Friday, September 30, 2005

OJ, Katrina and daNile

It’s a river in Africa but as a Negro, my life too depends on “de-Nile.” Like most middle-class black people, I play on myself whatever mind tricks are necessary to not be angry about racism in America.

Most of the time, denying that race matters in America, is easy. On any screen of any size, movie, computer or iPod, I can find happy, included Negroes, entertainers, athletes, surgeons even, exemplifying the best of our national smorgasbord. That’s what I want to see and believe. And because I’m a middle class American, it’s what I can see and believe… most of the time.

Then comes something like the OJ trial and my tissue of racial denial is blown away like thin flesh before a bomb. Suddenly the on every channel the skin color of the jury is topic “A.” Time magazine is darkening the picture of OJ on its cover apparently to make him seem more menacing and endless talk of Mark Fuhrman, an LAPD detective, turns “the ‘n’ word” into a national chant. And half my white friends want me to agree that Johnny Cochran’s playing “the race card” is bad for the country which make me angry and defensive at being somebody’s “touchstone” for black freaking culture!

But then I tell myself the hysteria is not about race but celebrity… and beauty… and Hollywood. I refused to believe that in 1995 it is still controversial to marry “outside your race...” largely because I’d done it and I wanted to think my own life OK.

Then the trial ends. Time passes. I exhale. The river denial again flows, easy and comforting. In my community I am not a skin color but an individual, liked, respected. Except of course if I try to hail a cab or walk into a fancy store. But I’m not dwelling on that because I mostly drive or ride my bike. And I don’t go into those stores anymore.

Then comes the New Orleans flood and black people are “looting” and whites are “finding food” and all those old folks at the convention center who look like my relatives were abandoned and the world saw it. But the white guy in my health club says, “maybe the president didn’t order a rescue because he just didn’t believe what he saw on TV, you know how the media lie.” And the former US secretary of education says if we just abort all black babies the crime rate will drop! And my rage and frustration at injustice and arrogance and denial and denial… that’s right de-nial is my destination, because it has to be.

I clutch denial to my heart because white people are like the Republic of China. If they scare you, if they break your heart, even if they hurt you, you still have to get along with them. You can’t stay mad at them because they are too big and too powerful.

As I was a month after the OJ trial, I am already over my rage at the New Orleans flood. I’m down to simmering resentment and by next week I expect mere annoyance.

By Kwanzaa I’ll be a happy camper; my spirit having joined my African ancestors lazily drifting on de-Nile.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

My Own Private Planet

I sure hope I’m right because I may never change my mind again.

When I first started getting news from the Internet I became my own editor in chief. I sampled broadly from the endless salad bar of net news sites. Over time however I became frustrated with mainstream news sites because of what I considered their “bias” and “cowardice” and boringness. I started deleting news sites that annoyed me.

Now I make links not just to favorite news pages but to the sections of those sites I am most interested in. For me each day’s top news stories always involve the Chicago Cubs, the world year of physics and the weekly Torah portion… not necessarily in that order.

It makes my mornings sing. I click directly to the daily box scores and bible commentaries without a bunch of inane headlines screeching propaganda at me. I begin my days immersed in delights. Between Moses’ arguments with G-s, the MINOS neutrino experiment at Fermilab and the glass-like arm of Cubs pitcher Kerry Wood I spend the first twenty minutes of my news-consuming day in bliss.

As for the international stuff that just depresses the daylights out of me like Iraq and Afghanistan, and torture; for me it’s like Hemmingway says, “In the fall the war was always there but I did not go to it anymore.”

When it comes to US politics between Air America radio, Mother Jones magazine and the if evidence emerges that the Bush administration are not villains, I will likely never hear about it.

I’m not crazy or sticking my head in the sand. I know not everyone agrees with my particular views but I just don’t want the aggravation of reading about theirs.

Google News which promises to scan 4500 news sources around the world and present to me only the stories in which I am already interested and upon which the planet and I already agree.

MSNBC’s Newsbot keeps track of the stories I click on then suggests other stories of the same sort I might like. Thus global news conforms itself to my tastes adapting over time to my interests. I like that.

Of course no system is perfect and the odd pro-war commentary or Michael Jackson quote slips through my filter. But a mere mouse click and I am happily listening to upbeat quotations from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. My world remaining solid and predictable as Newton’s laws.

