Category Archives: Politics

Posts of a political nature

Blog Policy on Recent Racist Comments

This blog doesn’t get a ton of comments – the most active posts tend to be the ones leading up to this weeks Nonprofit Technology Conference.  But I’ve been getting a bunch lately that I’ve decided not to post, as comments, at least.  So this is to clarify the comment policy, and respond to some borderline conversational/offensive comments left in the last day or so.

Comments are moderated here, mainly in order to weed out the obvious spam that slips through my Akismet filter on occasion.  I don’t publish spam or link spam, so if you’re one of the people leaving innocuous comments about my writing style, note that I don’t believe that you’re sincere, and I won’t publish your link to your viagra site.

But the comments I received this week aren’t spam.  Instead, they appear to be the work of someone looking to provoke me.  They’re in reply to my post “The Offensive Bardwell Defense“, in which I spoke about segregation, my marriage, and the legal battle to allow same sex marriage underway.  The first message was easy to ignore, because it was pure vitriol, equating my interracial marriage with numerous controversial sex acts.  The writer, one “DMTS” of gmail, followed that up with a more measured comment that, while continuing to make personal comments about my marital status, argued that, while it’s fine for me to “hook up” with people of non-white ancestry, I have no right to blog about it.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, as it were.  The full comment went:

“Peter Campbells marriage (if still intact) is just an exception to the way things really work in mixed marriages. I don’t want to deny him any success or happiness with his nice wife and child pictured (great pic btw), but he does not have any rights defending something that is clearly wrong for the majority, when he is in the minority of working mixed marriages(for now). If I hook up with a different race partner, I will just do it, and not advertise it as normal, or make a big deal and use someones legit comment as a scapegoat. WHO CARES ANYWAY PETER? no one is making laws that specify you can’t hook up with dreadlocks, beehives, or skinheads, so what are you worried about? when has anyone persecuted mixed racials? sounds to me you are looking to MAKE TROUBLE by drawing sympathy to yourself that is totally unjustified. Blog about something else that is important, like what your son is planning to do with his future, to help make this a better world without blog script shills making trouble for all races. Shalom”

I’d point out two things to Mr. (I presume) DMTS. The first is that, while he can suggest that my marriage is some kind of exception to the rule, I’m not aware of any evidence that it is.  Divorce is rampant in this country, but I’ve never seen a statistic that suggests that it’s higher among interracial couples than same race. Mr. Bardwell didn’t cite any statistics for his assumptions, either.

The second thing I’d point out is that DMTS completely missed my point.  I used my interracial marriage, and interracial marriage in general, to point out that the same sex marriage debate underway in this country is a parallel, and, as with interracial marriage in the 60’s, the bigots, of whom I assume DMTS counts himself among, are going to lose the battle.  He seems to have skimmed my message and misread my conclusion that this type of bigotry — be it about race or sexual orientation — will be overcome.  It’s a slow process. It clearly still exists, as DMTS chooses to illustrate.  But, today, his attitudes and comments are sad.  In 30 years time, they’ll be outrageous.  Racism and hatred/bigotry based on assumptions about race (or race relations) is on the wane.  Interracial marriage is now accepted in the U. S.. It’s a slower course for a lot of the institutionalized racism in our schools and justice system. But most of the vitriol comes from old, white men, and two trends are clear: whites as a percentage of our population are shrinking, and old people will die sooner than the more enlightened young ones.

As to publishing comments like this: I’m interested in dialogue, and if DMTS responds to this with something that doesn’t use language that I wouldn’t want my Mom (who reads this blog) to see, I’ll certainly approve it.  If he provides some backing for his unverified claims that interracial (“mixed” is an offensive term) marriages are at higher risk of failure than same race marriages, a claim that I find very suspect and unlikely, I might even reply. But if DMTS actually isn’t invested in his arguments, and is just trying to get a rise out of me, it only takes a second to mark a comment as spam.  And rude, unconstructive conversation, like DMTS’s first message, which I will not publish,  is spam here; that’s the policy.

