Posts from November 2006

Lost Causes, part II

B. K. Marcus recently complained about a Tom Toles cartoon which suggested that George Allen, the Republican ex-Senator from Virginia, is a Confederate sympathizer. I have no idea whether or not the cartoon reveals Tom Toles to be an arrogant ignoramus. I don’t know much about how George Allen views himself in relation to the Confederacy. I do know that Marcus doesn’t strengthen his case by quoting–apparently with approval–the following bit of repulsive historical fudging by Jim Webb, the white Southern Democrat who recently defeated Allen in the Senate race:

I am not here to apologize for why they fought, although modern historians might contemplate that there truly were different perceptions in the North and South about those reasons, and that most Southern soldiers viewed the driving issue to be sovereignty rather than slavery. In 1860 fewer than five percent of the people in the South owned slaves, and fewer than twenty percent were involved with slavery in any capacity. Love of the Union was palpably stronger in the South than in the North before the war — just as overt patriotism is today — but it was tempered by a strong belief that state sovereignty existed prior to the Constitution, and that it had never been surrendered. Nor had Abraham Lincoln ended slavery in Kentucky and Missouri when those border states did not secede. Perhaps all of us might reread the writings of Alexander Stephens, a brilliant attorney who opposed secession but then became Vice President of the Confederacy, making a convincing legal argument that the constitutional compact was terminable. And who wryly commented at the outset of the war that the North today presents the spectacle of a free people having gone to war to make freemen of slaves, while all they have as yet attained is to make slaves of themselves.

— Remarks of James Webb at the Confederate Memorial (1990-06-03)

It’s not true, by the way, that fewer than twenty per cent of Southerners were involved in slavery in any capacity. In 1860, 39 per cent of Southerners were slaves; what Webb meant to talk about were white Southerners. But in any case, while only about 1 in 5 of them directly profited from holding, selling, or driving the forced labor of the black Southerners, there’s no reason to assume that the people who set the course for government policy and war policy in the Confederacy were particularly representative of even the white citizens in whose names they professed to act. Whatever most Confederate soldiers may have thought, the policies and the orders and the justifications for the course the Confederacy took were largely set by, handed down by, and elaborated by, other men–the men who governed the Confederacy. One such man was that brilliant attorney Alexander Stephens, and here is what he had to say about what the Confederacy stood for and fought for:

This new constitution. or form of government, constitutes the subject to which your attention will be partly invited. In reference to it, I make this first general remark: it amply secures all our ancient rights, franchises, and liberties. All the great principles of Magna Charta are retained in it. No citizen is deprived of life, liberty, or property, but by the judgment of his peers under the laws of the land. The great principle of religious liberty, which was the honor and pride of the old constitution, is still maintained and secured. All the essentials of the old constitution, which have endeared it to the hearts of the American people, have been preserved and perpetuated. Some changes have been made. Some of these I should have preferred not to have seen made; but other important changes do meet my cordial approbation. They form great improvements upon the old constitution. So, taking the whole new constitution, I have no hesitancy in giving it as my judgment that it is decidedly better than the old.

… But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other–though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution–African slavery as it exists amongst us–the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the rock upon which the old Union would split. He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the storm came and the wind blew.

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery–subordination to the superior race–is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind–from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just–but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

In the conflict thus far, success has been on our side, complete throughout the length and breadth of the Confederate States. It is upon this, as I have stated, our social fabric is firmly planted; and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of a full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world.

As I have stated, the truth of this principle may be slow in development, as all truths are and ever have been, in the various branches of science. It was so with the principles announced by Galileo–it was so with Adam Smith and his principles of political economy. It was so with Harvey, and his theory of the circulation of the blood. It is stated that not a single one of the medical profession, living at the time of the announcement of the truths made by him, admitted them. Now, they are universally acknowledged. May we not, therefore, look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgment of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made one star to differ from another star in glory. The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders is become the chief of the corner–the real corner-stone–in our new edifice. I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we are obliged to, and must triumph.

