and into the lungs of the largely poor, black, and immigrant population there,

and regarding the US president who still takes cash from the nuclear industry, and thinks that hydrofracking should be exempt from clean air and water standards, and that BP and Shell and ExxonMobil and the rest should drill for oil, right there, offshore, in the fucking sea,

and regarding the drone aircraft that killed another ten men (and who knows how many women?) in Yemen earlier this week, ten men whose crime was their age, their gender, and the audacity to live where they live, making them "militants" (against whom? for what reason? in what war?),

and regarding the laying of the Keystone XL Pipeline across North America, from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, cutting like a dull, rusty knife through aquifers and mountains, wetlands and woodlands, prairies and farms, cutting through lands where genocide has taken place, cutting to line the pockets of a few men, the moral and biological descendents of those who committed the genocide,

and regarding the sending of spacecraft (military, scientific, commercial) through the atmosphere and into outerspace, the only atmosphere we have, our protection on this planet, the atmosphere that NASA must share with every species, and most of us never asked NASA to put us all at risk so that a camera could snoop around Mars anyway,

and regarding the white men who won't examine their fear and hatred, who lash out with violence against any "othered" individual or group, men like that white supremacist piece of garbage who brought his hatred to a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last weekend, putting to predictable work his years of training and indoctrination by the US military,

and regarding the asshole president who speaks of "soul-searching" after such a predictable bloodbath, while maintaining a kill list, the right to kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason, while defending war, defending apartheid, promoting the idea that remote-controlled aircraft armed with missiles and bombs, and covering the globe make anyone safer, and turning his back, like a fucking coward, on climate science, on American racism, on class warfare,

and regarding the murder of Marvin Wilson by the state of Texas a few days ago, a man who was so easy to kill, with an injection of poison into his bloodstream, and so difficult for people to defend, with his black skin, and his mental disability, which the racist, backward state compared in its murderous legal reasoning, its own intellectual deficiency, to a fictional character in the Steinbeck story Of Mice and Men,

and regarding the fact that at no time in history have so many people been imprisoned as there are, now, in the United States, and they are so disproportionally drawn from poor, black, and latino communities, and this is neither brave, nor free, nor secure, but unmitigated evil,

and regarding the hateful mass of people, who call themselves Christians, but whose charity amounts to eating the cooked flesh of industrially tortured chickens rather than countenancing the notion that their very neighbors might love who and how they wish to love, without fear,

and regarding the channeling of stolen wealth toward corporate stooge politicians amidst a backdrop of school closings, teacher layoffs, home foreclosures, and the absence of mental health resources to those pushed to the edge of despair by this shithouse culture,

but mostly because the degree to which the following sounds wrong to you reveals the degree to which you need to hear it again, to turn it around in your thoughts, to realize not everyone has it as good and easy as you,

god damn America.

Monday, July 23, 2012


"They are gunning us down in the streets.

Forces loyal to the regime are using both conventional and chemical weapons with lethal force on unarmed civilians, including women, children and infants.

Dissent has been criminalized and municipal police departments throughout the country have been militarized.

Freedom of speech has been curtailed. The press is run by financial elites with close ties to the ruling cabal, brought to power in a sham election.

Racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as well as people from stigmatized social groups and anyone expressing dissent, are singled out for extrajudicial punishment that includes disenfranchisement, harassment, torture, indefinite detention, and death.

The president has claimed the right to shut down all electronic communication, and a near-total spy network filters all opposition groups and storms the homes of their members.

Schools have been shut down at an alarming rate, sick and injured people are turned away from hospitals, labor unions have been broken up, and the regime has empowered vigilantes to harass and kill refugees escaping violence across the border.

We beg the international community to intervene on our behalf.

Sincerely, America."

Saturday, July 21, 2012


I am deeply saddened to read of the innocents targeted with gun violence in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater last night. And also all over the world, all the time.

I note that what those folks were doing in Aurora was what I wanted to do today: beat the heat for two hours, sit back comfortably and watch a fantasy story.

I don't know what all the other people targeted with gun violence around the world and in the US were doing. How were they beating the heat? What kind of comfort were they seeking out? What kind of stories did they want to be told? What kind of realities did they want to escape?

There is a total takeover of the news cycle when violence targets a bourgeois pastime, or when it targets white folks doing anything. At other times such violence is largely invisible (unless it concerns lucrative investments, sort of the same thing to some, but that's a discussion for another time).