The Ethnic Check

Census_2001Yesterday I received a letter from the State of California alerting me that my Census form is due next week and that I should be sure to fill it out and return it, as is decidedly my intention. That form will include the page that drives many Americans crazy — the one that offers you a bunch of ethnic backgrounds that you can identify yourself on. As my spouse of African-Cherokee-Jamaican-German and who knows what else decent says, this is not a multiple choice question for many of us. Personally, I always check the “white” box, which is not lying, although I always have a nagging doubt that the Semitic parts of my genetic makeup aren’t fairly represented by that choice.

Today, skimming through my news feed, I starred this article by Michelle Malkin, passed on by Google Reader’s “Cool” feed, and I just found time to read it. The gist of the article is that Census filler-outers should refrain from allowing the government to peg us by ethnicity, instead choosing “Other” and filling in the comment squares with “American”. Take that, Gubmint statisticians!

Now, this is interesting, because while Ms. Malkin proudly describes herself as a Fox News Commentator, I don’t think this question lands on a liberal/conservative scale. Discomfort with being pegged by race straddles all ideological outposts, as it should. But data is data, and the ethnic makeup of our country by geographic area is a powerful set of data. If we don’t know that a neighborhood is primarily Asian, White, Black or Hispanic, we don’t know if the schools are largely segregated. We don’t know if the auto insurance rates are being assessed with a racial bias. We don’t know if elected officials are representative of the districts they serve. And these are all very important things to know.

It might seem that, by eschewing all data about race, we can consider ourselves above racism. But we can board our windows and doors and dream that the world outside is made of candy, too. It won’t make the world any sweeter. If we don’t have any facts about the ethnic makeup and the conditions of people in this country, then we can’t discuss racial justice and equality in any meaningful fashion. We might hate to take something as personal as the genetic, geographic path that brought us to this country and made us the unique individuals that we are and dissect it, analyze it, generalize about it and draw broad conclusions. It is uncomfortable and, in a way, demeaning. But it’s not as uncomfortable and demeaning as being broadly discriminated against. And without evidence of abuse, and of progress, we can’t end discrimination. We can only board up the windows that display it.

So, I’m not going to take Ms. Malkin’s advice on this one, and I’m going to urge my multi-racial wife and kid to be as honest as they can with the choices provided to them. Because we want the government to make decisions based on facts and data, not idealizations, even if it means being a little blaze about who we really are.

The Offensive Bardwell Defense

Is it 2009 or 1954?

You might have read about Keith Bardwell, a man out of his time, who, throughout his 35 year career as a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana, has steadfastly denied marriage licenses to interracial couples. For their own good, of course. And for the good of any children they might bear. Some might consider Bardwell an old coot who means well, when he defends his cruel and discriminatory behavior as being based on his concern that interracial marriages generally don’t last, and that it’s cruel to subject children to a world where they will be pariahs to blacks and whites alike. But I can’t listen to his defense of bigotry with anything but an understanding that he has a choice. He can “protect” children from the hate he perpetuates, or he can stop being hateful.

Clearly, Bardwell doesn’t get out much, if he thinks that life for interracial couples and children is all that bad. Apparently, he can’t — or won’t — imagine a culture like the SF East Bay, where my wife, son and I live happily amongst many other interracial families and suffer no more or less discrimination than most of our single or multi-cultured peers. But I’m not buying his racism dressed up as concern for the children defense. I suspect that all of Bardwell’s good buddies, including a State Attorney General who passively condoned his illegal actions, generally agree that hey, we can deal with multiple races, as long as they don’t cross-pollinate.

It’s striking to me that Bardwell’s defense is based on the usual trifecta of bigoted justifications: He “doesn’t believe in mixing the races in that way”; he doesn’t believe that interracial marriages will last, questioning their validity (in relation to single race unions); and he seeks to protect the children. This sounds a lot like the recent Proposition 8 campaign in California, which amended the state constitution to ban gay marriage, not because there’s anything wrong with gays — “We love them!” the Prop 8 backers exclaimed — but because they don’t approve of that sort of union, and it’s not valid, and, if we condone it, we’ll harm the children.