— Alexander H. Stephens (1861-03-21): Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia

Unconditional secession from coercive governments is a human right, and the policy of Lincoln and his partisans during the Civil War was morally criminal. But far too many libertarians make the mistake of thinking that opposition to the rampaging mercantile empire in the North entails supporting, or at least carrying water for, the rampaging slave empire in the South. This antihistorical fetish for the Confederacy is regrettable.

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #30: Shana Penn on the women who built the Polish dissident press, from Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland (2005)

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from the introductory chapter of Shana Penn’s 2005 study, Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland (ISBN 0-472-11385-2). Penn is discussing what she found when she went to Poland to research Solidarity, the worker’s opposition movement that played a decisive role in the collapse of martial law and the Communist regime itself in Poland during the 1980s.

The prisons and internment camps made up another major locus of dissent. After the imposition of martial law, defiantly irrepressible intellectuals such as Adam Michnik and Jacek Kuroń communicated from their jail cells, appealing to the nation to stop living lies and, instead, to live as if we are free. The imprisoned writers penned dazzling essays that were smuggled to the illegal press for publication.

It was the opposition press, which flourished illegally for most of the 1970s and 1980s, that was the third of the major, nonfactory sites of resistance. That enterprising, albeit clandestine, industry, brought people together on the same page, so to speak, to get real news, not state propaganda, and to debate what an open society might look like. The illicit newspapers, magazines, bulletins, and books it published were called bibuła, the Polish term for illegal papers produced during periods of censorship. Analogous to the Russian word samizdat, to self-publish, bibuła had the advantage of being a Polish word.

It was the illegal press that provided 1970s oppositionists with a practical vehicle to activate and coalesce support from the three, very different social groups that were fundamental to making change: the Intelligencja (a nineteenth-century way of saying public intellectuals and a term that continued to be used through 1989); the Workers, with a capital W (a purely communist term that the opposition brilliantly appropriated to argue for free trade unions); and the Polish Catholic clergy, the spiritual leaders most tolerated in the antireligious Soviet Bloc. (The political restraints on their power made the clergy unusually tolerant. They turned their backs on abortion and divorce, and they assisted women activists, even those who were single mothers, such as several of the protagonists of this story.)

Significantly, the illegal press was the chief playing field on which women were able to carve out distinctive, influential roles for themselves in the opposition. They distinguished themselves as editors, publishers, journalists, and communications strategists long before the world beyond Poland’s police-patrolled borders had begun talking about the Information Age. Much of my research leading to this book was to take place in the realm of the opposition press, but I had no inkling of that when I began my journey.

Arriving in Warsaw in the summer of 1990, I was aware that women made up approximately 50 percent of Solidarity’s ten-million strong membership–proportional to women’s presence in the labor force. However, their political representation in the formal solidarity structures was significantly smaller. As one rose in the Solidarity hierarchy, the numers of women diminished. Only 7.8 percent (69) of the 881 delegates to the Solidarity Congress [in September 1981] were women; only one woman sat on the National Executive [Committee], reported U.S. historian Barbara Jancar.

As I began collecting Polish women’s stories, I kept the following questions in mind: If Solidarity’s political leadership was male dominated, in what ways, then, had women participatd? Were there particular issues or activities to which they gravitated? Did they demonstrate special organizing styles? Were there unsung heroines among them or any forgotten events?

The first clues surfaced when several women I interviewed in the summer and winter of 1990 made statements such as the following:

A group of women in Warsaw managed the Solidarity Press Agency after Solidarity was created; then they organized Tygodnik Mazowsze [Regional Weekly] during martial law; and after 1989, they created the first free press, Gazeta Wyborcza [Election Gazette].

When martial law was declared, woemn started the underground in Warsaw.

Men thought they were in charge, but women pulled all the strings.

