Friday, February 20, 2009

Eric Holder Pardon My Prejudice

Barack Obama's appointee US Attorney General Eric Holder threw down the gauntlet of challenge to the latest generation of Americans about our racist society:

"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

This amazing statement was a matter of simple truth, yet so many pundits, politicians, and "experts" found it controversial and alienating.

Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, praised Holder’s general message but said the wording of the speech may alienate some. “He’s right on the substance, but that’s probably not the most politic way of saying it. I’m certain there are people who
will hear him and say, ’That’s obnoxious,”’ he said, adding that what was missing from Holder’s speech were specific examples of what painful subjects need to be addressed.

Picky picky--Holder's message was simple and provocative: " get to the heart of this country one must examine its racial soul." As a Jew I could say yeah, but what about the Jews? Or as a champion of immigration rights, I could say, you left out the Mexicans. But that wasn't Holder's point. It was way more basic:

"Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."

I know exactly what Holder means, because I wrote a book about it several years ago, "Pardon My Prejudice: America's Excuse for Bigotry." No it hasn't been published, and yes it's a book whose time has arrived. The book's ironic title refers exactly to what Holder is talking about:

"...we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us."

The title "Pardon My prejudice" comes from my experience in retail where all sorts of average Americans walk through your life every day. I owned a store that rented videos among other things, and one night a gentleman and his wife came in to find a movie to watch. I had seen this man on other visits--a friendly older family guy who just wanted to pass the time and get his movie rental. At one point, one of my clerks, a young woman, asked if he would like to see a certain movie. The film had an interracial cast, and he said he didn't want it because of the--he used the "n" word--in it. The clerk was non-plussed. She had heard this sort of talk before. But it was an open and rude remark. The man's wife overheard the comment, and since she was unsure if her husband's obnoxious language would cause a problem, she approached my clerk to smooth things over. She said, "You'll have to pardon my husband--he's a bit of a racist."

This silly excuse was so bizarre, that's why my clerk wanted to tell me the story later. I had a habit of escorting customers out of the store who spoke out of line like that, so since I wasn't there at the time, I learned about the conversation from my clerk.

Now, with Holder's speech, it makes sense that this issue is not just confronting me, but it is in the psyche of our habits as a society. That's another reason Holder's remarks ring so true to me, as a child of the fifties and seeing first-hand the "breaking news" of the civil rights struggle, when he says,

"it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated."

My book is about experiences of prejudice and bigotry around us every day. It is not meant to point fingers of blame or judgment. I mean to remind us all of how much we see ans hear this mindless hatred all the time, and how little we react to it. Again, Holder's comments summon us to the call:

"Our history has demonstrated that the vast majority of Americans are uncomfortable with, and would like to not have to deal with, racial matters and that is why those, black or white, elected or self-appointed, who promise relief in easy, quick solutions, no matter how divisive, are embraced. We are then free to retreat to our race-protected cocoons where much is comfortable and where progress is not really made."

There is a solution, and it doesn't lie in complacency and inaction. We have to come to grips with the irrationality of our prejudices and beliefs about our fellow human beings. We have to stop fearing those who are not just like us, who have different beliefs, looks, even goals. Until we Americans understand that what made this country great, as a melting pot, is being crushed into the sand of ignorance and bigotry, we will never get out of our rut of hatred, fear, and economic deprivance. Those who understand what Holder was saying, will lead us all into a new light of tolerance, and prosperity.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Securing the City & Other Concerns

Christopher Dickey's book, Securing the City, is a fascinating report of how the New York City Police have become the 21st century FBI/CIA/homeland security all in one. Chris and I spent the day together yesterday--we have been good friends for almost 40 years and haven't visited in four years. Chris is travelling around the country on his book tour to promote and educate about the amazing global undertaking of the NYPD because New York City, as we all well know, is the numero uno target of any terrorist trying top make a big point in the world.

The simple fact that only Chris's book, and his talks, are publicizing the crusade of the New York Police to acquire human intelligence first hand throughout the world--just like the CIA is supposed to do--makes every word on the page of his book, and every speech he delivers, informative beyond any news service possible. Chris has ventured into the inner sanctum of what the NYPD is up to, including, but not limited to, the essence of the characters involved, most interestingly Ray Kelly, Chief of Police and mastermind of this new security force, as well as the high tech instruments of surveillance, especially the helicopter right out of the latest Batman movie:

"...state-of-the-art crime-fighting, terror-busting, order-keeping techno toy, with its enormous lens that can magnify any scene on the streets almost one thousand times, then double that digitally; that can watch a crime in progress from miles away, can look in windows, can sense the body heat of people on rooftops or running along sidewalks, can track beepers slipped under cars, can do so very many things that the man in the helmet watching the screens and moving the images with the joystick in his lap, NYPD Detective David Zschau, is often a little bit at a loss for words, “It really is an amazing tool,” he keeps saying."

Securing the City is a page-turning thriller about reality, terrorism, New York City, and how our lives have changed in the last decade. What fun!

But terrorism is only part of the latest fascinating news to inspire me to add a blog post after so many...full moons. The fierce spectre of big pharma has raised its ugly head again this week, with the decision of a court case from 2007 being delivered regarding vaccines as the cause of autism. In fact, the good news is that though the judges decided that autism is not caused by vaccines, those parents and advocates who know the opposite, are simply not deterred by the opaque and silly shenanigans of a so-called big-time government show.

Without belaboring here the details--and they are many and huge--of the holes in the government's defense (Note that the government is the plaintiff since the vaccine makers are off the hook for any liability), or the lack of any good studies showing the connection of vaccines to the development of all sorts of auto-immune diseases, of which autism is one special part--it is sufficient to point to the one intelligent remark of a parent, Rick Rollens, who has fought the battle to expose the dangers of vaccines for years, "Rollens and others said these verdicts won't make parents stop questioning the safety of vaccines, especially when parents witness changes in their children right after vaccination. "There's no denying what happens to your child when you see it first-hand," said Rollens, a Sacramento, Calif., resident. "Maybe we haven't asked all the right questions yet."

And then there's Barbara, our dear friend and the only expert to testify in Washington DC with no axe to grind--just the truth at her back:

“I think it is a mistake to conclude that because these few test cases were denied compensation, that it’s been decided vaccines don’t play any role in regressive autism,” said Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center.

But really, as Rollens says, unless you're a parent and see it first hand--the obvious immediate change after a shot, and your instinct that tells you something really has gone wrong and it's not the air we breathe or the water we drink--then the reliance on anecdotal evidence will never be enough. But also, as Rollens says, the right tests haven't been done yet, and the right questions remain unasked--bad economy or not, would you want to risk the end of a billion+ - dollar cash cow like government-mandated vaccines? Even if the science is over 250 years old and arcane, and even if the exponential increase in autism, dyslexia, ADDH, asthma, childhood diabetes, SIDS--even if the increase in these syndromes exactly correlates to the increase in dosages of childhood vaccines--are these drug companies and complicit physicians that greedy? Or brainwashed? Or both?