Shitbox v. Loxbox

The tiny car Harold Schwartzappel pulled up in on 190th Street to rescue me from a deluge may have been a Fiat, or a Renault, or possibly a Peugeot, whichever company made a cheaper model circa 1964.  My father referred to Schwartzappel’s car as a shitbox, and compared to the well-appointed cars my father always drove, it did seem like a tin can as I got in and slammed the flimsy door.   

The engine of shitbox had been rebuilt by Harold, if I recall correctly.   My father knew almost nothing about car engines, though he’d worked in his uncle’s garage for years.   The first car my father had was a big, bulbous orange and white Pontiac my parents called the Loxbox.  I recall sitting in the back seat of the Loxbox as a young kid.  The seat was upholstered in soft leather.   I don’t think the Shitbox was upholstered at all.

My father was happy to drive around in the American Dream, while Harold, a confident tinkerer who spoke several languages and played many musical instruments, made do with his Shitbox.


Two or Three Approaches to Dealing with Vexation

When dealing with a problem we can assemble all available information, analyze it as best we can and honestly discuss all options for solving the problem.   We can select only the information we agree to put on the table and talk about that, a more limited approach.   We can agree not to talk about controversial or embarrassing subjects and agree that the problem is not something we will ever solve.   I’ve always been in favor of the first approach, though it is no longer generally accepted as the way to solve problems.  The second and third ways are much more common.  These approaches apply to solving problems in our civic and personal lives.

As a citizenry we no longer expect disclosure from the powers that rule us, we expect spin.   We are not given access to all of the pertinent facts, we are given a few facts in the context that will cause us to hopefully buy those facts, as presented.   There is a fundamental divide in how people approach the things that vex us: we can yell at the television or we can read, analyze, discuss and write.  

For those who yell at the television I will say this: at least you’re paying attention. 

There is a divide between the open and closed approaches, a vast, deep chasm.  There is no bridging this gap, sad to say.   The advocates of a closed approach have their compelling reasons: often involving something embarrassing, shameful, illegal or otherwise painful that must be concealed.  The advocates of transparency can be said to be unaware that all the rules of human society have changed– we live in an endless, brutal global war against violent extremists and the expectations we had before Terror are no longer reasonable. Transparency is a luxury people up against Terror can no longer afford.  

This same divergence in approach applies in personal life.  Some things are just too threatening to put on the table.  So we agree not to discuss them.  It doesn’t mean the things are no longer threatening.  It means they are safely taken off the table as things we may talk about.   It depresses the hell out of me, sometimes, that information people need to make intelligent decisions about their lives is withheld from them, by deliberate policy, by an unshakable decision.   But on I march, as though the hell wasn’t depressed out of me.

Controversy in America 2018

barring gun purchases by people on the terrorist no-fly list

You would not think something like this would be controversial in a nation that girds itself against terrorist attacks and has long been ravaged by regular mass shootings, at schools, workplaces, movies, malls.   You would not think something like this would be a partisan issue, anywhere.   If the government has the right to maintain a list of people it suspects of terrorist ties, what theory ensures the right of these possible terrorists to have and to hold the most deadly guns the law allows?

Is it just me?  I know back in the day a well-regulated state militia was essential for putting down slave revolts.  I am well aware of the mythical American hero, the unblinking rugged individual putting his life on the line without a shiver, standing in the center of dusty Main Street, facing down evil with a Colt 45.   I get that one man with a gun, with no hesitation to kill, has always been the equal of several more powerful men with legitimate grievances.   I understand the outsized role the gun has played in American history, and how the gun has been romanticized and fetishized.

What is controversial about:  barring gun purchases by people on the terrorist no-fly list?   Maybe fucking Wayne LaPierre can explain that to me and my stymied countrymen.



Business As Usual (draft one)

For a quick primer on how they keep the right to a public hearing as quiet as possible, check out this required legal notice of a New York City Community Board Meeting to approve a rezoning application, which I found xeroxed on the counter at my local library, to wit:


Any member of the public has access to these public records and so can easily look up those applications by number and find out that this meeting is to give approval to a real estate developer who seeks a zoning variance to build a sky scraper of luxury housing in the airspace above the local public library, in the combined footprint of the library and the adjacent property, already purchased from its owner.  

