29 December 2011

William Monroe Trotter

In Boston's black community of Roxbury the name Trotter pops up now and again on schools and community centers. Who was Trotter? No one I asked seemed to know much about the person who bore the ubiquitous name. It may have been Muriel Snowden or her husband, Otto, directors of Freedom House, a Roxbury civic center, who told me. Muriel and Otto were faithful keepers of black community lore.

William Monroe Trotter was born in Ohio in 1872. He grew up in Boston, attended Harvard, and graduated magna cum laude in 1895, becoming in the process the first black student ever elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1901 he launched a Boston newspaper, the Guardian, whose motto was "For every right, with all they might." A relentless foe of the accommodationist Booker T. Washington, Trotter once spent a month in jail for disrupting a Booker T. speech. Trotter also got into a White House shouting match with President Woodrow Wilson, who had on one occasion described African-Americans as "sick of work, covetous of pleasure--a host of dusky children untimely put out of school." In 1915 the indefatigable Trotter was arrested, tried, and acquitted for leading a demonstration against the local screening of Birth of a Nation.

Until arriving in Boston, I'd never heard of William Monroe Trotter. Shouldn't I have? Shouldn't African-Americans generally have had a glimmer? I knew about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, didn't I? Trotter might have fared better by history had the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa done a little soft-shoe with Shirley Temple.

Randall Robinson, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, pp.66-67

28 December 2011

El Sombrerero

Sonó el teléfono, escuché la voz cascada: un error así, no puedo creer, óigame bien, yo no hablo por hablar, que una equivocación vaya y pase, a cualquiera le sucede, pero un error así...

Me quedé mudo. Me vi venir lo peor. Yo acababa de publicar un libro sobre fútbol en un país, mi país, donde todos son doctores en la materia. Cerré los ojos y acepté mi condenación:
--El Mundial del 30--acusó la voz, gastada pero implacable.
--Fue en julio.
--¿Y cómo es el tiempo en julio, en Montevideo?
--Muy frío--corrigió la voz, y atacó:
--¡Y usted escribió que en el estadio había un mar de sombreros de paja! ¿De paja?--se indignó--. ¡De fieltro! De fieltro, eran!

La voz bajó de tono, evocó:
--Yo estaba allí, aquella tarde. 4 a 2 ganamos, lo estoy viendo. Pero no se lo digo por eso. Se lo digo porque yo soy sombrerero, siempre fui, y muchos de aquellos sombreros...los hice yo.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo. p.137

[The Hat-Maker

The telephone rang. I heard the cracked voice: there's been a mistake, I can't believe it, listen to me, I'm not talking just to talk, mistakes are part of life, they can happen to anyone, but there's been a mistake...

I stayed silent. I saw the worst coming my way. I had just published a book about soccer in a country, my country, where everybody is a Ph.D. in the subject. I closed my eyes and accepted my judgement:
--The 1930 World Cup--accused the voice, worn out but relentless.
--Yes--I muttered.
--It was in July.
--And what's the weather like in July, in Montevideo?
--Very cold--corrected the voice, and attacked:
--And you wrote that in the stadium there was a sea of straw hats! Straw?--He exploded. Felt! They were felt!

The voice lowered, described the scene:
--I was there that afternoon. We won 4-2. I can see it now. But I'm not telling you all this because of that. I'm telling you because I am a hat-maker--I always have been--and many of those hats...I made them.

Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time, p.137]

09 December 2011

Pym's Publicity

"How should anything be sacred to an advertiser?" demanded Ingleby, helping himself to four lumps of sugar. "We spend our whole time asking intimate questions of perfect strangers and it naturally blunts our finer feelings. 'Mother, has your Child Learnt Regular Habits?' 'Are you Troubled with Fullness after Eating?' 'Are you satisfied about your Drains?' 'Are you Sure that your Toilet-Paper is Germ-free?' 'Your most Intimate Friends dare not Ask you this question.' 'Do you Suffer from Superfluous Hair?' 'Do you Like them to Look at your Hands?' 'Do you ever ask yourself about Body-Odour?' 'If anything Happened to You, would your Loved Ones be Safe?' 'Why Spend so much Time in the Kitchen?' 'You think that Carpet is Clean--but is it?' 'Are you a Martyr to Dandruff?' Upon my soul, I sometimes wonder why the long-suffering public doesn't rise up and slay us."

Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise, p.63

06 December 2011

Hiroshima in the White House

Lyndon Johnson rarely referred to Hiroshima. On one dramatic occasion he consciously tried to avoid it, but Hiroshima came to the White House, anyway.

The year was 1965. Johnson invited a wide range of painters, sculptors, and writers to the White House for a one-day festival of the arts. Five authors and poets were asked to read from their works. The poet Robert Lowell, protesting the Vietnam War, declined the invitation, explaining that the U.S. "may even be drifting on our way to the last nuclear ruin." But a decision by one of the other writers, who opposed the war but elected to attend the festival, caused just as much anguish at the White House. John Hersey, invited as a novelist, announced that he would read instead from Hiroshima, and he planned to update his account with statistics on the destructive power of existing nuclear weapons.

After discussing the matter with her husband, an enraged Lady Bird Johnson summoned the festival organizer, historian Eric Goldman (then a consultant to LBJ), to the White House. She recited one of the passages Hersey intended to read, which described Truman's announcement of the Hiroshima bombing. "The president is very close to President Truman," she explained icily. "He can't have people coming to the White House and talking about President Truman's brandishing atomic bombs." Then, coming to the point, she complained that her husband was being criticized "as a bloody warmonger. He can't have writers coming here and denouncing him, in his own house, as a man who wants to use nuclear bombs." Goldman explained that Hersey did not believe that Johnson wanted to use nuclear weapons, only that in the nuclear era any war was extremely dangerous. She replied: "The President and I do not want this man to come here and read this." Twice more he objected and twice more she responded with the same words.

Goldman refused to tell Hersey what to do, and the invitation stood. President Johnson, meanwhile, ordered a media blackout of the festival. He also requested FBI background checks on some of the guests.

When Hersey appeared behind the podium at the White House, Lady Bird Johnson was right there in the third row. Hersey prefaced his reading from Hiroshima with the following statement: "We cannot for a moment forget the truly terminal dangers, in these times, of miscalculations, of arrogance, of accident, of reliance not on moral strength but on mere military power. Wars have a way of getting out of hand." Occasionally he lifted his eyes from his text and looked at Lady Bird for emphasis. When Hersey finished, he was greeted by vigorous applause. "The First Lady, who clapped for all other readings, sat motionless," Goldman later reported. And when the president heard about Hersey's reading (and some other activities he viewed as hostile) he cut short his appearance at his own festival.

Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, pp.217-218

01 December 2011

The World's Full of Stories....

The world's full of stories....All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you'll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you're going, but the rest works itself out in the telling.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.118

27 November 2011

Colchester on a Snowy Evening

I began to half-wheel, half-drag the bike up the hill. Hythe Hill was almost impassable at this point. It smelt of anger, inexperienced drivers and burning clutch fluid. It wasn't pleasant. At the Brook Street lights, three yobs threw snowballs at me. They missed, I suspect, only because they were drunk. All along the road to St Botolph's, still in heavy snow, I kept passing under-dressed men, cans in hands, in drunken trances. At Colchester Town station, a courting couple were having a romantic screaming match by the wall. It was eight p.m. and half of Colchester, it seemed, was already trollied.

At the Arts Centre, amazingly enough, all three performers made it in and performed to a reassuringly three-quarters full house. "Anyone in from Wivenhoe, tonight?" I asked. Answer came there none. After ten p.m., therefore, once again, Nanook of the North wheeled his bike out of the place and set off back home. The snow had stopped and the town centre now looked like a Klondike gold-rush town on payday. The tourist brochures won't tell you this stuff but someone ought to, so I will. On the Saturday before Christmas 2010, Colchester High Street was full of large teams of raucously-drunk pond-life acting as if they ran the town.

At the top of Queen Street, I caught the attention of a group of about fifteen of them. They were so drunk that they were holding each other up. One of them screamed at me: "Oi mate. Why're you on a ******* (please insert password) bike?" I called back to him, "I've just finished work. I'm trying to get home." Whilst they considered my answer, I escaped. After a perilous descent of East Hill, just past the bridge, a smaller group of idiots threw a lump of ice at me, in a further attempt to unseat me. They missed.

Now look, if we can't do anything as complex as regulating the sales of I.Q. reducing liquids to these simians, can't we at least put a couple of snipers on the Town Hall roof on Saturday nights instead? This is my modest proposal. Because there seems little point in building the new Cultural Quarter in the town unless we do so.

