Friday, July 01, 2005

Friday cat blogging

This is my cat, KT, shortly after we got her in November 1988. KT stood for "Kitty Trouble" -- she had a mischievous spirit, which included hiding in boxes and riding on my shoulders.

That mellowed in a few short years, of course. Other than her fondness for sharpening her claws on the plastic sheaths of my album collection, she really wasn't much trouble at all. She became a mellow, pleasant cat who was a terrific mouser and simultaneously a saint around small children, who loved to maul her. This was an important trait when we brought our own little cat mauler into the home in 2001, just when KT was getting old and little crotchety; though a little leery at first, she soon adopted my daughter as a friend and took to taking naps with her.

She also was my constant companion when I was writing. She had a knack for jumping into my lap at about the moment I needed a break and insisting on a head rub or back scratch, and otherwise lounging in the box with a blanket it in I placed atop my desk for her.

Cats can live to ripe old ages, and KT lived till she was 17. We almost lost her a year and a half ago when her kidneys started failing and she developed an internal infection, but we managed to pull her back. A couple of weeks ago, a similar infection hit again, and this time we weren't so fortunate; she gradually went into an irreversible decline and became just a little shadow of her former self. This last Monday, I took her in and held her and stroked her and talked to her while they administered the fatal shot.

I'm not sure how long I'll miss her, but I think it will be a long time. We're not getting another (my wife has become allergic to cats), and I'm not eager to do so anyway. She was my friend, and they don't replace easily. She had a sweet, gentle, and affectionate soul. And I think what tears me up the most is that I don't think I was ever adequately able to thank her for sharing it with us.

I haven't ever Friday cat blogged before (I always thought she would be annoyed by the intrusion on her privacy), and I won't again. But I hope she won't mind this little tribute, and this little way of saying: Thanks, KT.

The spectrum of hate

It's appearing likely that recent shooting death in Seattle -- a popular tennis coach gunned down by a West Seattle roadside -- was, judging by the Seattle Times report, in fact a black-on-white hate crime:
Two days before Newport High School tennis coach Mike Robb was shot to death while driving in West Seattle, the 18-year-old suspected of killing him was walking around a nearby neighborhood with a shotgun and said that he "wanted to kill a white man," an acquaintance said yesterday.

The acquaintance, Greg Triggs, also 18, said he took a box of shotgun shells from the suspect, Samson Berhe, who was with a friend who also was armed with a shotgun. Triggs said he briefly kept one of the shotguns.

Triggs said Berhe "was always talking crazy like that." He said he didn't take the threats seriously or call police.

A similar report was made last night by KIRO-7 television. It seems the teen wasn't the only one reporting that the suspect had made these threats:
Neighbors told KIRO 7 Eyewitness News the teen said he had a grudge against white people.

"He always say that he (was) gonna kill all the white people in the world," said Anna Bell Perkins. "Samson had, like, some sort of complex against Caucasian people. And he said he wanted to kill them all and told me I could watch," said another neighbor.

The P-I report has further details:
Samson Berhe twisted up his face, drooled and spoke in different voices to the two detectives questioning him about the shooting of a popular tennis coach, at one point flexing his muscles and challenging them to a fight.

In court documents filed yesterday, police say the teen called the detectives "all you haters," and, when asked to explain what he meant, punctuated his reply with an expletive: "all you ... white people!"

Berhe is now charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mike Robb, a popular Newport High School tennis coach who was shot Sunday in his car in West Seattle. Berhe was taken from King County's youth center to the adult jail yesterday, his 18th birthday.

Seattle police -- who'd dealt with the teen five times in the week before the shooting -- say he'd told neighbors he wanted to kill a white person or a police officer. One neighbor said Berhe, who is black, claimed at least a dozen times that he was "going to kill all the white people."

One of his friends -- a man whom police encountered with Berhe just hours before the shooting -- recalled Berhe stating it as an apparent mission:

"I got to shoot a cop or shoot a white person, you know, before I leave this world."

