Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Murder of Bill Sparkman: We'll All Be Found Guilty

The man pictured above, Bill Sparkman, was the part-time Census worker who was murdered in Clay County, KY, a couple of weeks ago. Although he resided in Prestonsburg, Sparkman looks very familiar to me and Mrs. RSI and we may have seen him several times around Morehead. Sparkman's body was found nearly naked (except for socks) in a cemetery. He was bound up with duct tape and left hanging by a rope with "fed" written across his chest and his Census identification "duct-taped to the side of his neck, on the right side, almost on his right shoulder."
According to the coroner, Sparkman died from asphyxiation, but it hasn't been determined yet whether Sparkman died from hanging in that particular spot or whether he was killed and then moved to the cemetery to be displayed. Either way, the killing was designed to evoke memories of lynching. Either Sparkman was lynched with a great deal of terrifying ceremony of being stripped, bound, trussed, and hanged or his body was staged to imitate a lynching. Every killing is barbaric--even when it has military justification. But lynching is a particularly sick form of killing that functions as a kind of "terrorist ceremonial" designed to intimidate some sort of target population.
But who is being targeted in Sparkman's case. Does the lynching and the scrawling of "fed" across Sparkman's chest mean that the lynching was motivated by the anti-government sentiment associated with Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann? Or was the murder motivated by a more diffuse anti-government or anti-Obama sentiment? After the election, there was lots of chatter about assassinating Obama in this part of Kentucky. It's conceivable that someone decided to go after a much easier target in Bill Sparkman. Perhaps the murder of Bill Sparkman had something to do with the marijuana or meth business instead. At this point, there isn't enough information to come to a conclusion.
One thing that seems certain though is that the murder of Bill Sparkman is going to produce another spasm of Appalachian stereotyping. Here's Richard M. Benjamin of HuffPost:
Is Sparkman, the late cancer survivor and single dad, the human victim of this deep anti-government sentiment pulsing in America? Or a working-class casualty in a sordid, pedestrian crime in Methland, USA?
Meth and OxyContin are just as pervasive in this area as cocain and crack are in other parts of the country. My kids know meth and pill addicts among their classmates and at least a couple of teachers have been arrested for drug offenses over the last five years. The stereotyping means that nobody in Eastern Kentucky or any part of Appalachia is able to escape the stain of these addication no matter how uninvolved they are with the drugs or how much they accomplish in their lives. It's like my students, my kids, and their friends have a "Methland" tattoo inked into their skins whether they like it or not. The stereotyping of Appalachians is not as pervasive or damaging as the stereotyping of African-Americans, and therefore not as much of a burden. But people feel the stereotyping all the same and it makes everything more difficult.
I doubt that anyone in this area is going to escape the stain associated with the murder of Bill Sparkman.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wishing the U. S. Was More Normal

Matthew Yglesias writes from Germany that "one of the oddest things about being in Germany during an election campaign is that I’m pretty sure I have right-of-center views relative to German politics."

But we're the weird ones, not the Germans.

Matthew Yglesias is a liberal blogger who counts as part of the left-wing of the Democratic Party in the U. S. As a blogger for ThinkProgress and journalist for several left-wing news outlets, Yglesias is as wired into the left-wing media establishment as he can be. But Yglesias would still be a conservative in Germany. Probably in France, Britain, Italy, Spain, and the Scandanavian countries as well.

That means the U. S. has a conservative left, a very conservative middle, and an ultra-conservative right.

Really, we could stand to be more like the rest of the advanced industrial world.

Support for ObamaCare Up

The teabaggers peaked too early. According to an CBS/NY Times poll, support for the public option is up 5 points since the end of August and stands at 65%. That's formidable. Conversely, opposition to the public option is down 8 points.

Obama/Ayers Rears It's Papier-Mache Head

One of the great signs that progressives are winning the health care battle is that Ron Radosh of Pajamas Media has an item on the old "Bill Ayers wrote Obama's book" idea. Radosh works his way through "exciting new analogies" between the Obama and Joe Klein's Primary Colors and "wonderful new revelations" from a book by one Christopher Anderson.

And it all adds up to . . . well, nothing.

Dreams of My Father is in fact a powerful memoir and there is no evidence that Bill Ayers ever wrote anything as interesting as Dreams of My Father himself, let alone ghost-write it for Obama. If somebody was a ghostwriter at all, it would be much more likely that Obama would have ghost-written Ayers' books rather than the other way around.

Maybe Barack Obama is the "real author" behind all those books by Glenn Beck as well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Conservative Gulags: A Response to the Crisis

I've been thinking about all the poor conservatives who think that Barack Obama is a Stalinist, that Obama's going to set up "re-education" camps, or that he's taking "away" American freedoms by talking about "doing the right-thing" on health care.

According to Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner:

History - and the words of progressives themselves - suggest not long. Consider New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's telling admiration for the communist thugs who run the Chinese government:

"One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonabley enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century."