I recall that the murder of Trayvon Martin was invisible. It became newsworthy only when the confessed and unrepentant murderer George Zimmerman became a potential fugitive from reluctant Florida law enforcement. The "violence" that concerned the news cycle was the disregard for authority that Zimmerman might have shown, had he really gone on the run.

Yesterday I read with horror, but without surprise, that in the period since Trayvon Martin's murder, a Black man, woman, or child is gunned down by the State or its proxies every thirty six hours in the US.

James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado shooting, like Jared Loughner before him, is a household name today. What are the names of the cops and vigilantes who go into black communities and kill with impunity? Where are the outraged media pundits to pour over the details on these horrors? Why didn't network news ask political candidates what their stance was on gun control when an off-duty cop strayed into Rekia Boyd's Chicago neighborhood and put a bullet through her head earlier this year? Or when scores of others were robbed of their futures, stolen from their families?

Justice? Accountability?

But what kind of expectation should anyone have of commercial news sources? The ABC network has labelled the shooting rampage in Aurora the largest mass shooting in US history. I saw this statistic jump instantly from ABC to Wikipedia (and who knows how many other information sources). It must now coexist, uncomfortably, like the colonizer with the colonized, with the fact that the hundreds of Lakota Sioux massacred by the US at Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890, were also people.

Oh, but that was war.

And it's all war, all the time.

I do not point any of this out to diminish the scope of the horror in Colorado, but to illustrate the dimensions of it. I revise the famous formulation misattributed to Stalin: one death a tragedy, a million deaths a million tragedies. And as I type this I see that 188 people were killed in Syria today. They had names and faces and mothers and lovers.

Barack Obama pulled his campaign ads in Colorado today, and directed flags to fly at half mast on all federal buildings. The indiscriminate massacre of innocents by bombs dropped from drone aircraft will not be suspended, however. Not for one fucking second. And armed gunmen, trained killers, armed and dressed something like the murderer in the Aurora movie theater, have the beloved politician's blessings - no, orders - to shoot up whoever they like in Afghanistan at this very moment.

My thoughts are with the families of the victims. All of them.

Monday, May 14, 2012


‎"The kindness of strangers" is a misnomer. When we're kind and generous and encouraging to each other we stop being strangers. I am so moved by everyone organizing and hosting my shows on the tour I am currently on through the US midwest and rust belt, people offering me meals and places to stay, saying "keep the change" when they buy tapes, saying encouraging words, which are beyond value, when they don't have cash to spare, taking time away from tough, vulnerable lives (as students, artists, parents, workers, unemployed) to listen to the words and music of a stranger with a strange name. We are cash poor but rich in community.

I am a musician who performs live. Some of my work has roots in jazz and popular music, some of it has roots in classical and avant garde composition. Some of it is decidedly experimental, in that I don't know the outcome when I start. A promise to those who take time out to be at a show: I will not sell you out. I am not here, with a famous name, to help venues sell high volumes of alcohol. I am not here, with meaningless lyrics, to be the soundtrack to meaningless liaisons. I am not here, with polite, cunning pieces, to glorify the sophisticated, high culture of an imperial, murderous culture. I am not here with slick pitches; looking out from behind my saxophone or my Farfisa, I see comrades and participants, not dollar signs.

I am in it because I love what I do and I love doing it for people. I hate that money and not love guide so many decisions and that everywhere we seem to be vulnerable to failed lives if we don't follow the dictates of money over love. Specifically because I am not in it for the money, everything that comes in -- whether guarantees, donations, door money, purchases of recordings, tips -- means as much to me as offers of a drink or a meal or a place to stay, a conversation about the city I'm in or the particulars of the local scene, a reflection on my work, an idea about where I should play next time to reach more listeners, an offer to play my work on a local radio station, an offer to release my work on an underground label.

I want to kill the culture that sets us up in client relationships, adversarial relationships, disconnected strangers temporarily, circumstantially inhabiting shared space (corporate owned, bank mortgaged, plastered with advertisements). I want us to be in it together, because I know that we are. Every show is a group show, every solo performance I give is with a huge band: people making flyers, opening up spaces, setting up equipment, sitting at the door, cleaning up, local bands playing for free to help bring their friends out to see a traveller, parents hiring babysitters or asking family to watch their children, in order to come out, late, on a weeknight.