It's worth noting, of course, that none of these reports discuss this as a hate crime. That's fairly typical of the real lack of understanding among most working journalists of the nature of hate crimes.

Judging from the facts we know so far, this is an extremely disturbing case. The victim, a highly regarded Newport High tennis coach named Mike Robb, evidently pulled over on his way back from officiating an event on the other side of Puget Sound to assist the suspect, who it appears was faking automotive distress, and then hit him point blank in the head with a shotgun. It doesn't get much lower than that.

However, according to the Times report, there may have been a little more than just racial hatred at play:
Triggs' 46-year-old mother, Kelly, said Berhe was troubled. "He'd get all drugged up and say he was the Messiah," she said. "He'd say he wanted to see what it was like to kill someone."

Similarly, there's this in the P-I report:
Meanwhile, information from police and court papers show a teen with mental health problems. A week before the shooting, Berhe's mother told officers that the teen's doctor had taken him off his medication for mental illness, according to police.

These cases always become more complicated when there is a mental-illness issue involved, as there was in the Buford Furrow case. In one case in Montana, involving a mentally ill white man who walked up and gunned down a black man at rest stop in front of his family, no hate-crime charges were ever pursued; the man was simply institutionalized in the state mental hospital.

Regardless of the outcome in terms what kind of justice the perpetrator will face, this story drives home one of the real truths about hatred -- not just racial hatred, but all kinds of hatred of The Other: It is a festering toxin that infects all our lives and brings ruin to our homes.

It brings to mind another recent case involving a hate crime in an Illinois suburb:
Two men face hate crime charges in connection with the beating of two teenagers last week at the Illinois Beach State Park in suburban Zion.
Prosecutors say 29-year-old Patrick Langballe and 20-year-old Aaron Rush attacked two teenaged girls after the girls told the men they were lesbians. Officials say the men told the girls they were part of a neo-Nazi group.

Langballe is from north suburban Winnetka. He was convicted of vandalism charges after painting swastikas on a temple in Northfield back in 1997.

There's a similar report from a CBS affiliate:
Officials say one of the men made a sexual advance toward one of the girls when she told him she was a lesbian and in a relationship with the other girl.

The suspects allegedly told the girls they were Nazi skinheads and did not like homosexuals.

A fight broke out and left one girl with minor injuries.

This is, of course, only a relatively minor assault. But what's noteworthy about this is that neo-Nazis are typically understood to attack blacks and other ethnic minorities, especially Jews. That is, we tend to think of their hatred as primarily racial and ethnic hatred.

This is why, I think, so many evangelicals feel safe waging a holy war against homosexuals: that's a different kind of discrimination, they claim. It's based on moral beliefs, they argue -- as have, of course, centuries' worth of other haters, both racial and religious.

What all these stories sadly underscore is something we often forget: hate is no respecter of boundaries. It comes in all shapes and colors. Once the poison of xenophobic hatred contaminates the community well, it crosses those boundaries in ways that cannot be predicted, except for their inevitably awful outcomes.

It's always worth remembering that the chief practitioners of this kind of hatred for most of the history of this country have been white Christians. But the truth is that racial, ethnic, and religious hatred have been with us for most of the history of mankind. Hate begets hate begets hate. Who knows where it started?

All we do know is that, if we want it to stop, we need to break the cycle of hate. If we want it to end it, we have to end it now.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Some notes on Strawberry Days

Well, things are starting to bubble up for my new book, Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community, released earlier this month by Palgrave Macmillan.

I'm still waiting for the first newspaper reviews to begin appearing (the Seattle Times review is scheduled for July 10). In the meantime, both Sasha at Left in SF and Richard Estes at American Leftist -- who recently interviewed me on his KDVS-FM radio show -- have published nice reviews of the book on their respective blogs.

