Books to Educate and Outrage

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If you want to be outraged by something you read this year, you have far too large a choice of new books to accomplish this for you.

Both in nonfiction and novels, a lot of little-known and better-known American history has been revealed that will fuel your moral outrage. You will also meet, though, characters both real and imagined who will capture your heart and soul and help to focus your outrage and perhaps turn it into action. Continue reading

Charter Schools & Dark Money

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Charter schools were not on my radar until I heard a presentation by a consultant for the Massachusetts group Save Our Public Schools.

That group is pushing for a “no” vote on Massachusetts state ballot question #2, which seeks to lift a cap on the number of charter schools that can be created each year. A “yes” vote would allow up to 12 new charter schools every year. Continue reading

Let Them Rest in Peace, But We Must Not

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I am sick, sick, sick of having to pray for the families of black victims of police What are we white people going to do about it? How the hell can we feel patriotic about a country that values life so little?

I would like to suggest that all white policemen in the United States be pulled from duty immediately and given this test, Project Implicit, as well as a psychiatric evaluation before being allowed back on duty or yanked off the force.

You can’t fudge this Harvard-based test for prejudices. It’s not intuitive, and even if you think you’re giving the “correct” answers, it doesn’t work that way. I took it a few years ago, and I’m pretty good at spotting how to “play” a test.

Both Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were said to be carrying guns. So? Both of the states they died in allow anyone to carry a gun. Louisiana probably allows 3 year olds to carry guns. They were not using the guns, they were not aiming the guns, they were doing nothing that could ever justify the kangaroo court of idiotic, racist policemen who took their lives.

I hope that no white person ever says in front of me that they couldn’t bear to watch the videos of their murders. We MUST watch them; we MUST bear witness to what white policemen are doing – and probably think they’re doing in our names.

On Saturday, I attended a symposium on the subject of “Driving While Black.” Two black men narrated their experiences of being stopped and the heavy-handedness of the police involved. Thank God Jerome and Jermaine are alive. It broke my heart to listen to them talk about the steps they have to take to try NOT to be killed by a policeman. They talked about their mothers’ fears whenever they left the house. Now they have children, and they talked about their fear for them.

What century is this again? As my friend and activist Maximo Anguiano posted today, don’t forget to set your clocks back 300 years tonight. And tomorrow you’d damn well better start speaking out or you are as complicit as the police in these murders.

 

 

Honor the War Dead by Working for Peace

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The other day I watched an ant towing a dead comrade back to the nest for several minutes. He strove mightily over a pebbled driveway. It reminded me of what I’ve been wanting to write about Memorial Day; I hope it’s not too soon.

I have long wondered why a day to honor those US military people who died in war has not also been a day to advocate for an end to war.

So there will be no more people dying in wars.

Where I live, the Memorial Day parade has a lot of people in uniforms and ends with the firing of rifles.

Which makes me think of war, not the end of war. And which scares the young children and dogs that are always brought along.

I prefer Hawaii’s tradition: setting lamps afloat on the ocean on Memorial Day.

Keith Kamisugi describes the tradition, started in 1999, in his blog, #Hawaii:

“The special gathering allows people a personal moment to remember, reflect and offer gratitude to those who have gone before us. It is also a collective experience where families, friends and even strangers reach out with love and understanding to support one another.

“Lantern Floating Hawaii helps to open hearts in an experience that transcends the human boundaries that usually divide us.”

You can see the 2016 commemoration here: Lantern Floating Hawaii The practice comes from Japan and is centuries old. Lanterns are set floating every year at Hiroshima’s Peace Park and in Nagasaki. There are also places in the US at which organizations such as the Fellowship for Reconciliation follow the practice on August 6.

What do you think? I, for one, would rather be remembered with floating lanterns than with rifle shots.

Yuri and Malcolm

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Truth really is stranger than fiction. Take the case of a Japanese-American woman and an African-American man.

May 19 was the birthdate of two people whose improbable lives crossed paths in the battle for civil rights.

Yuri Kochiyama was four years older than Malcolm X and lived 53 more years.