That in a nutshell is the totalitarian temptation that plagues all who would use the power of the state to impose their vision of the good society on the rest of us.

It's the ever-present Stalin whispering in the progressive ear: "Ignore those reactionary, loud-mouthed, ignorant Tea Party protesters and decree Obamacare, Waxman-Markey, and all the rest of it. Do it now while you have the power!"

There are certain problems with Tapscott's argument--for instance, the idea that Thomas Friedman is a "progressive." Most of the big-name progressive bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and Digby have more respect for Rush Limbaugh than they have for Friedman. They might limit themselves to slapping Friedman around for a little light work before they move on to something important, but they essentially view Friedman as a punching bag. The way that Friedman constantly urged the American people to give the Bush administration six more months in Iraq became such a joke that progressives derisively refer to six-month time periods as "Friedman units." And then there was the "suck on this" episode in which Friedman tried to sound "Dick Cheney tough" but came off as super-pathetic instead of super-macho.

It's also hard to understand what Tapscott sees as Stalinist in "ignore those reactionary, loud-mouthed, ignorant Tea Party protesters and decree Obamacare, Waxman-Markey, and all the rest of it." Is Tapscott saying that "voting" on these bills in democratically-elected representative bodies is an exercise in "Stalinism?" I didn't know that Uncle Joe was that excited about representative bodies like the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Still, I feel the pain of people like Tapscott, Michael Ledeen, Mark Levin, and all the other conservatives who view Barack Obama as a "clear and present" danger to the freedoms of Americans. Political life has been so unfair to conservatives. George Bush was a boob, the Iraq War was a dud, all those blow-dried Republican politicians had scandals and now the "crisis" of conservatism has arrived. Obama is president and the Democrats have big majorities in the House and the Senate. They're proposing a lot of far-reaching legislation. What's a serious conservative to do to meet the seriousness of the moment? How can they symbolize the imminent danger they feel for the Republic? Of course, the tea-parties have been effective and Chuck Norris' idea for "Tea-Party" American flags is pure genius. But the crisis is upon us. So conservatives need to do something more.

And I think I've hit on it.

Conservatives should create their own "gulags" to symbolize the future they believe that Obama and the Democrats are moving us toward. There's plenty of places where this could be done. There's still a lot of wide open space in the interior of Alaska. Wealthy patrons on the right (you know who you are) could create a camp with primitive barracks, armed guards, barbed wire, forced labor factories, and the rest of the paraphernalia of a concentration camp. So what if it gets to 80 or 90 below with the wind chill in interior Alaska, conservatives are tough. They also could get tips from Lena Wertmuller's Seven Beauties on how to set up a proper camp.

Then prominent conservatives could move to the camp in a dramatic representation of what's going to happen to them under the Obama administration. Given that the camp would have no internet, no laptops, no Blackberry's, and no personal electonic devices in general, conservative writers wouldn't be able to write anything. But what "real conservative" wouldn't sacrifice their writing careers for the sake of manifesting the "real truth" about Obama administration tyranny? Likewise, what conservative wouldn't be willing to give up their high-paid, cushy lives in liberal bastions like New York or Washington for a more authentic stint as a political prisoner? Conservatives want something more authentic anyway. They're tired of living the sham life of democracy in Obama's America. Setting up an elaborate prison system for themselves would be the best way for prominent figures on the right to "keep it real."

Ok! There are some conservatives who would not be into the "roughing it" part of a concentration camp. Given the racial purity of Rush Limbaugh's white heritage, he has very sensitive skin. So Limbaugh wouldn't want to do this kind of thing. But I'm sure Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham, Mark Levin, and Michael Ledeen would be all for it. Maybe Chuck Norris could serve as commanding officer for their barracks.

It would be like Hogan's Heroes.

Of course, Alaska isn't the only place where conservatives could confine themselves to concentration camps. Idaho and Montana are excellent locations. Likewise, there's no reason why conservatives couldn't suffer political persecution out in the Mojave Desert. Maybe conservatives could increase their sense of authenticity by imprisoning themselves on one of the Thousand Islands of the St. Lawrence River during the winter and then "summer" in a desert facility. The right could even set up a chain of prison camps where Tea Party activists could spend some hard time preparing for the hard times to come.

I think Henry David Thoreau (almost a Founding Father!) wrote someplace that jail was the only place for a free man. Conservatives can bring that fundamental truth to life by creating conservative political prisons and volunteering to serve some hard time behind the walls.

The Brave Geese of Morehead

Once again, I hear the brave geese of Morehead, flying north for the winter. Of course, it just might be that the geese know something about global warming.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Miss Tween Takes a Break

Miss Tween RSI and I had an almost serious talk about her love life today. Having gone through three boyfriends in the last week, Miss Teen thought it would be a good idea if she was grounded from "dating" for awhile.

