March 2011 Archives

MOVIN' ON UP BY MOVIN' ON DOWN

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The ol' Bloviator is struck by the fact that although things have been decidedly on the upswing down in these parts for at least two generations, practically every report on apparently positive developments in the South, seems to start from the premise that this is something brand-new.  Hence, the New York Times  captions a story thusly: " Many U.S. Blacks Moving to South, Reversing Trend." Since this is been going on for roughly forty years, I think it would be more accurate to say that black migrants are "continuing a trend," but then change seldom comes easily or quickly either to the South, or, so it appears, to the minds of a lot of Yankee journalists where the South is concerned.

Certainly this "reverse migration" is still noteworthy in the historical sense, given that some 10 million black Americans left the South for northern cities between 1910 and 1960. The beginnings of this exodus can be traced to a variety of causes, not the least of which was a continuing reign of racial terror, marked by lynchings and other atrocities.  There was also the impenetrable barrier to opportunity and advancement confronting blacks in the Jim Crow South.  Overwhelmingly consigned to sharecropping or some form of agricultural tenancy, many black southerners pulled up stakes in the face of the boll weevil invasion, which struck the southern cotton belt in the years immediately preceding World War I.  World War I also factored into this Black Diaspora by shutting off the flow of immigrant labor from Europe, making the urban-industrial North seem even more of a "Promised Land" than indicated in reports in black newspapers like the Chicago Defender that were often smuggled South by railroad porters.

 The patterns of migration for outbound black southerners were not unlike those established by immigrants from other nations in that reports from relocated blacks tended to attract friends and kin from back home to particular northern cities.  Migrants from South Atlantic states like Georgia gravitated to New York.  Rochester had been a popular destination for blacks in my neck of the North Georgia woods, for example.  Meanwhile, the Illinois Central Railroad and the legendary U.S. Highway 61 so frequently invoked in the blues (" Walked that '61 Highway' till I broke down in my knees....") offered blacks intent on leaving the Mississippi Delta a straight shot into Chicago, so much so that for writer Anthony Walton, who grew up in a neighborhood full of fellow migrants from his state, Chicago had simply been "the northernmost county of Mississippi."

Black migration out of the South had an enormous impact on American life.  I'm persuaded that the post-World War I "Harlem Renaissance" in the arts and literature grew in no small part from efforts by relocated black Southerners to better understand themselves and their culture in light of the old way of life that, for all its anxiety and pain, had shaped their identities nonetheless.  The political implications of the movement of several million Americans from states where they could not vote to states where they could were profound as well.  The Democratic Party's greater attentiveness to black Southerners could be detected even in the 1930s, especially after the majority of black voters supported the party's presidential candidate for the first time in 1936.  It was glaringly apparent by the end of World War II (which, of course, had siphoned away even more black Southerners) as President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces, appointed the first black federal judge, and pursued other initiatives indicating greater solicitousness toward black voters.  The reaction from white Southerners to all of this manifested itself first in the Dixiecrat rebellion of 1948 and then the wholesale desertion of the old "yellow dog" tradition of Democratic voting that began when Barry Goldwater claimed five Deep South states for the GOP in 1964 after racking up more than 90 percent of the white vote in some areas.

Many southern blacks had been unable to vote in that election, of course, but the following year, the Voting Rights Act would change all that, and within a few years the South would actually lead the nation in the number of blacks in elected office.  There had also been a monumental shift in economic momentum away from the old manufacturing states, increasingly referred to as the "Rust Belt," in favor of the dynamic "Sunbelt," which had suddenly grown powerfully attractive as a place to invest, work, and live, thanks to a remarkable progress on the racial front, not to mention the blessings of air-conditioning as well. 

Although, initially at least, they quite likely harbored more misgivings about joining whites in the southbound exodus, enough northern blacks had done so by the mid-1970s to make the South a net gainer from black migration. This trend built throughout the 1980s and accelerated dramatically in the 1990s. During the last quarter of the twentieth century, the number of blacks entering the region exceeded the number leaving by more than 1.2 million. During the 1990s alone, the South's black population grew by nearly 3.6 million overall, nearly twice the rate of increase for the previous decade. The fact that one of ten African Americans in the South in 2000 was a newcomer clearly reflected the economic dynamism of a South that led the nation in job production in the 1990s.  According to the latest census, not only are there now a million black residents of the South who were actually born in the Northeast but Metro Atlanta, which had added 459,000 African Americans and was home to seven of America's ten fastest-growing counties for blacks in the 1990s has now supplanted Chicago as the nation's second largest black population center behind New York.

