Someone’s in the Kitchen

Lucille told me not to come in the kitchen.  In my young days when I wanted to watch her slice vegetables and pluck chickens, she warned: “This is no place for the likes of you.  I’m telling you, standing next to me at this counter won’t get you nowhere at all.  As good as looking a blind cat in the eye.  And you know you don’t want to do that.”

But I did.  I wanted to see that blind cat all the way through, into her milky eyes and beyond.  Sacred it was, that kitchen: the shiny surface near the sink covered in blood, the gizzards and neck put aside to be fried later and eaten—Lucille’s special delicacy—and her tidying up after the mess of flour and butter, her thick batter where she rolled chicken breasts and thighs before frying them in the skillet at dinnertime for the “white folks.”  That’s what she used to say, with a grin and a nod, adding:  “But we get the good parts.”

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Bloodland

Last November, I spoke with PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novelist John Edgar Wideman just before the publication of Wideman’s Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File. Wideman’s book—part history, part memoir, part fiction—begins with an investigation into the recently declassified details of the 1945 court martial and execution of Louis Till, a black private in the segregated U.S. Army stationed in Italy during World War II. Louis Till’s name surfaces rarely if at all as a footnote to the horrific, and much better-known story of his son, Emmett Till, an African-American teenager from Chicago who was kidnapped, bludgeoned almost beyond recognition, shot, and dumped in a river in Mississippi in 1955 for whistling at a white woman. As a distant precursor to his interest in Louis Till, Wideman recalls being haunted by the image of Emmett Till’s mangled face from the moment he saw it in Jet magazine in 1955. The young Wideman—then 14 years old, just like Emmett Till—found himself filled with dread by a single, unshakable thought: “That could have been me.”

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Notes from the Resistance

We are on the side of the species’ eternal Life, our enemies are on the side of eternal Death. And Life will swallow them up, by synthesizing the two terms of the antithesis within the reality of communism.–Amadeo Bordiga
 

I

The night Trump was elected, there were celebrations on the streets of Juba, South Sudan.

Orson, a thirty year-old State Department employee, groped for a word from the nauseous pit of his groin–a groin inhabited by a succubus of pure fear–and found (implausibly, for an unconscious child of the Sokal Affair) “lumpen.”

Lumpen: a Marxist word, more or less.
 

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State of the Union (& “The Plot to Hack America”)

“The bigger issue here is why Trump and people around him take such a radically different view of Russia than has been the case for decades.” (New York Times, 2/16/2017)

No doubt. But when it comes to Trump’s philo-Tsarist turn (and the Republican Party’s “surprise surrender”), the time-scale cited above (“decades”) fails to take in the full weight of the past: “Hostility to Russia is the oldest continuous foreign-policy tradition in the United States…”

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The Next President

Senator Schumer’s teary response on Saturday to Trump’s modified Muslim ban wasn’t namby-pamby. It felt right. Yet Bernard Avishai wasn’t wrong to point out in a piece posted last week at Talking Points Memo that Schumer (and Nancy Pelosi) aren’t made for this moment. Avishai argues Democrats must coalesce fast around figures who can appeal to voters who once supported the party.

The Democratic party, in other words, must have a clear message that speaks to the anxieties of the traditional Democratic voters it lost. And the message needs a tough, plausible messenger: a leader, or small number of united leaders, who embody—in their persons, their logic, their stories, and their demonstrated courage—integrity that advances what they are saying. If the message is right, and the messenger is authentic, you get a winning charisma.

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“Trump Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself”

The crew at Antidote magazine have translated this scary piece by European reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus on Trump’s Big Data consultants, Cambridge Analytica.  First is re-blogging it below (though, per Antidote, we’ll take their version down if the piece, which was originally published in a mainline Swiss magazine, gets an authorized translation/launch in America). Please don’t take this repost as an endorsement of the authors’ implicit claims about the effectiveness of Big Data-mining and “psychometrics.” But we should all be alive to what’s being cooked up by numbers scum in Trump’s orbit.

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Misdirected Fire

In the wake of the Hillary Clinton’s shocking defeat in the presidential election, two Democratic operatives, Stanley B. Greenberg and Anna Greenberg, turn their attention to President Obama and ask the question “Was Obama Bad for the Democrats” (NY Times, Op Ed, December 23).  Their answer is a qualified yes.  Before I bear down on the Greenbergs for their insinuation that the Democrats went down to defeat on the presidential and congressional levels because of Obama, let me lay out their argument with editorial interruption.

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Survival Pending Revolution

In a rare moment of stranger-than-fiction levity during jury selection in the 1970 conspiracy trial of Black Panther Party leaders Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins, defense attorney Charles Garry asked a prospective juror, “Can you take the judge’s instruction that my defendants here, Ms. Huggins and Mr. Seale, are innocent until proven guilty?”

The prospective juror replied, “I can.”

“So you know they are members of the Black Panther Party?”

“Yes, I do.”

“So what do you think of that? Do you think you can be a fair and impartial juror?”

“Well, I guess they are no different from any other motorcycle gang.”

As the courtroom erupted in laughter, the frustrated judge shouted, “Just get him out of here!”

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Tale of the Tapes

My father, Reginald W. Major, died just over three years ago. While his passing has left me, his baby girl, with a tremendous void, l recently discovered a collection of audio tapes that we recorded over a period of years. I have found myself able to listen to him once again, getting his wisdom on political struggle, his honesty about his own shortcomings, on how he grew character and understanding, on his long view of history from the 1930’s to 2011.

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Draining the Swamp

Remarks of Walter M. Shaub, Jr., Director, U.S. Office of Government Ethics, as prepared for delivery at 4:00 p.m. on January 11, 2017, at the Brookings Institution.

I wish circumstances were different and I didn’t feel the need to make public remarks today. You don’t hear about ethics when things are going well. You’ve been hearing a lot about ethics lately.

I need to talk about ethics today because the plan the President-elect has announced doesn’t meet the standards that his nominees are meeting and that every President in the past four decades has met.

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Strategy Memo

OK, Meryl Streep is a wonderful actress, a very smart and eloquent lady. But I think her Golden Globes statement, while striking and eloquent, was a strategic mistake. And here’s why – because it puts style over substance, and not everybody agrees with putting down Trump’s style.

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