Archive for the ‘stuff’ Category

Justin Trudeau and blackface

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada since 2015, is now, in 2019, sunk in a blackface scandal. Picture and video of three instances of blackface or brownface have come to light this week. But it gets worse: Trudeau cannot even say how many times he has done blackface. And all this comes just a month before Canada’s general election on October 21st.

The three cases, pictured above from left to right:

  1. In the 1990s as a teenager while at Jean-de-Brébeuf, a private high school in Montreal, Quebec, he darkened his skin to sing Harry Belafonte’s song “Banana Boat (Day-O)”.
  2. In 2001 at age 29 while a teacher at West Point Grey Academy, a private high school in Vancouver, British Columbia, he dressed up as Aladdin in a turban for an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala. He not only darkened his skin, he made it way darker than, say, in the Disney film “Aladdin”.
  3. In the early 1990s while in his late teens or early twenties, he is pictured in a T-shirt and blackface.

Trudeau was quick to apologize:

“Darkening your face regardless of the context or the circumstances is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface.”


“I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

Who is this “we” that did not know blackface or brownface were racist in 2001? And when, between 2001 and 2019, did “we” learn it was racist?

He blames “the layers of privilege that I have.” He is not merely White, he is the son of Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister from 1968 to 1984. Are the White elite circles he moves in that out of touch?

The SNC-Lavalin affair: This comes on top of another scandal where Trudeau reportedly tried to get his attorney general to drop a bribery case against SNC-Lavalin, a construction company. If true, then Trudeau is himself corrupt even if the company was not.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), is not only running against Trudeau, he is an actual Brown person who wears a turban. He tweeted:

“Tonight is not about the Prime Minister.

“It’s about every young person mocked for the colour of their skin.

“The child who had their turban ripped off their head.

“And those reliving intense feelings of pain & hurt from past experiences of racism.

“To you, I say you are loved.”

Blackface in Canada came from the US in the middle 1800s. It is now “as Canadian as hockey,” says Professor Cheryl Thompson, who studies blackface in Canada. The main difference between US and Canadian blackface, she says, is:

“we haven’t had a culture where we contend with race in terms of our national discourse.”

She has long voted for Trudeau’s Liberal Party, but now says:

“How can I vote for someone who doesn’t seem to understand who I am as a person?

“And I just think Justin Trudeau, for all the stuff that he says, I don’t think understands black and brown people as much as he says that he does.”

– Abagond, 2019.

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Dr Jamie Riley

Dr Jamie R. Riley, a Black American university administrator, was hired as the dean of students at the University of Alabama after a nationwide search. UA is a predominantly White institution (PWI) in the Deep South. He started work there on February 25th 2019 – but on September 5th he resigned, a day after Breitbart News and other right-wing outlets reported on some of his old tweets:

October 8th 2016:

“Are movies about slavery truly about educating the unaware, or to remind Black people of our place in society? “

September 26th 2017:

“The [US] flag represents a systemic history of racism for my people. Police are part of that system. Is it that hard to see the correlation?”

October 11th 2017:

“I’m baffled about how the 1st thing white people say is, ‘That’s not racist!’ when they can’t even experience racism? You have 0 opinion!”

That last one was hashtagged with #missmewithyourprivilege.

Where is the lie?

Yet by 4:15 pm the next day he had resigned. UA called the decision “mutual”.

Breitbart News, July 1st 2015.

Whitespeak: To misunderstand these tweets properly, you need to open your Whitespeak dictionary, the 2015 edition, to the word “racist”:

racist – 1. Someone who uses the N-word or joins the Klan. 2. A Black person who points out White racism.

Dr Riley is clearly the racist here, not the police, not the (Whitewashed) history the US flag stands for, not even Confederate-flag-loving Breitbart (pictured above). Therefore he had to go.

I wish I were joking.

The R-word is to White people what the N-word is to Black people. Just imagine if a White dean of students had used the N-word in some old tweets. He would be gone the next day too (hopefully).