Listening to first one woman’s memories and then another’s, I heard a subject (a group of women), a place (the Warsaw underground), an occupation (the media), and a date (after the Decemer 13 declaration of martial law) repeatedly linked. Alerted to the possibility that something of consequence might connect the individual stories being told, I formulated a new core interview question: Where were you when martial law was declared, and what did you do? The following picture emerged:

After Solidarity spent sixteen months flexing its newly legal political muscles, the government declared martial law and immediately arrested some ten thousand activists–around nine thousand men and one thousand women. With most of the male leadership either imprisoned or driven into hiding, a core group of women rose up to reconnect Solidarity’s nationwide network of contacts, to protect the leaders in hiding from the secret police, to arrange meetings, and to smuggle money and equipment into the country. By January 1982 a uniquely all-female team based in Warsaw had pulled together unions and volunteers, moved typewriters and printing presses into attics and back rooms, and begun producing Tygodnik Mazowsze, which became the voice of the Solidarity underground.

Working as a team, the women possessed the management skills, confidence, and media savvy to organize a large-scale, illegal publishing operation that served the entire nation, mobilized hundreds of thousands of individuals in support of Solidarity, and enlisted the help of thousands of supporting players–from reporters and printers to distributors and smugglers. The paper thus bolstered the growth of civil society under the repressive conditions of martial law, when it was humanly and technically almost impossible to coordinate nationwide activity.

Like nearly everyone else, the secret police were unaware that the leading newspaper of the 1980s underground was a female-run enterprise and that the thousands of people who helped produce and distribute it took their instructions from an all-woman editorial team. Blinded by sexism, the secret police hunted diligently for the men they assumed to be behind the newspaper–Solidarity men in hiding whose names had appeared in bylines. Keen to arrest and silence the paper’s key personnel, the police completely overlooked its editors and publishers–Helena Luczywo, Joanna Szczęsna, Anna Dodziuk, Anna Bikont, Zofia Bydlińska, and Malgorzata Pawlicka. They also overlooked Ewa Kulik, who coordinated the operations of the Warsaw underground in collaboration with Tygodnik Mazowsze. These seven women called themselves Damska Grupa Operacyjna (Ladies’ Operations Unit), or simply DGO, and they form the core group of this study.

Most of these women could trace their roots as oppositionists back as far as high school; many were involved in the brutally suppressed student protests of 1968; and by the mid- to late 1970s the majority had already anchored their activism in the arena of illegal publishing, which was just becoming a mainstay of the growing democratic opposition. When Solidarity became legal, many of the DGO women ran the Solidarity Press Agency, called AS, communist Poland’s first uncensored news service and digest. During martial law they made Tygodnik Mazowsze a reality. And when it was time to clear the political ground for democratic governance in 1989, they founded the first postcommunist daily, Gazeta Wyborcza.

Beginning with their work at AS, the women shaped illegal publishing into an instrument of civic activism. They made a point of building up their communication channels so they could be used to foster a well-informed society. They planned media strategies on the premise that knowledge is power and communication is the underpinning of action. By December 13, 1981, they were already skilled at publishing and distributing newspapers, organizing protests, and petitioning the government, and when martial law craced down, they reacted immediately. Determined to outmaneuver the military junta, these women were poised to lead the telerevolution.

Martial law was not a time for spectacular actions, for demonstrating, for organizing public events, or making speeches. To throw a bomb against [the authorities] would have been suicide, Polish émigré author Irena Grudzińska-Gross told me in 1991. The road to salvation [was] in thinking and creating. … Without Tygodnik Mazowsze, the underground could not have existed. It was a form in which political opinions and declarations could be made. It was a link among people in finding sympathizers in a dangerous time when people were dispirited.

In a 1999 interview that appeared in Media Studies Journal, Polish-born journalist Anna Husarska confirmed what Irena and several Solidarity women had told me years earlier. The media and especially the print media were Solidarity. All right, Solidarity was a trade union and the workers had demands and the intellectuals supported the workers, but the civil society in Poland was built through the underground press. Almost everybody was involved in either the writing or the printing or the distributing or the transporting or even the producing of the ink. Everyone felt involved. What Husarska did not note or explore, either in this article or in her 1989 piece in the Book Section of the Sunday New York Times, were the identities of the women behind the underground press she described and analyzed.

