Feeds:
Posts
Comments

H.E.R.: I Can’t Breathe

Remarks:

This came out in 2020 during the George Floyd protests, going to #20 on the US R&B chart. The title comes from George Floyd’s last words, which in turn echo Eric Garner’s. Last weekend the song won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

See also:

Lyrics:

[Intro]
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Nah

[Verse 1]
Starting a war, screaming “Peace” at the same time
All the corruption, injustice, the same crimes
Always a problem if we do or don’t fight
And we die, we don’t have the same right
What is a gun to a man that surrenders?
What’s it gonna take for someone to defend her?
If we all agree that we’re equal as people
Then why can’t we see what is evil?

[Chorus]
I can’t breathe
You’re taking my life from me
I can’t breathe
Will anyone fight for me?

[Post-Chorus]
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh

[Verse 2]
How do we cope when we don’t love each other?
Where is the hope and the empathy? (Yeah)
How do we judge off the color?
The structure was made to make us the enemy (Yeah)
Prayin’ for change ’cause the pain makes you tender
All of the names you refuse to remember
Was somebody’s brother, friend
Or a son to a mother that’s crying, singing

[Chorus]
I can’t breathe
You’re taking my life from me
I can’t breathe
Will anyone fight for me? (Yeah)

[Post-Chorus]
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Will anyone fight for me?
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh (For me)

[Verse 3]
Trying times all the time
Destruction of minds, bodies, and human rights
Stripped of bloodlines, whipped and confined
This is the American pride
It’s justifying a genocide
Romanticizing the theft and bloodshed
That made America the land of the free
To take a black life, land of the free
To bring a gun to a peaceful fight for civil rights
You are desensitized to pulling triggers on innocent lives
Because that’s how we got here in the first place
These wounds sink deeper than the bullet
Your entitled hands could ever reach
Generations and generations of pain, fear, and anxiety
Equality is walking without intuition
Saying the protector and the killer is wearing the same uniform
The revolution is not televised
Media perception is forced down the throats of closed minds
So it’s lies in the headlines
And generations of supremacy resulting in your ignorant, privileged eyes
We breathe the same and we bleed the same
But still, we don’t see the same
Be thankful we are God-fearing
Because we do not seek revenge
We seek justice, we are past fear
We are fed up eating your shit
Because you think your so-called “black friend”
Validates your wokeness and erases your racism
That kind of uncomfortable conversation is too hard for your trust-fund pockets to swallow
To swallow the strange fruit hanging from my family tree
Because of your audacity
To say all men are created equal in the eyes of God
But disparage a man based on the color of his skin
Do not say you do not see color
When you see us, see us
We can’t breathe

[Outro]
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh

Source: Genius Lyrics.

Robert Aaron Long

Robert Aaron Long (c. 1999- ) is a White American gunman who has confessed to killing 8 people in a shooting spree at three massage parlours in or near Atlanta, Georgia on March 16th 2021.

Six of the eight he killed were Asian women:

  1. Soon Chung Park 박순정, age 74
  2. Hyun Jung Grant [김]현정, age 51
  3. Sun Cha Kim 김순자, age 69
  4. Yong Ae Yue 유용애, age 63
  5. Delaina Ashley Yaun, age 33
  6. Paul Andre Michels, age 54
  7. Xiaojie Tan 谭小洁, age 49
  8. Daoyou Feng 冯道友, age 44

Yaun and Michels were White. One other person, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was injured.

He bought the gun that day. No waiting period. He had no criminal record.

Big Woods Goods in Canton, Georgia where Long bought his 9mm handgun earlier that day.

Long first hit Young’s Asian Massage at a strip mall in Acworth, Georgia, killing four, injuring one. About an hour later it was Gold Spa on Piedmont Road in a run-down part of Atlanta, where he left three dead. Nine minutes later it was Aromatherapy Spa across the street. One more dead.

Long was taken alive by police. They found him on highway I-75 on his way to Florida. He has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault.

