Behind the Iron Curtain part 37- 1st of May

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


One of the central dogmas of the regime was the notion that everything is for the common workers, the laborers, and peasants. Those were deemed not only essential for the proper running of society (not wrong), sometimes to ignoring that intellectuals actually have useful functions too.

The International Worker’s Day was a state holiday, and we were taught at school a bit about the history behind it. Not much, as far as I remember, but the actual reasons behind the holiday were discussed and even in hindsight, most of them were valid then and are valid now.

However, as it is with authoritarian regimes, the good came with the sidedish of the bad and sometimes downright ugly.

1st of May was an official day off of work and school, so officially people were free to spend that day as they choose. In every town and moderately sized village, there was a procession and a speech by some party representative, but attending was not compulsory. In the sense “it is voluntary, but you have to go”.

I did not like the processions that much, because I do not like crowds and loud noises. But I did attend. I do not remember much, only two experiences come to mind at least somewhat vividly.

The first experience was an extremely strong feeling of embarrassment when our local firefighter truck was driving along the procession, shouting propaganda and encouragements for cheering from loudspeakers. I did not like it and even to my socially stunted mind, it was clear that nobody else liked it either. If the day is so glorious, if our country is so great and the party so beloved, why on earth do the people need to be egged on to cheer and shout slogans by an obnoxious a-hole with a megaphone? I did not put it in those words exactly, but those were my feelings.

The second experience was the chastising of one of my classmates who was not a member of Pionýr and whose family did not attend the parade one year. In a small town, this did not go unnoticed and our class teacher did call him out publicly during class for this. There were no other repercussions other than the public shaming, but I did not enjoy seeing that at all.

In both of these instances, I have subconsciously sensed a deep disconnect between the messaging we get and the true state of affairs. That cognitive dissonance was not particularly strong, but it was there and it was nagging. When the regime finally fell, a lot of the things that did not make sense to me as a child started to make sense later.

Later in life, I was surprised that much of what I have been taught to see as “Capitalist countries” also celebrate the holiday, oftentimes including the parades and speeches, but without the voluntary compulsory nature. I am afraid that in my mind this holiday will always be tainted, as it is in the minds of many of my generation.

“The silent majority agrees with me”, gender critical edition

Open letters are a time honoured form of activism. They allow individuals to connect over a single and very specific issue and raise awareness for that cause. They are, of course, also problematic in a way, since they usually are initiated by people who already have some influence and publicity, because nobody publishes an open letter signed by 40 noobs with a blog and a 50 people Twitter account, so they’re usually a tool of academia, authors, or various kinds of celebrities. At least you need a couple of celebrities to boost your idea.

The latest round of “gender critical”, aka transphobic open letter seems to have suffered from a certain lack of celebrity endorsement, which is why they decided to simply sign the names of dead women to their cause. “Come on, Giliell”, I hear you say, “nobody would be that dishonest”. But go, look for yourselves: Here it is.

The letter itself is the usual transphobic whining about trans women taking things from cis women, like all those shiny Olympic medals trans women have so far failed to win. The novel “Detransition, Baby”, by Torres Peters, has been listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. The usual suspects are all up in arms because a literary prize that was founded to celebrate women’s often  undervalued contributions to fiction has dared to list a novel by a trans woman, and this is of course another instance of a “trans identified male” taking things from “biological women”, just like in sports. Only that of course they always try to base their bigotry on biology, claiming that anybody amab has intrinsic and immutable advantages over anybody afab. Does this mean they’re indirectly claiming that women cannot write and therefore need some protected prizes where they don’t have to compete with men?*

But let’s not get sidetracked from the incredible dishonesty of “the dead agree with me via ouija board”. Among the “supporters” of the letter you’ll find Emily Dickinson, Daphne du Maurier and Mary Anne Evans, aka George Elliot. Why they couldn’t get the Transphobe in Chief, the woman writer who publishes under her initials, a male pseudonym of a guy who tortured gay people, and who singlehandedly invented women back in the 1990s to sign their letter, I don’t know. Now, we all like to claim great woman of the past as our forbearers, brand ourselves as their heirs, but a simple fact is that we have no idea what their opinion on many things was or would have been. Who knows what Rosa Luxemburg would have thought about gay marriage? For a couple of other issues we do know their positions and they are horrible, especially with regards to race. Is it possible that these people would have agreed with them? Sure. Does that mean anything? Not unless you declare them infallible. Now, given that many transphobes are also terribly racist and homophobe, they probably consider that a feature, not a bug, since they happily outsource critical thinking.