Unlike Bardwell, who had his rationalizations for racism at the ready, the Prop 8 types look like they’re grasping at straws. Asked by a judge to explain exactly what the threat that homosexual marriages hold for heterosexual unions is, an attorney for the Prop 8 coalition admitted that he didn’t know. But, he protested, there might be a threat! We can’t allow two people who love each other to be treated as equal with two other people who love each other because, um, well, there might be some unforeseen consequence for the other people!

My son’s first exposure to racism came a few years before we were planning to teach him about it, when we attempted to stay at a cliff-side inn on the Oregon coast, only to find that another family had gotten down to the beach before us and had taken the opportunity — after seeing my dread-locked wife — to etch, in large letters, “N I G G E R” in the sand, in plain view from anywhere up the bluff. We had to explain to our four year old why we had to leave the nice hotel and get back in the car. Because of the bad people; the ignorant ones, who will insult and threaten us for irrational reasons.

He’ll run into this again. In fact, we’re certain that he already has run into subtler forms of racism. But he’ll suffer less of it than I did, as a Unitarian boy growing up somewhat ostracized in a school where 75% of my classmates were Jewish (unaware, until I was older, of my Jewish roots). I clearly remember the single lunch table where the black kids sat, bused into our 99% white school from Boston. I comforted my interracial friends who were beaten by other kids for being too light-skinned; or stopped by the police for being too dark-skinned in their own neighborhood. There’s still plenty of this type of racism around, but there’s less of it than there was, and it’s easier for us to shelter our son, appropriately, from it.

And it beats what our parents went through. My Jewish heritage was a secret because, after being chased out of the Netherlands by the Nazi’s, my mother and her parents shed their religion like a blood-soaked frock. My wife’s grandmother and aunt signed the earliest petition in what became Brown vs. the Board of Education, and lived through the firestorm that signing that petition incensed in the white community. We are both still very much products of a history of discrimination, and it tempers who we are and what we want for our child.

But we have hope for the future, because, while I don’t find age and naivete to be justifications for discrimination, I do see the generational trend that seems to be eradicating it. It is a better world for my interracial son to grow up in than it was for his racial parents. But it will be an even better one if we work, actively, to resurrect a media that used to pride itself on not taking sides. And we can’t tolerate the Bardwell’s and the Prop 8 bigots who are so sure of their superiority that they can easily justify denying others the same rights and privileges that they have. This is the world that my son is growing up in, let’s make it one that he’s welcome in.

A Sane Proposal Regarding Climate Change

Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day

Today is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is Climate Change. Here’s my pitch for an immediate step that could be taken to reduce the production of greenhouse gases significantly, while promoting good health; improving the economy in rural America; and reducing cruelty to animals. In fact, this suggestion is so logical that it’s a travesty that I have to suggest it. It makes Sarah Silverman’s recent hunger-ending proposal look paltry in comparison. Here’s my suggestion:

Close down Factory Farms.

Elininate Agri-Business.

The Humane Society reports that as much as 18% of all geenhouse gases are produced by agri-businesses. Agri-business practices increase air pollution, water pollution, and create general health risks.

The variety of public health concerns include Swine Flu, Diabetes and childhood cancer. As to our general health, the meat produced at these farms has doubled our intake of protein and contributed to the huge increase in obesity.

As if that isn’t enough, the healthier, sustainable family farms that once fed the nation have languished, destroying the economy in rural America. If the health of ourselves and our families, and that of our planet, weren’t enough, wouldn’t this be a case for dismantling this industry?

But, as the Humane Society points out, our lawmakers are giving Agri-business a free pass and stripping the EPA of their authority to regulate them. It’s the equivalent of the Tokyo police escorting Godzilla to the city. If we care about our future, we need to take drastic steps to contain the damage that we are doing to our planet. And we should start with the big, easy, bang for buck solutions. Like this one.

Does Your Data have a Bad Reputation?