Cancel culture: The right in the US is known for decrying the left’s cancel culture, political correctness, trigger warnings, safe spaces, snowflakes and the lack of free speech at universities. But the right is also known for failing to see in itself what it projects onto others – like snowflakery and  intolerance of free speech at universities.

Strictly speaking, Breitbart did not call for his firing. It merely noted:

“Similarly, North Carolina State University Vice Chancellor Mike Mullen was forced to resign last month after he referred to the Republican Party as the party of ‘Neo-Nazis’ and ‘the KKK’ on his Twitter account.”

The party of “very fine people”.

Academic freedom: Dr Riley was not a professor, much less one with tenure that would have protected his academic freedom. He is a Dr of counselling and student personnel services. At the time of the first tweet he was the associate dean of Student Life for Diversity and Inclusion at Johns Hopkins University. At the time of the second two tweets he was the head of Alpha Phi Alpha, a Black fraternity.

Expectations: He should be expected to know a professional thing or two about racism and speak out on it. UA, which is about 10% Black (Alabama is 26%), has its own storied, racist history. What were they expecting, exactly?

Governor George Wallace “standing in the schoolhouse door” in 1963 to block Black students from entering the University of Alabama.

– Abagond, 2019.

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Joan Didion: Salvador

“Salvador” (1983) by US writer Joan Didion is a short book about El Salvador. She spent two weeks there in June 1982 in elite circles as part of the US press. That was six months after the El Mozote massacre and one month before President Reagan in the US was due to tell Congress that El Salvador had made enough (symbolic) progress on human rights to merit more foreign aid (called blackmail by some in El Salvador).

El Salvador: In 1982 the army was fighting rebels up in the hills, only some of them actual Marxists or communists. White people owned most of the land and had ever since the days of Spanish rule. The Indian and ladino (mixed-race) majority on occasion rise up to demand land reform only to be massacred by the army. Thanks to the logic of the Cold War, says Didion, the US was pouring money, weapons and military training into a reign of right-wing terror that would not speak its name.

Didion, a self-described gringa, is a White American lady from Los Angeles, California whose maid seemed to be from El Salvador. Didion is a journalist with a literary love of irony, metaphor and the telling detail. She is a huge Hemingway fan, just not of his short sentences.

Bits of what she saw and heard:

Nahuizalco – the scene of an Indian arts festival, dispirited and sadly fake. In 1932 it was the scene of a massacre of Indians. Destruction of their culture duly followed (later reassembled by scholars). In 1982:

“In the schoolyard there were [shade] trees, and tables, where the Queen of the Fair, who had a wicker crown and European features, sat with the local guardia, each of whom had an automatic weapon, a sidearm, and a bayonet. The guardia drank beer and played with their weapons. The Queen of the Fair studied her ox-blood-red fingernails. It took twenty centavos to enter the schoolyard, and a certain cultural confidence.”

The cathedral – dead flowers on the altar. Two years before the archbishop himself, Oscar Romero (now a Catholic saint), was killed during mass at a hospital. Four US nuns were killed in El Salvador later that same year.

The National University – shut down by the army. There she saw what soldiers called subversivo pamphlets: reprints of an article on inherited enzyme deficiency from The New England Journal of Medicine.

The truthla verdad in Spanish. At a party at the US embassy she was informed:

“If I wrote la verdad it would be good for El Salvador. I realized that I had stumbled into a code, that these women used la verdad as it was used on the bumper stickers favored that spring and summer by [right-wing] ARENA people. “Journalists, Tell the Truth!” the bumper stickers warned in Spanish, and they meant the truth according to Roberto D’Aubuisson.

D’Aubuisson was probably behind the archbishop’s murder, but the CIA seemed uninterested in proof of that.

Didion’s undertone: The US means well but you know how these people are.

– Abagond, 2019.