It is, of course, also possible that those women would have told them to stuff it. It happens time again with modern authors who they suppose agree with their bigotry, like Margret Atwood. And after all, it is pretty unimportant. Those women are long dead, and while celebrities sure can help or hinder a cause, their opinion does not magically make a position right or wrong. Human rights are not determined by Grammy nominations or book prizes. There’s a hell lot of horrible people with book prizes or Nobel prizes. In the end that’s just an argument from second hand authority and you learn back in grade 10 that those are not actually arguments at all. By the end of the day it’s just another episode of transphobes (if you read the list you will indeed find familiar names) being terrible, and none of them sees any issue with this.

*Just to make this clear: I’m very fond of things like Women’s Prize for Fiction. We don’t have a level playing field and authors don’t get published by sole merit of their writing. Until we have a level playing field we do need Women’s Prizes, Black Literature Prizes, Queer Literature Prizes etc.

Bobbin Lace, Pandemics and Christian Morals

You may be justifiably baffled about the title – what do these three things have in common? And, understandably, you probably can’t guess the correct answer. Because that answer is my maternal grandmother.

I have never met any of my grandparents, all except my grandfather died before my parents even met, and my grandfather has died when I was merely three years old. So I know very little about any of them, except for what my parents have told me. And today I would like to share a story about how the bobbin-lace-making tradition started in our family. It is not a nice story.

My grandmother has broken her leg during play when she was four, she fell from a haywagon and her leg got between the spokes of the wheel. Her parents wanted to take her to the hospital, but her father’s mother has refused to pay for it, saying that God will take care of things. He did not. In fact, it got worse to a point that when they finally did go to the hospital, it was too late and the leg was beyond repair. It stopped growing and no attempts at mending it worked, including a graft of healthy bone from the other leg.

A few years later, when my grandmother was seven years old, the Spanis-flu pandemics has broken out and her mother got sick. She was delirious from fever and kept hugging my grandmother saying “My poor child, if I die, I want you to die with me, they will torture you when I am gone.”  Unfortunately, she died and…

From what I gather, my grandmother’s father was a mild-mannered man. A gamekeeper who preferred the quiet of the forests to people. He was not very keen on religious practice, saying that he meets with God in the forests and does not need to go to church. But at home, he was completely in tow of his abusive, miserly, and religiously devout catholic mother, who ruled the family with an iron hand. They lived at a homestead, and that means a lot of work needs to be done on daily basis. Oftentimes hard work even for healthy people.  And everyone was expected to do their share. My grandmother had three healthy sisters, and she was constantly shunned and mocked for not being able to work properly. At one point her grandmother has refused to “feed the cripple any longer” and when she was eleven years old, she was sent to a cloister.

A cloister that was adjacent to a castle and has provided a lot of free-child-labor to the said castle. My grandmother was of course not suitable for many works, but she was very apt with her hands, and she learned several useful crafts there. Including bobbin-lace making – the cloister made bobbin-lace for the countess. She liked those crafts, but my guess is she would probably like them better if they did not come with a sidedish of beatings and hunger as a punishment for not meeting the daily quota of work.

At seventeen years old she was poised to become a nun, but this is when her luck finally broke for better. An employee of a mask and wig lending shop from a big city was shortly at the cloister and she noticed the exceptional skill of my grandmother. And she asked her if she would like to come to the big city to work at the company. And she did. But she was not of age yet, so she needed consent from her father to go.

The parish priest had a bad conscience with regard to her, for not putting pressure on her grandmother to send her to hospital in time. And one nun has liked her and wanted for her a better future than the cloister. So they conspired to prepare the paperwork and catch her father at the marketplace, where he went alone without being supervised by the abusive family matriarch. And he signed the papers without arguing.

And that way my grandmother escaped abuse and finally got to live on her own. Two years later her bad leg had to be amputated, but she got on to live a happy (for the times – WW2, then totalitarian communist rule etc.) life. And she kept making bobbin lace and passed the craft onto one of her daughters. Who passed it onto me, where it stops.

