Obama releases birth certificate, calls racists “silly”

Barack Obama finally addressed concerns that he had not been born in the United States:

“Yes, in fact, I was born in Hawaii, August 4, 1961, in Kapiolani Hospital,” Obama said in the White House briefing room, looking somewhat incredulous to be making such a statement.

Hawaiian officials, a short-form official birth certificate, local newspaper reports of his birth and fact-checking expeditions by news media long ago had confirmed his Hawaiian birth, but some conservative politicians and media commentators refused to accept it.

“Normally, I would not comment on something like this,” Obama said, but he said he felt compelled to try to put the issue to rest after questions about his birth certificate drowned out news coverage of the deficit crisis.

“We do not have time for this kind of silliness,” the president said. “We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.”[1]

The real problem here is not about dignity or whether presidents or presidential candidates should be required to produce birth certificates. It is that Barack Obama has mislabeled racism as silliness.

Racism is not “silly.”

  1. [1]Margaret Talev, “Obama releases birth certificate, calls for end to ‘silliness'”, Sacramento Bee, April 28, 2011, http://www.sacbee.com/2011/04/28/3584737/obama-releases-birth-certificate.html

My Generation

I remember when I was in high school in the mid-1970s, there was a vote one day on whether physical education classes should continue to be required courses. This wasn’t about whether or not they would continue to be offered but whether or not they would be required. Anyone interested in freedom should have naturally voted to allow students to make their own choices.

That wasn’t how it came out. My classmates were adamant that everyone must take P.E.

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Advertising as the opiate of the consumer?

Fig. 1: Bus shelter at McAllister and Polk, San Francisco.
Fig. 1: Bus shelter at McAllister and Polk, San Francisco.
Her face is featureless, expressionless, vacant. She looks blankly upwards and to her left at something unknown. She appears as if she has been tossed into her position like a doll. Accessories are next to her in no particular order. She is just one more object in a photograph full of objects.

The caption says to “meet Maria — and her matchless style” at some web site. Why? Will we have virtual sex with a young woman whose appearance suggests that to the extent she is at all real, she is on some kind of opiate? Does anyone really want to “match” her “style?”

This advertisement has been up for—I’m guessing—about three weeks at Polk and McAllister in San Francisco. I noticed it before, was shocked, and not at all allured. Today, I took a photograph.

But I’m wondering about a society where this advertisement should be in the least bit enticing, where young women might want to look as if they had been tossed against a wall like rag dolls, albeit with fantasy bodies. Have our senses been so dulled?

And then I remember: the Arab world is in a state of uprising. In contrast, the working and middle classes in the United States have apparently been pacified with the illusions of wealth on TV.[1] We’re happy with our Wal-Mart jobs, satisfied that our children will be even less prosperous than we are, and when—on the rare occasions we ever get angry—we lash out, we do so viciously, only at other people who have been victimized to an even greater extent by the system.[2]

And then I understand. Maria, the model in the picture, is selling to us because that’s who we have become.

  1. [1]Charles A. Reich, The Greening of America (New York: Crown, 1970).
  2. [2]Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart: Social Inequalities in a Global Economy (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).

Positivism and “facts”

A guest blog on Scientific American lumps opponents of nuclear power and people who resist vaccines together with those who deny climate change or fear fluoride in drinking water:

You can plug in any issue where passion seems to trump science; climate change, or vaccines, or fluoride, or food irradiation. While denying scientific evidence is irrational in one sense, it is entirely rational in the sense that the brain’s job is not to do physics or chemistry or math or win Nobel Prizes. Its job is to help us survive.

And strengthening the tribe on which we social animals depend is a rational way to help achieve that fundamental goal. So it is a form of science denial for rationalists to deny the evidence of what cultural cognition suggests about what “rational” really means.[1]

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  1. [1]David Ropeik, “Trains, nukes, marriage, and vaccines (and anything else): Why the facts don’t matter,” Scientific American, April 22, 2011, http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=trains-nukes-marriage-and-vaccines-2011-04-22

Learning from Libya

My position on intervention in Libya has been problematic from the beginning. I want Libya’s rebels to succeed; on their own, they manifestly cannot, and worse, in the absence of intervention, they seem to face extermination. But I am also frustrated with an approach to world events in which war seems to be the only solution—as if the U.S. military is some kid’s hammer and all problems are nails.[1]

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  1. [1]David Benfell, “An eye for an eye in Libya,” DisUnitedStates.org, February 21, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2105; David Benfell, “Armchair warriors thumping their chests,” DisUnitedStates.org, March 31, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2268; David Benfell, “Armchair warriors find a mudpit,” DisUnitedStates.org, April 3, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=2278; David Benfell, “No refuge at home,” DisUnitedStates.org, April 17, 2011, http://disunitedstates.org/?p=3379

Back to the future in race and gender relations

I’m pretty sure I was still an undergraduate at CSU East Bay when I asked my then-favorite professor, an African-American, how, when so many parallels could be drawn between present and historical events, he could believe that the country was progressing. He replied by pointing to his own presence at the head of the class. He said that in the 1960s, it would be impossible for a black man to be a professor. He’s a full professor, fully tenured—a decision the administration of that university undoubtedly rues—and has served as department chair at least twice.

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Desperate even for McJobs

A McDonalds’ hiring day event “was marred by a brawl between jobseekers in the car park, which left three people injured. Two women fought each other inside a car causing it to jolt into reverse, ploughing into bystanders.”[1] “The company [was] making a well-publicized push to hire 50,000 workers Tuesday. However, McDonald’s usually staffs up for summer anyway. A spokeswoman says last year, McDonald’s hired 50,000 employees throughout April.”[2] Read more

  1. [1]Haroon Siddique, “McDonald’s hiring day attracts thousands of US jobseekers,” Guardian, April 20, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/apr/20/mcdonalds-hiring-day-attracts-jobseekers
  2. [2]Associated Press, “McDonald’s Hiring Spree Seeks To Change Perception of ‘McJobs’,” Huffington Post, April 19, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/19/mcdonalds-hiring-change-mcjobs_n_850920.html

Just business

According to the Wall Street Journal, multinational corporations

cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show. That’s a big switch from the 1990s, when they added jobs everywhere: 4.4 million in the U.S. and 2.7 million abroad.[1]

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  1. [1]David Wessel, “Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad,” Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2011, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704821704576270783611823972.html

Marketing Climate Change

Someone asked me the other day, with the quality of information the elite have access to, why don’t they feel the urgency about climate change that many climatologists do? I replied that I thought that out of sense of greed, they simply felt it was the next generation’s problem, and that they were simply out to make as much money as they can in the time that they have left in this life, as their parents did and expected them to do.

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