North Korea’s Kim Jong Il Dead

Well… Another small bit of good news on that dictator front around the world…

Kim Jong Il is dead…

Zwarte Piet – A “Black” Dutch Problem

Holland was heavily involved in the slave trade, principally supplying ships and shipping, but also through several colonies…

No surprise then, the industry left a mark… I have no idea of historical representations of this caricature, but certainly by American standards even into the 60’s this is pretty mild. “Black Dutch” has quite a different meaning in the US, depending on time and region historically – perhaps influenced by Zwarte Piet?

In Holland, Santa Doesn’t Have Elves. He Has Slaves.

As a newcomer to the Netherlands, I do many things wrong. I forget to bring gifts to dinner parties, I thank people too profusely, and often speak too personally with people I’ve just met. But no slip-up has provoked a more troubled response than when I’ve brought up my concerns about Santa Claus.

Here’s what concerns me: In Holland, Santa, or “Sinterklaas,” as he’s known to the Dutch, doesn’t have reindeer; he has a little helper named Zwarte Piet, literally Black Pete, who charms children with pepernoten cookies and a kooky demeanor while horrifying foreign visitors with his resemblance to Little Black Sambo. Each year, on Dec. 5, the morning before the feast of St. Nicholas, children all over the country wake up excited for gifts and candy while thousands of adults go to their mirrors to apply brown paint and red lips. In their Zwarte Piet costumes, they fill central Amsterdam and small village streets, ushering in the arrival of Sinterklaas who, in the Dutch tradition, rides a flying white horse.

Trying to tell a Dutch person why this image disturbs you will often result in anger and frustration. Otherwise mature and liberal-minded adults may recoil from the topic and offer a rote list of reasons why Zwarte Piet should not offend anybody. “He is not even a black man,” many will tell you. “He is just black because he came down the chimney.” Then, you may reply, why aren’t his clothes dirty?

As the history of Zwarte Piet makes clear, that chimney-soot explanation doesn’t wash. Zwarte Piet—or his immediate ancestor, anyway—was introduced in 1845 in the story “Saint Nicholas and his Servant,” written by an Amsterdam schoolteacher named Jan Schenkman. In the story, Sinterklaas comes from Spain by steamship bringing with him a black helper of African origin. The book was wildly popular and with it began the inclusion of Santa’s helper in Dutch Christmas festivities. (It wasn’t until later in the century that he was given the name Piet.)

At the time, the Dutch empire spread across three continents and included the colonies of Suriname and Indonesia. The Dutch were deeply involved in the slave trade, both transporting African slaves to be sold and using slave labor to work coffee and sugar plantations in their colonies. Minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment.

Nowadays, Sinterklaas comes to Holland by steamship in mid-November of each year. He is played by a nationally beloved actor, and his arrival is a live televised event that kicks off the holiday season much like the Macy’s Day Parade in the United States. The city bestowed the honor of hosting Sinterklaas’ arrival changes each year…

I  guess the last question is – “Is it racism?”

The only answer I could give from my distinctly 70’s American viewpoint is… “Compared to what?”

 

 

One from Etta…Goodbye…

 

Maybe the End, maybe not… But I love this version of “Merry Christmas Baby” in this transitional style between Big Band R&B and 60’s…

Doctor: Etta James Terminally Ill

What’s wrong With This Picture?

Fresh on the heels of news that now nearly 1/2 of Americans are at or below the poverty level, we are treated to the nightly charade of the Republican Party nomination…

8...7...6...5...4...3...2... WHO?

One of whose weekly flavors who is “leading” (as we are constantly reminded) is one of the people most responsible for America’s meltdown, and the sad, sad state of affairs of today. I mean, Neut’s 1994 Contract on America has to satnd as the penultimate symbol of failure..a 50 story building which never should have been allowed to go above 13 because it simply lacked either the architecture or the foundation. A Southern Fried bastardization of Raygun’s political strategy, but not political motivation, stewardship, patriotism, or integrity – Neut burned dow any mote of morality or integrity in the GOP, and made it a cheap crack whore junkie to the politics of polarization.

And they want to consider running this clown for President? The simple fact that Republicans are voting to allow him to run as their representative instead of a short vote for the choice of a rope or a bullet after a brief trial …  is full and graphic proof that the politics of phobias, racism, and greed will top the general welfare and national progress every time.

An Insurance Guy’s Nightmare

Wow… a $500,000 Ferrari…

So what sort of deductible do you get on that?

This one apparently involved eight Ferraris, three Mercedes Benzes,  a Lamborghini Diablo, and a rare Nissan GTR Skyline… And talk about being on the road at the wrong time and place…A Toyota Prius!