A couple of notes on these: Sasha mentions that she wishes the book had more about the actual camp experience. It's a reasonable point; I had a great deal more material I could have used on that account. But this aspect of the story is probably the one that has been written about most extensively, including such classics of the genre as Monica Sone's Nisei Daughter and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston's Farewell to Manzanar. For narrative purposes, I decided to provide primarily a broad overview of the camp experience, combined with a number of telling details from the experiences of my interviewees.

Richard mentions another aspect of the book:
Perhaps, Neiwert's most impressive achievement is an understated tone that allows the experiences of his Nisei interviewees to shine. In this instance, narrative style possesses an importance beyond the literary. Anyone with the most glancing familiarity with a Japanese American community is aware that a publicly low-key, modest demeanor (regardless of the actual truth in private) was considered de rigeur. Modernist and post-modernist methods of storytelling may be a creative way of producing a ground breaking biography of John Brown, sociological insight into the history of Los Angeles or a compelling oral history of the Spanish Civil War, but utilizing such techniques to describe the Japanese American community of Bellevue would have been a grave cultural error.

I wish I had in fact been this thoughtful in my approach, but the truth is that I kept the writing as spare and direct as I could for a couple of reasons: (1) I didn't want my writing to get in the way of the story that my interviewees had to tell, and I wanted it to reflect the tone of their own telling of the story; (2) that's how I strive to write generally. I'm something of a product of the Norman Maclean/Raymond Carver school of writing, and this book -- produced over many years as it was -- is probably the most polished piece I've published. No doubt my long exposure to the cultural inclinations of my subjects helped me along the way, though.

I should also mention another signing event, this one on Thursday, July 14, at the Panama Hotel Cafe in Seattle's International District, sponsored by Kinokuniya Books. I'm very excited about this one because of the historicity of the locale -- it's a very cool old building -- and the likelihood that a number of folks who were in the camps are likely to be in the audience. Many thanks to Takami Nieda at Kinokuniya for setting this one up.

Finally, I'm trying to cobble together a self-sponsored West Coast tour, and I'm proceeding with arrangements for signings in the Bay Area and San Diego. But I'd like to ask my readers for help in two other locales: Portland and Los Angeles.

The problem in Portland is that Powell's completely dominates the author-event scene there, and they've evidently decided I'm not important enough to host; when I inquired about a signing at one of their stores, they informed me they received too many requests and were declining. So, for my Portland readers who'd like to see me do a signing there, I have two requests:

-- Contact Powell's and urge them to reconsider. You can either call their main number (503-228-4651) or e-mail the person in charge of author events:

-- Failing that, I'd like some suggestions for another bookstore with enough size to host an author event. So far I haven't found one.

Finally, in Los Angeles, the number of bookstores is overwhelming. I'm wondering if any of my LA-area readers could suggest some stores to inquire with.

Thanks, and happy reading.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Who's weak on terror?

One of the cornerstones of the Republican attack on liberals as "weak on terrorism" -- voiced most notoriously by Karl Rove last week, but really a constant and building theme since 9/11 -- is the notion that the Bush administration has been aggressive and "resolute" in tackling this threat.

Like most Republican themes these days, it is unadulterated bullshit. It pretends that the arrogant imposition of a long-planned policy is the same as resolve, and that the careless use of military power is the same as aggressiveness. It also pretends that all of these, somehow, are an adequate substitute for real competence.

The reality is that the Bush administration has foregone a serious and effective campaign against terrorism by pursuing an unrelated military misadventure that will, in the long run, weaken our national defense -- especially against terrorist attacks.

I've made this point several times previously. The recent resurgence of the "liberals are weak on terror" theme -- inspired, no doubt, by the Bush administration's reported panic over its sinking poll numbers and the steady drumbeat of worsening news out of Iraq -- makes it even more pertinent.

