Thursday, June 18, 2020

Johnny Cash was a White Supremacist (and other thoughts on the Confederate statue controversy)

A statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, defaced by a mob. Projected onto it are the initials of a terrorist organization and the glowering face of a violent robber, porn actor and drug-addict.

So, here's Johnny Cash, singing "God Bless Robert E. Lee" from his 1983 album, Johnny 99.

Johnny Cash was a white supremacist.

Wikipedia states that the song is "anti-war." Perhaps. But it's also pretty pro-South, at least in one sense, as well as being pretty pro-Robert E. Lee. Listen to it.

An abberation?

Here he is singing against the backdrop of a Confederate flag.

On the Muppets Show.

On the Disney Channel.

Miss Piggy was a white supremacist.

Well, we knew that already, but still.

And here's Joan Baez singing "The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down." This video is from 1978 and features a live performance in Norway for 10,000 blond white people. I think they're called Aryans.

I don't know that much about Joan Baez, but when you watch the modestly dressed Miss Baez playfully tease an un-shirted Norwegian young man, it's impossible not to like her. And it's impossible not to like the song.

She also was a white supremacist. Or so it would seem.

And here's Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2003, performing Sweet Home Alabama with a Confederate flag as a backdrop, and with Johnny Van Zant singing with the flag wrapped around his microphone. At one point, he affectionately cradles it. Other Confederate flags are waved in the audience. It's the "Official" video of the song.

Lynyrd Skynyrd were and are white supremacists.

Okay, you probably knew that, too. But it's okay, Lynyrd Skynyrd denounced slavery.

It was very brave of them.

What does all this prove? A lot, actually.

Do you want to know what I think? I think that if the Civil War was "about" any one thing, it was about slavery.


But it's a gross simplification and injustice to leave it at that. Many on each side fought for noble motives. Just as some fought for ignoble ones.

Abraham Lincoln, the leader of the winning side, famously claimed that he initiated and waged a war in which hundreds of thousands died, many more were horribly injured and entire towns and cities were razed, not because of the issue of slavery but, rather, over the issue of mere political "union." If that isn't an ignoble motive, the word "ignoble" has no meaning.

And, frankly, Lincoln's words are a slander against my ancestors from Massachusetts, many of whom died believing they were fighting to end slavery, not prop up centralized tyranny.

There are some righteous statues about that in Boston, I can tell you.

And the fact that Lincoln claimed that the war was not about slavery doesn't negate that I earlier said it was (if it was about any one thing). That the political leader responsible for initiating a war can be wrong about what the war is about is a bit of a fine point that I won't belabor.

But back to the Southern case, since that's currently at issue. I reject the view that we should leave the statues up merely in the interests of "history." If that were true, then we should move them to museums. But the statues and symbols are not merely about history. Maybe in a thousand years we could say that, but not now.

Rather, they're meant to honor what was good, honorable and heroic in the Southern cause - loyalty to one's neighbors; loyalty to one's community; loyalty to a way of life that was in some ways virtuous and even superior; the rights of peoples to determine their own destiny against those who would impose it on them with guns and invading armies, and so on. Lynyrd Skynyrd adopted the flag for this reason. And, of course (to be serious) the members of that band aren't really white supremacists.

As well, part of what we mean "good, honorable and heroic" is normal human beings responding as best they can to tragedy. The Civil War certainly was that. I'm sure Joan Baez would agree.

And Johnny Cash had a knack for finding what was good in many things.

What was good.

That's why people erect statues and wave flags. If you don't think there was anything good, honorable and heroic about the Southern cause, then you are a moral imbecile, or utterly blinded by whatever fad happens to be popular.

We take what was good and honor it.

Or not. Perhaps we should just follow whatever fad happens to grip us at the time. With no core principles to guide us, that's the way it goes. The statues and the flag were perfectly fine, yesterday - or, at worst, only an odd affectation that may have been annoying to some; but today they're something that only a Nazi could love.

If we don't worship God, we will worship the zeitgeist.

And we won't honor anything.


Note: I actually wrote this two years ago (in March of 2018) during that smaller and earlier wave of statue attacks. I don't remember why I didn't publish it. Perhaps some other piece of news superseded it and it didn't anymore seem relevant. I think it's relevant again now. But I also think I couldn't have written it now, at least not with the same somewhat "light" tone. I'm frankly too angry and fearful at what has become more than just an assault on Confederate monuments, but rather a vicious and violent attack on our entire culture on many fronts. I had no idea then that things would get this bad so quickly. Call this a short post from a more innocent time, before the eve of the second Civil War.

