Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Boys and Girls

Recently the Trump-Pence administration has once again been taking aim at the trans community. They seem to move randomly from attacking one marginalized community or another. Each time they launch a new attack like this, it seems they are simultaneously using it to put up a smokescreen, hiding some incident of massive financial corruption or a new deregulation scheme that might otherwise make the news, if not for a new sensationalist declaration, this time in support of the gender binary, the latest good Christian effort to save those precious American family values that are apparently incapable of withstanding the possibility that there may be more than two genders, or that two parents of the same gender can raise happy children together, or that people of any gender are capable of flying a helicopter or pulling the trigger on an M16.

Smokescreen though it may be, the media is generally much more interested in stories like this than they are in financial or political corruption. That kind of thing can quickly start to implicate the transnational corporations that own what's left of the mainstream media in the digital age. Much safer to focus on issues of no significant economic consequence, such as whether or not trans people have rights.

Smokescreen though it may be, it's a deadly smokescreen. Whatever new edict may or may not be produced by the administration turning their attention to the definition of gender, the kind of attention that is being paid to this question is already terribly destructive. As with Trump's vocal support for assaulting protesters, assaulting reporters, assaulting women, imprisoning refugees, as with his insulting and dehumanizing descriptions of so many different categories of human beings, the words themselves have a tremendous impact on the actions of people lower on the food chain throughout the US and around the world. The notion that the things prominent politicians say to a massive TV audience has an impact on how people behave towards one another isn't really a matter of speculation. The evidence of the social impact of having an undisguised bigot occupying the most powerful position in US politics is mounting every day. Though it can be hard to track, since it so often takes the form of schoolyard bullying, or a hundred daily microaggressions directed at children and adults who fail to conform to things like gender stereotypes.

Is That A Girl Or A Boy?
Ever since the days when you learned to dress yourself
You would reach for certain clothing from your little shelf
You said “I want to dress like mommy” and that's exactly what you did
You always did things differently from most other kids
You'd be playing with a doll or some other toy
When someone would ask is that a girl or a boy

Someone would call your given name, with you there in your dress
Leaving some to wonder, with others left to guess
Are you an innie or an outie, a princess or a king
Do you like to play with tractors or wear angel wings
What's inside that box, is it a bullet or a pearl
As someone else must ask is that a boy or a girl

You'd pretend that you weren't bothered, but it was clear you were
Then one day someone asked you what pronoun you prefer
Learning there were options and the choice was yours to make
For you there was no question now, which path you would take
You grabbed a piece of paper, signed it with a swirl
As you announced “my name is Gwenevere, and I am a girl”

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Corbyn Factor

I'm currently on a tour around various countries in Europe. My first stop was England. My visit to England reconfirmed what I had witnessed on my last several tours of England. That is, there is in England a deep concern over the rise of the right in Europe and America, and a deep concern over how the ever-unfolding Brexit process is going to play out. These are things you'll hear about in the international press a lot.

What you'll hear a lot less about is what's going on with the left in England and in many other countries in Europe. Maybe fear-mongering about the rise of fascism sells more online advertising, or maybe there are other agendas at work here. But what we are witnessing is those people who are fed up with free trade deals and imperial foreign policies associated with the EU and NATO are voting for parties that are often described as “skeptical” of these troubled institutions. And those “skeptical” parties are on both the right and the left. In places like Denmark we are seeing the dramatic growth of both the furthest-left party in parliament, Enhedslisten, as well as the furthest-right party, the Dansk Folk Party.

But nowhere is the rise of the left more dramatic than in England, though you'd be forgiven for not having heard the news. Although the leadership of the Labour Party has long been morally bankrupt for several long decades of neoliberalism, austerity and attempted empire-building, changes in election rules were made in 2014 that resulted in something few had predicted – the direct election by the suddenly swelling ranks of Labour Party members of the most leftwing Labour Party leader the country had ever known.

Although Corbyn's campaign has taken a lot of inspiration from methods employed by the presidential efforts led by Senator Bernie Sanders in the US, Corbyn is historically far to the left of Sanders – a consistent, principled anti-imperialist, very unlike Sanders checkered record of supporting “Democratic” wars while opposing Republican ones.

I never imagined I'd see the day where most of the people I know in England, whether they consider themselves to be socialists, social democrats, communists or anarchists – most of the people I know fall into one of these categories – they have joined the Labour Party and many of them are actively campaigning for Corbyn and the Corbyn wing of the party, which is in a long battle to wrest control of their party from the Blairites which still dominate the parliament.