The text of the notice above complies with the letter of the law, to the letter, but to be a legally sufficient notice it should be required to read something closer to this, in the interests of basic fairness:

20180219_170406 (1).jpg

We often wonder how these motherfuckers do it.  This is a key part of how they do it.   We have the right to be heard, but only if we are very diligent, and even then, such notice gives no opportunity to prepare for the only public hearing that will ever be conducted for this decision.

This dog and pony “Public Hearing” is the only legal hurdle the wealthy developer will have in constructing luxury condos towering above the long-time working class neighborhood.  Those kids don’t read that much anyway, closing the public library for a year or two doesn’t matter in the long run… as a symbol of a dynamic New York City, this building boom looks good.

Here, in more legible bureaucratese, is the original text of that legally sufficient notice of a public hearing:


Exhibit A:  

Legally sufficient notice to neighborhood citizens, in the interest of limiting attendance to necessary parties for appearance’s sake.  Nothing to see here!


Beautiful poem by Rumi

I want to see you.
Know your voice.
Recognize you when you
first come ’round the corner.
Sense your scent when I come
into a room you’ve just left.

Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.

Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.

I want to know the joy
of how you whisper



[with a tip of the fez to the learned old friend who posted this on his FezBook page a few days back]

Terrorism — context

A friend followed a link from the first footnote of my previous post, in connection to Paul Robeson’s ill-fated meeting with President Truman.  My friend was sickened, though unsurprised, after reading about the horrifying incident that led to the meeting.  I hadn’t read about the July 25, 1946 murder of four black sharecroppers in Georgia (two of them women, one seven months pregnant), a cold-blooded lynching that Robeson discussed with Truman.  I clicked the link (this one) and … fucking hell.  Literally.

It is our practice here, in the land of the free and the home of brave, to keep things simple.  Because we are exceptional.  No nation has ever been as exceptional as we are.  Simply: good vs. evil, with us or against us, freedom vs. tyranny, democracy vs. totalitarianism, Blue vs. Grey, Red vs. Blue, Freedom on the March, Manifest Destiny, Remember the Alamo [1], the War on Drugs, the War on Terror.   

The War on Terror (we are long past critiquing the idiocy of this term)  is specifically a war on practitioners of terrorism like the ones who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.   Suicidal fanatics, most of them Saudis, killed thousands of us on that terrible day.  The mass murderers were members of a radical Sunni Islamic group following in the ideological footsteps of violent religious fundamentalist Sayyidd Qutb (Koo-tube) [2], the intellectual father of this kind of unthinkable savagery.

Terrorist, in the U.S., is a synonym for radical Islamic militant.  Let us keep things simple, as we do here, because nuance will only make everything much more complicated.  Terrorism is radical Islamic killers, evil fucks like the militant Sunni outfit Al-Qaeda (the 9/11 attackers) or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham Islamic State (ISIS) or by it’s Arabic acronym Daesh, or any of the other brutal radical Islamic terrorist organizations out there. 

The strategy they employ is terrorism — inciting terror by dramatic and horrific acts of violence which are then broadcast all over the world as gruesome advertisements for what will happen to any sacrilegious people, or states, who interfere with their version of pure Islam.  Islamic scholars could probably tell you how many ways these true believers are violating the Koran, but that is another conversation.

In America the term “terrorist” is pretty much limited to talking about violent, fanatical Islamist killers.   There are other kinds of terrorists here in America, always have been.  We, in fact, have long grown our own here and I’d put ours up against the worst of theirs.  Motivated by violent hatred, when they are not lying dormant, waiting, they kill children and torture women and men.  They use violence to intimidate.   They blow up places of worship whenever they can, just like ISIS does.   They subject their victims to brutal, terrifying deaths, just like other extreme terrorists do.    But we don’t usually talk about these white American motherfuckers the same way as we talk about regular terrorists, especially in the “Post 9/11 world” of Dick Cheney and company, but they are made of the same evil shit.

Let us take a little trip down memory lane, or the memory hole (we tend not to recall this kind of ugly American shit), to a late Spring day in 1946, to Walton County, Georgia.  On that day, in a car, was a white man, driving, one J. Loy Harris, and four of his employees; a black man, his seven month’s pregnant wife and another couple, two other black sharecroppers.  Harris, had bailed his worker out of jail not long before.  One of the black men had been locked up for allegedly stabbing a white man.   