Most people with real experience in combating terrorism are perfectly aware of this. They know that, before 9/11 Bush did not take terrorism seriously (and if there was any question of that, we need only reflect briefly on the remarkable record of inaction -- except, of course, for brush-clearing on the Bush ranch -- after the Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Briefing). They also know that after 9/11, he hasn't approached it seriously either. Bush has chosen instead to use "terra" as a club for advancing his political agenda while continually undermining and ignoring the difficult and intricate work that fighting terrorism in a serious fashion requires.

One of these people is former FBI agent Mike German, who specialized in cracking domestic-terrorism plots. I've posted on German's work previously. He recently sat for an interview with Amy Goodman (which should be read in its entirety) in which he said this:
I don't think that, you know, you're ever going to stop terrorism. You know, and part of the problem is, we use one word to describe very many different things, you know, whether it's the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, or the D.C. snipers or, you know, organized white supremacist groups and organized foreign terrorist groups. We're certainly never going to stop terrorism altogether. You know, I think we just have to try to do the best we can to prevent as many acts as we can, and it requires really a lot of proactive work. And I think one of the big problems is after 9/11, there was generated this idea that criminal law enforcement is somehow ineffective in preventing terrorist attacks.

Well, my two cases prove that you could prevent terrorist attacks. I mean, in both of my cases, we actually used criminal law enforcement techniques to prevent acts of terrorism. And unfortunately, the way the intelligence reform has gone has moved from criminal law enforcement to this intelligence model. Well, you know, basically the problem in 9/11 was the American public had no idea how dysfunctional the F.B.I. counterterrorism program had become, but now we're under this intelligence model, we actually know even less about what the government is doing to protect us from terrorism. You know, there's less accountability in the F.B.I., and I certainly know that there are problems, and I reported those problems to Congress, but so far, Congress hasn't been able to even get to the bottom of what I reported to them over a year ago.

So, there's just no oversight, and those things are really the problems. And until we fix what is internally wrong in the F.B.I., I don't think it's going to change. I think that we're still at great risk. You know, the 9/11 Commission found that the big problems were the F.B.I. had a poor ability to analyze intelligence that was coming in from the street, that they didn't share information well, and they didn't have a computerized system to share information, even among agents. And just last week, the 9/11 Commission discourse project came out and told us that -- gave us their report card, and it was that the F.B.I. still doesn't have an analytic capability, it still isn't sharing information in the intelligence community, and it still doesn't have a computer system. That's four years after 9/11.

So when attack dogs like Rush Limbaugh and Rove accuse Democrats of being "soft on terrorism" and remark: "Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," it is yet another mirror-image, Bizarro World reversal of reality.

The reality: When liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attack, they wanted to prepare an effective, nimble response combining military action with intelligence-gathering and law enforcement, as well as addressing the root causes of terrorism; conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and simply prepared to sell George W. Bush as a "war president."

Turns out they were pretty good at that. But fighting terror? These guys make Larry, Moe and Curly look like icons of competence.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The hunting of the liberals

This bumper sticker was spotted by Left in SF over the weekend -- disturbingly, on an SUV parked among a crowd of cars out for a gay-pride rally.

These "permits" have been around for awhile now, mostly circulating on the fringes of the far right, but they've been increasingly making their way into broader circulation. One of the Minutemen described in Andy Isaacson's mash letter to that extremist phenomenon sported just such a sticker on his rig.

The people sporting such stickers, no doubt, will contend that it's just a joke -- as though such a fig leaf could disguise the violent attitudes and beliefs required to find it humorous. Next they'll argue that stickers saying "Hitler Needed to Finish the Job" are just meant to be funny.

This is, of course, just another permutation of the rising tide of eliminationist rhetoric directed at liberals. It's everywhere -- including now, thanks to Karl Rove, the highest echelons of the Bush administration.

I can't say I was terribly surprised by Rove's remarks, but they are well worth noting for their precise content:
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Mr. Rove, the senior political adviser to President Bush, said at a fund-raiser in Midtown for the Conservative Party of New York State.

