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Since this is a personal blog, I’ll start this story with the circumstances of how I came across today’s news about UCLA’s settlement with Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a student who had been Tasered repeatedly after refusing to show ID in the library. No, I did not have a Google alert set up to notify of relevant news. Instead, I had gone into the archives to find a Rozsak quote to send to a friend, and then became curious about my older posts, as it’s been a few years since I’ve looked at them, and I’m thinking of using some of these posts as writing samples for job applications(!). So, for the first time in at least two years, I went back and looked at my original post about the UCLA Tasering ‘incident’, and wondered if the case had ever gone to trial. So it is a rather remarkable coincidence that this news was just released today about the settlement.

In keeping with how such sensitive cases are often handled, neither party is allowed to comment on the terms nor the process through which the settlement was reached, though I wonder if Mr. Tabatabainejad has any hopes for a book deal, of if such options are precluded by the settlement. I must admit I have no desire to ever watch that grainy cellphone video ever again, though I wonder if it would have a similar impact on me now as it did two and a half years ago.

Looking back over these past few years since that very first piglipstick blog post, I can see that the video of this ‘incident’ (though I still feel it to be torture in a fundamental sense) is what catalyzed my interest in social change work and led to the path I am now on. This happened in several ways: first by putting me in touch with my anger, guilt and outrage in a raw, direct way — where I could no longer analyze or rationalize what I was experiencing, but simply felt it, on an embodied level, and had to deal with those feelings. In addition, I had to deal with feelings of helplessness around what had happened and how, had I been present in that library, I would have been another one of those passive onlookers. This led to more impassioned writing and analysis about how our civilization has come to this point of global crisis, which in turn led me to look inward and see how all that has happened in the world and all that is happening right now has created a spiritual crisis in our human communities. Both the introspective and external gaze are essential, and I am still in the midst of discovering how best to serve my purpose of shifting consciousness so that we can revere every being — human and more-than-human, including ourselves — as a sacred mystery, and live our lives accordingly.

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Insult to Injury

During one of these “Half Ton” shows, there was a industry sponsored ad for the benefits of high-fructose corn syrup. Ugh. Makes me want to throw something at the TV. See sweetsurprise.com if you dare. I found an angry refutation here.

Just went on a little blogland journey about HFCS, and found Marion Nestle’s blog, which seems quite good. She recommends, w/r/t HFCS, “Eat less”. I would agree with one of her commenters, who writes, “Avoid it.” Sure, we’ll ingest some every now and again, and it’s not a poison that we need to freak out about. But neither is it a food to be tolerated as a normal presence in our diet, let alone embraced as something ‘good’.