I have had enough of the animosity with which musicians and sound engineers so often meet each other. My music, and an engineer's ability to make it sparkle and crack through their sound systems, in rooms they know, constitute the performance. We don't work in isolation from each other. When we do it well, with respect for each other, with patience, it doesn't matter if I sing about the sky falling, the night is about cooperation, not contempt, and I think the folks who come to the show receive that message.

Think about our culture for moment, its tempos, its contours, its expectations, its pressures. In this environment, taking time to give the unknown a chance, engaging in a time-based cultural interaction without the definite promise of some known, tangible, personal benefit is actually revolutionary. It's turning the culture on its head. And it's so easy! We can do so much of it. And it doesn't only have to be at shows. We go to shows, we put on shows, we can be giving about listening and performing, and then we can abstract this experience. How does it play out at the coffeeshop, the post office, the train station, the day job, in the kitchen, the classroom, the street?

You ever hear the line "Love may fail, but courtesy will prevail"? Kurt Vonnegut wrote that. I am so grateful for his writing. But maybe he was wrong. Love may fail and courtesy may prevail. But courtesy is a gateway drug: to kindness, and then to generosity. And this leads, dangerously, subversively, surely, back to love.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


Within the narrow confines of authoritarian power and influence that define the American political arena, it is good news whenever the idea of equality receives a boost from an individual in an influential position. Despite what polls say about the US population split down the middle with regard to marriage equality, I would like to imagine that I side with a majority of people in believing that every person, absolutely and without limitation, has the right to connect and partner and love as they choose. It may be just my imagination. I think the role of government, if there must be one, should be to protect such rights, rather than impose limits on them.

Joe Biden, and then Barack Obama, who wield enormous influence, both recently made statements in support of marriage equality for traditional, conventional, state-regulated, two-partner unions, regardless of the sexual orientation of the people involved. This may go some way in eventually countering the crop of backward, hateful state laws that specifically deny two gay people the right to marry. Or it may be an election-year ploy. (You decide.)

But I am very concerned about the cognitive dissonance that seems to have erupted around the statement of Mr Obama (a man, let us never forget, who likes to order people to be killed so much he used his Nobel Peace Prize speech a few years ago as an opportunity to defend war).

I opened up the popular social networking and FBI tracking website Facebook this morning to see that a friend had posted a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr and added the quote "The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice" followed by the words "Well done Mr. President!"

This is beyond the fucking beyond. It's a kool-aid overdose. It is to conflate a fearless civil rights advocate with a spineless corporate stooge. It is to suggest that when the one indicated that he no longer was still trying to decide whether gay people should have whole rights he somehow achieves the moral stature of a man who gave his life fighting the triple evils of racism, poverty, and war.

Obama, mass-murderous, whose disdain for justice and equality trumps his predecessors in real, actual, non-kool-aid terms, has indeed offered a historically marginalized, repressed group the vague benediction of (potential, possible) justice and equality. Does he deserve praise for that? He does not. 

King once said "I have worked too long and too hard to get rid of segregation in public accommodations to turn back to the point of segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And wherever I see injustice, I’m going to take a stand against it whether it’s in Mississippi or whether it’s in Vietnam.”

Specifically and pointedly and militantly, when he declares his vague support for gay rights (or any other "good" thing), Obama ought to be taken to task for "segregating his moral concern." To fail to do this is cognitive dissonance at best, and intellectually dishonest at worst.

If crimes of aggression are the supreme crime, carrying with them all other crimes, and if Obama is at the top of the mass murderous chain of command, it is literally fucking insane to thank him for statements in support of limited authoritarian support for some equality for some people who engage in some conventional behavior. Can there even be such a thing as "some equality"?

A reminder: the man receiving the accolades and the outrageous adulation for conceding that more people should have the right to enter into conventional, state-regulated relationships than his predecessors, has also specifically ordered the killing of US citizens, including children, accused of no crime. He has declared that he walks "in lock-step" (his words) with the apartheid, war criminal regime in Israel. He has demonstrated a predilection for murdering people with flying robots, a preference for military tribunals at an offshore imperial torture & detention center over real trials in real courts of justice, an insistence on addressing only the middle class and never the poor -- who are disproportionally people of color and therefore over-policed, over-incarcerated, often disenfranchised and thus unable to vote. He has been determined, since year one of his presidency, to turn away from all climate science, drill everywhere, and thus leave society's most vulnerable to suffer most as the global climate becomes weirder. He has enthusiastically embraced every civil liberties-encroaching bill that he can sign up for, from the Patriot Act to the NDAA to the anti-protest Trespass Bill (HR 347). He has expanded war, encroached on privacy, protected corporations, continued "drug war" policies, turned his back on racial oppression, and amassed the largest campaign fund in history, again.