Racism: The US has a long history of hypersexualizing Asian women – yellow fever, “me so horny”, etc. On top of that, over the past year amid the covid-19 pandemic, anti-Asian hate crimes have gone through the roof, increasing 150%. President Trump kept calling covid-19 the “China virus” and “kung flu”, like he was an 11-year-old. Or worse.

Is it a hate crime?

Police Chief Rodney Bryant of Atlanta:

“We are still early in this investigation, so we cannot make that determination at this moment.”

Captain Jay Baker, sheriff of Cherokee County, where the shooting spree started:

“[Long] does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.

… he was pretty much fed up and had been at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him, and this is what he did.”

Jemele Hill:

“If this murderer were Muslim, Black, or basically anything other than white, there is no way killing innocent people would be characterized as “having a bad day.””

Olayemi Olurin, a public defence lawyer in New York:

“I cannot tell you how many times I’ve told the court that my client denies the allegations, that my client didn’t do something for X reason, that my client is going through a lot in life. NEVER have the police credited my narrative. But get a white supremacist and they switch up”

The T-shirt: Captain Baker has been removed from the case. As it turns out, he had been urging his friends on Facebook to buy T-shirts that say that covid-19 is an “imported virus from CHY-NA,” echoing Trump’s rhetoric to the point of imitating how he says “China”.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

562

Whipping Girl

“Whipping Girl” (2007, 2016) by Julia Serano is the book that gave us the word “transmisogyny”. Serano has lived in the world as male, female and in between. She looks at how assumptions about gender affect how we see not just transgender people, but men and women in general, underpinning our sexism.

The girl being whipped is anyone who expresses femininity, not just transgender women but feminine men and even cisgender women themselves. It is not just men who look down on femininity – so do many feminists.

Some of what Serano says:

Sexism: comes in two main forms:

  • traditional sexism: men are better than women, masculinity better than femininity. So much so that sports, say, are seen as a more serious subject than fashion.
  • oppositional sexism: the idea that there are just two well-defined, opposing genders. Men are men and women are women!

Sexism is best understood from both angles.

Gender: is not purely a social construct or a mere matter of performance. It is partly driven by biology. Serano says that not just as a trained biologist, but as someone who, despite male socialization, and even a Y chromosome, still sees herself as female. How can that be? Serano says it is because of:

Subconscious sex: Deep down your mind has a built-in sense of its own gender that is independent of socialization or genitals or a Y chromosome. For transgender people there is a mismatch. But because it is subconscious, you can go for years feeling something is off but not knowing what it is. “A girl trapped in a boy’s body” is the dumbed-down version, not the messy, murky truth.

Enforced ignorance: Serano:

“if a straight man were to buy a book on transsexuality (say, for example, this book), others might suspect that he is a closeted transsexual or a tranny-chaser.”

because people in the centre are expected to NOT know much about the marginalized. This is why Black people, for example, know way more about White people than vice versa. But it gets worse:

Cisgender gaze: Because cisgender people control science, media and medicine, transgender people are not in control of how they are known or represented. For example, Jeffrey Eugenides won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Middlesex” (2002), which sold millions of copies. The main character is intersex (fka hermaphrodite). People assume he did his research, but as it turns out:

“I did a lot of research on the details, but in terms of figuring out what hermaphrodites psychologically went through, I did that from my imagination.”

He just made it up!

Gatekepers: The reason trans people seem like such a new thing is because in the past doctors:

“were far more concerned with protecting the cissexual world from the existence of transsexuality than they were with treating trans people’s gender dissonance.”

Only those who could blend into society invisibly were allowed to transition to the opposite sex. Johns Hopkins, for example, would give sex reassignment surgeries to only 1.2% of those who applied.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

521

 

Debussy: Clair De Lune

Remarks:

This is a movement from his “Suite bergamasque” (1905), with thunder and rain added and made to sound like it is coming from another room. I sometimes use it as ambient noise to help me concentrate.

See also:

In memoriam: Breonna Taylor

(Annette Bernhardt/Flickr via aaihs.org)

One year ago today.