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in June of 2009.

notepad.jpgPhoto by StarbuckGuy

As you probably know, the U.S. Congress has been having a big debate about what went on behind closed door briefings on the treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism. At issue is whether House Leader Nancy Pelosi was told about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, which many of us define as torture, in 2002 and 2003 briefings, when the tactics were actually in use. Rep. Pelosi maintains that they weren’t discussed; The CIA, responsible for the briefings, maintains that they were, but neither of them has yet provided documentation that might settle the matter. Meanwhile, Rep. Pelosi’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Bob Graham, who, as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was also to be briefed on such actions, reports that the CIA’s assertions are in error. Dates that they claim he was in briefings on the subject are wrong. His his meticulous notes, which he has traditionally been kidded about keeping, establish that only one of four CIA-alleged meetings actually occurred, and, in it, the harsh interrogation tactics weren’t discussed.

At this point, you might well be asking why I’m bringing this up on the Idealware blog. And the answer is, because it’s about data, or, more to the point, the integrity of data and data keeping systems, and that’s a topic close to our hearts here at Idealware. This example was inspired by some great reporting by the frivously-named, but thought-provoking blog BoingBoing, and a post of theirs on May 21st titled “Bob Graham’s much-scoffed-at little notebooks are more reliable than the CIA’s records“. They quote Gary Wolf’s post (which I highly recommend reading) about the intriguing fact that the CIA backed off of their record keeping claims rather quickly upon learning that they didn’t jibe with Graham’s personal notes. Consider this for a minute: Bob Graham’s personal note-taking has more authority than the record keeping of the Central Intelligence Agency. The killer line from Wolf’s post is:

“Personal data, kept by a dedicated and interested party, even using yesterday’s technology, will trump large scale collection systems managed by bureaucrats.”

You can find some really excellent advice here at Idealware on what to buy and how to implement the software that will manage the critical information that your organization lives and dies by. You can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars deploying it. But it, too, might be outclassed by the scribbling of a person who’s scribble-keeping habits are far less impeachable (to keep the political allegory going) than the data integrity securing processes that you build around your system.

When you deploy that software, one thing to consider is “who owns this data? Who has the most respect for it?”. Distribute the data entry duties in ways that insure that the people who first put that data into the system care about it, and are invested in seeing that it goes in correctly. Then, integrate your systems in ways that eliminate duplicate entry of that data. Set up triggers that push data from the authoritative systems of record (the ones that the people who care enter the data into) to the auxiliary systems, insuring that no donor or client’s name is misspelled one place, but correct in another; and that a $50 donation via the web site isn’t recorded as a $500 entry in your donor database.

Doing this will insure that your data-keeping systems have the upstanding reputations that your organization depends on.

Managing to have a disaster

As many a blogger has noted, Katrina’s impact on the levees safeguarding New Orleans was an accident not just waiting to happen, but one that makes Bush’s dismissal of the “Al-Queda will attack on U.S. Soil” briefing almost insignificant by comparison. A lot of good writing on this is over at The Huffington Post , the short story being that FEMA has been systematically gutted to free up war-mongering funds, and, as with most of the Federal Government, has been managed by Bush cronies with no actual experience or qualifications for their posts. The media has not ignored this one – newspapers have been stating in quite certain terms that the utter destruction of New Orleans is a hurricane away for the last four years. The excellent timeline leading up to the catastrophe is here in the Political Animal blog.

On a related note. Molly Ivins tells this story about John Bolton’s hard-headed grandstanding at the U.N.:

“Britain is leading a reform effort already endorsed by 175 other countries. Britain, which used to be our ally, has put forth a concise document containing a plan for reforming the U.N. and carrying forward with its goals to eradicate poverty. Bolton has proposed 750 changes in Britain’s 36-page draft plan. One of his proposals is to delete the phrase “respect for nature” from a set of core values that supposedly unites the nations of the world: respect for human rights, freedom, equality, tolerance, multilateralism and respect for nature. The phrase “respect for nature” does not commit the U.S. to any legal or financial obligation. Bolton just doesn’t like it.”

So, did Bolton bring Katrina down on us by dissing nature? Maybe Pat Robertson, an expert in this sort of thing, can make a ruling…

————
Okay, so even more bizarre – not an hour after making the poor taste joke above, I read a blog entry reporting that FEMA’s recommended list of donation sites features Pat Robertson’s Operation Blessing. How politically questionable is that?!