This is equality? This is justice? This is praiseworthy? The arc of the moral universe is long. It does, indeed, bend toward justice. And away from Mr Obama.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The American Way

"Go back to your country, you terrorist."

That's the message left in a note next to the body of Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year-old mother of five who was beaten with a tire iron in her California home on March 21.

She can't go back to her native Iraq, now, though, after nearly two decades in the US. She's dead. A few days after the attack, she died, in a hospital.

Evil as it was, Shaima's murder was not senseless. It was a predictable, logical expression of the culture. American politicians elbow each other to justify precisely this kind of treatment of Iraqi women, from Operation Desert Storm in 1990, to the bombing raids and brutal economic sanctions of the ensuing decade, through 'Operation Iraqi Liberation', to Obama's faux withdrawal from Iraq late last year.

I want to make this point as clearly as possible, but it is difficult, because it is at once so obvious and so upsetting.

American politicians, military personnel, and business people tied to "defense", "security", and "energy", have been literally and figuratively gunning down Iraqi mothers since at least 1990. They do this with the total approval of US media, from the New York Times to FOX, from CNN to NPR. They do this with the complicity of Americans who reinforce such actions with votes, patronage, a willingness to be perpetually misinformed, a refusal to unpack their privilege.

This murder is the embodiment of the culture: the brutal beating of a woman, an outsider, a mother; an infantile note with an inane message; the victimizer running from the scene of his crime; the news media turning from it (and, in the same moment, attempting to smear Trayvon Martin, the victim of another targeted assasination on the other side of the country).

This is the American way. This is what America does. It beats Shaima Alawadi with a tire iron. It guns down Trayvon Martin for the color of his skin. It trespasses, off duty, into the neighborhood of Rekia Boyd and fires a bullet into her skull. With badges on, it chases 18-year-old Ramarley Graham into his own home and murders him. It plugs holes into children, women, and men in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, sets them on fire, and then spirits away a single man, as if he alone were responsible, as if it was an isolated act, as if the US didn't bring the killer, many killers, and more than a decade of devastation to Kandahar Province.*

This is the American way. It threatens to drop nuclear bombs on Iran while cautioning the starving of North Korea to obey whatever diktat the US sees fit to impose. It manufactures and sells the weapons to crush liberation uprisings from Egypt to Palestine, from China to Tibet, from LA to NYC.

Each US president reiterates what the last said, that there will be no apologies, to great applause. Each stands in front of a flag and feigns remorse when the stories of individual victims of predictable violence become known, when these stories shock enough people that a response is demanded, when there's an angle that the news media can parley into better ratings with the insightful banter of authoritative white men in suits. With the most insincere sincerity they declare their determination to "get to the bottom of this", which invariably means forcing the issue out of the collective consciousness as fast as possible.

Talk to anyone who wears the American way as a badge of honor and wait -- wait in vain, wait forever -- for them to talk about patriarchy, about white privilege, about the myriad ways to be "othered" in the US: for being a woman, for being a person of color, for being born somewhere else, for living in the wrong neighborhood, for wearing hijab, for dressing differently, for speaking differently, for loving differently, for working differently, for praying differently, for being indigenous, for defending oneself.

America is 300 million white supremacist, xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist imperialist murdering rat bastards.

And you. You're not this. So prove it.

No one needs anyone's casual shock, how terrible this or that isolated incident is, change the channel. Their violence is coordinated, it is premeditated, and it is sustained. That's what our resistance to it must be. Thoughtful, creative in the extreme, persistent, diverse. If you are a person of conscience, if you have had enough of young mothers living under the threat of a beating -- from anyone, for any reason -- if you have had enough of teenage boys gunned down by cops, whole families incinerated by the Pentagon, smooth-talking asshole criminal politicians tap dancing for the camera, your friends and neighbors constantly marginalized for this or that otherness, women slut-shamed, you're in luck, even the climate of the planet agrees with you. You know where to find others who feel as deeply as you do the need to stop the beatings, the bombings, the shootings, the imprisonments. Find them, get to work, before the next manifestation of the American way takes a tire iron to another mother, before it puts a bullet in another beloved son.