In 1985 Barbara Jancar published an essay that discussed women’s role in the Polish opposition in the 1970s and 1980s. She concluded that Solidarity’s leadership was male dominated and that its reform agenda did not consider women’s interests outside the family. She also characterized women’s activism at the time as having been spontaneous, symbolic, and endorsed by men. While her essay remains an important introduction to gender dynamics in the Polish opposition, it does not uncover the identities or the roles of women spearheading the opposition press, who were intellectuals, not working-class women. Jancar’s main focus was on women workers because Solidarity was regarded as a working-class phenomenon. There was no indication in her findings that some women had already begun to institutionalize their distinctly female methods of operation at locations outside the realm of workers’ strikes.

The view from inside the movement looked wholly different from what those outsiders had recorded. It came as a great surprise when I listened to Wroclaw activist Barbara Labuda characterize women’s role in the underground during our first interview in 1991. Men didn’t have the skills to manage the underground. Women were the brainpower, she declared. The women chiefs, as she referred to the regional activists, rebuilt the communication channels, organized secret meetings, arranged for the transfers of money, found contacts at Western embassies, spoke to the press, and developed relations with local and foreign clergy. When Solidarity members needed aid, they came to the women. When Western reporters requested interviews, they met with the women. I gave a lot of the interviews but not in my name. I wrote all of the men’s speeches, Barbara admitted. My women friends in other regions share experiences similar to mine–we had to protect our own identities.

In order to protect their identities from discovery by the government or the secret police, the Tygodnik Mazowsze editors insisted on anonymity when speaking to the Western press and perpetuated the myth of working-class men as the superstars of resistance. They worked behind the scenes as invisible organizers in order to publicize the words, deeds, and leadership of their male colleagues. Strategically, they felt that this was the way to gain popular support and to rebuild the splintered movement. And they succeeded.

–Shana Penn (2005): Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland, ISBN 0-472-11385-2. 7–12.

Law and Orders: UCLA campus police “found it necessary” to repeatedly taser an Iranian student already lying helpless on the ground

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves; or pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, if they get tired enough of being talked back to and if their bellowed orders are no longer sufficient to end an argument–even without any plausible reason whatsoever for fearing any physical threat to themselves or others. When they are caught in the act police administrators will wring their hands, make up some lies to try to excuse the assault, promise an investigation, find that Official Procedures were followed, and then do nothing at all, except perhaps question the decision to arm the pigs with tasers (as if the equipment were the issue here). This is a cellphone video of what happened to UCLA student Mostafa Tabatabainejad when he refused to show identification to campus police and then demanded that they not touch him while he left the library.

(Link and story via Brian Doherty @ Reason Hit and Run 2006-11-16.)

Here is the story from The Los Angeles Times:

The latest in a recent spate of cellphone videos documenting questionable arrest tactics surfaced Wednesday, this one showing a UCLA police officer using a Taser to stun a student who allegedly refused to leave the campus library.

Grainy video of the Tuesday night incident at UCLA’s Powell Library was broadcast Wednesday on TV news and the Internet, prompting a review of the officers’ actions and outrage among students at the Westwood campus.

The footage showed the student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, falling to the ground and crying out in pain as officers stunned him.

According to a campus police report, the incident began when community service officers, who serve as guards at the library, began their nightly routine of checking to make sure everyone using the library after 11 p.m. is a student or otherwise authorized to be there.

Campus officials said the long-standing policy was adopted to ensure students’ safety.

When Tabatabainejad, 23, refused to provide his ID to the community service officer, the officer told him he would have to show it or leave the library, the report said.

After repeated requests, the officer left and returned with campus police, who asked Tabatabainejad to leave multiple times, according to a statement by the UCLA Police Department.

He continued to refuse, the statement said. As the officers attempted to escort him out, he went limp and continued to refuse to cooperate with officers or leave the building.

Witnesses disputed that account, saying that when campus police arrived, Tabatabainejad had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack. When an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, the witnesses said, Tabatabainejad told the officer to let go, yelling Get off me several times.

Tabatabainejad encouraged library patrons to join his resistance, police said. The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser.

Officers stunned Tabatabainejad, causing him to fall to the floor.