Martin Newell, "Deep and Crisp and Even," in The Stars on a Tray, pp.15-16

19 November 2011

The Empress of Blandings

Mingled with a victor's triumph was the chagrin of the conscientious man who sees a task but half done. That he had properly put a stopper on Impostor A was undeniable, but he had hoped also to deal faithfully with Impostor B. He was wondering if the chap was hiding somewhere and if so, where, when there came to his sensitive ear the sound of a grunt, and he realized that it had proceeded from the bathroom.

"Yoicks!" cried Lord Bosham, and if he had not been a man of action rather than words would have added "Tally-ho!" He did not pause to ask himself why impostors should grunt. He merely dashed at the bathroom door, flung it open and leaped back, his gun at the ready. There was a moment's pause, and then the Empress sauntered out, a look of mild enquiry on her face.

The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came. Her motto, like Horace's, was nil admirari. But, cool and even aloof though she was as a general rule, she had been a little puzzled by the events of the day. In particular, she had found the bathroom odd. It was the only place she had ever been in where there appeared to be a shortage of food. The best it had to offer was a cake of shaving-soap, and she had been eating this with a thoughtful frown just a short while before the door opened. As she emerged now, she was still foaming at the mouth a little and it was perhaps this that set the seal on Lord Bosham's astonishment and caused him not only to recoil a yard or two with his eyes popping but also to pull the trigger of his gun.

In the confined space the report sounded like the explosion of an arsenal, and it convinced the Empress, if she had needed to be convinced, that this was no place for a pig of settled habits. Not since she had been a slip of a child had she moved at anything swifter than a dignified walk, but now Jesse Owens could scarcely have got off the mark more briskly. It took her a few moments to get her bearings, but after colliding with the bed, the table and the armchair, in the order named, she succeeded in setting a course for the French window and was in the act of disappearing through it when Lord Emsworth burst into the room, followed by Lady Constance.

P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred In The Springtime, pp.194-195

18 November 2011

The Panda Story

This panda walked into a tea shop and ordered a salad and ate it. Then it pulled out a pistol, shot the man at the next table dead, and walked out. Everyone rushed after it, shouting, "Stop! Stop! Why did you do that?"

"Because I'm a panda," said the panda. "That's what pandas do. If you don't believe me, look in the dictionary."

So they looked in the dictionary and sure enough they found Panda: Raccoon-like animal of Asia. Eats shoots and leaves.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.35

11 November 2011

"an art, a craft, a making"

Once we're keenly and clearly aware of certain elements of prose writing, and certain techniques and modes of storytelling, we can use and practice them until--the point of all the practice--we don't have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills.

A skill is something you know how to do.

Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.

There's luck in art. There's the gift. You can't earn that. You can't deserve it. But you can learn skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.

I'm not going to discuss writing as self-expression, as therapy, or as a spiritual adventure. It can be these things; but first of all--and in the end, too--it is an art, a craft, a making. To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It's worth it.

LeGuin, p.xi

17 October 2011

Rollo Podmarsh

With Mrs. Podmarsh sedulously watching over her son's health, you might have supposed that this inability on his part to teach the foodstuffs to take a joke would have caused consternation in the home. But it so happened that Rollo's mother had recently been reading a medical treatise in which an eminent physician stated that we all eat too much nowadays, and that the secret of a happy life is to lay off the carbohydrates to some extent. She was, therefore, delighted to observe the young man's moderation in the matter of food, and frequently held him up as an example to be noted and followed by little Lettice Willoughby, her granddaughter, who was a good and consistent trencherwoman, particularly rough on the puddings. Little Lettice, I should mention, was the daughter of Rollo's sister Enid, who lived in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Willoughby had been compelled to go away on a visit a few days before and had left her child with Mrs. Podmarsh during her absence.

You can fool some of the people all the time, but Lettice Willoughby was not of the type that is easily deceived. A nice, old-fashioned child would no doubt have accepted without questioning her grandmother's dictum that roly-poly pudding could not fail to hand a devastating wallop to the blood-pressure, and that to take two helpings of it was practically equivalent to walking right into the family vault. A child with less decided opinions of her own would have been impressed by the spectacle of her uncle refusing sustenance, and would have received without demur the statement that he did it because he felt that abstinence was good for his health. Lettice was a modern child and knew better. She had had experience of this loss of appetite and its significance. The first symptom which had preceded the demise of poor old Ponto, who had recently handed in his portfolio after holding office for ten years as the Willoughby family dog, had been this same disinclination to absorb nourishment. Besides, she was an observant child, and had not failed to note the haggard misery in her uncle's eyes. She tackled him squarely on the subject one morning after breakfast. Rollo had retired into the more distant parts of the garden, and was leaning forward, when she found him, with his head buried in his hands.

