2011 - %3, October

The Ethnic Revenge Flick

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 8:35 AM PDT

Ta-Nehisi Coates ponders Django Unchained, the Quentin Tarantino slavery revenge flick in the vein of Inglorious Basterds:

When I think of Django Unchained all I see are rape scenes and scowling dudes. One of the problems, at least for me, is that I don't actually hunger for a revenge flick about slavery. I understand why Jews might hunger for a some cathartic revenge in terms of the Holocaust. There's a certainly clarity to industrialized genocide. But slavery is something different, something at once more variable, intimate and elusive.

J.L. Wall responds:

Revenge in the context of atrocity tends to mean "desire to kill." This is the form it almost wholly takes after the event. But from within the event—from, in fact, accounts secretly written in and buried nearby Auschwitz—one finds the desire to do this precisely to them. And this is part of the problem that TNC is pointing toward in his final sentence: that, since slavery can’t be reduced to the shorthand of "murder," it's harder to ignore the question of the particular cruelties revenge would call for.

In Jeffrey Goldberg's review of Inglorious Basterds, he writes about dreaming about killin' NAZees as a kid, delighting in Quentin Tarantino's "story of emotionally uncomplicated, physically threatening, non-morally-anguished Jews dealing out spaghetti-Western justice to their would-be exterminators." His initial anecdote helps explain that Inglorious Basterds is not primarily a film about killing Adolf Hitler, although that's the form that catharsis takes. The true "revenge" of Inglorious Basterds is in the banishment of a particular stereotype, the idea of the weak, fearful Jew who goes helplessly into the ovens. The film Defiance, about a group of Jewish partisans in a forest in Belarus during World War II, has a similar aim—in the woods, the manly, unintellectual Jews played be Liev Schriber and Daniel Craig suddenly become leadership material, while the nebbish former academics are portrayed as contemptuous weaklings. And I suppose what has always bugged me about both of those films is that somewhere deep inside they see Jews the way anti-Semites see Jews, and are actively working to convince not just the world but themselves otherwise.

Of course I enjoyed both, and there's something about the whole "tough Jew" genre of film that I can't help but like because, hey, I'm not immune to internalizing stereotypes either. But the reason Django Unchained probably can't and won't work the same way is that black Americans are dealing with a fundamentally different set of stereotypes. The perception is not, for example, that we're incapable of being tough, or of engaging in terrible acts of violence. Instead, the stereotype is that's all we're capable of. So a film in which a slave kills his masters may vicariously avenge a historical injustice, but it lacks the catharsis of defying the accepted narrative that narrowly limits what being black is supposed to mean. A true ethnic revenge story says, what you believe me to be is not all I am; I am better than you think me to be. 

An actual black revenge flick would have to banish the myths of black cultural pathology and intellectual inferiority, much as Inglorious Basterds seeks to counter narratives of Jewish helplessness. Django Unchained isn't a black revenge story. The Cosby Show is a black revenge story. 

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Chart of the Day: The Government and the Rich

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 7:59 AM PDT

This chart from the Pew Economic Mobility Project is actually a few months old, but it seems newly relevant in light of the Occupy Wall Street protests. If you want to know why people are angry, this tells the story. If you want to know why people don't think much of government, this tells the story. If you want to know why people are overwhelmingly in favor of increasing taxes on the rich, this tells the story. Basically, this chart tells a lot of stories.

What It's Like to Work For Herman Cain

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 7:47 AM PDT
Herman Cain's memo for staff: speak when spoken to.

One of the most interesting stories to come out of the Herman Cain presidential campaign hasn't actually been written yet—and it might not be for a while, until after he drops out of the race, Fox News contract in hand, sometime before, during, or after, the early primaries. I'm speaking, of course, about the post-mortem, the campaign ritual in which disaffected former staffers spill the beans about what a horror show they endured for however-many months. (Joshua Green's email-heavy deconstruction of the Hillary Clinton campaign is canon for this genre.)

But the New York Times has a hint of what's to come today:

And then there was that e-mail to the staff about traveling in a car with Mr. Cain: "Do not speak to him unless you are spoken to," the memo said.

"I found it odd," said a former staff member who liked to prep Mr. Cain for appearances while driving. The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, quit not long afterward, citing the e-mail as one of the deciding factors...

Setting up offices was also something of a trial. "When I told people, 'You'll be getting offices and phone lines,' I'd have to postpone that," the former staff member in Iowa said. "It was like they were running for sophomore class president."

Mr. Hall added, "We couldn't even get our own e-mail addresses," for the campaign.

Emphasis mine. Cain's spokesman, J.D. Gordon, notes correctly in the piece that the book tour—dismissed by many ex-staffers—has been a big success. But that's assuming that the goal of the book tour was to sell a lot of books and turn his candidate into a celebrity; if the goal was to build a campaign organization capable of getting out the vote in critical early primary states, well, Cain might have been better served by actually visiting early primary states.

Check Out This Crazy Photo of an Elizabeth Warren Volunteer Meeting

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 7:13 AM PDT

This is a photo of a volunteer meeting for Elizabeth Warren, who is leading the race for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts:

Volunteers at an Elizabeth Warren rally in Framingham, Massachusetts.: ElizabethforMA/FlickrVolunteers at an Elizabeth Warren rally in Framingham, Massachusetts. ElizabethforMA/Flickr

This looks more like the kind of crowd you'd see at presidential volunteer meeting late in the campaign than a rally for a Senate candidate 13 months before the general election. It sure looks like Warren has her base fired up. That's not all: On Wednesday, Alan Khazei, perhaps Warren's strongest opponent in the Democratic primary, dropped out of the race, all but ensuring Warren wins the nomination and has a unified Democratic party behind her for an epic November 2012 showdown with Brown.