Born in California in 1921 and thus an American citizen, Mary Yuriko Nakahara and her family were imprisoned in Arkansas (“interned,”?? I think not) with the tens of thousands of other Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.

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Yuri speaks at an anti-war demonstration in NYC

After marrying Bill Kochiyama after World War II, she moved to New York City where she shared the experiences of her black and Puerto Rican neighbors in housing projects. There aren’t too many more dots to connect to her civil rights activism. Her home became a gathering place for activists where it “felt like it was the movement 24/7,” her eldest daughter, Audee Kochiyama-Holman, is quoted as saying in Yuri’s obituary.

 

She met Malcolm X, former small-time hoodlum and jailhouse convert to Islam, in 1963. She learned a radical activism from him and began focusing on black nationalism. The brief relationship ended with his assassination, at which she cradled his head while others tried to revive him with artificial respiration.

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Yuri, in glasses, holds the dying Malcolm X’s head

Yuri’s activism did not end with Malcolm X’s death. Shutting down the war in Vietnam, reparations for Japanese-Americans who were imprisoned and more inspired a new generation of activists and even a rap song by Blue Scholars. It can be found at this link: Blue Scholars sing “Yuri” live

Malcolm X was 39 when he was murdered; Yuri lived to be 93. Both used their life experiences, alone and together,  to try to set right the wrongs in a troubled country. Both were born on the same day. You just can’t make this stuff up.

 

 

“History” as Propaganda

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James Madison doesn’t need Lynne Cheney to stand up for him.

In the arc of the moral universe, is there a spot where writing history is supposed to deal with facts rather than boost a present-day agenda?

Or is there a spot where one is supposed to write about a historical figure without tearing down other historical figures?

I wasn’t predisposed to read any books by Lynne Cheney, wife of Lord Voldemort. Then, because I had recently listened to Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, I decided to be open and listen to Ms. Cheney’s book about James Madison. After all, the two worked together closely and were certainly among the Founding Brothers.

It didn’t take long of listening to James Madison: A Life Reconsidered to wonder: A. Did Ms. Cheney write it because she was jealous of the attention Hamilton was getting with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical? B. Is Ms. Cheney in love with James Madison? She seems utterly unable to write about Madison without tearing down Hamilton (who was, in fact, an abolitionist) and gushing, gushing, gushing.

To be honest, it is only recently that my autodidactic history journey has taken me to the Founding Fathers. While the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution are brilliant documents, I can never forget the hypocrisy they contain as those white Europeans who settled this country stole land and lives from the First Peoples and then imported Africans to work it for them.

“Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” if you are a white person. “A more perfect union” for white people. But okay, facts are facts and I can’t change them. So who were these men and was there anything so noble about them? I try to put myself there and yes, were I an early American, I would have revolted against the British crown as well. But to do so without having any glimmer that the oppression of the monarchy was no worse than the oppression of the slave-holder and the oppression practiced on Native Americans comes nowhere near the virtue of nobility.

Ms. Cheney immediately makes the statement that Madison and his close friend Thomas Jefferson were abolitionists. This is so far from the truth that it’s laughable. That’s like saying that vivisectionists are animal lovers. The Virginians among the Founding Fathers were Republicans and pushed stronger rights for states, as opposed to Hamilton’s Federalist stance, which preferred a strong central government. And this is exactly the fault line along which slavery rested, with states wanting the right to determine for themselves whether to continue the abhorrent practice.

Among the greatest irony of Ms. Cheney’s book is that all the things she lauds Madison for are things against which her husband worked. The secret government of the Bush puppet regime was his triumph and a way to suppress facts and freedom of information for which Madison worked so hard. Is Ms. Cheney that cynical or that stupid not to realize it?

This is not a biography; I do not come away with any real feeling for James Madison. I’ve consulted other books and scholars do agree that he was brilliant and certainly he did do a great job on the Constitution, if only people like Lord Voldemort and the Supreme Court’s right wing would actually pay attention to it.

And now Lord Voldemort has endorsed another He Who Must Not Be Named. Will Ms. Cheney write a glowing, loving biography of Him some day?