The video shows Tabatabainejad yelling, Here’s your Patriot Act, here’s your … abuse of power, the Daily Bruin reported, adding he used a profanity.

It was beyond grotesque, said UCLA graduate David Remesnitsky of Los Angeles, who witnessed the incident. By the end they took him over the stairs, lifted him up and Tasered him on his rear end. It seemed like it was inappropriately placed. The Tasering was so unnecessary and they just kept doing it.

Campus police confirmed that Tabatabainejad was stunned multiple times.

By then, Remesnitsky said, a crowd of 50 or 60 had gathered and were shouting at the officers to stop and demanding their names and badge numbers.

Remesnitsky said officers told him to leave or he would be Tasered.

Tabatabainejad declined to comment. He was arrested Tuesday night and cited by campus police for resisting and obstructing a police officer and was released.

The incident was the third videotape of an arrest to surface in the last week in Los Angeles.

One video showed a Los Angeles Police Department officer dousing a handcuffed suspect in the face with pepper spray as the suspect sat in a patrol car.

That video came to light Monday, just days after the LAPD and the FBI launched investigations into another videotape showing a police officer hitting a suspect in the face several times after a foot chase in Hollywood.

UCLA Assistant Police Chief Jeff Young said Wednesday that he had viewed the video of the campus incident on the Internet and would view any other videos that were shot.

We will gather as many samples as we can find, from different sources, Young said. We’ll use it for our own administrative investigation.

— Amanda Covarrubias and Stuart Silverstein, Los Angeles Times (2006-11-16): A third incident, a new video

Here is the campus police’s military necessity justification for repeatedly electrifying an unarmed man already lying on the ground and offering no physical resistance, let alone physical threat, to the armed and uniformed gang of peace officers surrounding him:

Tabatabainejab encouraged library patrons to join his resistance. A crowd gathering around the officers and Tabatebainejad’s continued resistance made it urgent to remove Tabatabainejad from the area. The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser in a drive stun capacity.

— University of California Police Department (2006-11-15): Powell Library Incident

The Powell Library is university property, and authorized agents of the university have every right to force out someone who does not use the library according to the policies set by the university. What they have no right to do is to carry out those aims by repeatedly using powerful electric shocks to immobilize a helpless man with pain, over and over again, when he is already lying on the ground, solely in order to keep control of the situation or to ensure students’ safety when the students themselves feel far more threatened by the belligerent and violent police. Whether or not they found it necessary to torture Tabatabainejab with electric shocks in order to accomplish those things is quite irrelevant. As Edmund Burke once wrote,

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary.

— Edmund Burke (1757): Vindication of Natural Society

There are three things about the video that are just terrible to watch and to hear. The first is the obvious one: Tabatabainejad screaming in pain and writhing on the floor as cops assault him again and again. But the second is just as awful: the crowd of 50 or 60 students, outraged at the police’s ongoing assault, and doing nothing about it other than yelling at the cops and indignantly demanding their badge numbers–apparently in the fantastical belief that a The Law is somehow going to protect them from violence at the hands of its own rampaging hired goons. The third are the comments from the bare-fanged sadists who inevitably came along, as they come along in every case like this one, to add remarks like this:

if you don’t cooperate you get tazed. it’s very simple to understand.

— trappednAZ, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Or this:

I have a medical condition! Hahaha, so good. Damn that was funny. If you don’t wanna get tasered, then don’t a dick to the police. They’re just doing their job.

— symonwill, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Or this:

This is why you dont scream like a 5 year old at police when they tell you to do something. The guy wouldnt comply with anything the police were saying. He deserved it. This shouldnt even be an issue.

— c17h25n, in replies to YouTube (2006-11-16): UCLA Student Tasered by UCLA Police for not showing ID

Did you know that if a college student has a bad attitude towards armed strangers giving him orders, that justifies the cops using violence, up to and including hitting him with immobilizing electric shocks, over and over again, while he lies on the ground, in response? Apparently in the world of authoritarian creeps and bureaucratic sociopaths, it does.

Further reading:

Thanks again, bro: Sigs at Whitman College go “above and beyond what other people do” for Halloween… with blackface Halloween costumes

(Story thanks to a tip from TL.)