They drove a remote country road and then stopped at the  bridge between Walton and Oconee counties where they were met by an armed mob of 15 to 20 white men, according to Loy Harris.  Let’s let the only witness to the events, Loy Harris, the employer of all four of his black, sharecropper passengers, pick up the story:

A big man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger Malcom and said, “We want that nigger.” Then he pointed to George Dorsey, my nigger, and said, “We want you, too, Charlie.” I said, “His name ain’t Charlie, he’s George.” Someone said “Keep your damned big mouth shut. This ain’t your party.”[3]

Loy Harris watched as the four blacks were dragged down a dirt trail.  He said he didn’t see them tied to a big oak tree but he probably heard the shots, three volleys of bullets from the small mob.   As if all that wasn’t sickening enough, I read this next part and wanted to shoot somebody myself:

After Mae Murray Dorsey was shot, her fetus was cut from her body with a knife.

This detail is too fucked up to believe.  It’s hard to picture the depth of depraved hatred that could reduce a human to doing that.  The most sadistic Nazi death camp guard had nothing on these boys.  Say what you want about this crowd of murderers (none of whom were ever identified or indicted, by the way), it’s instantly clear they were of the same ilk as the blood-thirstiest radical Islamist.  “Her fetus was cut from her body with a knife.”   ISIS would be hard-pressed think up a more revolting atrocity for their youtube channel.

This is simply the way it was in many parts of this exceptional country, for a century after the Civil War ended.   As far as white people were concerned, blacks still had almost no rights a white man was bound to respect, as Justice Taney wrote before the Civil War.  You see, our great democracy was unable to prevent these kinds of things because, well, because of the right of the individual states to decide how to handle potential criminal cases.   Criminal law is the exclusive domain of the states, in all but a few exceptional cases.  There was nothing that exceptional about an armed gang of  local white men willing to drag blacks out of a car and kill them, particularly in Georgia, which led the country in lynching many years in a row.  It was complicated, you see, the law, the Dixiecrats, states’ rights, the overbearing federal government, unreasonable, demanding blacks, outsider agitators, trouble makers, liberal elites, complicated, complicated.

It was not until a team of smart, determined Lawyers Guild attorneys went down to federal court in the south, in 1965, to invoke a federal statute that had been unenforced for almost a hundred years, that any white terrorist who killed a black person for the purpose of intimidating other people could be prosecuted.   They brought the federal suit after the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers, Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman, two white, one black, near Meriden, Mississippi.    (PBS history of the case here)

Since that landmark federal case in 1965, section 1983 of this federal statute, which was created to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, the post-war correction to our constitution designed to protect all citizens from oppression, has been used literally tens of thousands of times in federal courts all over the country.  

A quick google search gives us this:  The Civil Rights Act of 1871 is a federal statute, numbered 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that allows people to sue the government for civil rights violations. It applies when someone acting “under color of” state-level or local law has deprived a person of rights created by the U.S. Constitution or federal statutes.

But until 1965, at the earliest, well,  the criminal case had to stay in the local Georgia court and, shoot, in a local Georgia court people tend to stick together, everyone has known each other forever, couldn’t find nobody to finger any of those people who allegedly shot those four negroes to death and supposedly cut the fetus from the body of one of the dead women.   No reason to disbelieve an honest man like Loy Harris, gentle ladies and fine men of the jury.   And Loy testified that he didn’t see anything and didn’t know any of the men who did it, had never seen any of them.  

But, of course, the case never even got into court, the Federal government had given up the power to hear the case almost a century earlier. So Loy never had to testify under oath or be cross-examined about what he’d seen.   Georgians in his tight-knit area probably figured Loy had already suffered enough with the loss of the four negroes and being treated so shabbily himself by that armed mob.

This is why Paul Robeson got so angry when Truman tried to explain why it was politically impossible to get a goddamned federal anti-lynching law passed in 1946.  Right before Truman had Robeson thrown out of his office.  Truman had thrown a shit fit of his own and sent the FBI down there with a big reward for information leading to indictments and convictions, but nothing.  It turns out all they had to do was enforce an anti-Klan law that had been on the books since the 1870s.