There is no question that black migrants to Atlanta and other southern metropolitan areas have been pushed as well as pulled. In fact, this indication of the South's attractiveness for blacks is simply the reverse side of the staggering deterioration of the social fabric in the racially polarized urban North.

Anyone who has been South-watching as long as I have could hardly miss the irony in this snippet from the Times story:

The Rev. Ronald Peters, who moved last year from Pittsburgh to Atlanta, said it was refreshing to be part of a hopeful black middle class that was not weighed down by the stigmas and stereotypes of the past, as he felt it was in the urban Northeast.

"Too often, people turn on TV and all they see are black men in chains," said Mr. Peters, president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, a seminary in Atlanta. "Atlanta is a clear example of a different type of ethos. The black community is not people who have lost their way."

The Rev.'s comments also point to a very different demographic profile for today's black migrants as opposed to those in previous generations whose land of opportunity seem to lie North of them.  The black people moving into the South today are far better educated and more economically comfortable than those who left it long ago.  In this sense, the black newcomers are also raising the overall socioeconomic profile of black Southerners, though they are choosing to reside in suburban counties and neighborhoods where blacks had previously been a truly tiny minority if they were present at all.  This has helped to further reduce residential segregation in many southern metro areas that were already more integrated than their northern counterparts.  Although the attractions of suburban life -- better schools and public facilities, a safer community, more stable property values, etc.-- differ little for them in comparison to their white neighbors, their politics are not so conservative.  On the other hand, the new black suburbanites are to the right of great many inner-city black politicians who still pursue an agenda emphasizing public assistance and uplift.  Hence, Barack Obama can do extremely well among black voters in both the 'burbs and lower income central city precincts, but there's certainly no guarantee of a united racial front in state and local politics.

Throw into this mix the dramatic increases in the South's Hispanic population (which grew by 43 percent overall during the last decade, as compared to 11percent for blacks and 1 percent for whites) in southern metropolitan areas, and you'll have an even more difficult time trying to envision likely political scenarios and outcomes.

 Black returnees, especially older ones, often mention the appeal of being "back home," although the younger and more ambitious among them tend to choose locations other than those abandoned by their parents or grandparents.  The symbolic or psychological meaning of this phenomenon surely varies from case to case, but it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to think that there is a real sense of accomplishment or "arrival" that comes with being able to command respect and wield influence in a region where one's ancestors struggled so mightily simply to survive.  Affirmation and opportunity make for a seductive potion, I'd say, based on the upbeat assessment offered by Cicely Bland, a black businesswoman, who came to metropolitan Atlanta from New Jersey in 2006:"The business and political opportunities are here....You have a lot of African-Americans with a lot of influence, and they're in my immediate networks."

History: Handle With Care!

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Ms. OB and I spent the latter part of last week doing our dangdest to spoil one Barrett Callaway Cobb, now age 10 months, while celebrating the birthday of Barrett's dad, now--yikes!--468 months. These festivities obviously coincided with our latest national experiment in international intervention in the form of the U.S. taking what promises, despite our State Department propaganda, to be the leading role in imposing a so-called no-fly zone in Libya. With the worm definitely turning against the anti-Qaddafi forces, it didn't exactly take an international affairs guru to figure out that the murder and mayhem attendant to suppressing the Libyan uprising would look like a church picnic compared to the reprisals that would come in its aftermath.

Still, while the OB can't dispute a legitimate humanitarian argument for what we're trying to do, he was struck nonetheless by the fact that the most frequently cited rationale for doing what we're doing in Libya was rooted in what we didn't do back in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide, which, in roughly three months time, produced an estimated death toll in excess of three quarters of a million people. In this respect, weirdly enough, both our little family gathering and the Libyan undertaking actually took me back to last May when, all flush with excitement and exhilaration over my new Grandpahood, I observed in these very pages that it was "only natural that grandparents seize on the opportunity to correct what they did wrong the first time around." In truth, most of us probably did our greatest disservices to our kids by saying 'yes' when 'no' was the more appropriate response. Our most painful memories of parenthood, though, are of those times when we punished when we might have forgiven or scolded when we might have hugged, so grandparental overindulgence of the little ones is simply a given."