See also:

“The Secret History” (1992) by Donna Tartt is a murder mystery in reverse, a tale “of sin unpunished, of innocence destroyed”, of “the essential rottenness of the world.” It is all but a founding text of the dark academia aesthetic, where “dark” means more than just the colour scheme.

Like peanut butter: Some people love this book, some people hate it. I am one of the haters. It got 4.10 stars on Goodreads based on over 300,000 ratings – no mean feat.

Empathy for evil rich White people: For 591 pages I am expected to have empathy for rich White college kids at an elite school who have murdered one of their own – and got away with it! To be fair, Tartt is upfront about that. It is in the Prologue. But since I had heard such great things about the book (like with Zadie Smith, who also disappoints), and since, like the main characters, I had studied Ancient Greek at college in the 1980s (and was beguiled by Tartt’s shout-out to the Liddell-Scott Lexicon), I got suckered in. I should have stopped by page 153, but, like with a bad relationship, I soldiered on. Ugh! By then I could not not finish it.

Well-paced: Tartt does draw you in and draw you along, what the New York Times, in their over-the-top way, calls “ferociously well-paced entertainment”. There is that. The 591 pages pretty much whizz by in beach novel fashion.

Good descriptions: There are also some good descriptions, of trees, dark skies, a manhunt even. But there are also endless descriptions of characters drinking Scotch whisky, lighting cigarettes, and running their hands through their hair. At least I now know what a fifth is (= a fifth of a gallon, 757 ml, about the size of a wine bottle).

My own experience as a Liddell-Scott Lexicon user did not include murder, weekends at a Victorian mansion in the country, drinking Scotch, or snorting cocaine. Hardly. For one thing, my parents and teachers had pounded a fear of drugs into me. I wrote about Dionysian bacchanals. That was more than enough to persuade me not to faithfully recreate one, as in this book. I was taught to prize the rational, clear-sighted, philosophical side of the Greeks, not their dark, irrational, pagan side, as the characters in this book do, putting the “dark” into dark academia.

Darkness: I have no trouble with evil main characters, as in “Breaking Bad” or Western history. But I expect, want, a chilling twist of fate to bring them down, for the truth to catch up with them just when they think they are in the clear. As in the 1970s on US television, I am waiting for Columbo to say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Tartt seems to play on that expectation, despite the Prologue – but, Lucy-like, pulls back each time.

Donna Tartt in 1992.

A more accurate picture of Donna Tartt.

The Rule of Bennington:

Avoid books based on Bennington, Vermont.

Another book I read based on that town, “See Now Then” (2012) by Jamaica Kincaid (who I otherwise adore), also turned out to be terrible. What are the odds?

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

558

Oprah’s interview of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (February 2021) appeared on US television on Sunday night, March 7th, and on UK television the following night. It should be required viewing for the 2 billion who saw their storybook wedding in 2018. As with all true fairy tales, this one has a dark side.

The Little Mermaid: Meghan Markle compares herself to the Little Mermaid: she lost her voice to marry her prince – but then, with this interview, got it back.

When she married her prince they took her passport, her driver’s licence and her car keys. She was a prisoner. Trapped. So was the prince himself.

The British press they expected to be savage, racist even, but they also expected the Firm (the British Royal Family as a business) to stand up for them, as they have for other relatives. They did not.

Comparing avocados with avocados: The British press saw Meghan Markle in a much different light than her sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William. In 2017, The Express said:

“Kate’s morning sickness cure? Prince William gifted with an avocado for pregnant Duchess.”

But in 2019, when Meghan was pregnant:

“Meghan Markle’s beloved avocado linked to human rights abuse and drought, millennial shame”

And that is just one example of the double standard that informed their view of Meghan Markle. I have seen this before. I wrote about it in How white people think.

Skin colour: When Meghan was pregnant with Archie, one unnamed royal talked with Harry several times about fears that their child would be too dark-skinned. Meghan’s mother is Black.

Suicidal ideation: Meghan only heard the stories in the British press second-hand, from friends and family. But even second-hand it was enough to drive her to thoughts of suicide. The Firm prevented her from seeking help from a doctor!

