Monthly Archives: June 2009

Tiananmen Square: China Twenty Years Later

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Being only 23, I don’t remember the event personally, but I have read much about it and watched news footage taken at the time. I would guess that few of my friends are well-versed in the details of what occurred during the five weeks of protest, but certainly if  asked what the Tiananmen Square massacre is they would give a perfectly satisfactory answer. We’ve all seen Tank Man many times.

This, however, would not be the case in the People’s Republic of China. In a recent Frontline documentary about the 1989 protests entitled “Tiananmen Square: The Tank Man,” a documentarian interviewed four Chinese students from the prestigious University of Beijing in order to gauge their perceptions of this iconic picture. Each student was handed a copy of the photograph and then simply asked what it evoked for them. They all look profoundly confused. One asked if the photo was of a parade; others said they couldn’t say much about it without knowing the context.

Tank Man

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Auto-Tune the News!! (Vol. II)

Sotomayor, Morning Joe, Biden, Katie Couric, Newt, jacuzzis, etc…

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Auto-Tune the News! (Vol. I)

First saw these guys on Rachel Maddow. Absolutely genius. I want all news, all the time to be auto-tuned….CNN take note.

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Interesting Op-Ed from…Jonah Goldberg?

I don’t think I’ve ever said this before, but there’s a great Op-Ed from Jonah Goldberg on NRO today. It may not be to everyone’s liking, but I think it’s a really interesting treatment of the Sotomayor nomination and the idea of a national discussion on race. An excerpt:

It may go too far to call her a racist — not necessarily because she doesn’t fit the technical definition, but because she doesn’t fit the popular, emotional definition of one. She’s not an evil bigot, which is what the word “racist” colloquially suggests.

So maybe we can call her a “racialist.” She certainly doesn’t seem to believe in official colorblindness. Just ask Frank Ricci, the fireman denied a promotion simply because he’s white. He sought justice in her court, but Sotomayor couldn’t muster the requisite empathy to give him a fair hearing.

There’s a lot more to Sotomayor’s views on race that seems worth talking about, and her record is far from indefensible. In many ways, she’s a perfectly mainstream liberal jurist. All the more reason liberals should defend her positions openly, rather than dismiss or deny them.

Obama and the Democratic party indisputably share the broad outlines of her approach to racial issues. But rather than calmly defend her, they hide behind the robes of the first Latina Supreme Court pick and shout “bigot” at anyone who fails to throw rose petals at her feet.

And that is pretty much what liberals always do when it comes to race. They invite everyone to a big, open-minded conversation, but the moment anyone disagrees with them, they shout “racist” and force the dissenters to figuratively don dunce caps and renounce their reactionary views. Then, when the furor dies down, they again offer up grave lamentations about the lack of “honest dialogue.” It’s a mixture of Kabuki dance and whack-a-mole.

The irony of the current brouhaha is that the roles are somewhat reversed. Conservatives are shouting “racist,” and liberals are scrambling to explain themselves.

I’m willing to concede, happily, that liberals aren’t cartoonish villains for believing that certain preferred minorities deserve special treatment under the law. Unfortunately, too many liberals are unwilling to offer the same courtesy in return.

So here’s an idea. Let’s assume both sides have a serious and well-intentioned perspective and talk it out. Now.

Also, Dick Cheney supports gay marriage. What’s going on?

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Who is the Modern Major-General (the real one)?

This is great. Gilbert & Sullivan would be so proud!

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Sessions, Sotomayor, Racism, and an Anecdote

All kidding aside, Sessions appeared on Meet the Press yesterday with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy and was oddly unwilling to simply put into words whether he does or does not believe that Sonya Sotomayor is racist. Of course, the entire debate is 100% ridiculous and thus the mass participation on “is she/isn’t she” by both Republicans and Democrats is absurd, but it goes to a much deeper question that really has little to actually do with Judge Sotomayor. That is, how do we define racism in America today? Though seemingly academic in nature, the answer to this question has practical applications that go far beyond Senate Judiciary hearings.

An anecdote:

In my first semester of college, I participated in a freshman seminar called (some variation of) “Historical Memory and Slavery of the American South” taught by a young, but brilliant professor named Seth Rockman. Having literally just moved from my home in North Carolina to Providence, Rhode Island to attend one of the country’s most liberal universities, I was unsure how I would fare in a course meant to confront America’s Master Narrative head on.

It was, for all intents and purposes, the worst academic showing of my life. I remember distinctly the first time that Professor Rockman explained to us that reverse-racism is an impossibility, according to his school of thought, as racism relies on a superficial power construct, ie what has been the inherent position of power held by the white community as opposed to communities of other ethnicities. The more powerful (in this case white men) cannot be marginalized through racism by the less powerful (everybody else, but in Rockman’s specific example African-Americans), because the entire racial construct was created by white men to explain the relationship between themselves and all of the “others.”*

At first, I was entirely unable to comprehend this concept in a way that kept me from being incredibly offended at the apparent inequality, but after weeks of argument I reconciled that perhaps the problem with so-called reverse-racism really is about the semantics. As in, when a white person says something offensive to a black person pertaining to their race it’s called racism, but if a black person says something racially offensive to a white person, though perhaps hurtful and unacceptable, it isn’t referred to as racism because calling it so ignores the inherent power dynamics that define what racism is. Words have certain meanings, and racism has a historically specific and significant one. 

It has been a few years since I took that class, and I’d like to think that my ideas and reasoning on the subject have matured and become more nuanced (I suspect that the Professor and I have much to agree upon now), but even as I was the lone student arguing for the possibility of reverse-racism (a concept I reject after much further study), I managed to learn an important lesson from Professor Rockman: the words we use, how we define things, and the version of history we choose to tell all matter

I hated Rockman back then. I thought he was too liberal, too empathetic, and too blind to reality. But he was right.

Oh, and if I ever run into Professor Rockman, I’ll have to inform him that after writing  a (not very good) paper for his seminar tearing apart William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner  for being the MOST AWFUL, RACIST tome ever, I proceeded to bookend my college career by writing my final senior year seminar paper for a Gordon Wood class (entitled “The Practice of History”) on the very same book. My conclusions four years later were starkly different.

* I have vastly oversimplified this point. There is much to be read on the subject.

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Senator Sessions Look-Alike?

I happen to like Sen. Jeff Sessions. I think he’s a thoughtful politician who, I believe, will be a much more tempered leader during the Sotomayor hearings than Chuck Grassley would have been. BUT (and there’s always a caveat), it’s quite possible that his astonishing resemblance to another American icon may confuse and fluster viewers at home:

 

Senator Jeff Sessions  Keebler Elf                                                  VS.

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