Monday, December 5, 2011

How I woke up one day and discovered I was a radical

I am a pretty average Finn. All Finns are social democrats, no matter what party they tell you they belong to, because even the right wing in Finland believes in free education, national healthcare, and not letting anyone get too rich lest they think they're better than other people.

My mother's side of my family represents a fairly typical Nordic success story, having gone from starving poverty to comfortable middle class in three generations. It wasn't a free ride on government handouts. My great-grandfather starved to death in a concentration camp after taking part in the 1917 attempt at Communist revolution in Finland. My great-grandmother served two years in prison after killing a baby she couldn't support, and went on to raise five children to productive adulthood, one of them my incredibly hardworking grandmother. Grandma was widowed early, when my war veteran grandfather died after a drunk driving incident, and raised her two surviving kids (one died by drowning at age 7) on her salary as a mail carrier. She brought my mother up to believe in beauty, and made sure there was real art on her walls. My parents both had fulfilling careers without a college education, and are now safely retired. Their health care is taken care of. I count my blessings every day for the free education that made me the first university graduate in my family, and for the freedom I enjoy because I don't have the huge financial burden of elder care and loans that Americans are shouldered with. My stepson has access to a free university degree in Europe. How can anybody say that all this is not worth a 40% tax rate?

What I want for everyone is what my family had: a fighting chance. What I want is for children to be born like me: into countries where labor and the left have selflessly fought the battles that make fairness a fact of life - not sold out to lobbyists and corporate interests. This should be a piece of cake in the industrialized west. We should now be working on how to make equality of opportunity a global right in a globalized world. Not bickering over whether it's fair that a billionaire "job creator" may have to give up on a slightly larger yacht this year.

I am a lucky immigrant for having come to America from a "socialist" country. If I end up destitute after an illness that my insurance won't cover, all I need is to scrounge up enough money for a ticket back to Finland. They'll take care of me there.

With the "mainstream" now pushed so far right in the American political discourse that we have the Democrats passing a watered-down version of a Republican health plan and helping bankers get enormous bonuses for nearly destroying the entire world economy, where the hell do you think that leaves me? With the so-called social democrats "working within" the liberal industrial complex that's been bought by Wall Street, while the Democrats fall all over themselves pretending they don't exist?

By simply acknowledging what I believe - and what apparently a majority of Americans believe, if you don't tell them it's called "socialism" - I have fallen off the political map.

I want to be associated with people who actually give a shit, and aren't looking to use me for something in some campaign that is mainly about their own career or some other interest that's not being mentioned out loud.

And like so many others, I feel like the Occupy movement, started by anarchists, is where I suddenly have space to express my - still, I think, pretty mainstream - opinions, without being branded a loony and a dangerous person.

(It's not the first time I find myself breaking bread with anarchists when I'm trying to express some really very non-extreme opinion. When the G.W. Bush administration was threatening to attack Iraq for having imaginary WMD, I found myself at a protest in Helsinki, marching to the American embassy side by side with anarchists under the red and the black. Laughing at the anarchist jokes - "Come on guys, don't stop in front of other people! Didn't anybody here go to the Army?" - and finding mad respect in my heart for the two guys carrying the nearly passed-out fellow with "Junkies for peace" scrawled in marker on his forehead.)

You don't leave me a choice, oh Political Map of America. I don't necessarily believe that abolishing repressive systems will end repression (I tend to believe that humans secrete repressive systems like spiders poop webs), but I'm starting to think that since our systems are so completely broken and corrupt, and immune to the actual will of the people, hell, maybe we need to smash the whole thing and start over. Maybe the conversation needs to be had entirely outside the existing paradigm, which has been entirely co-opted and is no longer useful. Otherwise all we have left is manufactured consent fueled by emotional masturbation, masking a massive clusterfuck of injustice and greed.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Memorial Service at St. Andrew's Plaza

You might have noticed that at St. Andrew’s Plaza there is a memorial in the center of the stage we built for National Night Out. This was put together by some of the park patrons who knew Taj-Mall, a young single mother, pregnant with her second child. While sitting at St. Andrew’s Plaza she began to hemorrhage and hours later was declared dead at highland Hospital. These are all the details that we have. Out of respect we didn’t clean the Plaza as scheduled last Saturday.