Astonishing accident involving eight Ferraris ‘world’s most expensive car crash’

A fleet of high-performance cars, including eight Ferraris, has been involved in one of the most expensive accidents in history after an astonishing multi-car pile-up in Japan.

Police said three Mercedes Benz cars and a Lamborghini Diablo were also involved in the massive crash at the weekend on the Chugoku Expressway, in the country’s south-west.

Witnesses reported hearing a “tremendous noise” just a few moments before the accident on the Yamaguchi prefecture highway amid terrible driving conditions.

While the majority of the 14 vehicles – which also included a Japanese supercar Nissan GT-R Skyline and a Toyota Prius – were travelling along the Osaka Prefecture-bound bended lane at least one Mercedes CL600 was driving in the opposite direction.

Miraculously, none of drivers – the majority of whom are reported to be foreign car enthusiasts – were seriously hurt in the wreckage but the bill is still bound to be painful nonetheless.

Such was the severity of the damage, several of the luxury cars have been written off, leaving their owners with the nightmare scenario of seeing their prized possessions turned into expensive scrap metal.

The total damage bill is expected to hit several million pounds. A new Ferrari 355 retails for several hundred thousand pounds.

The other Ferrari models understood to have been involved in the pile-up include a F512, F355, F430 and a F360.

Where is the Love?

The love ballad has seemingly left the scene in terms of black music in America. Every day chances that there will be another Bary White,  Teddy Pendergrass, or Luther seem to get dimmer and dimmer – as the assorted wannabes and no-talent noisemakers flood the scene…

An interesting take on why no more “Love” in R&B.

Where is the love in R&B music?

When I was a teenager trying to figure out what the ladies liked, I would turn on the TV on Saturday afternoons to catch “The hippest trip in America.”

I’d close my bedroom door to make sure my younger brother wasn’t watching, and then I’d imitate the latest dance moves on “Soul Train,” the African-American dance show. Standing in front of a mirror, I’d unleash a series of spasmodic dance moves before embarrassing myself too much to continue.

Soul Train’s dancers never had that problem. As the show’s festive theme song played, wiry dancers in tight double-knit pants shimmied across the dance floor. I loved the huge afros, the lapels that were so wide you could land a small plane on them, and the suave “Soul Train” host, Don Cornelius, who signed off each show by declaring, “We wish you love, peace … and sooooulllll!”

But most of all I loved the music on “Soul Train,” especially the slow jams. They had everything — evocative lyrics, head-bopping grooves, soaring string arrangements and a whole lot of talk about love.

Yet when I listen to R&B today, I ask myself the same question Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway posed in their classic 1972 duet: “Where is the Love?”

Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today’s urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it’s not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.

Black people gave the world Motown, Barry White and “Let’s Get It On.” But we don’t make love songs anymore.

Why?

I asked some of the stars who created the popular R&B classics of the late 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s. Their answer: The music changed because blacks lost something essential — something that all Americans, regardless of race, should regret.

“We had so much harmony”

Some of what we lost, they say, was an appreciation of love itself.

Earth Wind & Fire keyboardist and founding member Larry Dunn says a new generation of black R&B artists is more cynical because more come from broken homes and broken communities.

“How are you going to write about love when you don’t know what it is?” asks Dunn, whose new album “N2 The Journey” contains a remake of one of Earth Wind & Fire’s most famous ballads, “Reasons.”

EWF, which gave us 1970s classics such as “After the Love is Gone,” didn’t create songs just to make hits, Dunn says. They also wanted to change lives. The group was known for songs like “Devotion” and “Shining Star” that celebrated love of self and God.

Those sentiments may sound hokey now, but Dunn says EWF could tell their songs had the intended effect. People played EWF love songs at their proms and weddings, and people still write letters of thanks to the group today.

“We had one guy who came up to us before a show and told us that we had helped him get off heroin,” says Dunn, who is as relentlessly upbeat and warm as EWF’s music.

Kenny Gamble brought the same ambition to his sound. Gamble is the co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, known as the Motown of the ’70s. The record label patented “Philly Soul” — tight, sophisticated arrangements with lush strings that formed the backdrop for classic love songs such as Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Come Go With Me.”

Yet Gamble’s songs were also driven by black pride and self-help. With his co-producer and songwriter Leon Huff, Gamble created social conscience anthems like “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and “Love Train” by The O’Jays.

Both the love songs and those with messages sprang from the same source, the belief that loving one another and your community was important, says Gamble, who still lives in Philadelphia renovating blighted neighborhoods through his nonprofit, Universal Companies.

