The Marsh in Snow

W.J. Astore

Yesterday, I got out on the marsh during the snow. The landscape was much changed from the previous photos!

New snow planet
This part of the marsh made me think of a nasty trench in the lowlands during World War I
There’s an austerity or bleakness to this photo
At home, a coating of white makes everything look fresh and new
Another month until spring!

Donations — and Forgive the Ads

W.J. Astore

If Bruce Springsteen can make a commercial for Jeep aired during the Super Bowl, I can start accepting a few dollars for content at Bracing Views. (Donations are voluntary.)

Seriously, I’ve been running Bracing Views for five years, and before that I ran The Contrary Perspective, without ever asking for donations or bothering readers with ads.

But site costs are rising, and I suppose I should be open to earning some money for the site.

So I’ve added a PayPal button for $12.00 donations (a buck a month: what a deal!), but it’s purely voluntary. Many thanks if you choose to donate, but no worries if you don’t. These are tough times for many people.

Also, you may now see some ads when you visit the site.

Again, many thanks to all of you for following the site, and for reading and commenting as well.

P.S. I’m just another sellout like Bruce. 🙂

Update (3/29/21): The great donation/ad experiment is over. First, I’d like to thank everyone who chipped in $12.00. Enough people contributed to pay for my site fees and domain registration for the next two years. Hooray!

The ads are another story. Since my site is small, I was lucky to earn $10 a month from ads. And they’re annoying. So I got rid of them. I also removed the PayPal button. Feel free to reach out to me if you wish to contribute. I especially like gold and other precious metals, rare stamps, antique chess sets, fine watches, and bitcoin. Surely my writing is worth it? 🙂

Textures

W.J. Astore

A sunny day has me out in the field taking photographs. The general theme is nature’s textures. Here are a few images that nature gifted to me:

I’ve always loved tree rings.
Tree moss
Tree bark. So much character trees have
From trees to wood pilings and water
Earth and water and lots of organics — a sort of peat
Ice and sky and trees and water and sun

If you have the chance, get out and enjoy nature. She’s always giving us little gifts if we have time to pause, look around, and open our senses to her.

The Storming of the Capitol!

Let freedom ring!

W.J. Astore

It wasn’t exactly the storming of the Bastille or the sack of Rome, but yesterday’s scenes from the Capitol were disturbing enough to the self-avowed “most exceptional nation.”

If only the mob of protesters had shouted “We want affordable health care for all!” or “Racial equality!” or “Peace now!” or “Money for the poor!” instead of “USA! USA!” and “Trump! Trump!” as they marched through the Capitol on Wednesday.

But I suppose protesters who shout for health care, racial equity, and peace get clubbed and gassed, whereas Trump supporters by comparison get handled with kid gloves.

Trump, the law and order man, has always been unlawful, a man of disorder. As I wrote early in 2016, Trump disqualified himself from the presidency with his empty and dictatorial boasting. That he would incite a mob to gather at the Capitol to contest the election result was hardly surprising. What is surprising is how the Trump mob so easily breached the Capitol’s defenses, such as they were. In at least one case, it appears the police removed a barricade and let the pro-Trumpers in. Someone should be fired for this national humiliation.

It’s a small miracle that only one person was killed, an Air Force veteran who was reportedly shot in the neck as she tried to break into an inner chamber room. An avid Trump supporter who’d traveled from California, she’d be alive today if not for Trump’s selfish and reckless call for a protest at the Capitol.

Of course, predictable calls for Trump’s impeachment are coming from Squad members like AOC and Rashida Tlaib. Really. In two weeks, Trump leaves office. And you want to squander energy and time in yet another unsuccessful attempt to impeach him. At the same time, you won’t even fight for a vote on Medicare for all.

Once again, America will likely take the wrong lessons from these riots. The Capitol police will likely call for more money, more resources, more officers, more guns, more security cameras, more barricades, etc. There are already calls for more Internet censorship. Homeland Security funding will surely get a boost. And certain people will dismiss too easily the alienation and indignation of Trump supporters.

What I mean is this: Americans are upset. Angry. Alienated. Confused. And rightly so. And until our government serves the people instead of corporate, financial, and similar lobbyists and special interests, the potential for future mobs will remain. Donald Trump is a total buffoon, a shell of a man, a narcissist with ambitions centered always on himself and his self-image. But imagine a more skilled manipulator, one less narrowly focused on himself, one with a stronger work ethic, one with boundless ambition for power. Such a person could truly lead an insurrection or coup, and yesterday’s scenes suggest such a takeover would be easier than we think.