Archie: When Archie was born, he was not given the title due to the grandson of a future king – and therefore neither was he given protection, against  kidnappers and such.

Basically, Meghan and Archie were left to twist in the wind.

Megxit: And then when Harry and Meghan left the Firm – left the Royal Family as employees, not as relatives – Meghan was blamed for it, not the Firm. The British press even called it Megxit. But by the time they left the Firm, in early 2020, the Firm had already left them – high and dry, with no way to protect themselves.

Meghan freed not just herself but also her prince. He says his father and brother, Charles and William, are still “trapped”, that Meghan saved him.

The Queen: They both adore Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and see her as a warm and loving person. Yet she is the very head of the Firm that would not properly protect them or stand up for them! With friends like that, who needs enemies? Meghan blames not individual royals but “the institution”. Harry says the Royal Family is in bed with the British press – they both need each other too much.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

530

Smashing Pumpkins: 1979

Remarks:

A 1996 song about 1979. It was a top-20 hit in 1996 across the Anglosphere, reaching #2 in Canada.

The video is a good illustration of what 1979 seemed like looking back from 1996 for those who remember 1979 as teenagers, Billy Corgan, the lead singer and songwriter, among them. Along with some of my friends, who did not seem to understand that 1979 only seemed like a better, simpler time because their parents were sheltering them from so much.

See also:

Lyrics:

[Verse 1]
Shakedown 1979
Cool kids never have the time
On a live wire right up off the street
You and I should meet
Junebug skippin’ like a stone
With the headlights pointed at the dawn
We were sure we’d never see an end
To it all

[Chorus]
And I don’t even care
To shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know
Just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed
Into the earth below

[Verse 2]
Double-cross the vacant and the bored
They’re not sure just what we have in store
Morphine city slippin’ dues
Down to see

[Chorus 2]
That we don’t even care
As restless as we are
We feel the pull
In the land of a thousand guilts
And poured cement
Primis Player Placeholder

[Bridge]
Lamented and assured
To the lights and towns below
Faster than the speed of sound
Faster than we thought we’d go
Beneath the sound of hope

[Verse 3]
Justine never knew the rules
Hung down with the freaks and ghouls
No apologies ever need be made
I know you better than you fake it
To see

[Chorus 1]
That we don’t even care
To shake these zipper blues
And we don’t know
Just where our bones will rest
To dust I guess
Forgotten and absorbed
Into the earth below

[Outro]
The street heats the urgency of now
As you see there’s no one around

Source: Genius Lyrics.

Good Morning, Midnight

“Good Morning, Midnight” (2016) is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by US writer Lily Brooks-Dalton. As she puts it, the book:

“poses the question of what truly matters in the end – what is important.”

Emily Dickinson provided the title in one of her poems:

Good Morning — Midnight
I’m coming Home
Day — got tired of Me
How could I — of Him?

George Clooney made the book into a Hollywood film: “The Midnight Sky” (2020), now on Netflix, starring George Clooney and Felicity Jones.

Our story: We follow two scientists, a man at an Arctic research station, and a woman on Aether, a spaceship (with a crew of five) returning from Jupiter. They are both so cut off from the rest of mankind that they are spared its sudden demise in 2049 (the film gives a date, the book does not). They endlessly search the radio waves to find a human voice, someone, anyone, who is still alive. In the end they find – only each other.

“We study the universe in order to know, yet in the end the only thing we truly know is that all things end – all but death and time. It’s difficult to be reminded of that […] but it’s harder to forget.”

Hollywood: George Clooney took this bleak, philosophical book, gave it a heroic hero (played by him), a happy ending (as happy as things can reasonably get post-apocalypse), cranked up the suspense to nerve-wracking levels (complete with an airlock countdown that was added) – and ditched the title’s Emily Dickinson reference. But despite Clooney’s best efforts, it still has a beautiful, tear-jerker surprise ending, it still makes you wonder about life.

A musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) on Ellesmere Island, April 1st 2016 (via Outdoor Photographer).