P.G. Wodehouse, "The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh," in The Heart Of A Goof, pp. 118-119

10 October 2011

History's Henchmen

They heard the thud of wood on flesh. Boot on bone. On teeth. The muffled grunt when a stomach is kicked in. The muted crunch of skull on cement. The gurgle of blood on a man's breath when his lung is torn by the jagged end of a broken rib.

Blue-lipped and dinner-plate-eyed, they watched, mesmerized by something that they sensed but didn't understand: the absence of caprice in what the policemen did. The abyss where anger should have been. The sober, steady brutality, the economy of it all.

They were opening a bottle.

Or shutting a tap.

Cracking an egg to make an omelette.

The twins were too young to know that these were only history's henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear--civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness.

Man's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, pp.412-413

08 October 2011

The Good Fight

Many injustices lack the visceral immediacy of young people conscripted to fight and die in Vietnam, or innocent citizens pummeled on the streets of Birmingham. Today, massive risks are often more abstract, remote, and complex. Farts disturb more people than odorless pollution or global warming. Thoughtless ethnic slights rile more people than widespread lead poisoning of children and skyrocketing levels of childhood asthma. We must awaken to the many menaces around us and dedicate some civic attention to widespread perils.

Personal irritations shrink as the magnitude of civic challenges is absorbed into one's purposeful self. When people move into the civic arena and take on a cause, they experience stress and uncertainty, but the gratification is deeper, a more truthful part of the summit of their being, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Anne Witte completed a series of interviews with women who became super-active leaders, for her book Women Activists: Challenging the Abuse of Power, I asked her to identify the one over-riding impression she took away from them. Without hesitation she said, "I've never met happier people." Hmmmm.

Ralph Nader, The Good Fight, pp.32-33

Arundhati Roy

Thanks to the seductive charms of Hollywood and the irresistible appeal of America's mass media, all these years later, the world views the Vietnam War as an American story. Indochina provided the lush, tropical backdrop against which the United States played out its fantasies of violence, tested its latest technology, furthered its ideology, examined its conscience, agonized over its moral dilemmas, and dealt with its guilt (or pretended to). The Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and Laotians were only script props. Nameless, faceless, slit-eyed humanoids. They were just the people who died. Gooks.

As a child growing up in the state of Kerala, in South India--where the first democratically elected Communist government in the world came to power in 1959, the year I was born--I worried terribly about being a gook. Kerala was only a few thousand miles west of Vietnam. We had jungles and rivers and rice-fields, and communists, too. I kept imagining my mother, my brother, and myself being blown out of the bushes by a grenade, or mowed down, like the gooks in the movies, by an American marine with muscled arms and chewing gum and a loud background score. In my dreams, I was the burning girl in the famous photograph taken on the road from Trang Bang.

Arundhati Roy, "The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky," in War Talk, pp.98-99

28 August 2011


Recently, those who have criticized the actions of the U.S. government (myself included) have been called "anti-American." Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology.

The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and--not falsely, but shall we say inaccurately--define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

What does the term "anti-American" mean? Does it mean you're anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press," sadly, most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

Arundhati Roy, "Come September," in War Talk, pp.48-49

01 August 2011


As he sat now on the hard broad root of a ringtree at the edge of the Meeting Pool, he thought of Nana, of the cat, of the silver water of Lake Serene, of the mountains above it which he longed to climb, of climbing the mountains out of the mist and rain into the ice and brightness of the summits; he thought of many things, too many things. He sat still, but his mind would not be still. He had come here for stillness, but his mind raced, raced from past to future and back again. Only for a moment did he find quiet. One of the herons walked silently out into the water from the far side of the pool. Lifting its narrow head it gazed at Lev. He gazed back, and for an instant was caught in that round transparent eye, as depthless as the sky clear of clouds; and the moment was round, transparent, silent, a moment at the center of all moments, the eternal present moment of the silent animal.

The heron turned away, bent its head, searching the dark water for fish.