* The victims of the (most recent) massacre in Kandahar have names: Mohamed Dawood, Khudaydad, Payendo, Robeena, Shatarina, Nazia, Masooma, Farida, Palwasha, Nabia, Estmatullah, Faizullah, Essa Mohamed, Akhtar Mohamed, who were murdered, and Haji Mohamed Naim, Mohamed Sediq, Parween, Rafiullah, Zardana and Zulheja, who were wounded.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Vocabulary Is Not The Problem

Last week I wrote a few paragraphs on the subject of free speech. The subtext would have been clear to any American paying attention: the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 went into effect on March 1. Predator Obama signed it into law, like a fucking coward, on New Year's Eve, hiding behind the fact that some Americans were celebrating the calendar's birthday, some were trying to avoid getting attacked with chemical weapons by municipal security forces in body armor, and some were just trying to get some sleep before another work day.

By now you know that the NDAA gives authoritarian serial killers like Obama and whatever scum-sucking fascist theocrat follows him the legal cover to kidnap and torture anyone on the planet, at any time, for any reason (or lack thereof).

But the timing of what I wrote coincided with something else that corporate and social media has latched on to here in the United States of Bombing People: right wing influence peddler and living embodiment of a pile of shit Rush Limbaugh had some derogatory words for Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student and advocate for women's reproductive rights who spoke to the US Congress on the need for women to have access to birth control as part of their health insurance coverage.

Nothing new, there are innumerable evil men like Limbaugh on American radio, preaching hatred for women, under the cover of "family" or "religious" or "conservative" values, every hour of every day. As nasty as it was, and as much as I would like to punch him in the face repeatedly for saying it, I believe that Limbaugh had the "right" to say what he said. Bowing to the public pressure applied to his corporate paymasters over a span of two whole days, he did sort of almost apologize for this one particular incidence of his rhetorical violence against women.

It's a difficult thing for me to articulate, this right of someone I hate to say things I hate, because I don't want any mother or sister or daughter to ever be called a "slut". Women (in the United States as elsewhere in industrial civilization) continue to be the subjects of violent rhetoric, laws, and social behavior that are all unacceptable. How do we end this violence? Is it enough to decide what can and cannot be said?

I think not. Any person of conscience is sickened and outraged by the misogynistic speech of assholes like Rush Limbaugh. But then, people of conscience are sickened and outraged by a patriarchal culture that accepts and normalizes violence and hatred directed at women in every aspect of our society.

Rush Limbaugh is a symptom. In our culture there will always be scumbag misogynists like him because it is our very culture which is misogynistic. Dig: liberals want Limbaugh taken off the air for his disgusting use of words, but have few or no words themselves when it comes to the men giving orders at this moment to literally murder women. It is no secret that women bare the heaviest burden of war, and the United States is at constant war, as the NDAA clearly reflects. Wars need armies. How often and how aggressively does the US military prosecute its male soldiers for raping its women soldiers? But here's another example, the war on Afghanistan, which is particularly brutal.


Afghan women face three enemies: the misogynist Taliban, the misogynist Afghan warlords (made over to look like a legitimate government), and the misogynist Western warlords who are engaged in an imperial war of aggression (the supreme crime under international law, if you get with that sort of thing). The US and its NATO partners routinely bomb civilian targets. Women, men, and children who go to recover the remains of their loved ones after indiscriminate bombing raids (which in themselves are an outrage) are the deliberate targets of secondary bombing raids. In order to terrorize the population, bombing raids are conducted by President Exelon's "Reaper" and "Predator" robot planes on weddings, funerals, homes, schools. Such attacks have increased manifold since the Nobel Prize-winning father of two took over for George W. Bush, another sociopathic baby-killing father. (Read A Woman Among Warlords, the indispensable memoir of the young Afghan opposition leader and women's rights advocate Malalai Joya, to learn about the desperate and worsening situation for women in her country.)