Half Ton Shock

Wow. I’m somewhat speechless, mostly appalled, and definitely disgusted with what I’ve just seen (with a little compassion mixed in there, too, for good measure–I try, I try). I don’t own a TV in my apartment in San Francisco, but when I’m vacationing with my family, we tend to settle down in front of whatever we find on cable every now and again. Tonight was one of those nights.
Though we had intended to get down to a game of Wise and Otherwise (which I would have loved), we first ended up watching a two-hour History Channel special on Ancient Astronauts (which is slightly less kooky than you would imagine), and then another program on TLC called “Half Ton Teen”. And the title was very literal: this nineteen year-old kid weighed over 800 pounds. Even though I initially protested and begged my brother to change the channel because it was difficult to look at this person’s image on the screen, we all got sucked into watching the whole program. Where to begin? It’s a sad sad story of a boy that perhaps could have found his way in the world, but instead ate himself into such an unhealthy state that he required the ‘care’ and assistance of his mother full-time. I put care in quotes for a reason: his mother enabled and facilitated his astonishing weight gain through her behavior: she fed him whatever he wanted, and supported him as he moved toward an every more sedentary lifestyle until he could hardly walk more than a few feet without assistance.
Strangely enough, there is little to no information about the “Half Ton Teen” on the TLC website, so here’s a link to the mahalo site. Following Half Ton Teen, there was a similar show called “Half Ton Mom”, and then after that a show called “Half Ton Dad”. It turns out the Half Ton Mom was the first to be on national television and inspired a rash (there’s a better word, I’m sure) of morbidly obese people to come out of the closet (or, more literally, to be broken out of their bedrooms), to seek gastric bypass surgery and the possibility of a more ‘normal’ life.
A few brief comments:
One: I do feel really sorry for these people and their families. I know they didn’t get into these situations on purpose, and didn’t see any way out of their situation once it got to a certain point (they all claim to have tried dieting, and believe they don’t eat more than they need to). It’s a larger cultural issue, too, and the media and our fast-food agribusiness culture definitely plays a role in all this.
Two: The man, woman, and child profiled here are essentially a metaphor not only for the sickness of our food culture and the failure of our communities to take care of its members, but also a more literal metaphor for what this country is doing with regards to the planet’s resources. If the entire planet consumed as much energy and goods as the USA does, we’d need five earths. Similarly, these individuals weigh about as much as five healthy-sized individuals (they range from 800-1000 pounds). So we are seeing what happens when an organism internalizes its consumption instead of externalizing it–which is what all of our businesses do with regards to the environmental cost of our consumption. When we look at a human being that has grown so far beyond their capacity to support basic function, our instinct is one of revulsion, pity, and astonishment that such a thing is possible. But we are looking at the dark side of this culture. We find it so appalling that someone could eat as much as two week’s worth of food in a single day, but is what our consumer culture is doing really so different? It is simply much easier to ignore and we can more easily numb ourselves to its effects.
Three: How can it be that so many people in the country can be so ignorant of basic nutrition? These people are not illiterate — clearly many of them have computers and access to the internet. Could they have found that switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet might have allowed them to lose the weight they needed to lose without gastric bypass surgery?
Four: There are 15 million morbidly obese people in America today. Let that sink in for a moment. Fifteen million. It’s hard to imagine the suffering and pain that such an epidemic entails on a social level, let alone the cost to society in both dollars spent and resources needed. These individuals required teams of firepeople, EMTs and doctors to evacuate and take care of them.
Five: The extremes are not to be ignored — they are to be studied as places where we can learn the most about human potential, whether that is potential to be creative, harmful, or morbidly obese or anorexic. These people have their own story, but they also tell us something about ourselves, our culture, and our own capacities. We ignore them at our own peril.

That said, I’m not recommending you watch these shows, even should you find yourself on vacation with your family. I’m worried about the dreams I’ll have tonight.

A final fact: Americans spent 110 billion dollars on convenience (read: fast) food in 1999 — more than we spent on higher education, computers, or cars. Crazy. Just so no, people. And say yes to some kale and pumpkin seeds.

An article from today’s WSJ —

The conservative movement made its name battling moral relativists on campus, bellowing for a “strict construction” of our nation’s founding documents, and pandering to people who believe that the Book of Genesis literally records the origins of human existence.

[The Tilting Yard] AP

Joe the Plumber, aka Joe Wurzelbacher.

And yet here are the words of Ronald Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, as recorded in one of the main Reagan strategy documents from 1980: “People act on the basis of their perception of reality; there is, in fact, no political reality beyond what is perceived by the voters.”

The context of Wirthlin’s reality-denial, according to the historian Kim Phillips-Fein, who unearths his statement in her forthcoming book, “Invisible Hands,” was the larger Republican plan to woo blue-collar voters.

The mission was a success. It worked because Republicans wholeheartedly adopted Wirthlin’s dictum. Reality is a terrible impediment when you’re reaching out to workers while simultaneously cracking down on unions and scheming to privatize Social Security. Leave that reality to the “reality-based community,” to use the put-down coined by an aide to George W. Bush.

The “perception of reality,” on the other hand, is an amazing political tonic, and with it conservatives have cemented a factproof worldview of lasting power. It is simply this: Conservatives are authentic and liberals are not. The country is divided into a land of the soulful, hard-working producers and a land of the paper-pushing parasites; a plain-spoken heartland and the sinister big cities, where they breed tricky characters like Barack Obama, all “eloquence,” as John McCain sneered in last week’s presidential debate, but hard to pin down.

“There are Americans and there are liberals,” proclaims a bumper sticker that adorns my office. “Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God,” proclaimed Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C.) on Saturday at a rally in North Carolina. Speaking of Mr. Obama on the day before that, Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R., Minn.) expressed deep concern on MSNBC “that he may have anti-American views.” And on the day before that, GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin saluted “these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation.”