This Friday, December 2nd, 5pm, Neighbors, Spc2 members, and our Pastors Lankford, Lowery and Martin help us say goodbye in a dignified manner to Taj-Mall. After the memorial service her family and friends will remove the park memorial.

Our hope is that this will help bring closure to Taj-Mall’s friends and family who miss her and will continue to love her.

Please come join us. St. Andrew's Plaza is located at the corner of Filbert St. and San Pablo Avenue.

Last but not least community meeting of the year!

McClymonds High School 
6:00pm Second Floor Library
Meeting Agenda:
• California Hotel Developer’s Update and Window Displays
• Alliance Recycling Presentation and Community Q&A
• Cass Recycling Presentation and Community Q&A (not confirmed)
• SPc2 Committee Reports
• San Pablo Corridor Commercial Redevelopment Efforts
• St. Andrew’s Plaza renovation plans, Jobs, Community Outreach

Tell metal recyclers how their business affects our community life. Hear all about the new developments at the California Hotel. And more!

Bring something to share  •  Bring a smile  •  Bring a warm hug

Friday, September 2, 2011

Calling all Active and Lovely People in West Oakland

The next San Pablo Corridor Coalition Neighborhood Meeting is coming up! Come join your neighbors and various City representatives for fruitful discussion, find out about how you can be active in your neighborhood, buy a house, find a job, protect the environment, or just check out if anyone brought cookies.

West Oakland is an active, exciting, powerful neighborhood. We can all work together to make sure we are heard and that our voice counts.

The meeting is on Thursday September 8th, at 6:30PM at the Library of the historic McClymonds High School, 2607 Myrtle Street, Oakland.

The agenda is packed with great stuff:

Guest Speaker:

• Mayor’s Office
-Update on Parcel Tax, City Budget and Small Business Month

• Redevelopment Agency Staff, (West Oakland Specific Plan Steering Committee)
West Oakland is undergoing a thorough study that will chance the way we live and work
Come ask your questions - be part of the process

• Lily Smith, (Alliance Metals and West Oakland Alliance Foundation)
Special presentation followed by Q&A
Learn about Alliance Recycling & their efforts to work within our neighborhood

Tom McCoy, WOGI, Director
West Oakland Green Initiative
-Do you want a free tree? It’s FREE!
351 Trees to be planted in West Oakland before the end of the year.

St. Andrew’s Plaza:
• Alex Miller-Cole, Beautification and Sustainability Committee chair
-Unveiling of “first draft” plans, renderings and general idea behind renovations

Financing and home ownership opportunities:
• Alex Miller-Cole, San Pablo Corridor Coalition Chair
-West Oakland has unique opportunities and we need to know about them

West Oakland Voter Registration Effort:
• Ron Muhammad, West Oakland Network, Director
We need to show that West Oakland counts! It is up to all of us. We must make our
voice heard.

Market Street Waterworld

The 2500 block of Market Street is afloat with water, due to the flocking of mermaids into their underground caves for winter hibernation.

Beware that the street may be dangerous to drive on. Should you find any lost mermaids, please call the City of Oakland Mythology Patrol. Any stray mermaids and sirens will be returned to the wild, so that they can attempt re-flocking.

The mermaid caves are under the San Pablo Avenue - Market Street crossroads. This accounts for many uncanny phenomena seen in that area.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Society Pages

A fabulous soirée was had at the lovely Alex and Chris Miller-Cole residence this Friday, with many of West Oakland's movers and shakers in attendance. Discussion topics ranged from gang injunctions to Greek tragedy and Moroccan lamps. Just a bunch of neighbors, taking a quick cocktail break from changing the world.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why you should come to St. Andrew's Plaza on Saturday the 14th at 10AM

- because the park is very small, so cleanup takes no time at all

- because everyone who shows up for these park cleanups is extremely sexy

- because there is a $75 000 grant to renovate the park and you can get to be part of deciding what goes there and bring awesome modern innovative city planning ideas

- because parks have trees in them and trees have spiritual beings in them

- because there's usually coffee and snacks

- because you can bring more snacks so it's even more awesome

- because you'll feel all virtuous and good about yourself afterwards

- because you have an excuse to reward yourself and have lunch at Mama Mae's Southern Cafe which is literally two blocks away and it's very cool and you've probably heard about it because all the trendy people go there now

- because you'll dine out on your stories about your amusing interactions with the cleanup crew and park patrons for weeks

- because who knows who you'll meet?