This is hardly the only example of compensatory human behavior, of course. Feeling guilty for brushing off a panhandler on one corner, we shower largesse on another alms-seeker two blocks down, or having tolerated a rude sales clerk at the mall that afternoon, we make a big deal about our server mixing up our drink orders that evening. Although it is utterly foolish to simply anthropomorphize (The vocabulary-challenged should mash here)  national actions or policy, it is just as foolish to overlook the fact that these are always fashioned by human beings driven not simply by their intellectual appraisal of current and past conditions and crises but their emotional responses to them as well. As the OB has also pointed out in these pages, because the capitulation to Adolph Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland (then a part of Czechoslovakia) at Munich in 1938 did not prevent the ensuing Nazi aggression that led to World War II in Europe, we fell prey to the "Munich Syndrome." Our  shame over having been a party to this "appeasement" at Munich quickly translated into blaming it  for a war that almost certainly was coming, one way or another  and virtually dictated a subsequent "no-negotiations" approach to every Cold War confrontation with the Russkies. In fact, ol' "Rummy" even reached back for the Munich allusion when he tried to label opponents of his Iraq folly as "appeasers."

Bubba Clinton has indicated more than once that failing to intervene in Rwanda is one of his greatest regrets. (Unfortunately, it is not clear at this point where Monica Lewinsky stands on this list. ) Hence, it's not so surprising, perhaps, that in addition to Secretary of State What's-Her-Name, one of the staunchest proponents of intervention in Libya is Susan Rice, our UN ambassador, who was once the Clinton administration's point person on African affairs and is reportedly "haunted" by Clinton's refusal to do more to stop the killing in Rwanda. Rice has been quoted as saying "If I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required."   (Note to Susan: If the OB had said that, he'd think it prudent to start shopping for some asbestos underdrawers right about now.) Throw in Obama's senior National Security Council aide Samantha Power, also a strident critic of US inaction in Rwanda,  and you have three very strong and, coincidentally or not, female voices in favor of preventing Libya from becoming "another Rwanda."
  Without denying that comparable civilian death tolls might be achieved, the two cases hardly cry out for comparison, a fact that might well make the failure to act in Rwanda seem even more tragic in retrospect. It's certainly hard to see the international diplomatic consequences for Rwandan intervention being nearly so critical as those for the Libyan involvement, for example. However one interprets Libya's importance to our oil supply, the potentially destabilizing effect on the global market is surely a matter of some consequence. Although the Obama administration is quick to point to the Arab League's call for a no-fly zone, as the OB has already predicted, when the first reports of actual on-the-ground casualties came in, this bunch of jokers started complaining about the missile attacks, as if it were going to be possible to keep Qaddafi at bay by simply shooting paint balls at him. Although It might have made for good diplomacy to have Nicolas Sarkozy as the first "face" of military action against Libya, it seems risky to have French aircraft involved, given the likelihood that when the first pilot goes down, the rest of them might just white-flag it, park their planes, and settle in with a nice bottle of red that goes down well with goat. I don't know about you, but the thought of ol' Muammar whooping it up at the Arc de Triomphe with his buddy Charlie Sheen is not a scene the OB particularly relishes. Obama and his minions may forswear the use of U.S. ground troops right now, but ultimately there just ain't any other way to settle this mess without some of our boots on their soil.

Finally, there is the rather cloudy question of our end game in this affair. While Oby seems to want Qaddafi out of the picture, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has left the door open for him to possibly stick around. Accepting this latter option would be ironic indeed, given that another of the presumed miscues of the past currently being used to justify this likely miscue in the present is the behavior of Saddam Hussein after he was left unmolested in 1991. We might recall here that the no-fly zones  we were eventually forced to establish back then  in order to protect the rebellious Kurds in northern Iraq proved to be necessary so long as Saddam remained in power and were thus anything but short-term measures.  While we clearly don't know exactly what this current crisis really is, we probably should keep reminding ourselves that it isn't Munich in 1938 or Rwanda in 1994 or even Baghdad in 1991, each of which had specific concerns and ramifications peculiar to its own circumstances. The OB deeply appreciates the laudable intentions of folks who love to quote the Spanish philosopher Santayana to the effect of "Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it," but he feels obliged to offer a friendly reminder that "the lessons of the past" are seldom as straightforward, let alone as universally applicable to the present, as they might seem.