Here's to innocent times with another earlier clip of Sweet Home Alabama by a much younger Lynyrd Skynyrd, recorded in Oakland in the summer of 1977. A few weeks later band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve and Cassie Gaines and three others would be killed in an airplane crash. RIP.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rayshard Brooks Was a Convicted Violent Felon on Probation

This photo of Rayshard Brooks posing in full "gangsta" attire - "Timbs" and a fur coat worn indoors over an undershirt and saggy pants - was posted on his Facebook page in 2015 and helpfully provided to the media by his cousin after his death. Since it makes him look like a thug it hasn't been widely circulated.

Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by an Atlanta policeman in a Wendy's parking lot on Friday evening.

Because he was a black man shot by a white police officer in apparently dubious circumstances - initial reports claimed that he was "shot in the back" or even shot while asleep, for no reason - his death set off another round of violent riots in Atlanta resulting in, among other things, rioters burning that particular Wendy's to the ground.

(Of course, the Wendy's franchise was reportedly owned by a black man. That'll show whitey.)

What actually happened does not seem to be really in dispute, especially now that we have multiple sources of video evidence from someone recording the event on a cell phone, security footage from Wendy's and, perhaps most importantly, body cam footage from the police.

I'm not going to link to these videos. You can find them anywhere.

Brooks had fallen asleep in his car while in the drive through line, necessitating that cars had to drive around him. Wendy's called the police. They arrived and had trouble waking him up. When they did so it appears that he was intoxicated, giving odd and contradictory answers to questions, including whether or not he was drunk. He peacefully interacted with the police for over thirty minutes, took a physical sobriety test and a breathalyzer test and answered various questions. Both Brooks and the interviewing policeman seemed cordial and polite. 

Finally, one of the policeman concluded that he was intoxicated and told him he was under arrest. But as Brooks was being handcuffed, he resisted, attacking both of the cops and initiating a brief brawl, which included a three-man fight on the ground. One of the police officers is heard to say, "stop fighting! You're going to get tased!" It appears they attempted to twice use a taser on him to no effect. After a number of seconds, Brooks breaks away from the scrum, having captured one of the tasers. The police start to pursue with guns raised. While fleeing, Brooks briefly turned and aimed the taser at one of the policeman. He was then shot two or three times, apparently in the back as he turned around again while running.

It is not my purpose here to argue about whether his shooting was justified, though according to most law enforcement experts I've listened to, it was. The argument is that even though the taser itself may not have technically been a deadly weapon, aiming it at a policeman during a fight set up a potentially deadly situation.

Who was Rayshard Brooks?

The media has portrayed him as a devoted family man who had been celebrating his daughter's birthday and had planned to take her out skating the next morning. Brooks is in fact married with at least three daughters and a stepson.

These two pictures, taken from his Facebook account have been widely circulated:

Devoted family men sometimes get drunk and even get stopped for DUIs. This part of the story is not particularly unusual or odd.

But why did he attack the cops after a long peaceful interaction? Why did the prospect of being arrested for drunk driving lead to him initiating a violent confrontation which would, a short time later, end in his death?

The answer to that question has been completely blacked out by the media. Even now, it is difficult or impossible to even find it on Google.

Rayshard Brooks appears to have been a convicted violent felon who was currently on probation. The "devoted family man" apparently had at least seven convictions including cruelty to children, family violence battery and false imprisonment - presumably against a family member.

I say, apparently, because it has not been confirmed that the Rayshard Brooks in the criminal listing below is the same Rayshard Brooks that died that night. But it almost certainly is, given his age, the timing of the convictions against other known facts and other evidence I'll cite below. And his mugshot looks like the same man, though younger (the convictions were in 2014).

The information can be found at this site. Here are the screenshots:

So it appears that Brooks committed these crimes in the spring of 2014 and was sentenced in late summer. He was given a concurrent sentence of 7 years, the length of the sentence for the most serious charge - false imprisonment. For unknown reasons he served less than 4 months and was then released on probation.

Other sources have claimed that he had other convictions from before this time as well as after. I haven't been able to confirm this.

One of the odd things about the case is that Brooks had a social media presence that, as of this writing, has still not been scrubbed.

He had a YouTube channel, which bizarrely included just one piece of original content - an interview that he did with some sort of legal reform show that he uploaded only a few weeks ago.

