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The Daily Journal: Monday, February 19, 2007

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NASCAR Notions
Xenophobia 500

Nationalism rising

I’m writing this as Cheryl and I are watching our first Daytona 500 from start to—assuming we make it through the next 114 laps—finish. It would also be the first NASCAR race we’ve ever watched entire even though we’ve lived upwind of the Daytona Speedway going on seven years. It’s like being a Florida resident and never making it to Disney (although we finally surrendered to Disney’s lure this winter). One of these days we’ll make it to the race track. It has to be one of those pilgrimage things, although it will be more out of cultural obligation than pure enthusiasm. Stillalthough I should make this clear: I admire the drivers’ skill, their athleticism, their astounding endurance, and I can see why these races can be absorbing. It won’t be the last time I watch by any means. Nevertheless, two myths I’ve never bought into: That Nascar has anything whatsoever to do with “stock cars,” and that Nascar has traveled a long way out of its good ol’ boy southern mentality of heritage racism. It has spread its tracks all over the North, Midwest and West.

“Just as Southern-style politics migrated to the rest of the country during the Republican resurgence of the late 1980s and 1990s, so has Nascar’s reactionary mindset: It’s not the rest of the country that modulated southern chauvinism; it’s southern chauvinism that constipated the rest of the country.”

But just as Southern-style politics has migrated to all those regions during the Republican resurgence of the late 1980s and 1990s, so has Nascar’s reactionary mindset: It’s not the rest of the country that modulated southern chauvinism; it’s southern chauvinism that constipated the rest of the country. Some moderating appearances are inevitable. Nascar has its more varied fan base. It’s drawn its share of Asians and liberals in California, the occasional black in the Midwest or Daytona, a few Sunbelt Hispanics. It makes sure that blacks are peppered all over the television commercials. But what the Toyota flap proved was that the odious, the racist, the xenophobic and the sheer ignorant is still very much part of the Nascar language. As Michael Yaki noted in the Times on Saturday, the word “chink” has been “flying fast and furious in many Nascar-related forums and chat rooms. It offends me so much I cannot even abbreviate it here. One person wrote that ‘we don’t need any foreign nameplate in Nascar.’ Others have taken up the ‘if you love them so much go live in Japan’ theme and, curiously, wondered that if the Iraqis built a car would drivers of Japanese cars ‘become fans of the terrorists?’” His most salient point is one that could be made regarding so many aspects of American culture nowadays: “Nationalism and pride in one’s country can be admirable traits. Nationalism, however, is the razor’s edge in the American psyche, where just a push turns it into xenophobia. Nascar, like so many professional sports before it, may soon be faced with a situation where deliberate ignorance of simmering prejudice is not an option.” The problem is that Nascar hasn’t taken an uncompromising—that is, public, relentless and unmistakable—stance against the simmering prejudice, because it’s trying to play both sides of the fence: appeal to the large fan base’s base xenophobic and racist instincts while at the same time marketing the sport, for all the obvious profits the expansions would rake in, to Japan and Latin America by “opening” it to the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya, the Formula One champion from Colombia, and Toyota. But how is it that Toyota’s entry into Nascar is taking place in February 2007, when it should have taken place years ago? And why only Toyota? What on earth, if not prejudice disguised as tradition, not to mention fear, is keeping French or Italian or German cars from entering the fray? (As if it takes much guessing which car would win when a BMW and a GM product face off. One answer is in the stock tables.) I am rooting for Montoya and Toyota driver Michael Waltrip, naturally (it’s the immigrant in me) although both of them are currently having a ménage à trios with last place. Then again, speaking of German ironies: Kurt Busch, currently in first place, is driving a Dodge—owned not so much by Chrysler as Germany’s Daimler. But don’t tell that to the fans, to whom ignorance, when it comes to Nascar’s eugenics, is full-throttle bliss.

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Ohdave's Sunday Reading
Stephen Kuusisto

Reader's best friend

From Ohdave at Into My Own: “I like to think of myself as a close observer of life, the world, strangers, travelers waiting for their flight, teenagers talking at the mall, couples at a restaurant. I realize after reading Stephen Kuusisto's Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening how much I have to learn. As Kuusisto teaches us, experiencing the world by ear means much more than just catching bits of conversation here and there in parks and crowds. It means drawing from the clues of sound an inference about one's surroundings, and even more, recognizing the beauty and complexity of life. As Kuusisto explains in his preface:

Veteran blind people know that it's possible to sight-see by ear, for we do it all the time. Alone in unfamiliar hotel lobbies, we survey our surroundings and hear in the ambient curves of architecture a hundred oddities. We hear the movements of strangers; hear their laughter; hear pennies dropped in the Hilton's fountain; the bristles of a shoeshine brush; the wings of a pigeon that has made its way indoors. The blind hear all this while they're locating the chiming bells of the elevators.

This introduction prepares the reader for a memoir of imagery (which in a poetic sense of course means language appealing to the senses)--a highly physical memoir of conversation, music, colors, and touch, as well as a memoir of self, of feeling, of personal growth, of gradual acceptance and understanding of the world. Those expecting a memoir of the blind that details the struggles of blindness, its manifold incoveniences and the injustices the visual world imposes on the visually impaired, will be disappointed. This memoir aims for something higher. Kuusisto is not interested here in describing the pains of blindness (although they become apparent enough) but in the development of his considerable skills at listening to nature, the city, and music, and describing what he hears and feels in elegant, poetic prose. See the full piece at Into My Own...