Today, my mother has finished another of her masterpieces. A round tablecloth, 80 cm across. She worked on it for 220 hours and has used 1530 m of thread. It is beautiful and I do wish I had a cheerier story to tell with it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

 

The Art of …

… posters, by Ridwan Adhami, Shephard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, Ernesto Yerena, Delphine Diallo, Ayse Gursoz, and Arlene Mejorado.

They were  commissioned by The Amplifier Foundation, a non-profit organization that raises the voices of grassroots movements through art and community engagement.

Today seems like a good day to wave hi to the U.S.A. and show off some of her best modern artists.

 

Poster series We the People by various artists. Image from NBC, courtesy of The Amplifier Foundation

“American identity starts with Native resistance. In this artwork, Ernesto Yerena honors Helen Red Feather of the Lakota tribe during her bravery and resilience at the Standing Rock reservation in 2016. She was originally photographed by Ayşe Gürsöz while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.” Words and image from The Amplifier Foundation.

Ridwan Adhami decided to photograph a Muslim woman wearing an American flag as a hijab for the five-year anniversary of 9/11. They stood at the site of the World Trade Center, capturing the iconic image, without knowing just how far it would eventually go…More than a decade later, Adhami and Shepard Fairey reincarnated the image for Amplifier’s We the People campaign. As the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban continues to wage a war on Islamic faith, the artwork’s message will keep ringing loud and clear. There is no room for fear, only freedom.” Words and Image from The Amplifier Foundation.

“This piece from artist Jessica Sabogal focuses on the love, affection, and inspiration that will continue to persevere through the darkness.”Words and image from The Amplifier Foundation.

“At a time of so much discrimination and injustice, this photograph taken by French and Senegalese artist Delphine Diallo and converted into an illustration by Shepard Fairey reminds us of the power of youth and the world we’re building around them.” Words and image from The Amplifier Foundation

“…this photograph taken by Arlene Mejorado and illustrated by Shepard Fairey is a crucial part of the We the People campaign. Mejorado, a photographer and documentary-maker from California, describes herself as “the daughter of migrants, brown, queer, multi-ethnic, and aspirant of beauty and truth.” The image depicts Xicana activist Maribel Valdez Gonzalez, described by the artist as “an incredible queer, first gen, muxerista, educator who constantly pushes my politics.” The final artwork was carried by thousands at the Women’s March for the 2017 inauguration.” Words and image from The Amplifier Foundation

Loser Should Not Be an Insult

This will be just a short contemplation about one word. But before you proceed with reading, I would recommend watching this video. It is only tangentially related, but it sparked a few months ago the train of thoughts leading here.

English is not my first language and I have always trouble to understand some things. And one of those things is the use of the word loser as an insult. But it got appropriated into the Czech language in the late decades, and given how it is used, I do consider its use as an insult to be a symptom of a toxic culture, even if not necessarily of toxic masculinity specifically. As a prime example of this, I would like to point out that it is one of the most favorite insults that Donald Trump likes to throw around at anyone he does not like – and now some people like to use that word as an insult against him. I do not.

Using the word loser as a derogatory term in this way signifies that losing at something (usually at finding a relationship and/or financial independence) is always a choice and personal failure as if we all have full control over everything. It also values zero-sum games over cooperation. It completely disregards the huge influence of chance in our lives. Plus we are often pressured by society to try to succeed at the arbitrary and sometimes downright daft things against our will – there are people who are happy to be single, women who do not want to have children, men who do not want a managerial career, etc. It divides people into winners and losers and only winners are worthy of consideration and empathy.

So before you, as an SJW, continue to use the word loser casually as an insult, perhaps consider why you are doing it and whether you are not inadvertently contributing to the things you intend to oppose. There are better insults for shitty people who chose to do shitty things.

 

If You Need a Gun, You Are Not Free

I peeked into the Trumpverse a bit and what I saw was unsurprising, but it surprised me anyway. I did not go to Breitbart or some similar far-right downright fascist propaganda sites. I just went to a YouTube channel that I had a reason to believe will have a high percentage of Trumpists in its following and I looked at comments under the only one video about recent politics the channel is hosting. I did not linger for too long, I did not even watch the whole video, just a few minutes and a few comments sufficed. This tiny window into the mind of a regular trumpist was informative, although I do not know what can be done with that information if anything.

From where I stand, Trumpism is just a new flavor of fascism. It is about the government controlling people, dictating what they can and cannot do with their private lives, in their private homes, sometimes even with their own bodies.