St. Andrew's Plaza is on San Pablo Avenue and 32nd Street. 10 AM. This Saturday. Come join us! I promise it's fun.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Jobs, trees, murals, anti-dumping action, and crudités

The West Oakland Neighborhood Fair was a resounding success! The new development and beautification projects will bring jobs to the neighborhood, to union tradespeople as well as local youth. If you are interested in finding out more, email the Myrtle Street Review and we will direct you to the right people!

And if you are interested in volunteering, planting trees, socializing with your neighbors and generally being an awesome citizen, there's lots to do. In the next few days we'll be posting more information about different opportunities.

Here are some photos from today's lovely event, which was held at St. Vincent de Paul Community Center and catered by their Kitchen of Champions program with delicious food and treats.

The energy was great and warm and neighborliness abounded. Thanks so much to Alex and everyone else who organized!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Are Finnish people Asian?

Every week, at least two people land on this blog with some combination of the keywords "Are Finnish people Asian." The Finnish-Mongolian connection is a common misconception that lives on to this day. When I was living in England, people often commented on how interesting it is that Finnish people originate from Mongolia and how "Finnish is not related to any other language." (Hah!) More than one Englishman claimed to easily see that I have "Asian eyes." And yellow skin.

The desire to see Finns as "different" persists in the media: in his analysis of Finland's first school shooting, in Tuusula in 2007, London Times correspondent Roger Boyes points to paganism and friendless Finns' desolate lives, mostly in darkness, as the uniquely Finnish conditions leading to the shooting deaths of nine people. He describes most people as living on isolated farmsteads, having apparently neglected to Google for the statistics that reveal that 77% of Finns live in cities, towns and surrounding metropolitan areas.

It's hard to assert "I am white" without seeming a little aspirational, and seeming to embrace the idea that being white is better. The whole discussion happens in a context where "non-whiteness" is first assigned to Finns and quickly followed by a list of characteristics that define Finns as "less than". One is then left, as a Finn, to defend the idea that someone can be white and still be uncivilized, alcoholic, violent, and have strange customs like the sauna. The only explanation for these behaviors need not be found in the un-Europeanness of one's DNA.

Early racial theories pegged Finns as "Mongoloid", primitive, animalistic, the usual non-white descriptives. Mostly, these ideas were based on the since-discredited Uralic-Altaic racial theory which, in turn, was based on somewhat primitive linguistics. There was also considerable curiosity about the origins of the Sami, the last indigenous people of Europe. Finland, like other Nordic countries and Russia, has a small Sami population. There was anxiety over the dangers of racial mixing that this represented. This, in turn, led to discriminatory racial policies towards the Sami.

Our language family used to dominate what is today known as Russia and Eastern Europe, all across Siberia but - ironically - not Mongolia. Slavic expansion gradually displaced Ugric peoples and languages, but millions of us still inhabit Finland, Hungary, Estonia, five autonomous republics of Russia, as well as other areas. Some of the indigenous Ugric speakers still practice traditional shamanistic religions. We all share some version of the sauna, and a propensity for drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

In the U.S. in the early 20th century, there were attempts to deport Finns (especially socialist labor organizers) under the Asian Exclusion Act, due to our "Mongolian" origin. Later on, the Finns and the Hungarians were considerd to be the only civilized representatives of our race. Finnish anthropologists and Finns themselves have struggled to be seen as white for close to 200 years. We're still debating what it means to be Finnish, what is considered "foreign" and who gets to decide. It sometimes feels like the only acceptable topic for artistic and cultural production in Finland is "what does it mean to be a Finn?" Some Finns embrace the exotic, Ugric, pagan view of Finnishness and identify strongly with our Finno-Ugric relatives. The panic to be seen as white and civilized is a neurosis that has never really left Finnish culture, and may to some extent tinge the Finns' own racist impulses and defensiveness.

Genetic studies have shown that we may not share special Mongolian genes, but our Ugric language carries a lot of culture and world view in them. Finnish language carries shamanistic terms for soul and spirit, for example, that we now use for "nature" and "breath".

