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Back when I used to participate on left-wing sites more than I do today, I used to worry about tone trolling. I was tempted to do a lot of that. Let’s say that I appreciate calling a spade a spade rather than, oh, let’s say, Hitler. When to bother people about excesses in their rhetoric and when to let it slide was always a problem for me. Like many of the people who get accused of tone trolling, I was always worried about the boy who cried wolf. I do worry, and it’s a genuine worry, I don’t mean to troll, that if you insist on calling everyone who disagrees with you a racist then when you are actually confronted by real racism you will have a problem communicating that.

Democrats love to call Republicans racist. However, if we look at the historical origins of the Republican Party, we can see that racism is not integral at all. Republicans often call themselves “the party of Lincoln.” The corresponding phrase for the Democrats used to be “the party of Jefferson.”

The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the name “Republican” was held near Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854. It declared their new party opposed to the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates.

 

The new party went well beyond the issue of slavery in the territories. It envisioned modernizing the United States—emphasizing giving free western land to farmers (“free soil”) as opposed to letting slave owners buy up the best lands, expanded banking, more railroads, and factories. They vigorously argued that free market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism—this was the “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” ideology. (Source: Wikipedia)

Now, that was 150 years ago and one can argue how much of that remains in the Republican Party, but it must be said that there is nothing innately racist about the Republican Party.

The Front National, on the other hand, united several far right political movements in France during the 1970s.

In order to create a broad movement, the ON sought to model the new party (as it earlier had sought to model itself) on the more established Italian Social Movement (MSI), which at the time appeared to establish a broad coalition for the Italian right. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Italian Social Movement was a neo-fascist movement – I don’t mean that in an “everyone who disagrees with me is a fascist sort of way.

In 1946 a group of Fascist soldiers founded the Italian Social Movement to continue the idea of Benito Mussolini. (Source: Wikipedia)

Unsurprisingly, the party has been dogged by accusations of racism, xenophobia and, above all, antisemitism since its inception.

In 2011, longtime party leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, stepped down and his daughter became the head of the party. His daughter has tried to make the party more mainstream and has tried to reduce the antisemitism. However, many people doubt whether or not she has been successful in that.

In recent weeks, I’ve seen conservatives in the U.S. express support for Le Pen. I can’t help wondering if the constant accusations of racism have led them to ignore them.

Of course, I blame the establishment parties for the rise of Le Pen. They seem to lack the will to face current problems.

I should have made predictions regarding Trump and Brexit. So, here is my predictions regarding the French elections. I think Le Pen will do well and has a high chance of making it into the run-off election. However, I think there is no way she can win a runoff. Both the left and the center right will vote against her. Really, now that I think about it, it’s a shame a doorknob isn’t running because a doorknob might be a better choice than any of the candidates.

This morning’s Telegraph says, “the world will be watching to see just how far the “populist wave” has travelled.” However I wouldn’t take a Le Pen loss as indication that the populist wave has slowed. The accusations of racism among members of the Front National are far more credible than similar accusations leveled at rank and file Republicans. The slogan “France for the French” has long been associated with the Front National.

Sometimes you read something and you are really taken aback by just how little you know. I came across this paragraph after following links on entirely different subjects:

I saw a slave ship — a dhow — in Dar-Es-Salaam harbour in 1955. Saudi Arabia only abolished slavery ten years later. I have a fury against any religion that justifies slavery. It is an abomination and still widespread.

That was a response to a question posed to John Rhys-Davies, the actor who played Gimli in The Lord of the Rings. Here’s the source. I was looking up something totally unrelated and that just jumped out at me.

I wanted to take a little time to respond to Ruth’s comment from the other day and to elaborate a bit on my distinction between liberalism and leftism. Unfortunately, it’s not a quick answer and involved looking some things up to make sure I got them right and, as these thing often do for me, I’ve been putting that off for a couple of days. In the meantime, I see that the article that prompted my original post, which I originally read due to a link on Real Clear Politics, has been taken down by the Huffington Post because it has been discovered to be a hoax. It seems that the writer does not exist. Before writing my own post, I had clicked on the author’s page and saw only that one article. However, because she (or he) claimed to be a student, I just assumed it was the first thing that writer had had published. My opinion of the Huffington Post was never high and now it is even lower.