Ursula LeGuin, The Eye Of The Heron, pp.50-51

31 July 2011

Melle Aulitta

"He is a coarse man, but he seemed to mean to be friendly," Melle said. "Coarse" was as harsh a word as she used of anyone. It meant she disliked him very much. But she was uncomfortable with distrust, which did not come naturally to her. By seeing goodwill where there was none, often enough she had created it. The people of the household worked with and for her with willing hearts; the sullenest farmers spoke to her cordially, and tight-mouthed old serf women would confide their sorrows to her as to a sister.

Ursula LeGuin, Gifts, p.91

07 July 2011

Planet Of Exile

The fact remains that in this book, as in most of my other novels, the men do most of the acting, in both senses of the word, and thus tend to occupy the center of the stage. I "didn't care" whether my protagonist was male or female; well, that carefreeness is culpably careless. The men take over.

Why does one let them? Well, it's ever so much easier to write about men doing things, because most books about people doing things are about men, and that is one's literary tradition...and because, as a woman, one probably has not done awfully much in the way of fighting, raping, governing, etc., but has observed that men do these things...and because, as Virginia Woolf pointed out, English prose is unsuited to the description of feminine being and doing, unless one to some extent remakes it from scratch. It is hard to break from tradition; hard to invent; hard to remake one's mother tongue. One drifts along and takes the easy way. Nothing can rouse one to go against the stream, to choose the hard way, but a profoundly stirred, and probably an angry, conscience.

But the conscience must be angry. If it tries to reason itself into anger it produces only guilt, which chokes the springs of creation at their source.

Ursula LeGuin, Introduction to the 1978 Edition of Planet of Exile, pp.ix-x

Feminist Ideology

An ideology is valuable only insofar as it is used to intensify clarity and honesty of thought and feeling, and feminist ideology has been immensely valuable to me in this respect. It has forced me and every thinking woman of this generation to know ourselves better: to separate, often very painfully, what we really think and believe from all the easy "truths" and "facts" we were (subliminally) taught about being male, being female, sex-roles, female physiology and psychology, sexual responsibility, etc. etc. All too often we have found that we had no opinion or belief of our own, but had simply incorporated the dogmas of our society; and so we must discover, invent, make our own truths, our values, ourselves.

LeGuin, p.xi


One thing I seem to have dug up in my work is this: the "person" I tend to write about is often not exactly, or not totally, either a man or a woman. On the superficial level, this means this is little sexual stereotyping--the men aren't lustful and the women aren't gorgeous--and the sex itself is seen as a relationship rather than an act. Sex serves mainly to define gender, and the gender of the person is not exhausted, or even very nearly approached, by the label "man" or "woman." Indeed both sex and gender seem to be used mainly to define the meaning of "person" or of "self." Once, as I began to be awakened, I closed the relationship into one person, an androgyne. But more often it appears conventionally and overtly, as a couple. Both in one: or two making a whole. Yin does not occur without yang, nor yang without yin. Once I was asked what I thought the central, constant theme of my work was, and I said spontaneously, "Marriage."

LeGuin, p.xii

01 July 2011

The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew had come to life again. They had stopped twittering about Chester's brassie-shot and were thinking of resuming their own game. Even in foursomes where fifty yards is reckoned a good shot somebody must be away, and the man whose turn it was to play was the one who had acquired from his brother-members of the club the nickname of the First Grave-Digger.

A word about this human wen. He was--if there can be said to be grades in such a sub-species--the star performer of the Wrecking Crew. The lunches of fifty-seven years had caused his chest to slip down into the mezzanine floor, but he was still a powerful man, and had in his youth been a hammer-thrower of some repute. He differed from his colleagues--the Man With the Hoe, Old Father Time, and Consul, the Almost Human--in that, while they were content to peck cautiously at the ball, he never spared himself in his efforts to do it a violent injury. Frequently he had cut a blue dot almost in half with his niblick. He was completely muscle-bound, so that he seldom achieved anything beyond a series of chasms in the turf, but he was always trying, and it was his secret belief that, given two or three miracles happening simultaneously, he would one of these days bring off a snifter. Years of disappointment had, however, reduced the flood of hope to a mere trickle, and when he took his brassie now and addressed the ball he had no immediate plans beyond a vague intention of rolling the thing a few yards farther up the hill.