(Before you proceed, the Ol' Bloviator wants you to know that you can also read this piece over on LiketheDew.com.  If you are the least bit interested in the South and don't know this site, you should skedaddle over there right now.  O.B.)


Enumerating his wife's eccentric but endearing traits in the offbeat love song, In Spite of Ourselves,  John Prine notes that "convict movies make her horny."   Weddings have the same effect on an old friend of mine, although he claims said effect is completely neutralized if they play jazz at the reception. It's fair to say that most of us have probably heard of some fairly weird "turn ons" in our day, but leave it to Newton Leroy Gingrich to come up with a new aphrodisiac. Apparently, it's good old-fashioned patriotism that gets the job done for him down there, or so he told the Christian Broadcasting Network yesterday as he tried to explain his mid-1990s affair (with a woman 23 years his junior) that came at the same time he was giving one William Jefferson Clinton down the country for his carryings on with that sweet, demure Ms. Lewinsky. Gingrich's take on his own rather hypocritical extramarital hook-up at that point is that, "partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country...I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

 I suppose this means that it was the  "Morning in America" euphoria of the Reagan Revolution that triggered an overpowering urge to get the fur off his antlers by  dumping the first Ms. Newt while she was reportedly recovering from cancer in 1980 in favor of the woman who would later serve as Ms. Newt II until the crusading excitement of the 1994 "Contract with America" got his hormones to raging once again, spurring his illicit entanglement with the attractive blonde who is now - at least until the Tea Party's superpatriotic fervor inevitably sets her hubby's loins astir once more-- Ms. Newt III. newt.jpg

(Here's the happy couple--as of now, that is.  Note the strange phallic symbol in the background) 


Say what you will about this former history professor-turned-congressman-turned-Speaker-of-the-House-then-turned-out-of-the-House-altogether, he's always danced to his own tune. I can't help but wonder, however, whether this link between patriotic zeal and unleashed lust is entirely peculiar to Newt. I mean, there were those legendary sotto voce southern tales of out-of-wedlock "camp-meeting" babies sired at revival meetings where the almost palpable presence of the Holy Spirit apparently moved the exhilarated young brothers and sisters to slip off into the bushes and do some downright unGodly things.

 I can't say I've actually ever heard of similar reactions even to Kate Smith's overpowering rendition of "God Bless America," although let's face it, Kate's era was the 1940s and 50s when most people were persuaded that sex was definitely part of the communist conspiracy. For my part, I can certainly say in all candor that, other than instigating a franctic search for the "mute" button,  Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." doesn't do a thing for me. Still, I wonder if Newt hasn't let the cat out of the bag here for a lot of people. Does the trend over the last generation or so toward having the national anthem rendered totally unrecognizable by the likes of Christina Aguilera have roots in concerns over a mass group-grope breaking out at the Super Bowl? Is there any truth to the rumor that Viagra actually started out as a little red, white and blue pill? By any chance, does Hugh Hefner have John Philip Sousa's "Stars & Stripes Forever" playing on continuous loop in his boudoir? Or maybe all he needs is a jump-start from Elton Britt's country classic, "There's a Star-Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere."

Speaking of Viagra and boudoirs, where does this leave the aforementioned Bubba C.?  If horniness is a correlate of dedication to country, then, by golly, it's time for those other guys on Mt. Rushmore to move over and make room for a real patriot.

Gadaffi-and-Sheen-006.jpg

"I am not a dictator to block 'Facebook' but who ever uses it will be imprisoned."

"I have tried to resign from my position, but my resignation was declined by the president, who is I."

(M. Qadaffi)

"I have to right this unconscionable wrong. Many people are suffering. And I'm the only guy who can affect the change."

"The nights I don't sleep it's because there's a higher calling telling me to stand guard."

(C. Sheen)


It's hard to know what to say about the world in which we live when its dominant personalities are currently Muammar Qaddafi and Charlie Sheen. The great thing is, if they ever make a movie about this tumultuous little span, Sheen could play both Qaddafi and himself. Then again, the reverse might be just as true for Qadaffi. I'm about 90 percent certain they are both using the same not-very-well-controlled substance; so the film would require not just one star but one dealer as well--a proposition truly unheard of in Hollywood these days, I'm sure. 