(h/t Daily Kos Elections)

Let's Not Mine Uranium in the Grand Canyon

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 6:42 AM PDT

The Bureau of Land Management issued a determination on Wednesday that turning the Grand Canyon into a giant uranium mine would be a bad idea.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said earlier this year that he thought there should be a 20-year moratorium on mining in the iconic canyon, so the decision isn't really a surprise. The Final Environmental Impact Statement called for extending the moratorium on mining on the 1 million acres land under the management of the US Forest Service and BLM. Here's what BLM had to say in a statement:

"The Grand Canyon is an iconic place for all Americans and visitors from around the world," said BLM Director Bob Abbey. "Uranium remains an important part of our nation’s comprehensive energy resources, but it is appropriate to pause, identify what the predicted level of mining and its impacts on the Grand Canyon would be, and decide what level of risk is acceptable to take with this national treasure. The preferred alternative would allow for cautious, continued development with strong oversight that could help us fill critical gaps in our knowledge about water quality and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the area."

But it's sure to annoy the Republicans in the House and Senate who have been gunning to open it up. For now they'll have to wait. At least until the Perry/Bachmann administration reverses the decision in a few years.

How the US Just Did Away With Its Biggest Nuke (Video)

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 3:15 AM PDT
The B53 nuclear bomb:

The United States' ability to annihilate millions of people at a time is a little weaker than it was last week. The agency in charge of America's nuclear arsenal announced Tuesday that it's finished dismantling the country's oldest, biggest A-bomb, the B53.

The disassembly, detailed in the government video below, "is a major accomplishment that has made the world safer and for which everyone involved should be proud," Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said in a statement. "Safely and securely dismantling surplus weapons is a critical step along the road to achieving President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons."

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Wisconsin Union Chief: "Seriously Considering a Run" Against Scott Walker in Recall

| Thu Oct. 27, 2011 3:00 AM PDT
Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell.

You couldn't miss Mahlon Mitchell at this winter's populist uprising in Madison, Wisconsin. Mitchell, president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, gave impassioned speeches on the steps outside the state Capitol in defense of workers' rights, and he led firefighters in a march into the rotunda to roaring cheers from the protestors. Mitchell's role in the protests catapulted him into something of a celebrity among union members and activists in Wisconsin, especially considering that firefighters were exempted from Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union budget repair bill.

Now Mitchell is eyeing a bigger stage: the governor's mansion. In an interview with Mother Jones, he said he was "seriously considering a run" for governor in a potential recall election targeting Walker. He said he believes Wisconsinites are sick of professional politicians not following through on campaign promises, and that a populist candidate running against Walker stands a better chance of unseating the governor. The ideal candidate would be "able to talk with common people about common issues," Mitchell said. "Tell 'em what you can do and what you can't do."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for October 27, 2011

Thu Oct. 27, 2011 2:57 AM PDT

US Army Capt. Scott Hall, Combined Joint Task Force-1, Regional Command-East, Bagram, Afghanistan, looks out the door of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter while flying over the Logar province in Afghanistan, October 18, 2011. Photo by Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati.

Rick Scott's Pee Test Fails a Court Test

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 6:30 PM PDT

Two months ago, we told you how Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to drug-test the state's welfare recipients—at their expense—turned out to be a very costly waste of time. Now the effort has been ruled unconstitutional, too.

In a blistering 37-page opinion (PDF) issued late Monday night, federal court Judge Mary Scriven put a halt to the tea party Republican's marquee plan, concluding that "the wholesale, suspicionless drug testing of all applicants" for Florida's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) constituted an unreasonable search in violation of the 4th Amendment. It's just the latest setback for Scott, who's recently come under fire for pooh-poohing nonbusiness majors, collecting cut-rate health insurance, cutting support to the disabled, building himself a military hall of fame, and imploding on a live cable news show.

Rick Perry Figures Out How to Improve His Debate Performance

| Wed Oct. 26, 2011 3:49 PM PDT

Rick Perry has figured out the answer to his embarrassingly bad debate performance. He's just not going to participate in debates anymore:

“We are going to evaluate each debate as it comes and take each one on its own merits,” said Perry spokesman Mark Miner, adding that for now, Mr. Perry is confirmed only for the next GOP debate, set for Michigan Nov. 9th....“The primaries are right aroud the corner and there is simply more to do than there is time to do it,” Mr. Miner said.

But isn't this going to open up Perry to charges that he's scared to face his opponents? Don't be silly, says Perry's South Carolina chairman, Katon Dawson:

“You have to prioritize exactly what you’re campaign is going to do and what it’s going to look like and what you’re best at,” he said in an interview. “I don’t think Rick Perry has ever hidden from anything.”

So there you have it. Perry's not hiding from anything. He's just choosing to stay off national TV because it makes his dimness a little too painfully obvious to voters who are trying to choose a leader of the free world. Better to focus instead on what he's best at: attack ads and laughably flimsy policy proposals.