Just about every year, right around now, I get to hear the same thing again: a bunch of students, most of them white, threw a party involving blackface costumes and other forms of crude racist caricature. It happened at Auburn–at least twice. It happened at Ole Miss. It happened at Syracuse. It happened at Oklahoma State. It happened at Stetson. It doesn’t always happen at a fraternity party, but it often does. Sometimes the kids opt for broad pastiches of gangsta images that they’ve picked up from MTV. Sometimes they opt for explicit references to the history of slavery and militant white supremacy. Sometimes–as it seems happened in Baltimore–they opt for both. The pattern is established, and the reactions are reliable. While University administrators are busy rushing to make a public example of whoever was caught throwing the party, and anxiously insisting (to anybody who cares to listen) that this is an isolated incident, not representative of the campus culture, etc. etc. etc., it’s left to those who know something about what actually goes on on campus (usually Black students or faculty) to point out, yet again, that these things happen in a broader context, that this is nothing new, that things like this happen all the time on campus, and that the only thing special about this case is that the story went public. Then a few months later, everything settles back down, the administration eases or completely reverses its disciplinary actions against the fraternity, and we wait until late next October or early next November, when exactly the same damned thing happens at yet another Halloween party somewhere else.

… Thanks a lot, guys. You have officially ruined Halloween.

— GT 2006-11-03: Thanks, bro: a racially themed frat party at Johns Hopkins University

In case you were wondering, it’s still that time of the year, and the brothers of Sigma Chi have continued their tradition of leadership and service–not only at Johns Hopkins, but also at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington:

Walking into the Survivor-themed greek party, Sigma Chi juniors Brice Crayne and Bryan Ponti could never have imagined the kind of reaction their costumes would ultimately get. They said later that they just wanted to stand out: and with their faces and bodies painted entirely black with orange markings, they certainly did. It didn’t strike them that their body paint would eventually move the entire campus to a standstill.

Senior Natalie Knott was browsing the Internet in the library when she came across photographs of Crayne and Ponti from the party. Feeling a gut reaction, Knott showed the pictures to a few friends who didn’t see much controversy.

I had to leave the library because I was really angry but I couldn’t figure out why because nobody was seeing what I saw, Knott said. She drew connections to racist archetypes, specifically the blackface minstrel shows popular in the early 1900s. After speaking for hours about the issue with friends in her apartment complex, Knott decided she should bring her concerns to a faculty member.

The next day, Knott consulted with Politics Professor Bruce Magnusson, who told her that she should show the photographs to the dean. After conferencing with student life committee chair Clare Carson for an hour, Knott decided to post her thoughts to the student listserv, at Carson’s suggestion.

The response was immediate. Feedback poured in over the listserv from minority students who felt offended, white students who felt attacked and a slew of others whose feelings fell somewhere in the middle.

— Sophie Johnson, Whitman College Pioneer (2006-10-26): ‘Blackface’ incident ignites campus

As a side note, I don’t have access to FaceBook, so I haven’t seen the photo. If any of y’all out there can find them, please feel free to pass them along to me–I think it’s important that these images be brought out into the open for public discussion.

Meheret Debebe, 19, a Whitman sophomore, said she was more offended by what she read in the listserv than by the picture.

I thought wow, I go to school with a lot of racist people, she said.

Debebe, who is black, said she has felt alienated at her school in the past.

— Maria P. Gonzalez, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (2006-11-11): ‘Blackface’ incident has Whitman abuzz

The poor lil’ white boys and their buddies insist that they’ve gotten a bum rap. After all, hey, their intentions were pure as the driven snow–they just blacked up because they wanted to stand out (for what, exactly?). Besides, who says that in their totally non-racist minds blackface had anything in particular to do with race?

The responses that resulted from Knott’s initial e-mail ranged from passively curious to incensed. At first, the bulk of responses were from those who felt insulted by Knott’s assertions. … Whitman’s Sigma Chi president senior James Hovard was one of the first people that took issue with Knott’s e-mail. Hovard heard about the e-mail from a friend, and he produced a reply that same night.

