Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

The choice between peace and mutually assured destruction

There it was—the article reminding us of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and who better to write it than Helen Caldicott, pediatrician, founder of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Nobel Peace Prize winner. It’s been 75 years since the bombs were dropped and the world is growing no closer to eliminating those weapons and agreeing to their abolition. One hundred twenty thousand people were killed immediately and thousands and thousands more died of radiation.
Then came the response. Between 1945 and 1998, the United States conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests and has built more than 70,000 atomic and hydrogen bombs. The Russian Federation built at least 55,000. Since then, arms control agreements have resulted in reducing these numbers to about 14,000 nuclear bombs in the possession of nine nations, with the U.S. and Russia leading the pack, each with more than 6,000 total weapons.
A nuclear “exchange” between the two would take a bit over one hour to complete.
A 20-megaton bomb would dig a hole three-quarters of a mile wide and 800 feet deep, converting all buildings and people into radioactive fallout. Within six miles in all directions every living thing would be vaporized. Twenty miles from the epicenter, huge fires would erupt as winds up to 500 miles per hour would suck people out of buildings and turn them into missiles traveling at 100 miles per hour. The fires would coalesce, incinerating much of the U.S. Possibly billions of people would die hideously from acute radiation sickness, vomiting and bleeding to death. As thick black radioactive smoke engulfed the atmosphere, the earth would eventually be plunged into another ice age.
Another incipient disaster is the warming of the planet. The International Energy Agency said recently that we have only six months left to avert the effects of global warming until it is too late. Actually the U.S. Department of Defense is a misnomer; it is the Department of War, Death and Suicide. Hundreds of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars are spent by corporations to create and build the most hideous weapons ever known. Investments in these companies, no doubt, bring returns but at what cost!

Julian Assange, a journalist in danger

Remember him? He’s the Australian founder of the website “WikiLeaks” who ended up in a London jail on 17 espionage charges and one charge of computer misuse. He could spend the rest of his life in the U.S. prison in Florence, Colo. He’s in the news again as the Chinese dissident Al Weiwei staged a silent protest over his treatment, claiming authorities have a responsibility to protect press freedom and that Assange is a journalist entitled to protection. Assange could, no doubt, benefit from expressions of similar concern from journalists worldwide.

Blackface isn’t all negative

In my Hot Springs, Ark. birthplace, a large “ball” is held each Christmas at the most upscale hotel in town at which young white children, with blackened faces, hand out favors in the form of small cotton bales. I once was one of those children. I was reminded of this recently in reading a New York Times article about Blackface. I remembered a particular ball years ago when a white man pulled back my shirt sleeve, pointing to my white skin, laughing, and I was embarrassed. Thus, my introduction to Blackface.
There are layers of ideas and thoughts about Blackface and not all are negative. Racquel Gates, an associate professor of cinema and media studies at the College of Staten Island CUNY, says, “It’s important to back up and ask, ‘What do we think Blackface is and what do we think it does? Sometimes it’s self-aware; sometimes it can be a scathing critique; other times, an unnecessary provocation. Which is why it’s a disservice to erase the memory of the use of Blackface from the internet, when what we really should be doing is try to understand it: why it persists, and what, if anything, it’s trying to say.’” (Examples of Blackface as satire are present in the cinemas, in the TV show “Lethal Weapon,” and in a 2008 episode of “Thirty Rock.”)
One episode of a long-gone TV show, “Believe in the Stars,” asks the question whether it’s worse to be a white woman or a black man. The same premise occurs in a 2007 episode of the “Sarah Silverman Program,” in which Sarah challenges a Black restaurant server’s insistence that it’s more difficult being Black than her insistence that it’s harder being Jewish. Sometimes the issue is broached by a comedian just “for fun.” Is there a way to promote or show a Silverman episode today?
In his book “Disintegrating the Musical—Black Performance and American Musical Film,” Arthur Knight describes how Blackface appeared in Hollywood movies such as “The Jazz Singer” and “Holiday Inn.” The transformation was part of an appeal for audiences. I wonder if this issue would entice viewers today, either white or Black?

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