And that’s OK because my views are already well-reasoned, compassionate and rooted in oldest traditions of moral philosophy, what I happen to feel at the moment.

Having my own views and opinions ceaselessly reinforced makes me a much happier person. I am more satisfied with the state of the world as I see how much of it agrees that I was right all along. A more satisfied Aaron has more joy to spread round among family and friends.

Of course I remember the old days when everybody got the same news and responded to it in their own way. And I certainly understand that no one ever died from listening to an opinion with which they did not agree. But I figure, “Why risk it?” Besides, I am sure that if something really, really important happened some news of it would eventually show up on some kind of way on Chicago Cubs dot com.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Livin' Large on the Death Star

To us it symbolized evil but to thousands who lived and worked on the Death Star it was home.

Imperial storm troopers were supported by thousands of food handlers, droid repair people, interstellar sanitation engineers and assorted white helmet workers. To them big issues of galactic control paled before immediate challenges like unsticking the door of Grand Moff Tarkin’s shuttlecraft.

To Death Starians the empire didn’t seem evil, merely willing to act. Many must have believed in the empire and it’s stated mission to bring peace to the galaxy. All they knew about the rebellion was what they saw on their info screens.

Citizens of the Death Star were certainly told the emperor had tried to reason and negotiate with various rebel commanders to no avail; that war was forced upon the empire. Infobots must not have spoken of rebels but terrorists; lunatics responsible for thousands of storm trooper deaths and hungry for the blood of innocent imperial citizens. The Death Star News Network (DSNN) certainly did not do warm and fuzzy human-interest pieces on Obi-Wan Kenobe. To them he was a terrorist lieutenant along with that twisted little lunatic, what was his name?... Yes, Yoda.

I’ll bet Darth Vader gave great press conferences.

Lord Vader the rebellion appears to be growing. Some say we are cowards hiding behind technology. That the real heroes are- (The reporter clutches his throat and falls to the floor in agony.)

(Slowly lowering a gloved hand) I find your lack of respect disturbing.

According to the web site there were over seventy five thousand civilian workers on the Death Star, mostly human or humanoid. Surely there were Death Star peaceniks. Many must have thought iron-fisted imperial rule a mixed blessing. Others may have believed that though the emperor ruled well mass killing to achieve his dominion might backfire and inspire the rebels. Dissenters no doubt expressed these views quietly if at all and then only to a trusted few. Everybody knew about Vader’s press conferences.

A Death Starian mom and her 10 year-old daughter stand before a storm trooper recruiting poster. The child stares at the poster for a moment, “Uncle Darth Wants You!” then recoils shivering. “Mommy,” she whimpers, “What if the rebels come here?” Mom chuckles, “Ours is the greatest military of the greatest power ever. We will swat our enemies like flies."

“Are you sure mommy?” asks the girl, needing just a little more reassurance.

“The emperor says so and I believe him.” says Mommy, “And more important, I know the Force is with us.”

Holy Nukes

Nuclear weapons are humanity’s highest moral achievement. Everybody should have a few.

In the summer of 2002 war threatened between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. The result: pacifism descended upon the earth. The Presidents of the United States and Russia seemed in hourly phone consultations over the crisis. The UK and the US slammed the breaks on India’s tourism industry. Bono headed for Islamabad. Then responding to pressure that would make a corset seem like a bathrobe, nuclear India and Pakistan chilled out. Their nukes taught the world to sing in perfect harmony.

Elsewhere on earth among non-nuclear countries, wars rage daily with barely a press release from the rich countries.

Nuclear weapons kept the “cold” in “cold war.” From the1920 through the 80’s US troops and our proxies showed up shooting all over the world, but not in the nuclear armed Soviet Union or nuclear-armed China or even nuclear France even though they deserve it on general principle.

The Soviets had a tenth the nukes of the US but they scared Ronald Reagan so bad he came that close to eliminating the whole arms race despite America being in the lead.

Israel’s nukes kept Arab armies at bay long enough for those armies to crumble to armored dust.

Had Iraq actually possessed nukes we wouldn’t have invaded and if North Korea didn’t have them Rumsfeld might be right now be dining at the Pyongyang McDonalds.

So forget this non-proliferation glop. I got the bumper sticker “Pro-Life Pro-Liferation!” And I don’t just mean countries. Cold fusion science advances daily and inevitably toward personal nuclear devices. George Forman should market the noisy neighbor knockout nuke. When the opposing team hits a home run into the home stands. Don’t just reject the ball back onto the field, make it go boom with a “mini-mushroom.”