Before moving, I was reading a book called Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. It’s very enjoyable. It has a very light, amusing style, but there are lots of fascinating, mostly historical, tidbits. Now that I’m moved, I was able to take it out again and am almost done.

At one point, she talks about eye tracking studies and how men and women look at different parts of men and women’s bodies in pictures. Then she brings back her main subject of jewelry.

When both groups, male and female, are shown a picture of a man and a woman from the shoulders up, the eye tracking results for both groups are nearly identical. Both genders spend an equal, and extraordinarily long, amount of time looking at each and every piece of jewelry the subject is wearing – in most case, far longer than they spend looking at the faces.

Not sure why that tickled my funny bone, but it did.

The chapters don’t completely stand by themselves because she’ll refer to a gem mentioned in one chapter, like La Peregrina, a large pearl owned by Mary Tudor, in another chapter, so it’s best to read the book in order. Yet the chapters are very episodic, so it’s a good book for something like traveling when you expect to get interrupted regularly. I read part of it on a train, put it down, and was able to pick it up again a week later without feeling like I lost anything. It’s a fun book even if you aren’t into jewelry.

For the past several mornings, I’ve woken to find this little guy on my window sill. He hasn’t minded me banging around while making coffee too much, but he began to edge away when I tried to take a photo. Unfortunately, the auto focus on the phone focused on the screen. I haven’t seen his right foot. I’m not sure if it’s missing or if he’s just standing one one foot. What is it with me and critters with a maimed or missing limb?

 

I’ve said it so many times during the past couple of years, I must be starting to sound like a broken record to the few readers I have left. Although my major ideological commitments were towards things like freedom of speech and other individual rights associated with liberalism, I have generally found myself on the political left on most issues since I found first started paying much attention to politics around the age of twelve or thirteen. I think I was thirteen when I first called myself a feminist.

For the past couple of years, however, the left seems to be playing a dangerous game of who can say the craziest thing.

Once upon a time, I thought the left had some ideals that were universal and did not change with political expediency. I thought universal franchise was one of those things. When, in the wake of the Brexit vote I saw some people arguing that people over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, I dismissed it because emotions were running so high in the lead up to that vote people were saying all sorts of crazy things on both sides.

Today, I saw an article in the Huffington Post suggesting that the franchise be taken away from white men. Now, there’s no self-interest involved here for me, beyond the general sense of not wanting to have ideals that are so relativistic that what was a moral imperative today is to be fought against tomorrow. The rationale for this is a confused grab-bag of reasons. The first one the writer, one Shelley Garland, states:

Some of the biggest blows to the progressive cause in the past year have often been due to the votes of white men. If white men were not allowed to vote, it is unlikely that the United Kingdom would be leaving the European Union, it is unlikely that Donald Trump would now be the President of the United States, and it is unlikely that the Democratic Alliance would now be governing four of South Africa’s biggest cities.

If white men no longer had the vote, the progressive cause would be strengthened.

This is pretty clear. The writer would like to disenfranchise the demographic which was least likely to vote the way she wanted them to. Is anyone naive enough to think it would stop there? Who else would be disenfranchised after the white men? If you know what the ideal outcome is, why bother to hold votes on anything at all?

Besides the fact that white men, on average, don’t vote the way Garland likes, she also justifies this by invoking the 2008 financial crisis. The idea that people on the top in the financial sector, an infinitesimally small percentage of white men, are somehow representative of white men is so laughable it’s hard to believe anyone might even float this as an argument. Other white men don’t even like them, let alone feel any kinship with them. Then she just tosses out “toxic masculinity.” I guess she thinks only white men are masculine….?

Her next justification is at least something more serious than two votes in countries where Garland doesn’t even live that didn’t go the way she wanted.

At the same time, a denial of the franchise to white men, could see a redistribution of global assets to their rightful owners.

However, in the case of South Africa, where the writer appears to live, I’m not sure how the connection between voting and global assets works. Eighty percent of the population of South Africa is black, so voting should work in favor of blacks. I’m not sure what disenfranchising white men in South Africa would achieve in this regard. I’m not familiar with the details of how South African politics works, but I think the party in power at the moment is the African National Congress. In any case:

The Land Expropriation Bill was passed by Parliament in May last year – three months before the 2016 local government elections.