The Arctic: In the book, the Arctic is played by northern most part of the northern most island in Canada, Ellesmere Island, at the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The end of the world at the end of the world, in other words. But it is a place of life, of polar bears, hares, wolves, wildflowers, zillions of birds – and musk oxen:

“They looked ancient, almost prehistoric – as if they’d been grazing here long before humans had stood on two legs and would continue to graze long after the cities built by men and women crumbled back into the earth.”

In the film, the Arctic is played by Iceland. It is a place of snow and wind and wolves. Nature as obstacle, not nature as context. But to the film’s credit, a part was filmed during an actual blizzard (winds 80 kph, temperature -40 °C).

The stars: Brooks-Dalton is also better at placing man among the stars, though the film does have a gorgeous view of the Milky Way as seen from space. On Earth, something like a third of mankind cannot see the Milky Way at night because of all the city lights.

On second viewing, I did not get much more out of the film. A bad sign. But the book seems like the kind that will grow on me.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

530

Trump retrospective

Mark Bryan’s “The Nightmare” (2017) – but is it over?

Donald Trump has been out of office for six weeks now. It is such a relief not to have to think about him all the time. But before he becomes too much of a distant memory, hopefully for good, I want to look back on his first (and hopefully his only) four years in office as US president, as I did with Obama.

Jemele Hill put it well:

“I wish I could say I feel happy, but I don’t. Relief, yes. But the wreckage from these last four years is substantial. The democracy is not fixed. White supremacy isn’t taking a break. This is a baby step, but the ugliness Donald Trump seized upon will intensify.”

In October I predicted Trump would still be in power at this point. I was right that he would try to hang onto power by hook or crook, but I underestimated his incompetence. So, yes, I am relieved.

But Trump is down, not out. The Republican Party remains firmly behind him. Despite losing the White House and the Senate. Despite making the Pandemic of 2020 way worse than it had to be, killing more Americans than a world war. Despite his coup attempt on January 6th, the Capitol riot. Despite paying off porn stars and setting up concentration camps and all that.

Cult of personality: There seems to be no line Trump can cross, no norm he can break, that would shake them. Their loyalty to him is dangerously cult-like. They have become unhinged from reality. I hate to say that, but that seems to be the truth. It cannot help but damage the US. It already has – from the poor response to the pandemic to the poor response to global warming. And it is on course to get worse:

2042 and all that: In about 2042 non-Hispanics Whites will become a minority in the US. That is no longer in the distant future: the 2040s are now closer than the 1990s. This places White Americans at a crossroads: do they believe in democracy or do they believe in White rule? For the first 250 years they have been able to have it both ways. No longer. So, will the US move towards the promise of 1776 or will it descend into years and years of right-wing terrorism, if not outright fascism? Time will tell.

It does not look good: 58% of Whites voted for Trump in November, the same as four years ago – and they seem to be sticking with him. He won Whites across the board: man and woman, young and old, rich and poor, Protestant and Catholic, North and South (but not West), rural and suburban (but not urban), and at all levels of education up to and including four years of college (but not more advanced education). And that was after four years of the Trump Era. They liked it! They want more! On top of that, Republicans in 43 states are now pushing for yet more voter suppression laws.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

560

Living like it’s 1979

Jet magazine, March 1st 1979.

I lived like it was 1979 for the first two weeks of August 2020 – as much as that was possible in the Internet Age in the middle of a pandemic. I could only use 1979 technology or simulations thereof, like using my laptop computer as a radio or my mobile phone as a watch. Also, I limited books to those first published before 1980.

Rule of thumb: If a word or thing was not in my 1983 Chambers dictionary, I did not use it.

I did not change my hair or clothes. Apart from the cut of my jeans, no one would give me a second look if I went back to 1979.

Since it was still the Pandemic of 2020, I had to limit my outings and wear a mask and socially distance when I did go out.

Cher in 1972.