You want to end domestic violence raise its price to annihilation.

Besides it’s not like opposing nukes stops their spread. Like everything else you ban it just forces folks to get sneakier witness, Pakistan… and North Korea… and India… and Libya. But there’s a lot of free-floating weapons expertise and a bunch unaccounted for Soviet nuclear material in the world. Making it a matter time till every group from Ansar al-Islam to the Girl Scouts have their own thermonuclear nest egg. Iran wants nukes, give them some of ours, history persuades us it’ll stabilize the region.

Like they say, “If you can’t beat ‘em, let ‘em join you.”

Robot Cops of Chicago's West Side

I resent the robot cops of the west side. They are probably news to non-ghetto residents but these little officers on a stick are ubiquitous on light poles of my native west side. They are little metal boxes, something like four feet high by two across by two feet deep. They’re blue and white with the CPD star logo on all sides. On their bottoms are those black bubbles that so often conceal surveillance cameras. And they are topped with blue and white mars lights that flash 24/7.

It’s the lights that put my knickers in a twist. You could tell me that Chicago’s “authorities” need to endlessly surveil us lest we carry out acts of terror or worse, Republicanism. I assume there are cameras trained on every Porta Potty from South Shore to Ravinia. But the lights of the robot cops aren’t there to illumine the scene. They flash eternally to intimidate would-be bad guys, which includes, the city apparently thinks, everyone in the neighborhood.

Maybe the little fuzz boxes reassure some west side residents. A guy who lives across from a robot cop near the Henry Horner project says every twelve year old on the block figured out the robot’s blind spot within days of its arrival. The robot made the dope deals only minutely more clandestine.

From my home on the north shore I can only agree with my mother who ruefully asserts, “You wouldn’t see that kind of mess in a white neighborhood.”

Nonetheless I am trying to have a better attitude the about the robot cops. I feel a little better if I imagine that the little dome on the bottom is not a camera but a dispenser and that if I stood below it and said the right magic cop words coffee would pour down into my awaiting mug. It amuses me further to think that the robots are really secret police refrigerators, that in the wee hours, fire department ladder trucks hoist hungry officers up to the robots which are opened to reveal delicious midnight snacks including, of course, doughnuts.

I’d think the CPD should let neighborhood residents decorate the little robot cops. The ones near the United Center should have little Bulls jerseys and the domes on the bottom should look like basketballs. Blue and white pinstriped baseball robot cops should adorn Wrigleyville light poles. Ones in Pilsen should sport sombreros and in West Rogers Park they should have yarmulkes and beards.

Then, once a year they should take all robot cops down from perches and display them along Michigan Avenue so our fine, rich people can see that poor folks can make even a police state look like fun.

Sacrifice the chicken for Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is coming up so I have to once again decide whether to sacrifice the chicken. For most of the year Jewish religious observance is about praise and gratitude. Jewish guilt is reserved for our families. We roll our religious guilt up into one ball, Yom Kippur; twenty-four hours of the worst Jewish pain; no food. Plus we pray in synagogue all day to a chorus of stomach growls.

But in the days before Yom Kippur some of us sacrifice animals, mostly chickens. The rite is called Kaparot, or atonements. The idea is that on Yom Kippur the book of life, in which we all want our names written, is sealed. Just in case our names are not in the book Kaparot is kind of a last call for forgiveness. A thoroughly modern Jew with cell phone firmly clipped to belt will purchase a chicken; a rooster for a man a hen for a woman, and wave it over her head while making a special blessing that asks G-d to accept the chicken’s life instead of her own. The chicken is then taken away, ritually slaughtered and the meat given to the poor.

The rite focuses my attention like nothing else. Something dies solely because I will it. Sure I eat chickens all the time but they are merely meat. But with Kaparot a specific life ends at my request. And I offer the rooster’s bloody death to my awaiting G-d.

No it’s not like Abraham offering his son Isaac on an alter but it’s a lot more meaningful than an extra crispy bucket at Popeye’s.

In performing Kaparot I leave the world of broadband telephony and wireless Internet and am thrown back to a place and time when survival seemed more tenuous, when life and death were more obviously bound. I am ancient African Aaron, humbly imploring the great mystery to let me have my miserable life for a few more struggle-filled days.

