25 July 2010


The Shirley Sherrod implosion last week was a learning experience on two fronts.

The first learning experience -- the political train wreck was caused by our increasing reliance on spin doctors. You'll recall that it all began with the NAACP calling upon the Tea Party movement to "repudiate those in its ranks who use racist language in their signs and speeches." A resonable request. Reactionary conservative activist Andrew Breitbart shot back by posting a heavily edited video of Sherrod (Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture) describing what sounded like reverse racial discrimination -- until you listen to the entire address, and realize that she was describing the process of unlearning racial stereotypes. Breitbart's perverse brand of journalism is unmasked for what it is -- naked bigotry and intentional distortion of fact. Here, for the record, is Sherrod's entire 42-minute address -- the pertinent portion runs from minute 17 to minute 22.

But (and this is a big "but") NO ONE in the media, in the White House, in the USDA where Sherrod worked, or in the listening public, took the time to get both sides of the story. There was a vertiginous rush to judgment, and Sherrod was forced to resign without benefit of due process. Only days later did the full story emerge, and everyone except Sherrod (a lifelong dedicated public servant) should be cringing with shame. Any journalist or policy-maker worth his/her salt knows the first rule of news -- check your source. As one old-timer put it, "If your mother tells you she loves you, get verification." Realizing that the source was Breitbart, consulting with Sherrod, and listening to the entire video address, would have stopped the scandal in its tracks.

The second learning experience -- in today's NYTimes, two columnists respond to the Sherrod episode. Bob Herbert in Thrown to the Wolves takes the White House to task for its limp policies on race relations. Maureen Dowd in You'll Never Believe What This White House Is Missing describes the near-total absence of racial minorities among President Obama's inner circle. Both articles pull no punches in their commentary. The message needs to be heard. Race and human overpopulation are THE fundamental social issues of our time. After 234 years as a democratic republic, white male America still hasn't gotten the message that blacks, Asians, Latinos and Native Americans are citizens, too. Unemployment and poverty in those communities far outstrips the economic hardships in the white populace, most especially during the current recession. Obama is to be praised for his intellect, his vision, and his determination to seek conciliation between opposing factions. But he also needs to grow a backbone when faced with the virulent conservative backlash which is paralyzing the political process. So long as Republicans know that Democrats are deathly afraid of being labelled as "liberal" (when they should be proudly claiming that adjective), conservatives will continue to obstruct and delay and obfuscate. Throw the intransigent bums out. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

And here, just for fun, is an animation which demonstrates in an "aha!" fashion the link between math and visual design. Which brings us full circle back to spin. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night.

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