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Tales of Misconduct
Taser Madness: Flagler Legal

For the citizen's safety

A judge and the State Attorney’s office are restoring a little sanity in the case of the 17-year-old student a sheriff’s deputy shot with a Taser, in the student’s classroom, two weeks ago. (See the case background here). It turns out that a circuit judge in 2006 ordered the boy, then 15, into a “moderate-risk residential program for delinquent teens.” He’d been violent enough with his mother—throwing a cordless phone at her (she ducked) and stealing her credit cards—that she’d called 911 on a couple of occasions, leading to charges against him and the judge’s order: it was clear even then that it wasn’t punishment he needed, but help. The assistant state attorney in court on Thursday made that very point. He never went to a residential program because there wasn’t a bed available for him: so it goes with our social services. Help for delinquency is a luxury, when it should be a basic service. No help for the kid? Throw him back out on his own, let him fend for himself against the usual structures and strictures of a different kind of arrested development: that of police thuggery posing as school discipline. I can hear the local nattering brigades, in this liberally reactionary county of ours, taking the student’s violent past as vindication for their punishing judgments and his tasering: Look, he attacked his mother, he has a record, he’s a felon, and so on. They’ll point to the teacher’s reaction as more vindication for the deputy’s reaction (“scared” is how the latest story has the teacher in class, even though the teacher in his witness statement at no point indicated anything resembling fright; oh, how time facilitates self-serving embellishment). So goes the wagon-circling, although it was good to see the state attorney and the judge attempting to knock back a little sense into the situation: the student’s history changes nothing about the incident itself. It was mishandled. He should never have been tasered. The fact that he shouldn’t have been in the classroom in the first place suggests that the school obviously knew of his past, obviously knew of his instability, and obviously should have invoked more guarded and less inflaming, not more violent, means of subduing him. A Taser shot of course is always the easiest recourse. Who knows, maybe Scott Vedder, the deputy who tasered him, and who had previous run-ins with him outside of school, wasn’t using his taser on him for the first time. The newspaper also ran a column by a former special education teacher with thirty-three years’ experience who doesn’t mince words:

I have been following, with more than a passing interest, the story line concerning the use of a Taser against a Flagler County special education student. It is a familiar scene with an added twist. I can tell you that after spending more than 35,000 hours with this type of student, I can offer one indisputable conclusion: Cops do not belong in schools, period. End of argument. Teachers take four to six years in college, additional in-service training, then add countless hours of professional experience in learning how to deal effectively with behavior problems. With rare exceptions, administrators—and least of all police—have neither the training nor the one-to-one interaction that is required to make the correct, split-second decisions necessary to defuse a potentially volatile scenario. An example would be the increasingly more prevalent occurrences of in-school violence. In schools where emotionally disturbed students are the only pupils, these things are much rarer. That is because their staff members know what to look for, what to do and when to do it. In addition, the more the kids see the police, the less of a quieting effect it has on them. It seems to me that in the Flagler Palm Coast High School Taser incident, the school followed the correct protocols, up to the point where they called the police officer. After you clear the class and take away his audience, what more can this kid do? […] Remove the focus of his anger—person, test, etc.—and wait for his mind to go on to something else. […] Even a slow learner, and I’m not talking about students here, should realize that escalating either of these episodes to the point that they lead to altercation and reports in The News- Journal, and national media too, is not the desired outcome. Schools should be educational settings, for heaven’s sake, not a place for children to be treated like criminals. [See the full column...]

But we’re living in times when police and “authorities”’ assumptions are such that in any given unusually situation pitting an individual against authorities, the individuals is automatically a suspect, a danger to be controlled at all costs.

Previous pieces in this series:

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From the Editorial Board
The Feith Channel

Feith-based follies

From the News-Journal: “At the time in 2002, the public face of the Bush administration was still talking as if it was doing everything possible to avoid a war with Iraq. In reality, plans for an invasion were so solid by August of that year—seven months before the invasion and months before the administration went to the United Nations to make the case for war—that Pentagon planners already had a slide show about what Iraq would look like post-invasion, in 2006: It would be democratic. It would be stable. It would be a staunch American ally. And no more than 5,000 American troops would be stationed there. (You can see the slideshow at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, nsarchive.org.) Armed with rosy myths like that, Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense at the time—and a chief architect of the invasion—could make the case to President Bush that attacking Saddam Hussein would be easy and rewarding. [Opposing] views never made it to the president’s ears, which Vice President Dick Cheney waxed with gate-keeping of his own. What views he did let through were those of Douglas Feith, an aide to Rumsfeld and the person chiefly responsible for coordinating policy between national security agencies. […] As the Guardian, the British newspaper, reported in July 2003, the Office of Special Plans was set up “to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice President Dick Cheney.” The approach directly clashed with the way the intelligence community is designed to work. That mission was set out by Ronald Reagan in a 1981 executive order: “All reasonable and lawful means must be used to ensure that the United States will receive the best intelligence available,” the order stated, while maximum emphasis should be given to fostering analytical competition among appropriate elements of the intelligence community. “All agencies and departments should seek to ensure full and free exchange of information in order to derive maximum benefit from the United States intelligence effort.” That’s not how Feith, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush understood intelligence.” [See the full editorial]

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"You Never Will get Protection from the Federal Government"
Malcolm X, Not Quite on FEMA

It only takes looking past Malcolm's strange fixation on Elijah Muhammad, which he finally did look past. Beyond that, Malcolm's words are still contemporary—if not necessarily applicable exclusively to blacks; keep in mind that toward the end of his life he did repudiate, on pragmatic more than heartfelt grounds, the notion of "complete separation."

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Rush of the Day
Homage to Presidents' Day

Courtesy of Fleshbot

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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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