Still and all it’s pretty weird to drive to Chicago for a morning of animal sacrifice. And the whole thing is odd enough that every year I have to decide whether I really want to do it. At least when I perform Kaparot I am comforted by one fact: I’ve always hated roosters.

Friday, September 23, 2005

It's all Bush, man!

George Bush intentionally created the gulf coast hurricanes to distract people from the Iraq war.

Yeah, yeah I know, apologists for the crypto-fascist Bush crime family all act like it’s us, in the anti war and anti-hurricane movement, that are the crazy ones. But let’s look at the facts. One of the first things Bush did back in 2000 was scrap the Kato accords, why? Because he knew that a few more years of the green house effect would produce stronger hurricanes. Experts have been talking about that for years, scientists, climatologists, astrologers, everybody. So Bush knew that killing Kato would precisely fit the timing of the war he intended all along to launch on Iraq. It’s obvious!

And so according “the polls” most people don’t want to pull the troops out immediately. But who reports those polls? The corporate mainstream dishwater spine media that’s who. They’re just parroting the lies of the flying-monkey right! You want the truth you got to go online. I get my news from this awesome site: They did – actually I think it’s just one guy – but he asked a bunch of people who comment on his blog what they thought about Iraq and two thirds of them – I mean like six, seven people said, and I quote, “War sucks man.” And ten percent of them were like “Saddam Hussein” for president man!

So here’s the deal on Iraq OK, and I know this is true cause this friend of mine is like really psychic and she interpreted the sweat stains that the bottoms of my feet left on my Birkenstock sandals.

OK, so Halliburton is gonna pump all the oil out of Iraq’s and then sell it to Grover Norquist and the Committee for a New American Century and they’re gonna spray it over everybody in all blue states so they’ll all look black and the people in the NASCAR states will be even more afraid of them. Then all the black people, who will be like half the country will be locked up in the Bush global prison system built by the Bechtel Corporation and we’ll all be tortured high-voltage cattle prods from General Electric

So yeah you think I’m some kind of a kook, right? You’re like “Bush is not some super villain Nazi criminal hooked up with Doctor Doom to in a plot to use Hurricanes to take Iraq’s oil and control the world. All I say to that is …. Yeah whatever!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Scores of completely innocent people have been killed in the last few months in by bombers who did not know them. The victims were almost all just regular knuckleheads like me trying to get through the day without embarrassing their children or parents or employers too, terribly much. In London the bombs may have been carried in suitcases, in Afghanistan and Iraq they were mostly dropped from US airplanes.

Watching and listening to news reports of the various carnages the biggest difference between the victims seems to be that the English speaking victims get their stories told. By next week we will have seen list of names of London’s dead. We will have heard from their families, friends and witnesses. Skilled news performers will try to make us feel what it must have been like to have a routine day transformed into a scene from a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. We will be shown images from many of their funerals.

On the other hand, Iraq and Afghanistan’s innocent dead will be forever invisible to me. They almost never have names. Seventeen killed on the way home here, twenty two wiped out in the middle of a wedding party there – “oops sorry about that we were trying to kill somebody else.”

I’m not a bleeding heart, really. I don’t sit around wonder what some five year old Afghan girl was dreaming about when the 500 pound bomb demolished the block that included her bedroom. I almost never wonder what the old Sunni grandfather imagined was happening when saw the flash and felt that last bit of heat before he incinerated.

When I do think about stuff like that it angers me that it is being done in my name; much as I like to believe most Muslims are angry at what is done in their names. When I think about Iraqi and Afghan victims I feel sad and helpless.

When I think about the London’s victims I feel angry and righteous.

Angry and righteous are way more empowering. I try to focus on that.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

OK I admit it is anti-intellectual, politically incorrect and possibly treasonous but, I think the new Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the cutest politician on the world stage. Now don’t get me wrong, my views are entirely superficial. If US news reports are true, always a big if, Ahmadinejad’s politics are so far from mine I couldn’t see them with the Hubble telescope. This guy, as mayor of Tehran pushed legislation that put Iranian men and women in separate elevators. Compared to Ahmadinejad, Dr. James Dobson is a hippie. I don’t even want to think about his views on Jewish Negroes.