In its current form, the bill requires the state to exhaust efforts to purchase property on reasonable terms in the open market before being allowed to consider expropriating it.

The ANC however has in recent months hardened its stance on economic transformation, calling for de-racialising over-concentrated sectors of the economy and transferring ownership from white people to the black majority among other matters. At its annual birthday celebrations, the ANC said the economy will be overhauled radically to allow for meaningful black participation.

She mixes up land ownership and ownership of assets and broadens it to include the whole world, which is necessary because linking assets to democratic representation doesn’t make sense in the case of South Africa.

This redistribution of the world’s wealth is long overdue, and it is not just South Africa where white males own a disproportionate amount of wealth. While in South Africa 90 percent of the country’s land is in the hands of whites (it is safe to assume these are mainly men), along with 97 percent of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, this is also the norm in the rest of the world. Namibia has similar statistics with regard to land distribution and one can assume this holds for other assets too. As Oxfam notes eight men control as much as wealth as the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population. In the United States ten percent of the population (nearly all white) own 90 percent of all assets – it is likely that these assets are largely in the hands of males. Although statistics by race are difficult to find from other parts of the world, it is very likely that the majority of the world’s assets are in the hands of white males, despite them making up less than 10 percent of the world’s population.

Sticking to land for the moment, since white people are the indigenous people of Europe, it would only be expected that they would own most of the land there. In China, “most land is owned by collectivities or by the state.” (Strangely, a search for “land ownership India” came back with a result for the Dawes Act.) I wasn’t able to find quickly a racial breakdown of land ownership in India. The articles on land reform I came across focused more on economic factors than racial ones. So, basically, it seems to me that we’re talking about Africa, the Americas and Australia.

Anyway, I was about to go on a rant regarding white guilt (which I don’t believe really exists) but that would take some time and I have to get other things done today, so let me return to where I started.

Either you have principles or you don’t. Either I believe in universal suffrage or I don’t. My views on this have not changed. Apparently the view on the left is changing. If I had found this on a personal blog like my own, I would just ignore it, however it was in the Huffington Post and I fear that this is the way the left might be heading.

Sorry this is garbled and all over the place. Although I don’t feel like my own politics have changed much, it is clear that the political terrain around me has changed greatly. I’d like to try to articulate my positions, but it’s such a big job and I don’t have the leisure at the moment to do it full-time, which is what it would take.

A number of years ago, my family went on vacation and we stayed near the ocean. Every night, I slept soundly and woke up the following day with the sunrise. My family remarked on it because I was a little bit notorious for staying up late and waking equally late. It puzzled me too, at first. What I came to realize that it was the darkness. It never really occurred to me that I had spent most of my life sleeping in places with quite a bit of ambient light. I thought my room was dark when I shut out the light, but it turned out that it wasn’t dark enough. Ever since then, I’ve made a point wherever I’ve lived of trying to get my bedroom as dark as possible. This is one of the reasons I’m so obsessed with making drapes.

My new apartment is great but there’s one little catch. My bedroom window faces what appears to be an assisted living facility and the rooms directly across from mine seem to be nurses stations or something similar. There appears to be three rooms in a row on each floor, with a pair of window to each and banks of florescent lights on the ceilings. Most of the time, most of the blinds on those windows are open and the lights stay on all night. There are about fifteen floors and all those lights make my bedroom quite bright at night. So, I am in the process of making drapes with blackout linings.

From talking to people I know, it seems to me that people underestimate how much light can disturb one’s sleep. If you have difficulty either falling asleep or staying asleep, I highly suggest that you try making your room darker.

I said I was going to write every day, didn’t I. Why did I say that? Now it’s eleven o’clock, well, past eleven now, and I haven’t written anything.

So, this probably would be better as a TIL post on Reddit, but, since I need to write something to fulfill my little promise to myself, I’m putting it here.

What is the country with the cleanest air in the world? According to the World Health Organization, it is Kenya.

I know this is a throwaway post. Perhaps I’ve been a little burned out from moving, but I’ve been doing things like surfing the internet aimlessly. I chose this little factoid because it seemed cheerful.