When we speak of terrorism, you should consider how White Supremacists have long operated here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.   Terror and violence was used to maintain order during slavery, whites were the minority on plantations, terror and violence was used to protect the status quo in the days of Jim Crow, intimidate anyone who refused to obey.  The main strategy these White Supremacists used was terrorism — inciting terror by dramatic and horrific acts of violence,  advertisements for what would happen to anybody who dared to say they were equal to a White Christian.  Christian scholars could probably tell you how many ways these assholes were violating the teachings of Jesus, but that is another conversation.

We currently have a man in the White House who sees nothing wrong with fine, law-abiding White Supremacists marching by torchlight with swastikas and Confederate flags and politely chanting things about groups they hate.  Freedom of expression here in the most exceptional land God has ever shed His grace upon, and I can dig that.   I love free expression and practice it every day myself.  But still.

Nothing to see here.  Stay numb, y’all, and don’t forget: a lot of good deals coming up on Presidents’ Day.


[1]  To take one example, an alternate explanation to the heroic history book version of “Remember the Alamo!” that does not limit it to an epic battle between American freedom vs. Mexican tyranny.   We become smug now about information, because any detail about anything is almost instantly attainable through our phones.   We can get as much info as we seek, in any form we like, in this age of instant access to information and opinion.  Some of the information is actually accurate. 

“Remember the Alamo!” was a cry raised by Americans with land grants in the Mexican territory that was soon to become Texas, once America took it in war.   These Americans owned huge tracts of Mexican land they’d gotten cheaply from the government of Mexico.  Some of these heroic men were slaveholders who had violated their agreement with Mexico not to bring slaves into Mexican territory.   Of course, being industrious Americans keeping an eye on the bottom line, the owners who could afford it brought their slaves, in violation of Mexican law.  Mexico had outlawed slavery.   Not all of the Americans who owned land in Mexican territory were rich slave holders.  Some of them were.  There were tensions.   Texans to this day are sensitive about this origin story:  

(Here is a contemporary Texas historian on the subject:    

Recently I heard a caller on a radio talk show state matter-of-factly that Sam Houston stole Texas from Mexico, and a recent book on the Alamo characterized the men who died there (and by extension virtually everyone who took part in the Texas Revolution) as greedy, land-grabbing slaveholders — and those without slaves as yearning to own them.   source

Then he went on to explain why each charge was unfair to the founding fathers of Texas.  In 1835, when these events took place there were only an estimated two to three thousand black slaves in the territory, according to the author.   It was true that by 1860 there would be, regrettably, more than 180,000 slaves in Texas, but that alone proves nothing about Texans wanting slaves.   He also stressed that a ruthless  military dictator had seized control of Mexico and deprived everyone of their legal rights, an intolerable tyranny that Americans were morally justified in declaring war on.  


The freedom loving American emigrants had other grievances against Mexico and were not going to take shit from a fucking Mexican dictator.  They took up arms to resist Mexican interference in their affairs, and, after months of armed struggle, made their ill-fated stand in the Alamo Mission (you can get a postcard of the Alama at the Alamo, 300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205).  The Mexican president/dictator had  warned U.S. president/populist psychopath Andrew Jackson that captured American combatants would be treated as pirates and dealt with accordingly.  When the last few of the vastly outnumbered survivors of the Alamo surrendered, they were executed as pirates, as the Mexican dictator had promised.  This massacre of American patriots was an outrage against lovers of freedom.  “Remember the Alamo!” became the battle cry, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Every war needs a good battle cry, say goodbye to Texas, Mexico.


[2]    Qutb is identified by his google blurb thusly: an Egyptian author, educator, Islamic theorist, poet, and the leading member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s.   

Qutb was tortured in an Egyptian prison (like fellow Muslim Brotherhood member Ayman al-Zawahiri would be years later), and, when not being tortured, and before being executed by the Nasser regime in 1966, wrote several influential books indicting the decadence of Western Culture, its antipathy to Islamic values and making his righteous case for Islamic fundamentalism. 

Qutb’s strategy for returning Muslims to a pure state of Islam involved killing as many people as needed to be killed, including other Muslims, to achieve the desired state of religious purity.   A vile, disgusting asshole in my book, but my book is only my opinion, one more opinion in a vast sea of assholes.  I suspect I’m pretty safe calling fucking Sayyid Qutb an asshole.