What I re/learned:

  1. The biggest difference between now and then, by far, is the Internet.
  2. Broadcast news is not a good source of news for a democracy. It is way too limited and shallow. Newspapers, and especially the Internet, are way better – or can be if you avoid filter bubbles.
  3. The Internet (and Kindles) have made it way easier to research and write posts. So much so that during the two weeks of reliving 1979, I produced only one original 500-word post (1908: Race Problems in America). The other posts during that period were either short or were reposts. Journal writing, on the other hand, is little changed.
  4. Looking at porn is 80% habit. So is watching television.
  5. “Saturday Night Live” was way funnier in 1979. (I saw episode 4.16 from April 7th 1979. Rickie Lee Jones sang “Chuck E’s in Love”.)
  6. Women on television were way skinnier. Cher, Mary Tyler Moore and the Bionic Woman were all disturbingly thin.
  7. MAD magazine is no longer in print.
  8. Magazines have gone down hill. “Since at least 1955,” says my mother.
  9. Watching television used to be more communal.

More on how writing has changed:

  • In 1979 I had to think out what I was going to write and then write it down. Half of writing was in the thinking. Even in 2008 I was still writing that way: I wrote these posts on the bus in a notebook and then later typed them into a computer to post them on the Internet.
  • But then in 2009 I got a laptop computer of my own that I could take with me anywhere, an HP Mini 1000. Now I could compose directly on a computer. Posts now start out as a series of notes, of facts and quotes, of half-formed ideas written down. That is fleshed out into sentences, then paragraphs. Paragraphs are moved, sometimes deleted, new ones added, etc, as the post takes shape.

Without the Internet, I read more books, watched more television, and saw less porn (none, in fact). And produced fewer posts. And, for the first time in years, I read the Sunday comics and tried to write a letter – but had no envelopes!

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

580

 

TLC: Unpretty

Remarks:

This is by far my favourite TLC song. In 1999 it went to #4 on the US R&B chart and was a top-ten hit throughout the Anglosphere. For Stefani Germanotta, a 13-year-old outcast at her school in New York, it changed her life. We now know her as Lady Gaga.

It is based on a poem by T-Boz (the blonde in the video):

“I’m a very petite woman, and was never extra developed like how most girls in high school were. I wanted bigger boobs and all that. So that’s why when we shot the video, it was personal to me to tell that story. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you feeling like you want to get a breast job or reduction. But the most important part is it needs to happen because that’s something you want for yourself, not someone else. Not some guy telling you that you’ll look better if this was bigger. If they do say that, just drop them.”

See also:

Lyrics:

[Verse 1: T-Boz]
I wish I could tie you up in my shoes
Make you feel unpretty too
I was told I was beautiful
But what does that mean to you?
Look into the mirror, who’s inside there
The one with the long hair
Same old me again today, yeah

[Pre-Chorus: Chilli]
My outsides look cool
My insides are blue
Everytime I think I’m through
It’s because of you
I try different ways
But it’s all the same
At the end of the day
I have myself to blame
I’m just trippin’

[Chorus]
You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to
Be in the position that make me feel
So damn unpretty

I’ll make you feel unpretty too

[Verse 2: T-Boz]
Never insecure until I met you
Now I’m bein’ stupid
I used to be so cute to me
Just a little bit skinny
Why do I look to all these things
To keep you happy?
Maybe get rid of you
And then I’ll get back to me, yeah

[Pre-Chorus: Chilli]
My outsides look cool
My insides are blue
Everytime I think I’m through
It’s because of you
I try different ways
But it’s all the same
At the end of the day
I have myself to blame
Can’t believe I’m trippin’

[Chorus]
You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to
Be in the position that make me feel
So damn unpretty

You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to
Be in the position that make me feel
So damn unpretty

And make you feel unpretty too
And make you feel unpretty
(Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh)

[Chorus]
You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
You can fix your nose if he says so
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Find out who am I to
Be in the position that make me feel
So damn unpretty
You can buy your hair if it won’t grow
(Hahahaha)
You can buy all the make-up
That M.A.C. can make, but if
You can’t look inside you
Be in the position that make me feel so

Source: Genius Lyrics.