Foursquare fans of perceived reality must have rejoiced when they beheld, on the hard streets of suburban Toledo, Ohio, that most authentic of men, Joe the Plumber: “the average citizen” in the flesh, according to Mr. McCain; “a real person,” according to Mrs. Palin, who deftly ruined Mr. Obama’s “staged photo op there” — a subject on which Mrs. Palin can surely count herself an authority.

Joe the Plumber — along with his just-discovered supporter, Tito the Builder — has brought to the GOP what Richard Wirthlin went looking for so long ago: blue-collar affirmation. But consider the degree of reality-blindness it takes to kick out the authenticity like Joe does. The rust-belt metro area in which he lives has been in decline for decades. In 2007, the Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked it 335 out of 369 small metropolitan areas for unemployment; for home foreclosures, according to a 2007 article in the Toledo Blade, it is the 30 worst of all cities in the nation. According to Census numbers, median household income in the Toledo area, measured in constant dollars, has actually decreased since the late 1970s.

Joe’s town may be circling the drain, but Joe’s real concern, as the world knows, is that he might have to pay more taxes when his ship finally comes in. For good measure, Joe also declares Social Security “a joke”: “I’ve never believed in it,” he told reporters last week. Maybe that’s because this realest of men knows that Social Security is just a hippie dream, despite the Census’s insistence that 28% of his city’s households received income from that source in 2003. Maybe all those people would be better off if we had invested Social Security’s trust fund in WaMu and Wachovia — you know, the real deal.

Here is the key to this whole strange episode: Government is artifice and imposition, a place of sexless bureaucrats and brie-eating liberals whose every touch contaminates God’s work. Markets, by contrast, are natural, the arena in which real people prove their mettle. After all, as Mr. McCain said on Monday, small businessmen are just “Joe the Plumbers, writ large.” Markets carry a form of organic authenticity that mere reality has no hope of touching.

This is not a good time for market-based authenticity, however. It now seems that those real, natural Americans who make markets go also cook the books, and cheat the shareholders, and hire lobbyists to get their way in Washington. They invent incomprehensible financial instruments and have now sent us into a crisis that none of them has any idea how to solve.

If that’s nature, I’m ready for civilization.

This is Your Nation on White Privilege
By Tim Wise 9/13/08

For those who still can’t grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because “every family has challenges,” even as black and Latino families with similar “challenges” are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a “fuckin’ redneck,” like Bristol Palin’s boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with
you, you’ll “kick their fuckin’ ass,” and talk about how you like to “shoot shit” for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then
returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don’t all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you’re “untested.”

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance because “if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me,” and not be immediately disqualified from holding office–since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the “under God” part wasn’t added until the 1950s–while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was “Alaska first,” and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you’re black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she’s being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do–like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor–and people think you’re being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college–you’ re somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don’t even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a “second look.”

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn’t support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a
typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God’s punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you’re just a good church-going Christian, but if you’re black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you’re an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a “trick question,” while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O’Reilly means you’re dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a “light” burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren’t sure about that whole “change” thing. Ya know, it’s just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Tim Wise is the author of White Like Me (Soft Skull, 2005, revised 2008), and of Speaking Treason Fluently, publishing this month, also by Soft Skull. For review copies or interview requests, please reply to publicity@softskull.com

I’ve almost completely forgotten about this blog in recent months, but the recent kerflaffle (sp?) about the comments Obama made w/r/t to McCain and/or Palin suddenly have the press and blogosphere all in a tizzy about the phrase ‘lipstick on a pig’ and what it means. Well, for those of you (or, should I say, those two of you) who have been reading this blog regularly since its inception in November 2006 wil remember this brief post, where I point out the origins of the term ‘pig lipstick’ in my consciousness.

More on all this soon.

Stuck On What?

Have no idea why, but lately I’ve become fixated on random 80s songs — here’s a short-list:

Stuck On You — Lionel Richie (#35 in 1984, while “Hello” was #6 that same year)

I Want To Know What Love Is — Foreigner (the #4 song of 1985, mind you)

Don’t Ask Me Why — Billy Joel (didn’t make it to top 100 lists in 1980)

Yes, I know – the lyrics to the first two songs are completely inane, but there’s something going on lately where I have this (completely unsubstantiated) belief that there is something deeper in popular 80s music than we could have ever imagined. I’m not saying these particular songs are indicative of that, but I think even then there was a deeper wisdom yearning to be expressed — it just found its voice in the superficialities of the time, when Phil Collins and Billy Ocean ruled the charts.