The answer is not more guns, more security, more police, nor is it impeachment. The answer is a government accountable to the people and for the people. If we don’t want our government to perish from this earth, it needs to be of the people, by the people, for the people. But it’s not, and until it is, a repeat of yesterday’s scenes, but on a much larger and more violent scale, will remain a possibility.

Who wouldn’t want a “Speaker of the House” podium?

Finding Solace in Nature

W.J. Astore

I write a lot about politics and war, and both are depressing and frustrating subjects here in the USA. But I’m not an intense political junkie, nor am I closely following all of America’s wars. If I were, I might be clinically depressed.

I’m sure my readers find purpose and comfort in something other than America’s tragic political scene and its endless wars. One thing I like to do is pick up my camera and go for walks. And since I live near a salt marsh, there’s always opportunities to take photos of nature.

Here are a few that I took this AM:

Come, sit, let us reason together
A flash of blue below my feet
The marsh at low tide. A warm and windy morning.
Sentinels
Your kindly photographer

I’ve been taking photographs since high school, where I took a photography class and developed my own film (black and white). I had a basic 35mm camera for the longest time. I think I bought my first digital camera about 15 years ago. It’s a hobby and I’m strictly an amateur with the most basic equipment, but I truly enjoy getting outside and taking pictures. The camera forces me to slow down and look more closely; to abide in nature, if you will.

I hope you enjoy these “bracing views” and that you also have a way of escaping, a place of solace.

Our New Facebook Page

W.J. Astore

Bracing Views has a new Facebook page, as follows: https://www.facebook.com/Bracing-Views-100104955252693/ or click here.

For several years I’ve been using the Facebook page for The Contrary Perspective to post BV articles, links to other articles, cartoons, photos, opinions, and the like, all related to what I write about here. But with the growth of Bracing Views to nearly 1000 followers, it’s time I created a unique page for it.

If you’d like to stay abreast of articles, ideas, and so on that are related to what I write about here, and you can endure belonging to Facebook (All hail Lord Zuck!), please follow or like the new page. Many thanks!

And many thanks again to all the people who read and comment here. I’m sure I learn more from you than you do from me.

Bill Astore

The Face of America

The Face of America

W.J. Astore

The Republican National Convention is over. Its main message: be afraid. Be very afraid. Of socialism. Of people coming to take your guns. Of open borders. Of anarchy in the street. Of “cancel culture.” And so on.

Its ancillary message: the Democrats are not a rival party of patriotic Americans. They are dangerous. Dishonest. Scheming. And un-American.

In last night’s acceptance speech, Trump was his usual huckster and grifter self. Perhaps my favorite claim was when Trump said he’d done more to help black people than any other president, Abraham Lincoln excepted. There’s little doubt that in his own mind Trump believes he’s done more than Lincoln “for the black.”

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the alternate (un)reality that Trump sells to his acolytes? It’s total BS, it’s fantasy, it’s often hateful or spiteful, but it resonates with certain people, even as it disgusts others.

Trump, among many other things, is a sower of discord. A manufacturer of outrage based on lies and misinformation. But he needs an audience of willing followers, and there are plenty of those in America.

In life, Trump has failed at so many things. I’d argue he has failed miserably as a president, dividing the country instead of uniting it, effectively feeding the rich while starving the poor. Yet the man has captured an entire political party and the fervid support of roughly one-third of those Americans most likely to vote in November.

He has shown us a face of America we’d prefer not to see, a face defined by appetites and grievances and prejudices actuated by violence and fear and lies. But I’d go further. By fomenting violence and fear and lies, Trump has acted not like a true mirror but a funhouse one. He has distorted America. He has made it more grotesque. He has twisted it and contorted it and made it more like him.

In short, he has made his mark on the face of America. And that mark will be a very difficult one to erase.

Staying Sane in the Age of Trump

parallel-universe

Richard Sahn

As a social scientist living through horrific political, economic, and public health crises, I should be embracing with all my might philosophical materialism, the epistemological model behind science.  That I don’t could cost me personal and collegial respect, not to mention friendships. So, what exactly is philosophical materialism, and why do I find it ultimately non-collegial?