I was a little shocked and surprised because I was at that party and the thought of Brice and Bryan dressing up in blackface never crossed my mind. I know that they wore black paint, but I never thought of it as a racial issue, Hovard said.

— Sophie Johnson, Whitman College Pioneer (2006-10-26): ‘Blackface’ incident ignites campus

Well, then.

Neither Crayne nor Ponti responded to the listserv e-mail, but both were personally affected by the incident.

I had to set up a punching bag in my room I was so mad, said Crayne: I felt like someone had passed judgment on me; someone had called me something I definitely am not, and that’s a racist.

Ponti felt similarly attacked. The individual who pointed out everything that was wrong with the pictures did not contact either me or my good friend as to our intentions, they simply wrote their e-mail in the heat of the moment and we were caught completely off guard, he said.

— Sophie Johnson, Whitman College Pioneer (2006-10-26): ‘Blackface’ incident ignites campus

God forbid anyone should ever pass judgment on your behavior, or consider what you did apart from the esoteric of what you were feeling, deep down in your heart. Gosh but it must be so hard on them to feel attacked and misrepresented by the majority.

The students, who belong to the Sigma Chi fraternity, say they never meant to insult or offend anyone.

It was never meant to be a statement, Crayne said. We’re a couple guys who like to go above and beyond what other people do.

… As for Ponti and Crayne, they have come away with a lesson.

Now that I see I offended people I’ll never do it again, Ponti said.

I can totally understand how they were offended and once I thought about it in that way I apologized. I was sorry, Crayne said.

— Maria P. Gonzalez, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (2006-11-11): ‘Blackface’ incident has Whitman abuzz

Well, that’s mighty white of them.

Here is an old black and white photo of several white students in minstrel-show blackface, smiling at the camera and holding a banner reading 'We love the Betas.'

Whitman College Greeks in black face standing in front of the old student union building in the 1950s. From a presentation by Whitman professor Duke Richey. I’m sure none of them meant to make a statement.

Still, I can’t say that I’m particularly encouraged that college juniors think it’s a perfectly good excuse, in cases like these, to pass themselves off as too damned ignorant and thoughtless to be expected to know anything in particular about the history of race in America, or minstrel shows, or the use of blackface, or why folks just might not be entirely cool with it.

The faculty’s response has been relatively sensible: besides encouraging Knott to bring the FaceBook photos up with her fellow students, they’ve also cancelled a few classes to put on community events to teach about the history and implications of blackface. The administration, on the other hand, has taken this as a chance to boldly wring their hands about a PR disaster and take serious steps towards slapping the offending white frat boys on the wrist:

The costumes have since spurred heated discussions, seemingly divided the campus and prompted a Town Hall meeting that drew hundreds.

In the most recent response to the blackface incident, all classes were suspended Thursday while the college held a daylong symposium on race and diversity.

College takes action [sic]

In response, college President George Bridges worked with faculty and student leaders to address the tensions and to start the process of educating the campus on racial sensitivities.

Ponti and Crayne were not disciplined, but did meet with Bridges.

— Maria P. Gonzalez, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (2006-11-11): ‘Blackface’ incident has Whitman abuzz

I’m glad they got their talking-to and all, but I can’t say that this entirely dislodges Amanda Marcotte’s question-and-answer: Where are college kids getting this idea that they should have the benefit of having their racism and sexism coddled and protected? Obviously, that’s just a rhetorical question, because I know exactly where they’re getting that idea, which is from all the authority figures who coddle and protect them.

Further reading:

Rad Geek answers your questions

(Hat tip: Max Jones 2006-11-10.)

Write your own caption.

Today’s question comes via Lorna Grisby and Mark Guarino

Playing the role of a rap Casanova, Federline, who is seeking sole custody of his kids with Britney Spears, leaned into the crowd to touch the hands of women who were reaching toward him. Several songs into the set, he referenced his breakup with Spears. Hey, I see a lot of fine ladies in here, said the rapper. You know I’m a free man, right, ladies? You wanna dance with a pimp?

A: No.