Citing calls by progressive groups to respond carefully to the attacks, Mr. Rove said to the applause of several hundred audience members, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble."

...Mr. Rove also said American armed forces overseas were in more jeopardy as a result of remarks last week by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who compared American mistreatment of detainees to the acts of "Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others."

"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

Rather predictably, the right, from Michelle Malkin to Tom DeLay, has closed ranks and defended Rove's remarks as "the truth." (Malkin says Rove distilled "the fundamental difference between the left and the right's approaches to terrorism in the wake of 9/11.")

But there should be no real surprise that Rove made these remarks. They've been a long time coming. I mean, Ann Coulter published Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism two years ago. Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism came out a year ago. Michael Savage published The Enemy Within: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Schools, Faith, and Military last year too. Meanwhile, there's been a steady drumbeat on the airwaves from Rush Limbaugh and his thousand little imitators making the same charges.

This is how propaganda is supposed to work: Circulate ideas on the popular level first, perhaps disguised as "humor" or "edgy commentary," until they become part of a broadly popular "conventional wisdom." Seemingly "outrageous" ideas gradually gain broader acceptance, leveraging the populace toward the movement's agenda. Then, when these notions are enunciated at the official and most powerful levels of government, any outrage that might be voiced is easily ignored. (Indeed, Rove's remarks are notable for being the embodiment of a panoply of propaganda techniques all rolled into one.)

Of course, I've been warning about the trend toward eliminationism for some time now. Some points I made in a more recent version of this are worth repeating:
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the resulting "war on terror" and subsequent invasion of Iraq all played major roles in fomenting this syndrome. At each step of the drama, liberals (increasingly defined as "anyone not in line with conservative movement dogma") in the media and elsewhere were accused of aiding and abetting the enemy, and increasingly became identified with the enemy. Manipulating a traumatized national psyche, the conservative movement throughout the drama began responding to its critics by mobilizing intimidation campaigns both from above and below, further shutting liberals off from national discourse, and doing their utmost to silence dissent, especially as its intiatives on a variety of fronts began producing grotesque disasters.

These campaigns played a decisive role in the way American journalists covered the misbegotten decision to invade Iraq, an invasion we now know was based on false pretenses. ...

What's important to understand is what the nature of these appeals -- and their self-evident success -- tells us simultaneously about the nature of the audience. Because the very nature of fundamentalist apocalypticism is profoundly dualist -- entirely contingent on a black-and-white Manichean worldview -- it is clear that the majority of at least the religious followers of the conservative movement are what is known as "totalists".

Fundamental to understanding totalitarianism is realizing that, contrary to the "brainwashing" model in which the totalitarian regime is imposed on a society from without and against their will, the reality is that nearly every totalitarian regime in history has succeeded because of the avid and willing participation of citizens eager to be its subjects.

As I've gone on to explain elsewhere, the emergence of Manichean totalism in the American electorate has become unmistakable in recent months. The open embrace of eliminationist rhetoric by the Bush administration, after years of propagandization by right-wing agitators that made this possible, raises the stakes to genuinely serious levels.

"Liberal hunting licenses" are only the ground-level expression of this rhetoric. If these sentiments were confined to a few bumper stickers by a handful of nutjobs, they might not be cause for concern. But there's a clear connection between Limbaugh's eliminationism aimed at liberals and its more explicit manifestations, just as there's a connection between Limbaugh's rhetoric and Rove's.

There are historical antecedents to this particular motif from right-wing hatemongers as well. The Klan and Aryan Nations, for instance, used to commonly circulate similar "nigger hunting license" as "jokes" (some dating back to the lynching era).

And then there were these, available in Seattle back in 1944:

And, lest we forget, it's perhaps helpful to observe what happened to the targets of these previous "hunting licenses":

We may comfort ourselves with the easy dismissal of such "jokes" as mere crude humor. But they are a signal of something much deeper, and much more dangerous.