Philosophy precedes science.  It’s impossible to have science (or the sciences) without a presupposition about what is real, which is the arena of philosophy.  Philosophical materialism says that all that is real or factual is material or physical in nature.  And I find this too limiting.

I am more attuned to the Eastern philosophical model, intellectually supported these days by quantum physics, particularly the early 20th-century German physicist Werner Heisenberg.  It holds that non-material phenomena, such as dreams and hallucinations, are as real as physical phenomenon such as rocks and rivers, in one sense, even more real. (My dream is a reality sui generis. It is not electrochemical activity in my brain.) What’s more, all material and non-material phenomena come into existence from individual conscious intention and belief; there is no truly independent universe out there.

The good philosophical news here about the anti-materialist epistemological model is the plausibility of a multi-world or multi-dimensional universe.  If reality is a product of consciousness, rather than the other way around, it seems to me Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s claim that we have “nothing to fear but fear itself” is really possible. In fact, the psycho-therapeutic value of that statement is considerable.

But what do I do with my propensity toward progressive activism? And what do I do with those great discussions I have with my friends on how disgusting and horrible the Trump administration is? Can I have both perspectives at the same time? Emerson said that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. And it seems counterintuitive to be, following the Bible, “in the world but not of the world,” to see everyday life as play, as a sort of game created by me and only for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not arguing for “alternative facts,” as the supporters of Trump do.  I’m not denying science or the dangers of Covid-19.  When I go out, I social distance and wear a mask as needed.  But I also believe there is a reality outside of rocks and rivers, so to speak, a reality created by my consciousness, an immaterial realm that has its own existence, whether for me or for all of us.  Some might call this a “higher” realm; I prefer to see it as linked to the material, for I myself am both physical and mental, both material and immaterial.

Those epistemological paradigms, material and  immaterial, provide me with solace in these dark days.  Not everything is controlled by others, and especially not by the Cult of Trump.  I decide.  And for me that’s an empowering thought at a time when power is being actively denied to so many of us.

Richard Sahn is a retired sociology professor and a regular contributor to Bracing Views.

Blackface and White Nationalism

download
Northam’s college yearbook page (1984).  Northam claims he’s not the pictured in the blackface/KKK photo, but that he did wear blackface on another occasion to emulate Michael Jackson

“It’s complicated” is one description of race relations in America.  The current controversy in Virginia involving Governor Ralph Northam is an example of this.  As a college student, Northam claims he donned blackface as an homage to Michael Jackson, even as Jackson, tragically, was beginning to alter his own physical appearance via painful surgical procedures, apparently to appear more “white.”

Why do white people don blackface?  When they do, is it always racist?  Take the case of Prince Harry, who as a young man wore a Nazi Swastika to a costume party.  Most people assumed he was simply trying to shock, and that he’d made a poor choice, not that he was a neo-Nazi bent on reviving the Third Reich.  In Northam’s yearbook page from 35 years ago, were the young men donning blackface and wearing KKK hoods simply (and dumbly) trying to shock?  Were they engaged in transgressive behavior to elicit groans as well as laughs?  Or were they white supremacists and racists, actualizing white privilege, privilege that is always present, even when not acknowledged, in American culture and society?

When you combine images of whites in blackface with other whites in KKK hoods, the message is clear.  Racial oppression, a murderous record, is being referenced, in a way that trivializes past horrors.  Governor Northam claims he didn’t appear in the blackface/KKK photo shown on his yearbook page, but he also apparently never complained about it nor did he express regret after the fact.

What are we to make of all this?  My friend M. Davout, who teaches political science in the American South, asks us to think about the wider historical context of blackface performers in the United States, including its role in the assimilation of immigrant groups into a racialized American identity. W.J. Astore

Blackface and White Nationalism

What a Virginia Governor’s Problem Reveals about American Identity

M. Davout

The controversy surrounding Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook photo displaying a person in blackface alongside a person in a KKK hood and a college yearbook entry referring to him as “coonman” has been mostly reduced to the question whether decades-old racist expressions disqualify him from continuing to occupy his current office.  To the extent the issue remains framed in this narrow way, an opportunity is missed to understand the nature and durability of racist expression in U.S. society.  By uncritically accepting the conventional association of blackface with racist animus, we overlook how racist hostility is twinned with racial attraction in the very definition of what it means to be an American.