Let's walk and chew gum at the same time. Sure, I can get with any campaign to remove scumbags like Rush Limbaugh from the airwaves. Let's call out, shame and boycott every last one of the advertisers of his radio program, let's out the corporate network (Clear Channel), and the network's owner (Bain Capital), and the fascist theocrat scumbag politician associated with it (Mitt Romney). (Let's boot the system of commercial airwaves while we're at it.) But I can't get with all that unless we also get real. Spectacular violence is being done to women by the Obama government with an alarming willingness by his cheerleaders (well what the fuck are they, anyway? fans? followers?) to forget it or forgive it. It's unacceptable and unforgivable.

Everything I have written here, up to this point, is consistent with my writing over the years. To make a case against a morally repugnant, nationally significant figure I have used an example from the far side of the globe. But I might as well look over the fence to see how my neighbor is treated by her husband. I might notice, jesus it was just today, how the two "good natured" male hosts of a seemingly benign NPR chat show guffawed with a male caller over how hysterical their wives can be. I might check my own patriarchal privileges and advantages.

Some people talk about pragmatism, some people talk about a "lesser" political evil. They need to know that if they want to be taken seriously in their opposition to violence against women, it cannot be selective. In the current cultural climate of the United States, if all we do is censor speech, regardless of how righteous we think it might be in the isolated moment, watch how fast such power will be used against those who continually find themselves at the receiving end of the culture's violence and oppression.

Thursday, March 01, 2012


Freedom of speech is our right because we claim it and we manifest it, not because it is granted by authorities elected by votes or money or guns.

The only way to maintain our freedom of speech is to exercise it, and rigorously so. We must not censor ourselves under any circumstances. We must not do the work of liberty-hating authoritarians by muzzling ourselves for fear of their reprisals.

This is so glaringly obvious it embarrasses me to write it. And yet I note, in disappointment and desperation, that there is some need to highlight these sentiments.

We can accept no limits on our freedom to speak our minds. None. No one who tells us it is illegal to say these or those words, in this or that order, has any legitimate power of us.

This is not an invitation to be irresponsible. Quite the opposite, actually. Every time someone says something vapid, ill-considered, mean, baseless, racist, off-topic, ignorant, self-aggrandizing, they step over to the side of authoritarians who seek to limit free speech. It serves those in positions of power and oppression to speak when you have nothing to say. Your narcissism knocks us all down a peg.

When you have nothing of value to say, be quiet and listen. When those you are hearing have nothing of value to say, lend your ear to something else.

The charge of sedition has made a comeback of late, the idea that certain words, said together in a certain order, are cause to remove the sayer from society in one way or another. But the only way the charge of sedition could be legitimate is if the power claiming offense to your words is legitimate. It is not.

We must be certain of this, that we can and will say any words, in any order, at any time, for any reason, and we will not accept the charges of sedition, terrorism, incitement made against us. We will not accept fines, jail time, "indefinite detention", torture, and assassination for using words to express ourselves to each other. We will not be made to fear communicating with each other just because the powerful threaten to abuse us for doing so.

The idea that the way we speak will be met with gun violence, chemical weapons, police brutality, torture, show trials and prison sentences proves the very need to continue to speak freely. What other ways do we have to defend ourselves from violent authoritarians? What other ways do we have to proclaim the good world we wish to live in?

We must accept that while we claim the right to say what we will, others will say things we may not like. Unless we wish to use our freedom of speech to sound like a bunch of raving narcissists, we ought to avoid amplifying and encouraging the ugly, baseless things that some few will continue to say. Uplift foolish people with your intelligence, not by pandering to them.

We do not have to dignify with a microphone the sound coming out of every asshole. Say more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things and more good, powerful, intelligent, meaningful things will have been said.

There are words that I have said in this brief text that, taken together with my determination to travel freely and, perhaps -- who knows? -- taken together with the people with whom I associate and, perhaps, with the people or organizations their friends associate with, and taken together with the books and articles I read, would be cause for that fucked up, illegitimate state authority that claims the right to bomb the world, to take me into custody, to place me in a windowless jail cell, without charge, without a lawyer or light or heat or clothing, for the rest of my life. It doesn't matter that I've never lifted a hand against another human being, that I've never held a weapon, that I've never encouraged any kind of violence, that I have no record with these illegitimate authorities of any kind of wrongdoing whatsoever. For using these words, they claim the right to haul me away from my community, my work, my loved ones, forever.

Now someone tell me again how getting active in local politics is going to change a damned thing? Speak up!