Whether Jeremy Corbyn is the next prime minister or not, despite the attacks from the Tories, the Blairites, the rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth domestic BBC so-called journalists and all of his many other detractors, there is a guarded hope for the future in England among the ever-growing ranks of the Labour Party, which is now by membership the single biggest party in Europe.

I Agree With Jeremy
If you travel around Europe today you'll find societies stratified
You'll find an ever-widening political divide
You'll find a growing left, and a right that's growing faster
Convincing people they're the ones to avert the next disaster
You can see the dark clouds growing, taking over every space
Except, oddly enough, in a little place
Called England, where a growing chorus screes
I agree with Jeremy 

There are many who may wonder, how did this transpire
As the country's jumping from the pan into the fire
In the land of Brexit, changes going on
Labour Party leaders decide for direct election
Of the party leader, though the next thing that we knew
The most leftwing Labour leader was elected when it was through
Then millions were shouting all over the country 
I agree with Jeremy 

The BBC ignored him or they treated him like a clown
Transnational corporations said this man will bring us down
The Blairites in the Party stabbed him in the back
And then they did it again, but after each attack
He held steady at the helm, at the job for which he was picked
Despite all the accusations that he's an anti-Zionist peacenik
Who wants to change the country, and says the country
I agree with Jeremy 

Most members of the parliament wish he'd go away
But as their elected leader he's set to stay
And when he supports a candidate they usually tend to win
Which makes the Blairites fume, while the rest of us just grin
Between the BBC, the Tories and all the corporate Mps
The tabloid press, the IMF and all the landed gentry
They're pulling out the stops to stop the ascendancy
Of I agree with Jeremy 

The case before the nation is the one that we all face
What direction now goes this human race
Do we give up on the missiles and tax the rich a lot
Or give up on society and just embrace the rot
Among us who would tell us it's the foreigners to blame
Not the Blairite, Tory billionaires and their rigged neoliberal game
Each day the numbers grow, as each day new people see
That they agree with Jeremy
I agree with Jeremy 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Death in Detention

Australia has a long history of being a welcoming haven for refugees. They came because they were kicked out of England for stealing a cup of tea, or they were fleeing famine in Ireland, or avoiding arrest and imprisonment in Italy. And Australia has a proud history of working class organizing and anti-elitist attitudes are ingrained among the general population.

But the overwhelming majority of these refugees and working class organizers I'm talking about are of European origin. This is because Australia had a whites-only immigration policy for most of its existence as a country.

Australia may not be the same place it was in 1950. There are now thriving, multi-ethnic cities there. But the nation's founding racism runs deep. Despite all the international conventions the country has signed, despite the fact that Australia has one of the lowest population densities of anywhere on Earth, despite all the talk of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, both of the ruling parties of Australia disposed of the rule of law decades ago, at least as it applies to human rights.

Human rights, that's the idea that humans have rights, just because they're human. Officially, almost all countries in the world agree with that idea. In practice, only Australian citizens or people flying in on a tourist visa have rights. Humans – who all fall within the UN covenant on the rights of humans, and also specifically the rights of children as well, and the rights of refugees, too – aren't human enough unless they have enough money or enough melanin. If Australia were to honestly rewrite their immigration laws to reflect policy, this could be how they'd phrase it.

Now there has been yet another suicide in detention in Australia. Why are there so many refugees in detention in Australia, even though they have been given official refugee status? Why are they killing themselves in such large numbers? Why are they being refused medical care?

One of the refugees who killed himself recently was named Omid, from Iran. He had fled his home with the love of his life. They made it to Australia, they got refugee status, and then they were detained indefinitely by the Australian Navy on a mosquito-infested, environmentally-destroyed little former mining colony island with 90% unemployment called Nauru.

There's an ancient Persian poem called Leila and Majnun. In the poem, Majnun can't be with the love of his life, Leila, because Leila's parents won't allow it. He wanders off into the desert and goes mad as a result. If you replace Leila's parents with the Australian state, the poem works well in the modern context.