From where at least some Trumpists stay, the opposite is superficially true. They think that Biden is a socialist and that he is going to try and control them and take their personal freedoms. Their position with regard to him is the same as the position of leftists is in regard to Trump. And they despair and fear for their future after Biden’s win just as leftists despaired and feared for their future four years ago.

The problem seems not to be whether one values freedom, but what one considers to be freedom. Due to the main focus of the site I was visiting, there was a strong bias towards one uniquely American thing – guns, guns, guns. They see the right to own guns as the most important freedom one of them all, and they think that by having guns they are safeguarding all their other freedoms against a potential governmental overreach.

Which is, of course, bullshit. In modern times any uprising in which the government’s armed forces do not join in with the people is doomed to fail. Rifles, handguns, and knives are no match for tanks, rockets, and drones. But they really, really believe their fantasy that the right to have guns keeps them free and that is why they are/were voting for Trump and Republicans. They fear Biden is going to confiscate their guns and thus, by proxy, take away all their freedoms.

I do not believe these people can be reasoned with, but it seems to me they are overlooking one important aspect. If they need a gun to feel safe from an imminent governmental overreach, then they already are not free. Not only are they shackled by an unreasonable fear of something they would be powerless to oppose if it happened anyway, but they also keep the whole society in shackles of another fear – of random mass shootings, of armed militias going berserk, of random gun accidents. And if their fear of governmental overreach necessitating armed opposition were justified, then the government is already completely dysfunctional.

I lived my whole life in a society without guns, and a third of that life in a totalitarian regime. Fear of random stranger shooting up a school or a workplace never was on my radar, indeed I did not even know such things exist on the scale they do in the USA well into my thirties. And when the totalitarian regime fell, it was not because people took arms and stormed the whatever, it fell because the armed forces refused to shoot unarmed citizens and/or the top brass were hesitant to give such orders (personal anecdotes and historian descriptions vary). Having more guns in that situation would not make a difference except turning the Velvet Revolution into a Scarlet Revolution. I am not saying that armed revolutions are not sometimes necessary, or that they neer worked, but I am saying they do not work as these people imagine them.

But as far as I could see, the gut-wrenching fear and despair at Biden win were genuine. They really think that socialism means the state is going to get them, shackle them, and ruin their country. They really, honestly believe that Republicans and Trump were and are doing a good job, for them personally and for the American people as a whole.

Guns and abortins, these two issues are the only ones that matter to them. And only Republicans give them what they want.

And I am at a loss how to mend divides soo deeply entrenched in society. How do you snap someone out of a whole life of propaganda?

Woman Artists on Youtube – Movie Reviewer – Jill Bearup

I am not shure whether movie reviewer is the correct title – she is specializing in talking about stage combat, but not only that. I found her because I have recently caught up with my MCU deficit (last movie I saw before this year was Guardians of the Galaxy 2) and YouTube algorithm caught up pretty quickly on that.

The Art of …

… political protest, billboard-style

Just in time for the American election, a billboard project is being held in New York City.In October, Art at a Time Like This Inc., in collaboration with SaveArtSpace, borrows the moniker “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020” to present 20 artists on 20 billboards around New York City, providing “a platform for artists to comment on the current state of US politics and increasing polarization just in time for the election,” according to a press release.

The twenty artists have been chosen, and below is a small sample of what the installation will include.

Mel Chin’s billboard imagery for “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020” (all images courtesy of SaveArtSpace)

Dread Scott for “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020”

Shirin Neshat for “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020”

Marilyn Minter for “Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020”

The billboards will be placed around the 5 boroughs of New York, and there will be a digital map allowing viewers to plan self-guided tours. The full story is at Hyperallergic.

 

 

An Important Petition from Iris

Iris at Death to Squirrels has a post up regarding the cruel treatment and unjust imprisonment of a young bi-racial girl with mental health problems. It’s an ugly story about a family looking for help and finding horror instead. It’s not only an indictment of the American mental health system but another urgent example of why Black Lives Matter really does matter. The more I read, the angrier I became, and I encourage you all to go read the story and get angry, too. Then, go sign the petition. I did, but I’m not an American, and the petition needs American voices – lots of them. At the very least, it will let this family know that they are not alone, but maybe collectively, we can get this child the help she desperately needs and offer her a future. Thanks.