What I wrote yesterday reminded me that, when I was learning French, I listened to songs a lot. My ex expressed puzzlement about it because, according to him, they all listened mostly to American music with some stuff from the UK mixed in, so nearly everything was in English. The problem I was having, I explained to him, was transitioning from what I used to call “schoolgirl French” to being fluent, or at least something close to fluent. I had actually done reasonably well in French classes in school. I can memorize vocabulary easily and grammar comes easily to me as well, but normal, casual social interaction in French was very hard for me to master. Incomplete sentences, mumbled pronunciation and dropped syllables left me staring in puzzlement.

The other thing which was strange, and I may have mentioned this before, was the feeling that the world lacked color. In our own languages, words have texture, nuance, associations and feelings. We choose one expression over another when we speak or write, not only due to the literal meaning, but due the feelings it may convey. In class, a word or expression might be marked as “familiar” or “formal,” and while that can be helpful for a total novice, it misses the full range of tones. It was a strange sensation when I was first living in a francophone environment to realize that the emotional content of the language was invisible to me.

Since in songs the music also supplies feelings and usually works in tandem with the lyrics, listening to songs helped to add context and color to words. That happens also in dramatic media, like films, but the fact that a person might listen to a song many times helped to make that emotional connection. Eventually, I could come to understand how certain turns of phrase were effective.

Now, don’t ask me why I can’t just throw everything in a box and have done with it, but as it happens those cassettes I was packing also included some of the stuff I was listening to when I was trying to master French. When some Canadians realized I was listening to Kevin Parent, several of them insisted I shouldn’t because I would learn “bad French.” Kevin Parent is a bit of an outlier for my taste, being more in the singer/songwriter vein. I can’t quite put my finger on why he appeals to me, but why question a good thing, right?

Seeing that I’m moving – yet again – this song seems appropriate:

Have you ever gone through a period when you didn’t listen music for an extended period of time and suddenly you start listening again. In this case, I think moving and dredging up old things got me listening to some stuff I hadn’t listened to in a while. Nearly a year ago, I mentioned ripping my vinyl. As it happens, a lot of my favorite stuff, or at least the stuff with the most memories attached, is on cassette. I went off to college in the era of the boombox and for a time had a car with a cassette player. Consequently, during my late teens and early twenties, that period when a person’s taste in popular music tends to form, most of the music I purchased was in the form of cassettes. So, tonight, I was going through my old cassettes and my memory was jogged of a moment from another period of my life.

I was teaching English in Paris and had been highly encouraged to use songs in class. We were also told to avoid love songs to keep the vocabulary varied. So I desperately tried to go through all my cassettes looking for songs on which the words were articulated well enough to be easily understood, did not have any grammatical constructions that would be too difficult to explain, did not contain poor grammar and were not love songs. All that was a taller order than you’d think.

For those who don’t know, my taste tends towards pretty straight rock and roll, a bit of r-n-b, some glam rock, some of the less hardcore punk, new wave, funk. Loud, hard and fast might be a good summary of my taste. You know, the stuff with barely comprehensible lyrics.

So, imagine my surprise when I popped in a cassette and the Parisians started squealing like stuck pigs, “EEWWW, eeewww! Stop! We hate country!” Now, I don’t want to knock anyone’s taste and start a big argument on that account, but country music doesn’t figure heavily among anything I have. Sure, I have a couple of Johnny Cash records, but that wasn’t what I was playing. If you were to close your eyes and put your hand into my box of cassettes, you’re more likely to come up with early eighties pop than any country. I tried to tell them that what they were listening to was assuredly not “country music.” I looked at the two other Americans in the room who looked as surprised as I was and reassured the French people that we were not trying to make them listen to country. Even more odd, that we were trying to force country music on them seemed to be a unified feeling on their part. The reaction was such an extreme, you would have thought they were breaking out in rashes.

It was just one of those really weird little cultural differences that takes you by surprise.

Oh, yes, that terrible American country music band – The Pretenders, who were mostly English (I think.).

Well, I just followed up The Pretenders with The New York Dolls and then Bonnie Raitt. Thank heavens I didn’t try that. It could have been a diplomatic crisis.

I guess it’s self-evident, but we all like our own taste, don’t we.

And just because – here’s one of my favorite songs by some of New York City’s prettiest gentlemen:

I remember sitting up to watch Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert when I was a kid. (Happened to catch the sign in the background.)

I’m not going to say that I intend to write more because I’ve written it so many times it’s starting to sound ridiculous to me. However, this time I have a excuse!