The ol' Bloviator has been moved in recent weeks to ponder various aspects of the Internet's influence on the contemporary world, and even the most casual Googler will have no trouble seeing that the antics of this totally whacked-out duo have gone seriously viral. One site even challenges you to choose either Qaddafi or Sheen as the source of a series of  particularly audacious and off-the-wall statements or assertions. Some might say such activities trivialize the seriousness of the situation with the not only deranged but deadly dangerous Qaddafi, but wouldn't you say that it's also hard to feel too hopeful about a society whose principal menace is also paid $2 million a week? 

Much has been written about the role of the Internet in spawning and in spurring the challenges to corrupt and dictatorial rulers in the Middle East, and there is certainly no disputing its importance. Yet, while You Tube can make placard-waving, rock -throwing, and even tear gas-inhaling look cool to  the mouse-clicking masses, the OB wonders whether it is a lot more  effective in selling the idea of protesting than in conveying the ideas behind the protests. There is, to be sure, a bunch of good stuff to be learned and taken to heart out there in the great wide world of web, but it often seems like so much widely scattered flotsam in a sea of ephemera and instant stimulation. Certainly, if even a tiny fraction of the research connecting Internet addiction to truncated attention spans is valid, it would seem that the medium is much better suited for mere incendiaries and habitual agitators than philosophers and theorists. The 2008 Obama campaign demonstrated beyond doubt the WWW's enormous potential to get a lot of newcomers out to the polls, but the turnout figures from last November raise legitimate concerns about how many of these voters will prove to be one-hit wonders who cast their first and last ballot simultaneously. The web's demand that complex issues and questions be compressed into a handful or two of bytes is not exactly conducive to profound, long-term engagement. In a recent episode of CBS's "The Good Wife," Grace, a teenager transfixed by a fellow teen's internet podcast about what a kick-ass revolutionary Jesus was, challenges her more or less agnostic mom and demands to be taken to church. When Mom cheerfully agrees, however, and asks which church Grace wants to attend, she has no clue and obviously no real awareness of doctrinal differences among any of the denominations. When her mama also gets her a Bible, Gracie stares at it in what seems to be wonderment, perhaps searching for its mouse pad. 

The  large turnouts for the demonstrations in Wisconsin and for sympathy demonstrations elsewhere might seem less surprising if somebody polled the participants as to how much time they spent surfing for video of events in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain. In the latter case, Tom Friedman, in a wide-ranging psycho-interpretive column suggesting that he just might have gotten into ol' Muammar and Charlie's stash, argues that in all of the hullabaloo over Facebook, we should not forget "Google Earth, which began roiling Bahraini politics in 2006. A big issue in Bahrain, particularly among Shiite men who want to get married and build homes, is the unequal distribution of land. On Nov. 27, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, The Washington Post ran this report from there: "Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. 'We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district,' he said. 'And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.' Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the country on Google Earth, and they have set up a special user group whose members have access to more than 40 images of royal palaces."  Old Tom may be onto something here, or again, he just may be into something.

The OB's attitude toward Facebook has never been particularly positive, and it has been even less so since he and the Missus had occasion to see "The Social Network," with its troubling glimpse into a world where super intelligence and soullessness seem too frequently to travel hand-in-hand. Still, even granting FB's recent positive role in rallying dissent where dissent is both justified and long overdue, given its unfailing capacity to spur impetuous and ill-considered behavior, it has too much to answer for in daily reports of associated homicides (such as this one from today's NYT), suicides, assaults, bullying, etc. to claim much cred with the OB.

It would be unfair and inaccurate, of course, to imply that this sort of behavior is no longer observed among the low-tech sector of the population. Take this truly distressing example of marital discord reported in the local rag:  

When deputies arrived, both were very drunk with the man outside yelling profanity and the woman passed out on a bed.

A deputy woke her, and the woman explained that they had planned to go to a cockfight that evening but couldn't agree which rooster to bring. The man got angry and pushed her down onto the kitchen floor and slapped her, she told deputies. The man was charged with family-violence battery, disorderly conduct and obstruction of officers, according to a deputy's report.

As a matter of fact, the OB will have to concede that this regrettable incident might have been avoided altogether if the couple actually had a Facebook page, where they might have simply posted snapshots of the potential combatants and allowed friends to vote on which of the roosters seemed most ready to get it on--in battle, that is. In the end, one supposes, Facebook is not that different from a tire tool; whether you get positive or negative results from either one depends a lot on how you try to use them.


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