Strongmen

“Strongmen” (2020) by US historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat compares and contrasts right-wing authoritarian rulers from Mussolini to Trump. Most of what makes Trump seem strange when compared to other US presidents is what he has in common with – strongmen.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is a Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. She is a Mussolini expert.

Her strongmen:

  • fascists (1922-45):
    • Mussolini (Italy, 1925-43)
    • Hitler (Germany, 1933-45)
    • Franco (Spain, 1939-75)
  • military dictators (1945-91):
    • Mobutu (Zaire, 1965-97)
    • Gaddafi (Libya, 1969-2011)
    • Pinochet (Chile, 1973-90)
  • the new authoritarians (1991- ):
    • Berlusconi (Italy, 1994, 2001-06, 2008-11)
    • Putin (Russia, 2000- )
    • Erdogan (Turkey, 2014- )
    • Trump (USA, 2017- ) – still in power at the time of publication.

With cameo appearances by Idi Amin (Uganda), Bolsonaro (Brazil), Modi (India), Orban (Hungary), Duterte (Philippines), and Siad Barre (Somalia).

She says little to nothing about communist leaders like Stalin, Castro, Mao, or Xi. Or characters like Assad, Netanyahu, or MBS. Or all that much about US foreign policy.

She mainly writes about the life cycle of a strongman as illustrated by her favourites: How they rise to power, how they maintain power, and how they fall.

Rise: Some come to power violently, like Gaddafi and Pinochet, but many do not, like Hitler and Trump. While military dictators come to power mainly by controlling the military, the new authoritarians mainly do it through control or mastery of the media.

Fall: Strongmen almost always fall, though it can take decades. They are mostly brought down by elites, though mass uprisings certainly help:

“More personalist rulers are toppled by elites than by popular revolutions, especially in situations of economic or military distress. While they may last longer than other kinds of authoritarians, 80 percent of them are booted out of office eventually.

“Mobutu’s fall from power is symptomatic. By 1990, twenty-five years of kleptocracy and violent behavior had turned elites and the population against him.”

Tools of the trade – aka the red flags of strongman rule:

  1. Promise national greatness – Make America Great Again! Stand up against the marginalized religious, racial, ethnic, sexual or political minorities that are trying to destroy the nation. Be a bigot and call it courage.
  2. Propaganda – Lie! It works. Especially if you control enough of the media. Truth is the enemy of power. But be careful not to believe your own lies! Reality bites.
  3. Displays of virility – Be a misogynist! Grab them by the pussy! Or pose bare-chested. Or devote part of the government bureaucracy to provide an endless stream of sexual partners. Show that you are the alpha dog! But stay away from underaged girls. That might be a bridge too far for many of your supporters.
  4. Corruption – Rob the state! But make sure to give elites a cut of the action so that they have a stake in your continued power. Corruption is why loyalty matters more than merit.
  5. Violence – Keep your subjects in fear through terror, torture, massacre, disappearances, etc.

Not all of these are required. Hitler, for example, never bared his chest and seemed to be a one-woman man. Nor was he particularly corrupt. But he nailed all the others.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

526

books I read in 2021

Last updated: Tue May 4 12:45:57 UTC 2021.

Some of the books I have read so far in 2021 (to be updated throughout the year):

Nicholas Carr: The Shallows (2010) – how the Internet is making us shallow thinkers and knowers. Books still matter, says this book.

Ruth Ben-Ghiat: Strongmen (2020) – compares and contrasts right-wing authoritarian rulers of the past hundred years, from Mussolini to Trump. In US history, Trump sticks out, but not in world history.

Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813) – considered one of the best romance novels in the English tongue. I still prefer “Wuthering Heights” (1847) by Emily Brontë.

Lily Brooks-Dalton: Good Morning, Midnight (2016) – post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, bleak but makes you think about life. A Hollywoodized version is now on Netflix as “The Midnight Sky” (2020).

Donna Tartt: The Secret History (1992) – rich White college kids kill one of their own and get away with it. All but a founding text of the dark academia aesthetic.