Leila and Majnun
When Leila met Majnun it was at a traffic light
He handed her his number at first sight
It all happened very quickly, soon both of them were aware
That life can be so good when it's shared

When Leila met Majnun it was convenient, it would seem
That both of them were living in the city of their dreams
They had no plan to leave and lots of plans to stay
But one day that all changed and they had to go away

So Leila and Majnun together left the country
They got on a crowded boat, sailed the Pacific Sea
They were headed to Australia, a place they thought they knew
Then the Australian Navy took them to Nauru

Where Leila and Majnun were kept there in detention
On a tiny little island run just like a prison
Where they were told by Immigration, dream all that you can
But your only pathway off this island is on a boat back to Iran

Leila and Majnun, amid the heat and damp
Tried to make the best of life in a prison camp
But the strongest of foundations eventually will shake
And the strongest of hearts eventually will break

Leila and Majnun were on the island when
One day there came some visitors from the UN
The next thing Leila knew, she was witness to the scene
Of her beloved doused in gasoline

Leila saw Majnun in a state no one should be in
Bright flames rising, burning off his skin
Sometimes you can reach a point – so beaten down, so tired
The only option that seems left is to set yourself on fire

When Leila met Majnun

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Land Day Every Day

On March 30th, 1976, Palestinians held a protest. Back then, that was a rare occurrence. The reason it was a rare occurrence was quickly made clear by Israeli troops, who committed a massacre of the protesters. The Palestinians were protesting for the same reason Palestinians have been protesting since 1948 – because foreign invaders from Europe, North America and elsewhere, who later became commonly known as Israelis, were stealing their land.

The response of the Israeli military in 1976 was the response of an occupying army. An occupier that knows it's the thief, that morality is on the side of the aggrieved party, the Palestinians, and that what's more important than morality is who is stronger. And so the Israeli solution is always force, and more force. They have nothing else – but they have a lot of that.

On the anniversary of that massacre, on the date of the massacre which has become known in the Palestinian calendar marked by many such occasions as Land Day, last March Palestinian civil society marched in the direction of the fence that divides the toxic, bombed-out, besieged, outdoor prison they call Gaza from the occupying power that is besieging them, Israel. What transpired was yet another massacre of unarmed Palestinians, but this time with a much larger death toll.

Somehow undeterred by certain death, thousands upon thousands of Palestinians returned a week later, and again they were massacred. The first two times this happened, it was headline news in much of the world's press. But then the marchers returned every week and were again massacred every week, and as the months and the massacres passed by, the certainty that Israeli soldiers would massacre nonviolent protesters became as sure as the sun rising in the east, and the world's press therefore lost interest. Or perhaps they lost interest for other reasons. On CNN, NPR, BBC and so many other western media outlets, the word “massacre” never appeared. Soldiers gunning down children with automatic weapons is what they call a “clash.” “There were clashes today on the border.” But there were no clashes, and there is no border, and what they are reporting, therefore, are lies.

Land Day
Another day, another massacre of children
Children who have nothing good to show
Since their families became refugees so many years ago
When Zionists had launched their latest annexation
Which awakened the resistance of the Palestinian nation

And they called it Land Day
For the day the land was stolen by the new Crusaders

Another day, another massacre of children
With traumatized survivors of Nazi genocide
Killing traumatized survivors across a new divide
A divide that was created by killing kids and taking land
With a twisted kind of logic only Death can understand


Another day, another massacre of children
Children they call terrorists for throwing stones at tanks
Children they imprison for refusing to give thanks
For the fact that no one is running gas chambers quite yet
Though it's hard to see how much more like a death camp this can get


Another day, another massacre of children 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

Trigger warning – I'm going to talk about some of the things you hear about in graphic detail every time you turn on the news lately.

When I was a young man living in Seattle in the 1980's, one of the things us leftwingers were protesting was a police program put into effect known as Weed and Seed. The idea of the program supposedly involved having more police and more proactive police programs in the highest-crime neighborhoods, which they had on a map. The program was just a fig leaf for increasing police harassment of people of color as far as we could tell. This seemed evident especially because the highest-crime neighborhood in the city was not on their map.

That neighborhood was frat row in Seattle's University District, near where I lived. In this neighborhood, the rate of sexual assault was something like 3 times higher than anywhere else. This was certainly common knowledge on the left in Seattle, among my friends back then. But for some reason this wasn't the big concern for the Seattle Police Department at the time. Having grown up in the suburbs of the United States, we all knew why – it was nothing new.