Within the past year, my landlord has gone from bad to worse – or maybe I’ve just lost patience. In any case, I’ve become convinced that the building is so poorly maintained as to be a little bit hazardous. I’ve become extremely sensitive to building disasters in my neighborhood. They’re much more common than you’d think. If there isn’t a large loss of life, it barely makes it to the paper. On my way to get groceries the other day, I walked by a building going up in flames. A fire in an apartment on the third floor spread to the fourth and fifth and seriously threatened the neighboring buildings. I overheard a woman on the sidewalk say that her mother was trapped inside. She looked about my age, so I’m guessing her mother is not young. Fortunately, only one resident and six firefighters were injured and no one was killed. It barely registered on the news. (Article.)

Until recently, the landlord was storing items in the stairwells, which are the only exits in case of a fire. I called the city and the fire department was here the next day. Generally, the city has been good and responsive. The stairs were cleared and light bulbs were replaced. However, it’s only a couple of weeks later and some light bulbs are out again. Don’t ask me why. I’ve ceased trying to understand how my landlord messes things up so badly. Greed alone doesn’t explain it. It’s some unique combination of cupidity and incompetence. My intercom hasn’t worked since at least August. They’ve hired a locksmith to fix it. The locksmith has been here at least ten times, and that’s not including the several appointments that were never kept. It’s annoying that for over six months I’ve had to let people into my apartment at seemingly random intervals in a Sisyphean quest to fix the intercom. I presume that the landlord is paying the locksmith. Aren’t they at least annoyed that the locksmith appears to be utterly incapable of fixing the lock.

It’s like a comedy. They come, one person from the management company and one person from the locksmith. The guy from the locksmith company takes the intercom off the wall. He looks at the wires and shrugs. He turns to the guy from the management and says something in Spanish. The guy from management asks me what’s wrong. I say it doesn’t work at all. He, presumably, translates this into Spanish. The locksmith guy shrugs. He puts the phone back on the wall. The guy from management asks if I’m going to be home the rest of the day. I say yes. He says they’ll be back later that afternoon. They don’t come back. About half the building has intercoms that don’t work. They fix one, but then someone else’s stops working. Don’t waste your time speculating. I’ve been puzzling over this for six months and I don’t get it. I think I could have learned to install intercoms and put in an entire new system myself by now.

One of the people who works for the management company proudly showed me how they had put hardware cloth over the dryer vent to get rid of the rats after they discovered a happy family of them living in the vent. I smiled and nodded and said it was a good thing. I mean, what am I supposed to say? I imagine the management company doesn’t treat their workers any better than they do the tenants. Still, the rats had been living there for over a year. I bet they were only evicted because they weren’t paying rent.

Did I mention that this is an elevator building? Well, most of the time. The thing breaks down several times a week. They call someone who does something, I can’t imagine what, and it works again for a few days. I have an image of the working parts of the elevator, inside the shaft, as being held together with duct tape and bits of string. It’s a little bit scary. I’ve stopped taking the elevator except when I’m carrying something heavy. I live on the sixth floor. One of my neighbors who has an elderly dog complained to the management. They told her the elevator would cost over $100,000.00 to fix. I just learned this yesterday and now I’m terrified of the elevator, knowing that there is something seriously wrong with it and the landlord is not fixing it because they don’t want to spend the money. There’s an English bulldog whose legs are too short to handle the stairs. His owner has to carry him when the elevator breaks. He tells me the dog hates it. Fortunately, he’s a big guy. And to think that I toyed with the idea of getting a dog when I moved in here. (Note to self: Chihuahuas have their good points.)

In short, I think this building is an accident waiting to happen. I’ve contacted the city about some of these problems. It’s hard, however, to communicate an overall pattern of neglect. I’m going to write a letter to the city just to keep my conscience clear. If anything happened and someone got injured I’d regret not saying anything though I doubt anything will come of it. Then, self-preservation kicks in and I move myself out of here.

That’s the good news. I found a lovely new place not too far away. They probably thought I was a bit nuts because I insisted on taking a look at the basement and other places people normally don’t go. I looked on the city website to see if there were any complaints. Once burned, twice shy.

Hmmm… I was originally going to write about making drapes.

Yes! We’re making drapes again. Fun times.