So to clarify for anyone who has absorbed the view of the 1920's Encyclopaedia Britannica that Finns are a strong, hardy race, of low stature, with almost round head, low forehead, flat features, prominent cheek bones, eyes mostly grey and oblique, short and flat nose, protruding mouth, thick lips, neck very full and strong; - complexion also somewhat brown. Us ethnic Finns, we are mostly not brown. Some of us have Sami genes, but many do not, and Sami people are not brown either. Many ethnic Sami, in fact, look completely white to a casual observer. Many of us don't feel that defensive about being thought about as exotic, though, and embrace the wild and woolly stereotype that gets attached to us. I hear it's terrific for getting laid, or launching an artistic career in Sweden. It's not that traumatizing to be thought of as exotic when it comes with all the privileges that go along with being, in fact, white.

Further reading for anyone who's interested in this subject:
Battling to be European: Myth and the Finnish Race by Edward Dutton - a paper critiquing Finnish researchers who claim that Finns are white. Another interesting specimen is an article angrily renouncing Nokia for having too much sauna culture. It's interesting to me that the blame for failures by Finns is assigned to being "too Finnish" - meaning, primitive, backwards, culturally un-European. When Finns attempt to define their own race and assert that they are European, they are accused of being nationalistic, myopic, backwards, and unaccepting of objective truth. The Finnish genome is combed for evidence that we are not white. One chromosome that some Finnish men share with the Chinese, but not with other Europeans is considered "proof" - but of what? Why is it so vitally important to find this proof? Any discussion of race as a cultural construct is left aside from these "scientific" debates, where white English men are objective observers who get to assign race to others and determine what problems and incorrect modes of behavior follow from having that "othered" ethnicity. 
Illustration: The Swedish Nation, "Folk and Race-Types" (Nordic, mixed-race, Finnish, Lapp, Lappic mixed-race, Walloon), 1921

Sunday, May 1, 2011

If you miss this, you're crazy

The West Oakland Neighborhood Fair is on Saturday May 7th from 1 to 4 PM at St. Vincent de Paul Community Center, San Pablo Avenue at West Grand Avenue.

Why you need to be there: our amazing, enterprising, creative, rocking neighbors have sought and received over $350 000 for revitalization and beautification projects for our neighborhood, and you can learn all about them and how you can become involved!

• $73,000. West Oakland Green Initiative will plant trees along San Pablo
Avenue and in the surrounding areas.
• $75,000. The San Pablo Corridor Coalition will renovate St. Andrew’s Plaza.
• $75,000. Oakland Public Works will install motion activated devices with
24/7 monitoring against illegal dumping.
• $75,000. Attitudinal Healing will paint beautiful murals along the I-580
underpass between San Pablo Avenue and Martin Luther King, Junior Way
• $5,000. Keep Oakland Beautiful will enhance San Pablo Avenue.
• $50,000. The Crucible will get a new entry and facade improvements
• EBALDC’s progress in the revitalization of California Hotel.

Did you see that?! They are going to start monitoring the trash dumping in our neighborhood! Those idiots are finally going to be getting in trouble, without our neighbor Randy having to drive around after them to scare them!

So really: if you ever thought about becoming more active about neighborhood stuff and wondered who the people are who are doing all the moving and shaking, this is your time! You can become one of them! And you may start getting invited to those fabulous secret cocktail parties you may have been hearing about!

Most importantly, if you come to the Neighborhood Fair you will see what beautiful, fun, caring, sweet, fantastic people you share a neighborhood with.

...aaand we're back!

After some contemplation (and being completely submerged under the renovation of the awesome West Oakland fixer-upper we bought in November) The Myrtle Street Review is back!

We're no longer on Myrtle Street physically, but our hearts still are. Our Myrtle Street neighbors are the reason we fell in love with West Oakland and decided to put down roots here. So the blog name is going to stay the same. We're only three blocks away in any case, and can still see the roof deck of our old loft from here.

The focus of the Review is going to shift a little more towards being about things that are happening and being done in the neighborhood... though I expect the occasional fictional story and other whimsical crap will still seep in because magic is magic, and what can you do.

Welcome back!
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