The revered members of society where I grew up – the society of high schools across the United States – were male football players. Not just sports players, but American Football in particular – the most brutal, thoroughly male-identified of team sports. They were the local stand-in for the armed forces, essentially. Going to pep rallies – a school-wide religious event focused on worshiping the school's football team – was how you supported the troops on a local level. And it of course came complete with a mandatory rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

When the entire football team was caught peeing on the walls inside a suburban home where the entire football team was attending a party, circa 1983, there was talk of suspending the team, or maybe the entire football program, but it never happened. Their entitlement was almost absolute. These boys could essentially do no wrong, and their weekly outrages were constantly reinforced by a stream of movies such as Animal House – which, let's not forget, became a TV series as well as a movie. I remember, I watched it when it came out, like most everybody else I knew in Wilton, Connecticut back then.

This kind of behavior wasn't unique to football players and frat boys, but it was certainly more prevalent in those circles, and more accepted. I didn't have any friends in that crowd in high school. My interactions with them were limited to being shouted at as I walked past them in the cafeteria, for some offense related to my effeminate appearance or political buttons.

I knew a boy who played football, in the rural neighborhood in northwestern Connecticut where I spent almost every summer of my youth, though. We didn't have much in common and didn't hang out much, but there were only a few kids around on the mountain, and we all came from out of town, or in his case, out of state. As summer kids who didn't go to school in the area, we barely knew anybody else, so we still found ourselves spending time together pretty often.

I hadn't seen this boy in years, since we were both prepubescent. Then years later I saw him one summer when he was visiting the mountain briefly. For some reason he started telling me about what he said he had very recently done back in his home town. I assume he was telling the truth, because it's very hard for me to imagine why anyone would brag about such a thing. He said he had been at a party in some suburban house where another high school student, a girl, had drunk too much alcohol and was passed out on a bed in a bedroom.

He told me he went into the bedroom, pulled her clothes off, and raped her. I don't think he used that word, but that's plainly what he was describing. Having sexual intercourse with a sleeping girl he didn't know, obviously very nonconsensual sex by any conceivable definition. He then went on to laugh about how hard it was to put her clothes back on. He talked about how much he needed to accomplish this task, in order to try to hide his crime, though he also didn't use that word.

I don't know if he expected some kind of solidarity from me, but I thought he might have been looking for some kind of empathy or understanding. All I could think about was what a horrible thing that was to do to someone. But it seemed so unreal at the time, and the people involved so distant, in some other state, an unknown victim to me, and an assailant I barely knew. I knew many such stories – mostly about fathers who beat my friends, their children. There were many fathers like that in the suburbs of Connecticut. I knew not to tell adults about any of it. I don't know why I knew that.

But I eventually forgot about the story, and I don't think I told anyone about it until last week. I remembered it because of Dr Ford's Senate hearing, and now it's all I can think about. I wonder who that girl was, on the other side of the country from me, in some other suburb I had never been in, that sounded a lot like the one where I grew up.

And now here I am, a middle-aged father of a 12-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. I heard a sexual assault survivor on the radio talking about how completely most kids lack any kind of education in the concept of consent and other essential things they need to understand well before they ever become sexually active. As a parent, it seems to me that the best thing we can do, overall, is to raise kids in a way that they know they matter deeply, and everybody else does, too. We need to break this cycle that continually produces more male violence. This will require completely transforming our schools and just about every aspect of so-called “popular culture” that is shoved down our throats daily by the rape culture that produced those scenes in Animal House and other movies that have been in the news so much lately.

And we also need to raise powerful, self-confident, compassionate, loving children who grow up to be self-confident, compassionate, loving boys, girls, and others. If you're a parent of children of any gender, I recommend Naomi Aldort's book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

Behind Closed Doors

You're on your own, you understand
Although you're sitting in front of me
The world's big, the world's beautiful
There's so much for you to see
There are good people everywhere
Who are kind to their neighbors and friends
I hope you meet all the best ones
However, in the end

All I know for certain is
Whatever lies in store
The best and the worst things happen
Behind closed doors

You're on your own, I can't protect you
I can only hope I raised you well
So if you're in a situation
You might have the wherewithal to tell
Is this good? Is this exactly
What I really want to do
Because what you want is what matters here
And I hope you know that's true (because)


You're on your own, along with billions
Of people trying to find their path
Some are raised in loving empathy
But there are many reared by wrath
There are those like you, for whom the Planet Earth
Is a wondrous place to share
But there are many who seem only
To have learned how not to care


Linda Wiener's Echo

When people die, they leave behind many different kinds of echoes. There were a lot of people back in the 1960's like Ken Kesey who, for...