Portland – Required Reading

A lot is happening in Portland, and Big Media reports are often unreliable or outright false. Our very own Crip Dyke at Pervert Justice has been on the ground risking her health and well-being to report the reality of the situation to us. This morning her report, Still a step away from Pinkerton’s, but it’s badis especially gut-wrenching, and it should be required reading. Please, if you haven’t already, head on over and share your support.

For some perspective on the reference to Pinkerton’s, Marcus at Stderr shares a historical look at labour protests in the U.S. with an essay titled How to Riot. It’s an in-depth look at the history of how the American government has handled civil unrest, and it’s frightening.

To round out your reading, I recommend Iris Vander Pluym at Death to Squirrels, whose essay A.G.Barr: Crip Dyke is a “violent rioter and anarchist” hijacking the Portland Protests, brings some insight into why what Crip Dyke is doing is so vitally important. The American government is lying to the public, and it is the on-sight reports from citizen journalists that tell the real story.

I share my thanks to all of these voices for the clarity they bring to a complicated issue.

Crip Dyke, please stay safe.

 

Rediscovering the Words of Frederick Douglass

Library sciences have come a long way since the days of card catalogues and racks of periodicals. Most records are now kept digitally, and many historical records have been converted to digital files. It’s because of all those digital files that historian Scott Sandage was able to track down the full copy of Frederick Douglass’ words regarding a monument in Lincoln Park that should be removed.

The statue in Lincoln Park, known as the Emancipation Memorial, depicts the 16th president beside a Black man who, depending on how you see the piece, is either kneeling or rising. It’s supposed to commemorate the end of slavery—but in any interpretation, the Black man is physically lower than Lincoln himself, leading critics to see the statue as a paean to Lincoln’s generosity, and not a testament to Black Americans’ own roles in their liberation. “Statues teach history,” says Glenn Foster, an activist with the Freedom Neighborhood, who wants to see the statue removed. The Black man in this statue “is in a very submissive position,” he says, adding that that’s not “respectful to our community, or to anyone in general.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, two historians, Scott Sandage of Carnegie Mellon University and Jonathan White of Christopher Newport University, were recently debating what ought to be done with the statue, and they wanted to know whether the social reformer and statesman Douglass had, in fact, criticized it directly. Douglass died in 1895, but posthumous reports of his comments on the subject have been circulating since 1916, when a book stated that he had been critical of the statue at its unveiling. In his prepared speech for the event, Douglass challenged the nascent Lincoln mythology, calling him “preeminently the white man’s president …,” but it wasn’t clear whether, in an alleged aside, he also criticized the new statue itself. The two scholars disagreed over the account’s reliability, so Sandage set out to more firmly establish the abolitionist’s position.

It was Douglass’s ability to turn a phrase that helped the historian finally locate the relevant text. It had been reported that Douglas had referred to the black man on the memorial as “couchant.”

Using “couchant” as the keyword in his search—and experimenting with a few combinations of other words—Sandage identified three newspapers that ran the entirety of a letter Douglass wrote about the statue, a few days after speaking at its dedication. “Admirable as is the monument by Mr. Ball in Lincoln park [sic],” writes Douglass, “it does not, as it seems to me, tell the whole truth …” He credits Lincoln for following through on emancipation, but adds that “the negro was made a citizen” by “President U.S. Grant,” under whose administration the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified. (In theory, the Amendment enfranchised Black men with the right to vote. Of course, enforcement of that right has been a long-standing issue.) He concludes by suggesting that “[t]here is room in Lincoln park for another monument,” and that that space ought to be filled out with works that could help complete the historical picture.

NEWSPAPERS.COM, COURTESY SCOTT SANDAGE / PUBLIC DOMAIN

 

Sandage and White have proposed an “emancipation group” of statues to fill out the park and note that it would not affect the reputation of Lincoln one bit to remove the existing monument, as there is another more significant tribute to Lincoln nearby. There are other proposals for the park from leaders in the black community, and you can read the full story at Atlas Obscura.

A Lawyer Talks About Lafayette Square Gassing

I have never seen LegalEagle lose his cool on camera, although I did not watch all his videos.

I have also never expected to live through a deadly pandemic and USA coming apart at the seams at the same time.

Life is full of surprises. To all our USA readers – please stay safe. Our hearts are with you, although we cannot do anything to help.