Julia Serano: Whipping Girl (2007, 2016) – the nature of sexism, gender, transphobia. The book that gave us the word “transmisogyny”.

Pat Barker: Silence of the Girls (2018) – the Trojan War as told by a woman. What a wonderful idea. But Barker was unable to shake Homer’s militarism and male gaze.

Ibram X. Kendi: Stamped from the Beginning (2016) – a history of anti-Black racist ideas in the US, from their roots in the Portuguese slave trade in 1453 to Sandra Bland in 2015.

What I am reading now: I am reading the following three books of history in sync, century by century. I have already read chapters here and there of the first two, but now I am reading them cover-to-cover:

Audrey and Brian D. Smedley: Race in North America (2012) – a good, solid history of racism in North America, from its roots in Spain and England before 1619 to the beginning of the 21st century. The main source of several posts, like Spanish racial identity in 1492 and slaveries compared.

Nell Irvin Painter: Creating Black Americans (2006) – a good overview of US Black history from 1619 to 2006.



Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, editors: Four Hundred Souls
(2021) – subtitled “A Community History of African America, 1619-2019”. Divides Black US history into five-year periods and has an expert write a few pages about each, from “1619–1624: Arrival by Nikole Hannah-Jones” to “2014–2019: Black Lives Matter by Alicia Garza”. What a wonderful idea!

Suggestions: If you want to suggest or recommend a book, please leave it in the comments below! Thanks.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

536

Pride and Prejudice

“Pride and Prejudice” (1813) is a romance novel by Jane Austen, widely considered her best. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy cannot stand each other – but then

Warning: Spoilers!

fall in love.

The first sentence:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

It is set in Regency England (1795-1837), among the landed gentry of Hertfordshire, 40 km north of the centre of London. It is probably the early 1810s – there is still a war going on – or arguably the 1790s when Austen wrote the first draft. Austen is why so many romance novels are set in that time and place.

Virginia Woolf in “A Room of One’s Own” (1929) on Jane Austen and Emily Bronte:

“They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue – write this, think that.”

The Bennetts have five daughters. From oldest to youngest:

  • Jane (age 22)
  • Elizabeth – “Lizzy” (20)
  • Mary (18)
  • Catherine – “Kitty” (17)
  • Lydia (15)

The bachelorettes: Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, and their cousin Charlotte Lucas.

The bachelors, listed from richest to poorest by yearly income in pounds:

  1. Mr Darcy – 10,000
  2. Mr Bingley – about 4,500
  3. Mr Collins – 2,000+ after Mr Bennett dies
  4. Mr Wickham – less than 1,500 (what a colonel makes)

They have first names, but they hardly ever use them.

Money: In those days, the middle class started at maybe 150, the upper class at maybe 1,000. Upper-class income comes mainly from owning land, sometimes by having a commission in the army or a living in the clergy. At 10,000 a year, Mr Darcy is one of the richest men in England.

Elizabeth’s father makes 2,000. But because he has no sons (see above), upon his death his wealth will fall to the nearest male relative – the cringey Mr Collins himself. That means Elizabeth will be left with just 40 to 50 a year. Thus the need for the five daughters to marry well.

Love: The book is not so much about love but about picking the right man to be happily married. Lydia marries for love, Charlotte for money. Both become cautionary tales for Elizabeth, our heroine. Elizabeth says she married for both – and for Mr Darcy’s excellent moral character – but arguably she fell in love not so much with Mr Darcy himself but with his vast, beautiful estate of Pemberley in the north of England. You be the judge!

Empiricism: This book most reminds me of – Thucydides! He wrote a history of the war between Athens and Sparta, which sounds like a very different book. But Austen and Thucydides not only write in the same classic prose style, but both take an observational or empirical approach to human beings, judging character and motive based on people’s rational self-interest and a close observation of what they do, not what they say. Something Elizabeth Bennett learns the hard way in the course of the book. Austen lays bare people as they are, not as we wish them to be.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

565

%d bloggers like this: