Author Archive for Duane Cady – Page 2

“All Eyze On Me,” the life of Tupac Shakur

I had a chance to see he HBO biopic on the life and death of rapper Tupac Shakur (b. 1971; d.1996). It came out a couple of years ago but has been available only on HBO so access has been limited. I wanted to see the film because my son was a fan while in high school in the early ’90s and his mother and I never understood his fascination with a rapper using the language he did to express himself. When challenged, or son always defended Shupac for his social justice message and suggested we “get past” the words he used.

Tupac Shakur (aka 2pac, Pac, and Makaveli) was deeply influenced by his mother, a member of the Black Panther Party, his step-father, a black supremacist, and his biological father, an anti-racism revolutionary. Tupac went to te Baltimore Arts High School and fell in love with Shakespeare, landing a role as Hamlet while a junior. He never played the part because his family moved to Los Angeles.

On the significance of Shakespeare, Shakur once said in an interview:

I love Shakespeare. He wrote some of the rawest stories. I mean
look at “Romeo and Juliet.” That’s some serious ghetto shit. You
got this guy Romeo from the Bloods who falls for Juliet, a female
from the Crips, and everybody in both gangs is against them. So
they have to sneak out and they end up dead for nothing.

His analysis of Macbeth follows the same line.

Tupac started in the music industry at16, as a side man; he went solo at 19. His first album, “2Pacalypse Now,” shows his social consciousness, focused on inner city problems (injustice, poverty, and racism). It went platinum. Music journalist Chuck Phillips called him “brave, wise, and smart, wickedly smart.” Shakur was known for his clever rhymes, impressive rhythms, cadence, attitude, and protest message.

Tupac had more than his share of problems in his short life. He was brutalized by two cops for jaywalking. He sued for $1 million, won his case, and received $45,000, most of which went to his lawyers. He was involved in a street skirmish in which a six year old took a random bullet to the head and died. The gun was registered to Shakur but he was aquited. He was a ladies man, broke up with a girlfriend, but she seduced him three days later and cried rape (Tupac: “I didn’t rape nobody”); he was found not guilty of rape but was convicted for sexual assault. His sentence: 4-12 years.

Tupac was the first recording artist in history to release an album while in prison. It sold 250,000 copies the first week, setting a record. An old black inmate, a “lifer,” advised him to “survive” rather than get in constant skirmishes with felow inmates. His mother asked him “where’s your spirit?” and said “they can destroy your body but not your mind. Above all, to thine own self be true. Hold your head up.” He ended up serving less than a year of his sentence.

Out of prison he partnered with MC Big to manage the east coast rap scene while Big maneged the west coast. The idea was to reduce the rivalries, mostlyover money, and the subsequent violent conflicts. He was “robbed” and shot five times in the lobby of his studio. He “checked himself out” (i.e., pulled the tubes and IVs) and left the hospital after three days. It was never clear who was responsible for the shooting. Pac never thought it was robbery since the gunmen took his necklace but not his Rollex watch.

In prison Tupac had become interested in philosophy, especially philosophy of war, and military strategy, studying The Prince by Machiavelli (the source of his adding the nickname “Makaveli”), and The Art of War by Sun Tzu. His first album after prison was “The Don Killuminati: the 7 Day Theory.” Followers took it as a stark contrast with his early work. It was seen as emotionally dark, focusing on pain and aggression.

Vice President Dan Quayle lumped Tupac with “gangsta rappers” on national TV, suggesting that the government would put an end to rap due to the vile language. Tupac’s mom: “They’re afraid of your message, not your language. You’re a black leader.” Shakur represented rebellion pure and simple.

While pop music is poetry put to melody, rap is poetry put to rhythm. Tupac Shakur is the most copied MC of all time. Nine of his albums went platinum while he was living, seven more after his death. More than 75,000,000 recordings of Tupac Shakur have sold, and his work is still selling. There are murals of him around the world and statues in both the US and Germany. In 2012 a “hologram” of Tupac Shakur performed in concert with Snoop Dog at the Cochella Music Festival, so his influence –and popularity– continue. Perhaps substantive social criticism stands the test of time while entertainment seeking wealth is fleeting.

“Reality” Show Bully as US CEO

Americans are trying to figure out how to have a Happy New Year as the White House is about to be vacated by Michelle and Barack Obama. According to media reports, the new President and First Lady, Donald and Melania Trump, are not likely to live there. Rather, they’ll continue living in their penthouse apartment atop the Manhattan Trump Tower, keeping their son in his school in New York City. Dad will use the White House for ceremonial events, and the Secret Service will scramble to secure the new first family, in any of the Trump Towers they may occupy. So much for cost containment.

Many Americans are also trying to figure out what a Trump presidency will bring, especially since so much of the Donald’s campaign rhetoric turns out to be “inoperative,” as Nixon might say. Trump’s dismissive ridicule of women, physically impaired people, immigrants, even the Purple Heart and a Gold Star family, along with his reckless suggestions of expanding rather than contracting the number of nations with nuclear weapons, dishonest five-year “birther” campaign trying to discredit President Obama, bogus charitable foundation, and plan to put Secretary Clinton in jail, all fade with little accountability, rather like his campaign promise to force Mexico to pay for an impenetrable security wall along our shared southern border. Apparently there’s a gap between saying and doing.

A friend of mine has asked me how serious I am about considering a move to Canada, questioning my own election-season rhetoric. I jokingly reply that the Canadians may wall-off our shared border to the north, making my threat “inoperative” as well. Yet I was serious in considering a move to Vancouver: milder than the Twin Cities of Minnesota, closer to the Seattle branch of our family (including our grandchildren), and an opportunity to live where Prime Minister Trudeau is taking Canada in the opposite direction promised (or threatened) by Mr. Trump, a direction I can support with enthusiasm.

I came close to migrating to Canada once before, in 1968. I had applied to my local draft board for Conscientious Objector Status while in college, but my anti-war argument was dismissed. What I needed –and couldn’t provide– was a paper trail documenting active membership with the Society of Friends (“Quakers”), Mennonites, or the Church of the Bretheran, i.e., participation with a historic “peace church.” As a vague Methodist, my appeal didn’t stand a chance (even a serious Methodist wouldn’t qualify for CO status with my local draft board). A scar from leg surgery while in high school caught the eye of the military doc, so I was reclassified from 1-A to 4-Y, draftable to serve behind compat lines as a typist or clerk only under a declaration of war. Our country has fought many a war since WW II but never under a declaration of war. Now I could go to graduate school in the US rather than Canada. My somewhat arbitrary escape from the Vietnam war pushed me further into anti-war activism.

We need to remember that no one need renounce citizenship to become an expat, and many Americans feel a need to take a stand against the nastiness of the recent campaign and the throwback policies Trump seems to call for. Surely we can’t accept any and all political nonsense; we have to draw a line somewhere.

I don’t know whether I’ll be driven to find my way to Canada –or New Zealand, or Jamaica– to try daily living beyond Trump’s America, but I hope Americans won’t simply accept the shift from serious government to Bully-in-Chief or federal leadership as a reality TV show, with the ratings king at the top. With luck, Mr. Trump will be satisfied with having proven he’s “a winner” and bored with doing the hard work of governing. I’m sure he will not enjoy the pay cut and the required distance from his financial holdings, nor will his cabinet employees. I will not be surprised if
he doesn’t run for reelection; actually, he may be disgusted enough with DC gridlock to resign and leave us with Pence. Happy New Year?

Making Football Safe to Play

“Football is not a contact sport; it is a collision sport.” –Vince Lombardi

According to the NFL coach after whom the Super Bowl trophy was named, the essence of football, the heart, soul, and main attraction, is the collision. Every play of every game includes collisions, the pain involved, and the possible injuries caused. Some fans wonder if we are supporting an unacceptably dangerous form of entertainment, like boxing.

The NFL brings in $11 billion per year (yes, Billion) operating as a monopoly (it is exempt from anti-trust legislation). Commissioner Roger Goodell is reportedly paid over $35 million annually. Most NFL revenue comes from television contracts. College football also generates huge sums of money via television. Like prominent pop musicians, movie stars and others in the entertainment industry, top NFL players are paid millions of dollars annually and team owners operate with hundreds of millions each year. Much is at stake when considering the safety of the game. We might want to believe that the league would choose player safety over profits, but looking into the matter shows such wishful thinking to be naive.

I consulted “The Collision Sport of Trial” by David Maraniss in the February, 2016 issue of “The New York Review of Books.” Maraniss, a serious football fan, reviews four books and two films on the subject. I highly recommend not only his essay but a closer look at his sources for a sobering account of the dangers of playing football. Below you’ll find a brief overview.

“Concussion,” the Hollywood film, is based on a true story and stars Will Smith as the Pittsburgh pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu, working at the county coroner’s office, discovered a neurodegenerative disease in the brain tissue of deceased football players. It is known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). The film depicts the NFL response to Dr. Omalu’s findings: the league considers him a quack and his work to be bad science. The NFL formed its own study group (stacked with doctors affilliated with the league) with a goal of obfuscating the problem. One NFL report stated, “Professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis.” In fact players endure thousands of such blows, some tens of thousands in long careers.

Chris Borland played one brilliant season as an inside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. One newspaper labled him “the most dangerous man in football.” He retired in March, 2015, at age 24, after studying the long-term effects playing football could have on his brain. “I want to be seventy-five and healthy if possible” he told a documentarian. Borland suffered a concussion at training camp during his first season and from then on thought about retiring. He made his decision after reading LEAGUE OF DENIAL and consulting with a brain trauma expert at Boston University. By then there was no debate about CTE.

As it turns out, the NFL settled a class-action lawsuit filed by thousands of former players charging the league with a long-standing cover-up of what it knew about connections between traumatic brain injuries and football. The players settled for nearly $1 billion spread over twenty years but observers considered the award a win for the owners because in order to collect any money players had to waive their right of further legislation.

CTE cannot be diagnosed; only autopsies confirm the disease. Symptoms vary widely: depression, bursts of anger, varying degrees of dementia, loss of concentration, even suicide, and so on. Unfortunately, no helmet has been designed that can “effectively reduce the rotational acceleration, that sloshing within the head that’s happening in the brain itself.”

A few days ago I learned that my grandson’s soccer league had outlawed the header during practice and play in his league of 9 year olds. No doubt that “sloshing” of the brain within the skull can be provoked any number of ways even in non-contact sports. One can only hope such changes become increasingly common as responsible officials move to make sports safer for everyone. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the NFL. As with politics, money rules.

Hilary & Bernie

The national news media named Hillary Clinton the “presumptive nominee” of the Democratic Party for US President on the eve of the California primary, amid questions of journalistic ethics violations. Did the announcement affect the outcome with some Sanders’ supporters not voting because they were told the race was over? We’ll never know.

The national media’s decision to “call” the race for the nomination before the single largest delegation was chosen by voters surprised only the most rabid Sanders supporters. After all, HRC was anointed “presumptive nominee” by the media years ago. Few expected a serious challenge, and the press, TV news, radio, and internet journalists all repeated frequently that Sanders had no real chance. Did this affect the outcome? Certainly. Why vote for a symbolic candidate interested in raising economic and moral concerns only to push the inevitable nominee to address such issues?

Hillary ran as the candidate who could “get things done” and painted Bernie Sanders as a naive idealist. But Bernie appealed to four out of five millennials who are, after all, the future of the party and the nation. So HRC stressed her experience and her practicality while Bernie stressed Hilary’s connections to big money from Wall Street banks and to establishment politicians like Henry Kissinger.

Of course Hillary Clinton’s now official run for the White House is historic; few women have been candidates for the presidency, and none has been a major party nominee until now. Lost amid gender politics is the historic significance of Sander’s achievement: an aging Socialist jew winning twenty-two states and 12,000,000 votes in primaries, and running very near to Clinton (except for Super Delegates), despite her longstanding hold on this opportunity to represent her party and, perhaps, become the first woman president of the US.

It was the polling of Super Delegates that generated the early call of the nomination, since Super Delegates don’t participate in the process until the party convention. By design, Super Delegates protect the party from being hijacked by an outsider. And Sanders, a socialist-independent, certainly is an outsider to the Democratic Party’s system of nomination despite caucusing with Democrats in the Senate. No doubt some in the GOP will be thinking about reforming their nomination process given the outsider, Donald Trump, beating a dozen establishment Republicans to take that party nomination.
Many dedicated Clinton supporters are clammoring for Bernie to concede the race and go away. But Hillary herself took four days to concede to Obama in 2008, hoping to broker a deal for influence going forward. Sanders has earned his right to take his time in an effort to push the political pendulum to the left. After all, it was Hillary’s husband Bill who stole the Republican agenda from Newt Gingrich and swung the Democratic Party to the right of Richard Nixon (who ran on a negative income tax in 1968, something no candidate could do today).

We do live in interesting and historic times. When the dust settles, most Sanders supporters will vote for Hillary, and Bernie will not run as an independent, his most rabid enthusiasts notwithstanding. I expect millennials to vote — for Clinton — though not with the same enthusiasm Sanders inspired. And I expect Trump to dig as much dirt as he can — even invent some if necessary — and present a “scandal” in mid-to-late October, too late for effective fact-checking and thoughtful consideration. Let’s hope the system, while badly bent out of shape, is not sufficiently broken to prompt an exodus for Canada in the face of President Trump.

Novel Recommendation

DO NOT MISS: Marlon James’ award-winning “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2014), 688 pages.

It took me five hours and 130 pages to get into this demanding work of historical fiction, but it is both rewarding and insightful. James explores political and cultural events in Jamaica from Dec. 2, 1976 through March 22, 1991 (plus background from the successful 1959 Cuban revolution and the failed ‘Bay of Pigs’ invasion, the US effort to topple Castro, US and USSR covert tampering with elected governments in Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina, and more in the ’60s), set in Cold War Latin America, complete with the CIA, Cuban agents, rival Jamaican gangs, political upheaval, the People’s National Party led by socialist Michael Manley, the rival Jamaican Labor Party struggle, the rise –and perceived threat– of Bob Marley as more than an entertainer, Marley’s two “peace concerts” aiming at Jamaican unity (including the attempts to murder Marley prior to the first concert), and the sweeping wreckage among ordinary people caught in the crossfire of international economic and political forces.

James presents these events through the words and actions of his 75+ characters, each telling their own story, be it in official British English, the Patois of ordinary Jamaicans, various dialects of ghetto slang, US government jargon, or US pop media gloss. And he moves between these polyphonic linguistic expressions seamlessly, making readers insiders to the sounds, smells, fears, and hopes of those in the struggle.

This is the most compelling read I have had in years. I rank “A Brief History of Seven Killings” alongside W. E. B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk,” Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” and Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” Reading “A Brief History of Seven Killings” is a complex and difficult undertaking, but, then, as Spinoza put it, “all beautiful things are as difficult as they are rare.”

Eyes on a Different Prize?

Among the most engaging and disturbing articles I’ve read lately is “The Anger of Ta-Nehisi Coates” in the February 11, 2016 issue of The New York Review of Books. Darryl Pinckney, novelist and longtime contributor to the NYRB, reviews Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and compares his work to that of Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin, mentioning W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. along the way.

Pinckney offers a disturbing analysis of the black struggle in the US as dualistic, expressing “opposing visions of the social destiny of black people. Up, down, all or nothing, in or out, acceptance or repudiation.”(p. 28) Sadly, Coates, reflecting on his father’s “prodding sense that he was seen as less,” seems to be landing on the side of expecting little, certainly not expecting the transformation in race relations that was the prize eyed by SCLC, SNCC, and the ‘60s civil rights legislation, namely, to be judged not on skin color but on character. To Coates father, Gandhi was absurd because “America was not a victim of great rot but the rot itself.”(p. 29) So much for nonviolent social change in the US.

Coates was born in 1975 and grew up forced to study works of black history. But it was rap music that moved him to consciousness at twelve. He tried writing rap and found himself. What mattered to Coates in high school: “girls, clothes, the mall, territory, styling, fights, gangs, homies, reputation, staying alive in West Baltimore, and the music. Black male adolescence had its soundtrack.”(p. 29) When he got in trouble in school, his dad came to school and knocked him down. Better than leaving it to the police, his dad told his mom.

Coates says he hadn’t noticed how different his family was. He was surrounded by fatherless friends, many getting locked up, shot, or on crack. He admits being haunted by his father’s generation. He knows his son is growing up in a different world, yet “there is no difference between him and Trayvon Martin as a youth at risk because he is black in America. His body is not his own; it is not secure. He can be destroyed by American society and no one will be held responsible.” (p.30)

Coates is convinced that progress for whites was at the expense of blacks. With DuBois he sees race as “the child of racism, not its father.” Noting that the Irish were once socially black in America –that is, at the bottom – becoming “white” changed class conflict for them. Anyone allowed to join “white” people could conveniently forget the slavery system on which the country was founded, with its suffering, theft, and death. The American Dream rests on centuries of rule by fear, black families not included in government by the people.

Coates imagined the American Dream to be “out there” in suburbia with its “unworried boys” and somehow connected to his fear. And Coates tells us those who believe in the American Dream must believe that it is just, and that those who achieve it do so as “the natural result of grit, honor, and good works…and must “look away from the horror of our prison system, from police forces transformed into armies, from the long war against the black body, not forged overnight.”(p 30) Coates wants his son’s life to be different from his, wants him to live without the fear Coates has known, but is hurt by his son’s reaction to the news that no charges will be brought against Michael Brown’s killer in Furgeson.

Yes, race is a social construction; still the damage of racism runs deep. Critics of Between the World and Me have said that Coates offers no hope, that he is resigned to history. While Baldwin calls on free people to celebrate the constancy of birth, struggle, death, and love, Coates seems to see all of us at the mercy of historical forces unable to shape the future. And now American Dreamers are exploiting “not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself.”(p. 30)

Is it too late to expect a better future? Is social hope foolishness? Is escape the best we can do, escape into resignation, our writing, the internet, or cynicism? I suppose if we expect the worst we’ll not be disappointed. Still, I’m grateful for Hughes, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, Gandhi, Malcolm X, King, and Coates. Shining a light on racism gives me a glimmer of hope even if Coates finds none, but that may only reflect my “race” privilege.

Welcome

IMG_1956 3I’m glad to have you visiting my website. It is straightforward. Under “What’s on My Mind?” you’ll find a short reflective piece that will change every month or so. Under “Philosophy” you’ll find my C.V. (curriculum vitae), a comprehensive list of my education, professional experience, and publications. “Social Justice” gives you an idea of my activities and interests both professionally and personally, “Teaching” briefly explains my approach, “Music” includes the ensembles and bands I participate with, and “Signs of the Times” offers a glimpse into cultural peculiarities I encounter. “Family,” “Travel,” and “Photos” are self-explanatory.

I taught philosophy full-time from 1971 to 2011, when I was promoted to permanent sabbatical. I continue teaching one course each fall but now have more time for reading, writing, music, travel, giving talks, and volunteering.

You may reach me via email: dcady@hamiline.edu