But every time I see him I think, “It’s Bob Denver from Gilligan’s Island… if Gilligan were a right wing Iranian Shiite Muslim. ” And it’s not just one or too good photos like newspaper columnists who run the same picture for years. I’ve seen a bunch of pictures of the guy with all kind of expressions in all kinds of lights and with each viewing, I wonder “Are the Skipper and MaryAnne involved to Iranian politics too?”

Even the guy from that old US embassy takeover picture who wasn’t Ahmadinejad but looked sort of like him was cute.

Of course my response to President Ahmadinnejad aside from being shallow and irresponsible is potentially dangerous. If everybody’s analysis of politicians stopped with their ranking on a cuteness scale political discourse would be in deep doo-doo.

If all consumers of politics were a superficial as me our country could end up being led by shallow suits who smile sweetly while undermining everything we hold dear.

Thank goodness this is America where stuff like that can’t happen.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Heroes In Out Midsts

There is greatness among us. The government is flying survivors of the New Orleans around the country hundreds of them have arrived in Chicago. A lot of them are poor and presently homeless but the stories now bubbling from the waters of New Orleans are of the poor and black as action heroes.

Like the comic book team the Fantastic Four, the old, sick and poor of New Orleans faced unprotected, nature’s full fury. Their lives proved more powerful than storm and the heroes within them sprang forth.

Like the “Soul Patrol” three forty-something, rasta-lookng guys with a boat who rescued something like five hundred people and delivered life saving food and medicine to as many.

Flood survivors tell stories of “looters” are who seem not just American heroes but role models to the youth of the world. Like the gang bangers in the Convention Center who were moved to nobility by abandoned senior citizens. The old people had apparently ridden out the hurricane in their nursing home, then gotten themselves, walker, wheelchairs, canes and all to the superdome only to be turned away because too many were there already. The seniors arrived at the Convention Center wet, smelly and famished. The gang bangers organized themselves on the spot into a militia to protect the aged and safeguard the honor of the womenfolk. According to one survivor the “criminals” formed teams to “loot” abandon stores of juice for babies, food for all, clothes for seniors who’d been wet for days and yes beer for those who wanted some. It makes me pray that under similar condition my children would become not just “looters.” But the best damn “looters” the nation has ever seen!

Now many of these folks are scattered, like honorable seeds among, the citizens of Chicago, Houston and elsewhere. But the problems they had in the Big Easy may follow them here. Who knows what another year may bring. Does abandonment to a cat five hurricane by your government drive one mad? Is heroism a cure for addiction or poverty?

The next homeless, disabled or old and black person you see on the Michigan Avenue, a few weeks ago, could have been rowing grandmothers to safety or rescuing babies from rooftops. And if there’s a Jihadi attack or earthquake homeless heroes may again rise to our rescue. Who knows? Beneath that smelly coat and matted hair may lurk a cape and a spandex suit with a big red “S.”

Monday, September 12, 2005

If we'd had a black president...

If we’d had a black president when the hurricane hit we wouldn’t be having the same problems. First off, with a black president it would have been over when he signed the declaration of emergency. Everybody knows a black father ain’t gonna be telling you twice. Can you imagine a black quarterback like Republican J.C. Watts calling a two-minute offense and then have to have to wait till his front blockers checked with the wide receivers to see if it was ok. JC would cut off the whole team’s steroids for a month. Michael Chertoff says he read in the paper that New Orleans had dodged a bullet and thought everything was alright. Just think if Chicago Bears coach Lovey Smith had wanted a hurry-up offense then his quarterback didn’t do it cause he’d heard a reporter say it was time for the ground game.

A black woman president would have looked at them old ladies in the convention center begging for food and said “Milvertha! That’s Milvertha! And Uncle Lemmy and Hattie Mae and cousin Latricia!” And while the Marines were airlifting food she might be cooking up a big pot of greens and a turkey to send down herself.

If it had been three days and they hadn’t gotten food, a black woman president would have pulled out her belt and commenced to “whupping” people.

Black woman president have laid Michael Brown over that oval office desk and whupped him till she got tired of it, “You-s’posed-rescue-the-people-first-then-ask-about-the-bueurocracy!” And Brown would be like, (crying) “Yes miz president, yes ma’am! I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!” “I know you won’t!” – whup! Get your sorry butt down there and help them clean up and I want you to personally carry every body bag out of every one of them buildings!”

If we’d had a black president I’m also positive a bunch of white people would be right now be bitterly complaining about all the destroyed coastal residences and how the racist White House had no sympathy for the summer homeless.