“We had so much harmony, so much purpose in our music,” he says. “Our whole purpose was the message is in the music, and that message was to love one another and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Love songs flowered during that era also because black people were more optimistic, music critic Rashod Ollison wrote in an essay on Barry White, the rotund singer with what Ollison described as the “low-as-the-ocean-floor bass voice” who gave us love songs such as “Never Gonna’ Give You Up.”… (more)

In my view the tightest close harmony done in the past 50 years… Ever notice nobody ever tries to cover the old Dells or Harold Melvin songs? That harmony born of 20 or more years singing together is the reason – and you ain’t gettin’ that out of a synthesizer in 15 minutes on the cheap…

Back to the Affirmative Action Wars…

In case you missed it the right has been reconditioning and rolling out their anti-Civil Rights crew frantically over the past several months.  One of the folks to get a shiny new paint job was Pat Buchanan – although with his vision of a white America as a precondition for continued greatness – I think he let the real cat out of the bag a little too quickly. George Will blubbering about how AA has hurt minorities… A Republican sitting a panel which dealt with discrimination gets canned – by railing against minorities… They have even have stalwart Lawn Jockeys like Larry Elder and Walter Williams de-fossilized and trotted out in a reprise of their racism shielding role for the conservative right in the 90’s.

So why all the sudden attention?

U.S. Urges Creativity by Colleges to Gain Diversity

The Obama administration on Friday urged colleges and universities to get creative in improving racial diversity at their campuses, throwing out a Bush-era interpretation of recent Supreme Courtrulings that limited affirmative action in admissions.

The new guidelines issued by the Departments of Justice and Education replaced a 2008 document that essentially warned colleges and universities against considering race at all. Instead, the guidelines focus on the wiggle room in the court decisions involving the University of Michigan, suggesting that institutions use other criteria — students’ socioeconomic profiles, residential instability, the hardships they have overcome — that are often proxies for race. Schools could even grant preferences to students from certain schools selected for, among other things, their racial composition, the new document says.

“Post-secondary institutions can voluntarily consider race to further the compelling interest of achieving diversity,” reads the 10-page guide sent to thousands of college admissions officials on Friday afternoon. In some cases, it says, “race can be outcome determinative.”

The administration issued a parallel 14-page outline on Friday for the nation’s 17,000 public school districts, explaining what government lawyers consider to be acceptable ways that educators can seek to reduce racial segregation, which has been increasing nationwide.

The two documents, issued as the presidential campaign heats up and as the Supreme Court considers whether to hear a new affirmative action case, were designed to give educators a clear administration interpretation of three high court cases that, since 2003, have limited the use of race in admissions, zoning and other school policies.

The contrast with the Bush guidelines interpreting the same three cases is stark. Where the Bush administration’s letter in 2008 states, “Quotas are impermissible,” the 2011 version says “an institution may permissibly aim to achieve a critical mass of underrepresented students.” Even in addressing the same principles, the framework is practically reversed.

Bush guidelines: “Before using race, there must be a serious good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives.”

Obama guidelines: “Institutions are not required to implement race-neutral approaches if, in their judgment, the approaches would be unworkable.”

Colleges seeking to increase diversity while not running afoul of Supreme Court guidelines, the new document says, “could select schools (including community colleges) based on their demographics (e.g., their racial or socioeconomic composition), and grant an admission preference” to graduates of those schools. They could also “select high schools for partnership” based, among other things, on “racial composition of the school’s student body” and former partnerships with historically black colleges and universities”; consider race as they select students for mentoring programs; and sponsor retention or support programs that highlight, for example, “the accomplishments of Latino business leaders.”

Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents 1,800 universities and colleges, predicted that educators would immediately begin to pursue ways to draw more racial minorities, as the new guidelines would ease fears of legal challenge.

“University administrators have been confused about how they could follow the court’s rulings and still achieve the benefits of diversity,” Ms. Meloy said. “So they will welcome this practical, step-by-step set of directions.”

For kindergarten through 12th grade, the guidelines tell school districts that they can shape policies on locating schools, drawing attendance boundaries and governing student transfers to achieve a better racial mix. For example, a school district with two elementary schools with distinctly different demographics could consider making one school serve kindergarten through second grade and the other grades 3 to 5 in order to force a better mix.

“Diverse learning environments promote development of analytical skills, dismantle stereotypes and prepare students to succeed in an increasingly interconnected world,”Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a statement. “The guidance announced today will aid educational institutions in their efforts to provide true equality of opportunity.”

Lee C. Bollinger, an advocate of affirmative action, was the named defendant, as president of the University of Michigan, in the two 2003 Supreme Court cases that laid down new markers on the permissible use of race in admissions. He described the new guidelines as “perfect.”

“It’s a very fair interpretation of what the court decided,” said Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar who is now president of Columbia University, “which is primarily that race can be one of many factors, and as long as your policies truly embody that approach, you’ll be fine, and can strive for diversity in all its benefits.” (more)

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