20 years since Nelson Mandela (Madiba) was released from prison, initiating the political and social transformation of the apartheid state, into which he'd been born, into one of the most progressive democracies in Africa. Today South Africa hailed the 91-year-old former leader (above, with his wife, Graça Michel, in parliament today. Photograph: Schalk Van Zuydam/EPA) for his vision, courage, generosity, grace, and above all, leadership. As the post-apartheid state's first president, he established a record that neither of his successors have been able to match, but to which all national leaders might aspire. At the South Parliament today, before an address by the new president, the scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma, parliamentarians of all colors broke into songs of praise of Mandela, honoring his achievements and, as the Guardian UK suggests, striving to summon the unity, harmony and societal advancement that his tenure, against so many odds, represented. I should add that I can recall the day he was released; I was at the annual Celebration of Black Writing in Philadelphia, then sponsored by Robin's Book Store, and the late Dennis Brutus announced from the stage, to a chorus of cheers and applause, and disbelief that quickly turned into joy, that Mandela would be released. I cannot say what I thought at that moment beyond my recognition that something utterly momentous was taking place, but it was clear, as had become year the previous year with the fall of the Berlin Wall, that the longtime commonplaces that had shaped the years of my childhood were changing before my eyes. Mandela was then, as now, not just the symbol, but the living embodiment, of greatness and promise, and whatever struggles South Africa continues to face, he gave its people, his people, a tremendous start and advantage on resolving them. As a praise song might begin,
He is Madiba the magnificent.
Leader of leaders, bearer of the future,
Father and husband, first president and prescient visionary.
With him the nation shed its shackles on the prison yard soil,
With him the nation walked free into its possibility,
With him, the magnificent, the people's lands
might belong to them again, might bear fruit again,
might bear the weight of new foundations, new dreams....
on Rod 2.0, Rhode Island breaks considerable historical ground with its House's selection of the first out, black gay speaker of any US state house, Gordon D. Fox (at right). The Cape Verdean-Irish (he considers himself black and, according to Rod, a role model for younger black gay people), Providence-based Democratic politician, formerly the Majority Leader, received 51 of 75 votes, becoming Rhode Island's first black and first gay speaker, and the nation's second openly gay legislative leader. Three firsts, and a second! Congratulations, Gordon D. Fox!
1 in 8 Americans, or 13% of the population, or about 37.5 million people, are now using food stamps. That's larger than the entire population of California, or, to give a non-US example, of Peru, to give a comparison. I've seen several online commentators note how surprised they were by this statistic, but I had to ask: why? Are these folks in that much of a bubble? The real unemployment rate is upwards of 17%; in some communities a quarter or more people are out of work. The rate of unemployment for Black men is mired at about 50% in Milwaukee, to give just one example.
How bad are things in some places? Earlier this year, the Times ran a story about how 6 million Americans reported only food stamps as income. Let me state that again--6 million people across the US reported having no income beyond food stamps. Nothing. Instead of this sparking a public outcry, or even a gesture of empathy among politicians and media commentators, it seemed to disappear, like so much other important news, into the ether.
Although the White House and government tell us that jobs are being created, this isn't happening at anywhere near the rate to make up for the massive losses of the past three years. In every case where Obama and Co. could have taken a more aggressive step, they instead chose, and continue to elect, tepid, neoliberal approaches, which are then usually worsened by incorporating failed conservative ideas (tax cuts!), with the result that instead of the jobs the country badly needs, right away, we'll probably see high unemployment levels for years several years to come.
As The Root points out, given that fewer Americans belong to unions (1 in 10) than just a few years ago, is it any surprise that more of us must rely on government assistance just to feed ourselves and our families? Love for labor was never popular, but now it's increasingly lost--to the society's severe detriment. Let's see someone in the media make that correlation.
The first news item I saw this morning was the death, apparently by suicide, of British designer Alexander McQueen. He was only 40. I rarely write about fashion on here, and though I'm one of the most unfashionable people on earth, it has been a longstanding lowgrade interest of mine, and I can recall the many years that C and I wouldn't miss "Style with Elsa Klensch" when it used to come on CNN. Even on that catholic program McQueen always occupied the outer edge, as he did of mainstream fashion, with runway shows and clothing that in their frequent outrageousness, occasionality ridiculousness and sometimes near-impossibility represented for me the true inventiveness and sometimes messy daring of Britain's contribution to contemporary fashion. McQueen had many successes, including serving as the lead designer at Givenchy for four years and for over a decade at his own house.
Most recently I've been obsessed with his really impossible crustacean-like shoes (above, top right), which were part of his Spring 2010, reptilian-themed fashion show, which he webcast this past fall (a clip is below), setting a new standard for all such efforts, and I made sure not to miss it. The shoes, like some of his past offerings, appeared to be unwearable, and some models refused to take the runway in them, a protest I completely sympathized and agreed with, but as works of fashion art, they're incomparable. I was glad that some high profile people--first Lady GaGa in her "Bad Romance" video, then socialite-artist Daphne Guinness (above right, second photo, Vogue UK © Wenn) and finally singer-performer Kelis--dared rock them; now I'd like to see those pump-wearing men in Atlanta work them too. It would be a fitting tribute to McQueen, who season after season truly saw far into the future.
Alexander McQueen's Spring 2010 show, part 1