In the interview he discusses how his own probation had "inconvenienced" and "stereotyped" him.

Towards the end, Brooks good-naturedly declares: "The moment I do something out of hand, back to jail I go."

It now begins to make sense why he violently resisted arrest for a comparatively minor charge. One also assumes that the arresting policemen, having spent at least thirty minutes with him, had at some point learned that he was a violent felon on probation.

In the interview, Brooks comes off as a somewhat appealing character, at least if you don't start to wonder why he is in any moral position to claim that probation is unfair considering that he served almost no time for committing multiple violent offenses.

This interview has not been published anywhere in the mainstream media.

So he had a criminal past, had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about probation but was now a devoted family man.

Actually, I don't think that's the truest story.

I think it's more accurate to say that Rayshard Brooks was a thug. he did violent crime and was penalized for it (sort of) but remained a thug, probably until the end of his life.

That's what I think. I guess I won't be opening up any small businesses in Chicago in the near future.

The Facebook page of Rayshard Brooks is still up.

What do we find there in the time since he was released from prison and up to the present?

The devoted family man posing with wads of cash and repeated references to "$$$$$$". The devoted family man admiring his "gangsta" look of saggy pants and a fur coat over an undershirt. The devoted family man making gang signs and sexually obscene gestures like the "shocker" - well known in the rap/hip-hop community. The devoted family man posing with his "family" of what look like partying hoods, one of whom is holding a gun.

And perhaps most poignant of all, the devoted family man calling his daughter "Daddy's lil gangster."

It's a free country, (or it was, or it sort of is) right? Why can't anyone, black or white, affect any attitude they want on Facebook? That's not a crime, is it?

Well, posing with a bunch of hoods, one of whom is holding a gun, may well be a probation violation, as is posing with wads of cash while traveling outside one's state. Maybe he got permission, who knows? Though one doubts that probation officers  - dealing simultaneously with many Rayshard Brookses - have the time or inclination to worry about such things.

But let's stipulate that publicly affecting the look of a thug isn't a crime.

But we know what his crimes were:

Simple battery
Cruelty to children
False imprisonment
Family violence battery
Receiving stolen property
Criminal interference with government property
Obstructing a law enforcement officer

Again, the media still hasn't mentioned any of that, including that "cruelty to children" conviction. His surviving wife understandably didn't mention it. He was a devoted family man.

I have no reason to believe that Rayshard Brooks didn't love his daughter. I'm sorry that her father died.

But Rayshard Brooks couldn't escape affecting the thug's life, even when it came to his daughter. And I think that's what initially got him into trouble with the law and later ended up costing him his life.

Gangstas commit crimes. Gangstas die in shootouts.

Why is any of this relevant?

As I mentioned, earlier, I think it is relevant, or at least possibly relevant for the question of why Brooks and the policemen acted in the way that they did.

But, more importantly, I think it's relevant to the general issue, which is, after all, what everybody seems to think is the issue at hand - race, racism and race relations in America.

Here's why it's relevant:

There are thousands of Rayshard Brookses in every black neighborhood. This is a problem for some whites. It's a huge problem for most blacks.

More than 150 years after emancipation and the end of the Civil War, much of the contemporary black community is riddled with pathologies - violent criminal behavior, especially of young black males, being the most obvious but not the only one.

In Chicago, blacks are 30 times more likely per capita than whites to commit murder. And the statistics are similar for other violent crimes.

Black citizens being violent, not white cops being racist, is one of the most pressing problems for many Americans, though again, blacks suffer from it much more than whites.

Almost everyone knows this but almost no one will say it.

And don't be precious about why they won't. It's gone from getting snubbed at polite parties, to getting deleted from Twitter, to losing one's job to getting a firebomb thrown through one's window.

Maybe it's all due to systematic racism.


But I think you know what I think about that.

What are the answers?

Maybe if we burn down every inner city, give a few trillion to community organizations and say "black lives matter" a lot the other Rayshard Brookses of this world will pull up their pants and start listening to folk music.


And I think you also know what I think about that.

The Black Lives Matter people are right (though, obviously not in the way that they think). Rayshard Brooks wasn't just one instance of a man who made an ill-advised split-second decision that cost him his life, or, alternatively, a man who fell victim to the hasty actions of one racist cop.

The life and death of Rayshard Brooks is emblematic for our time.   

What do you think?

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Review of "Covid-19" - the New Science Fiction Novel by Philip K. Dick

Philip K Dick, author of Covid-19
"Flatten the curve, citizens!"