I couldn't have agreed more.

Anyway, Miss Teen's original idea was to be banned until the end of October, but I talked her into extending the ban until the end of the year.

She seemed relieved.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More Cops Having Fun with Tasers

I'm starting with a long quote from Digby about a tasing incident in Merced, California:

"This is appalling:
The Merced Police Department's Internal Affairs Division is investigating whether an officer twice used a Taser on an unarmed, wheelchair-bound man with no legs.The man who was Tasered, Gregory Williams, 40, a double-leg amputee, spent six days in jail on suspicion of domestic violence and resisting arrest, but the Merced County District Attorney's office hasn't filed any charges.

Clearly, he didn't understand the new unspoken "common sense" federal law which says that when in the presence of a police officer, you stop in your tracks, hold your head down, answer every question with a quick "yes sir" and do not move until they give you instructions, lest you get electrocuted on the spot. It has nothing to do with whether or not you present a danger to anyone --- it has to do with whether or not the police officer is satisfied with your response, so best be very, very very obsequious and docile whenever you are in the presence of authorities, no matter what the circumstances. Otherwise, this country won't be free. There is video at the link.

A handful of residents in Williams' apartment complex said they witnessed the incident and supported Williams' charges. A short video clip, shot by a neighbor and obtained by the Sun-Star, shows Williams sitting on the pavement with his pants down, his hands cuffed behind his back.[...]Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sept. 11, Williams said, he and his wife, 28-year-old Demetrice Shaunte Phifer, were arguing when a marked Merced Police Department patrol car arrived at the couple's studio apartment.While one officer spoke with his wife, Williams said, another officer arrived and ordered him, "Go back to your house!"Williams, who had his 2-year-old daughter Ginni in his lap, said he rolled his wheelchair back to his apartment.The officer, who's identified in the police report as John Pinnegar, approached him in the doorway of his apartment. Pinnegar said that his wife had accused him of striking her, which Williams denied.

Shortly afterward, police Sgt. Rodney Court and a worker with Merced County Child Protective Services entered the room, Williams said. "I'm trying to tell him nothing happened. We were just having an argument," he said.

Pinnegar grabbed William's 2-year-old daughter from his lap, handing her to the CPS worker. "I said, 'What are you doing? I haven't done anything!' " Williams said.Williams said Pinnegar unholstered his Taser, jammed it into his rib cage and shocked him twice. Williams said he fell from his chair onto his stomach on the ground outside his doorway.While he was down, Williams said, Court put his knee on his neck, and one of the officers then cuffed both of his wrists. At some point after he fell out of his chair, Williams said, his shorts slid down his legs.

With his hands cuffed behind his back, Williams said, he was unable to pull his pants up. He said police left him for five to 10 minutes in that position on the pavement, with his private parts showing as neighbors and onlookers watched.Williams, a lifelong Merced resident who's married with three children, said that both his legs were amputated in 2004 after he was diagnosed with deep-vein thrombosis that led to gangrene in both legs.

Doctors amputated both his legs below the knees when he was 34. Now only withered stumps of skin hang where his lower legs once were. He lost his job as a truck driver and now supports himself and his family from a Social Security disability allotment of $1,004 a month.

Obviously they had no choice but to shoot the man full of electricity. Otherwise, he might have kept on showing disrespect for the officers by protesting his innocence and we can't have that or the whole system will fall apart. *Obviously, I have no idea if the man hit his wife and if so, it was obviously wrong. But two wrongs don't make a right --- and tasering an unarmed man in a wheelchair is completely unnecessary in order to take him into custody. And, by the way, the man spent six days in jail before they released him without filing charges. .digby"

Digby thinks that Gregory Williams was tased because he wasn't "obsequious enough" to the white police officers in charge. I think it's more the case that the police officers just didn't like him. So they found an excuse to tase him. It's as simple as it is disgusting. The officers have the tasers, are looking for opportunities to use them, and decided to have some fun and games by legally torturing Gregory Williams. It's

Sunday, September 20, 2009

bell hooks Coming to Morehead

Exciting News! The outstanding African-American feminist bell hooks is coming to Morehead State University for a talk on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 7pm in Button Hall. Originally, Gloria Watkins from Bowling Green KY, bell hooks is one of the great writers of our time, one of the few writers who combines a razor-sharp critical edge with helpful perspectives on how people can address the difficult conundrums of living in American society. Her work on white supremacy, love, and masculinity is all great stuff. She also seems like a decent person from the two times I've heard her speak. Can't wait.

Obama Day on the Sunday News Shows

Barack Obama was all over the Sunday news shows today. The account at TPM makes Obama sound like he was so moderate that he lost all of the fire from his speech to a joint session of Congress. It would be better if he was fighting.

Down with a Cold

My inner blogger is stuff up with a cold. Hope it isn't one of those two month things.