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For me, this is easily one of the best rock songs of the 1970s. And it is not just me: it has become a classic of classic rock. But in 1978, when it first came out, it only went to #22 in the US, #86 in Australia and did not even chart in the UK. It did not fit the pop-music strictures of the time. It did not even rhyme (paradise/tonight). As it was, he had to shorten the song and mess it up just to get it on the radio.

He wrote the song as a struggling rock musician. He could not afford to take his girlfriend to Aruba, so the two tickets in question were for a six hour bus ride to the Redwood Forest.

Eddie Money passed away on Friday at age 70.

Requiescat in pace. 

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Got a surprise especially for you,
Something that both of us have always wanted to do
Waited so long, waited so long
Waited so long, waited so long

I’m gonna take you on a trip so far from here,
I’ve got two tickets in my pocket, now baby, we’re gonna disappear
Waited so long, waited so long
Waited so long, waited so long

I’ve got two tickets to paradise,
Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight,
I’ve got two tickets to paradise,
I’ve got two tickets to paradise

Oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
I’m gonna take you on a trip so far from here,
I’ve got two tickets in my pocket, baby, we’ll disappear (you know why?)
Waited so long, waited so long
Waited so long, waited so long

I’ve got two tickets to paradise,
Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight,
I’ve got two tickets to paradise,
Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight,
I’ve got two tickets to paradise
Won’t you pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight,
I’ve got two tickets to paradise
I’ve got two tickets to paradise


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straw man argument

The straw man argument or fallacy is where someone tries to destroy your argument by bringing up a different argument that sounds kind of like yours and then destroys that.

It is a fallacy, a false argument, because disproving the straw man argument does not at all logically disprove the argument it misrepresents.

Used by: political parties, religions, talking heads, talk show hosts, spouses, commenters, etc. Beloved by propagandists and Internet trolls, but also used unwittingly even by honest people through a lack of understanding of an opposing point of view.

Red flags:

  • An argument presented by someone who disagrees with it.
  • Lack of trust between the sides of an argument.
  • A huge power imbalance between the sides of an argument.
  • Either-or thinking.
  • Extreme language.
  • The phrase, “You are putting words in my mouth!”

Tricks of the trade:

  • Quoting out of context or providing the wrong context (framing).
  • Making the straw man argument simpler than the original.
  • Making the straw man argument more extreme.
  • Twisting words or shifting their meaning.

The classic example on this blog is the Not All Whites argument. I will make some statement about Whites and then be informed that “not all Whites” are like that, that they are Individuals. Even when I say “some Whites” or “most Whites” or “many Whites”, it can still be turned into “all Whites”.

For example, I started one post this way:

“Why do many White Americans hate, demonize, fear and look down on blacks? I am no scientist or scholar, but here is I how I currently think about it….”

Even though I said “many” and put it in italics, I still got stuff like this:

“Not all whites look down and demonize blacks. Some blacks do it to describe whites in general. Here is an example of someone who lifted up black men…”

Not All Whites is a wonderful straw man argument because MANY Whites do not notice the difference between “many Whites” and “all Whites” (sometimes not even when it is pointed out to them) and “all Whites” is way, way easier to knock down. But proving that “Not all Whites are X” does not disprove that “Many Whites are X.” Not all Whites were slave owners, for example, but many were.


  • Get the original argument from the horse’s mouth and understand it the way the horse does.
  • Assume that those who oppose the argument will not get it (completely) right. So do not depend on their books or churches or television shows or media outlets or posts (!!!), etc – even if the horse appears there in quotes or video clips or guest appearances.

If you are being straw-manned:

  • Politely point out the difference between your argument and the straw man argument, even if you suspect it was not an honest misunderstanding (do not assume the worst).
  • Do not waste your breath trying to persuade bad-faith actors – just the audience (if there is one).
  • Sometimes it is best to ignore a straw man argument.

– Abagond, 2019.

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Hurricane Dorian

Hurricane Dorian as seen from the International Space Station on September 2nd 2019. Florida is at top, Cuba to the left.