Covid-19 by Philip K. Dick.
New York: Ace Books, 1960. Fifty cents.

In his latest novel Covid-19, the prolific Philip K. Dick describes a bizarre and psychedelic dystopian future, recalling but surpassing earlier efforts such as The Minority Report and The World Jones Made.

The story is set on earth, sixty years in the future. Men landed on the moon (in 1969!) but then ended active space exploration in favor of making endless trips to the "International Space Station" - a growing modular maze in low Earth orbit whose purpose is obscure.

In a weird touch, the narrator claims that technological innovation is now largely limited to "making computers smaller and smaller."

Most nations on Earth are nominally democratic (communism seems to have been earlier abolished in a set of revolutions named after the colors of the rainbow) but in truth, the planet's population is largely under the control of a few giant corporations and mass-media enterprises including the sinisterly named "Facebook."

Books exist but no one reads them. A few years before, scientists had invented a means for most people to instantaneously communicate with anyone else on Earth. Many people, including virtually all intellectuals, are obsessed by this activity and spend most of their waking hours in what is likened to making bird calls or "tweeting".

The populace is kept under control by legal Marijuana dispensaries, door to door liquor deliveries and watching "streaming content" on giant color television sets (manufactured by slaves in an unnamed Asian tyranny). These "smart TV's" are actually semi-intelligent and write little personalized messages to viewers on their screens such as "If you liked the Honeymooners, you'll also like I Love Lucy."

The telephones, too, are "smart" and can be carried around in one's pocket, doubling as miniature televisions and enabling users to make their bird calls and access "the cloud" - a kind of memory bank housing an encyclopedia's worth of information - vetted and curated by the mega-corporations. The little telephones (each equipped with a homing device monitored by the corporations and the state) are also used to track people's movements.

Covid-19 is a plague-like virus - or so it is claimed by the media corporations - and the novel opens with the government of the United States imposing a "lockdown" on its population, allegedly to protect them and save millions of lives. It's a sort of loose but mandatory quarantine. People may buy food and visit the Marijuana dispensaries but only if they wear surgical masks. The giant televisions may be ordered using the "cloud" and are delivered by post.

"Flatten the curve, citizens!" is the government's slogan, referring to the statistical graph of how the disease allegedly spreads among the populace.

Underneath its quasi-benign surface this "bread and circuses" future can also be brutal. Political demonstrations and protests are banned (in the interest of public health) and gatherings of more than a few people on street corners are sometimes violently broken up by police. When they're not bashing people with their fists or billy clubs, Dick has the policemen of 2020 using "tasers" - a sort of miniature harpoon that shoots out an electrified wire. The police also employ "drones" - small unmanned flying-saucer-like devices that fly around watching people and barking out orders - "by order of the California Health Department, move along now!" 

Is Covid-19 real? Or is it just a means for the corporations to consolidate power?

The novel's heroine - a rare investigative reporter in the old style; in Dick's 2020, journalism as all but ceased to exist - is determined to find out. She discovers that many of the "fatalities" - the number of alleged Covid-19 deaths are morbidly updated on a sort of stock ticker message on the televisions - are fake. But there IS something real going on. Among other things, she discovers that the elderly in nursing homes are dying in droves. Is it the virus? Or are they being murdered? For what purpose?

Dick has never seemed to be particularly friendly to organized religion. But in Covid-19, he poignantly describes believers, banned from attending church, watching "virtual" services on their telephones and televisions. Indeed, in his typical offbeat form Dick has religious fundamentalists team up with beatniks to resist the Covid-19 propaganda efforts.

The novel ends on a semi-hopeful note. People start taking off their surgical masks. The air is clean and breathable. No one dies - despite the stock-ticker numbers. Some kind of revolution appears to be brewing, although the bad-guys may have further tricks up their sleeve: One of their leaders - a child-man named "Gates" who carries around a slide-rule everywhere - can be heard mumbling something about "vaccinations" on the final page.

Covid-19 is another brilliant effort by Dick, who this reviewer believes will go down as one of the century's most influential science-fiction authors.

Is it a realistic depiction of a possible future? Of course not. Dick mixes hard scientific speculation - miniature televisions - with psychedelic fantasy - "tweeting". His visions are arguably prophetic but also twisted and verging on the comedic.

The Covid-19 future is rule by a sort of military-industrial complex as it might be portrayed in an Ernie Kovacs skit. If you want realism, read Isaac Asimov.

Chicago, 7 May, 1960