In his thought-provoking work, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot, the late Berkeley political theorist Michael Rogin raised a central question: What accounts for the long and pervasive career of blackface in American entertainment?  Consider the minstrel shows of the Jacksonian era, the Tin Pan Alley songs and vaudeville skits of the late 19th century, followed by the silent film era that featured DW Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) through the introduction of synchronized sound in Hollywood movies starting with The Jazz Singer (1927).

Rogin’s key to answering that question is his recognition of the important role of outsider groups such as the Irish Catholics of the mid-19th century and immigrant Jews of the late-19th and early-20th centuries as purveyors and consumers of blackface entertainment.

Singling out the vaudeville performer Al Jolson’s role as Jack Robin in The Jazz Singer as the immigrant son (“Jackie Rabinowitz”) who transcends his Jewish roots to become an American success story via blackface performance (his blacked-up rendition of “My Mammy!” to an audience, including his adoring mother, concludes the film), Rogin suggests how blackface entertainment performed the American dream of upward mobility by making immigrant ambition acceptable to nativists.

Jolson_black
Al Jolson in blackface for “The Jazz Singer”

It was not unusual for past blackface entertainers to see their performances as manifesting a sympathetic bond with African-Americans—after all, Jewish immigrants from Russia knew what it meant to be treated as pariahs and were arguably as much a target of the newly resurgent 1920s KKK as were African-Americans.  In this regard, Northam’s admission, in one of his earliest public responses to the controversy, that he dressed up in blackface as Michael Jackson for a medical school dancing contest may have been an effort, however ineffective, to evoke cross-racial sympathy and distance himself from blackface images more transparently driven by racist aversion as was arguably the case in the medical school yearbook photo (which Northam now claims is not of himself).

Of course, both then and now, however much the performer sympathizes with the group he is masquerading as, the effect of blackface performance is to help win acceptance for the performer (and his group) at the cost of keeping African-Americans at the bottom, unassimilable.

Irish and Jewish blackface performers signaled the transformation of despised and racialized European immigrant groups into true (i.e., white) Americans. In arguing that Al Jolson’s character “washes himself white by painting himself black,” Rogin points to how “whiteness” was (and, to an extent, remains) a powerful component of what it means to be an American.

Maybe “white nationalism” is not a fringe idea, after all, but a central part of what it means to be American and explains a significant part of Donald Trump’s appeal to his white working-class base: he refuses to hide or repress or ignore the racialized origins of American identity.

M. Davout, a professor of political science, teaches in the American South.

Of Brutal Binaries and Scale-tipping

PPP_CGENE_LT3_Scale_Tipped
Forget binaries.  Who’s tipping the scale?

W.J. Astore

Citing the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh in particular, Andrew Sullivan claims that America is a land of brutal binaries.  On the surface, his idea appears sound.  Scratch the surface, however, and the idea breaks down.  The problem is that “brutal binaries” sell. They grab attention. They serve to mobilize.  They excite the base, the partisans, people who love to bicker.

But the notion that every issue is reducible to a binary, a 0/1, on/off, win/lose, is most often simplistic and misleading. Perhaps we should think not of computer binaries but of scales.  Entities with power put a finger (or more) on the scale to tip things in their direction. Even as they do this, they claim the scale is equally balanced for all or even tipped against them.  In short, we need to think not about either/or or on/off binaries, but about who has the power – and what they’re willing to say and do to keep and extend it.

Again, my point is to avoid binary computer-speak. The notion I’m 100% right, you’re 100% wrong.  Those who describe debates as “binary” leave no possibility for change or compromise. They see only unbridgeable divides. This is a satisfying notion to the powerful, for they don’t want change. They want to keep the status quo because it profits them. They’re happy to see Americans bickering and fighting and shouting — even as they quietly reap the profits.

So I despair of America’s so-called binary debates. They divide us, distract us, and make us angry. We shake our heads in despair, thinking there’s no way to reach “them,” the other side in the “binary” argument. The truth is different.  Polling data suggests Americans are far more in agreement than we are in disagreement (consider wide support for a higher federal minimum wage and for universal health care), but all we hear about is the divisiveness. Again, this serves the powerful. They’re happy to see us fighting over the scraps as they feast on the choice cuts.

Rather than shouting at each other, Americans need to work together in good faith.  Forget the false binaries, America.  The world is rarely a 0/1, I win/you lose, black/white place.  Even when the scales are tipped, as they so often are, there is common ground.  We’ve found it before – we will again.