Hurricane Dorian (August 28th to September 8th 2019) was the strongest Atlantic hurricane since 1935, achieving wind speeds of up to 295 kph, tying the record. It crossed the US Virgin Islands and the Bahamas and then went up the east coast of North America all the way to Newfoundland.

  • As a Category 5 hurricane, at its height, it hit the Bahamas, which bore the brunt.
  • As a Category 1 strength storm it hit the US Virgin Islands (still recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Maria), the eastern tip of North Carolina, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

In the Bahamas it left at least 50 dead. That number could go much higher: hundreds are still missing! Dorian has left 70,000 homeless. Great Abaco Island in the north was hardest hit. It looks like it was hit by a huge bomb:

Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco Island after Dorian hit. MARCO BELLO (REUTERS)

The US, of course, chose just this moment to suddenly require a visa for those fleeing the Bahamas. Bahamians have long been able to come to the US with just a passport and a copy of their police record.

President Trump:

“We have to be very careful. Everyone needs totally proper documentation … I don’t want to allow people who weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people.”

Soledad O’Brien:

“Because they’re Black, right?”

Bahamians, aside from being neighbours in distress, helped to build, oh, Miami.

Sharpiegate: On Sunday afternoon, September 1st, NOAA’s forecast looked like this:

NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is the part of the US government that runs the National Weather Service (NWS). Their weather forecasts are considered to be the best that science can produce.

Despite that, Trump tweeted:

“In addition to Florida – South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated. Looking like one of the largest hurricanes ever. Already category 5. BE CAREFUL! GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”

The hurricane was going nowhere near Alabama!

Twenty minutes later the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama tweeted this:

“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east. #alwx”

Trump spent the following week doubling down and tripling down and quadrupling down. At one point he produced a NOAA weather map from August 29th (three days out-of-date by the time of his tweet) where someone had used a Sharpie (Trump’s favourite brand of black felt-tip pen) to add Alabama to the forecast’s warning cone:

It gets worse:

Wilbur Ross is the head of the Commerce Department to which NOAA belongs. According to the New York Times, he threatened to fire anyone who contradicted President Trump. That would account for why:

NOAA then said this:

“From Wednesday, August 28, through Monday, September 2, the information provided by NOAA and the National Hurricane Center to President Trump and the wider public demonstrated that tropical-storm-force winds from Hurricane Dorian could impact Alabama.”

So, so sad.

– Abagond, 2019.

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2 + 2 = 5

George Orwell on Nazi propaganda (bolding and formatting are mine):

“Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as ‘the truth’ exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as ‘science’. There is only ‘German science’, ‘Jewish science’, etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, ‘It never happened’ – well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs – and after our experiences of the last few years [of being bombed by Nazi Germany] that is not a frivolous statement.

“But is it perhaps childish or morbid to terrify oneself with visions of a totalitarian future? Before writing off the totalitarian world as a nightmare that can’t come true, just remember that in 1925 the world of today [1943] would have seemed a nightmare that couldn’t come true.

“Against that shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree, there are in reality only two safeguards.

  • One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing, as it were, behind your back, and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency.
  • The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered, the liberal tradition can be kept alive.

“Let Fascism, or possibly even a combination of several Fascisms, conquer the whole world, and those two conditions no longer exist.

“We in England underrate the danger of this kind of thing, because our traditions and our past security have given us a sentimental belief that it all comes right in the end and the thing you most fear never really happens. Nourished for hundreds of years on a literature in which Right invariably triumphs in the last chapter, we believe half-instinctively that evil always defeats itself in the long run. Pacifism, for instance, is founded largely on this belief. Don’t resist evil, and it will somehow destroy itself. But why should it? What evidence is there that it does?”

That is from his 1943 essay “Looking Back on the Spanish War”.

Six years later that became this famous passage in his novel “1984”:

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four?”

– Abagond, 2019.

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