The fact that he had no business to play at all till Chester had holed out did not occur to him; and even if it had occurred he would have dismissed the objection as finicking. Chester, bending over the ball, was nearly two hundred yards away--or the distance of three full brassie-shots. The First Grave-Digger did not hesitate. He whirled up his club as in distant days he had been wont to swing the hammer, and, with the grunt which this performance always wrung from him, brought it down.

P.G. Wodehouse, "Chester Forgets Himself," in The Heart Of A Goof, p.90

"...as women and as Native people..."

Even in the recesses of our psyches we find traces of the male definition of our very beings; it seems an insurmountable task to begin our own myth-making from which to establish role models to guide us out of historical convolution and de-evolution....

....as women and as Native people, we must reconstruct our history with what is left unsaid and not what has been recorded by those who have imposed their authority on us.

Ana Castillo, Massacre Of The Dreamers, p.119, p.111

Male Control

Male control of women manifests itself in many ways and to varying degrees in any given society. My point here is that the issue lies in an archaic system of patrimonial culture, not in "good" or "bad" forms of male protection, "good" or "bad" providers, that is, "good" or "bad" machismo.

Castillo, p.75


Mil colores luce la muerte en el cementerio de Chichicastenango. Quizá los colores celebran, en las tumbas florecidas, el fin de la pesadilla terrestre: este mal sueño de mandones y mandados que la muerte acaba cuando de un manotazo nos desnuda y nos iguala.

Pero en el cementerio no hay lápidas de 1982, ni de 1983, cuando fue el tiempo de la gran matazón en las comunidades indígenas de Guatemala. El ejército arrojó esos cuerpos a la mar, o a las bocas de los volcanes, o los quemó en quién sabe qué fosas.

Los alegres colores de las tumbas de Chichicastenango saludan a la muerte, la Igualadora, que con igual cortesía trata al mendigo y al rey. Pero en el cementerio no están los que murieron por querer que así también fuera la vida.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo, p.308


Death shines in thousands of colors in the cemetery of Chichicastenango. Perhaps the colors celebrate, on the flower-bedecked tombs, the end of the earthly nightmare: this bad dream of bosses and minions that death stops when, with a powerful slap, she strips and levels us.

But in the cemetery there are no tombstones from 1982, nor from 1983, which was the time of the great massacre of indigenous communities in Guatemala. The army tossed those bodies into the sea, or into the mouths of volcanoes, or burned them in who knows what mass graves.

The happy colors of the tombs of Chichicastenango salute death, the Equalizer, who treats the beggar and the king with equal courtesy. But in the cemetery those who died for wanting life to do likewise are not there.

Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time, p.308]

"Our Caribbean Civilization"

Since the age of Columbus, the ends of European materialist cultures have not served well the deeply private emotional requirements of the modern but still fragile human animal. The suffocating preoccupation with the acquisition of fame and fortune has directed untold numbers of helpless unreflective unfortunates to search down the wrong streets for psychic sustenance, resulting in a rabid competition of the lost between the unhappy failures and the unhappy successes, the former comparing its troubled insides to the latter's well-varnished outsides.

One sure measure of a society's relative health is its suicide rate. If a society produces large numbers of people who destroy themselves, that society cannot be described as successful under any reasonable definition of the term. Well-adjusted people, people who culturally know, ever so unobtrusively, how to simply be don't kill themselves.

Norway, a nation--as I have indicated previously--of some apparent envy, has, according to the World Health Organization, a suicide rate of 18.2 for males and 6.7 for females per 100,000 people. The United States has a slightly higher rate for males (18.6) and a somewhat lower rate for females (4.4). St. Kitts has a suicide rate for both males and females of zero. The same is true for St. Kitts' English-speaking neighbors of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Perhaps there is indeed something special about what Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent, calls "Our Caribbean Civilization." To put a converse face on the point: Does Donald Rumsfeld look happy to you? Squint if you have doubts.

Randall Robinson, Quitting America: The Departure Of A Black Man From His Native Land, pp.25-26

The Capitol Rotunda

I thought, then, what a fitting metaphor the Capitol Rotunda was for America's racial sorrows. In the magnificence of its boast, in the tragedy of its truth, in the effrontery of its deceit.

This was the house of Liberty, and it had been built by slaves. Their backs had ached under its massive stones. Their lungs had clogged with its mortar dust. Their bodies had wilted under its heavy load-bearing timbers. They had been paid only in the coin of pain. Slavery lay across American history like a monstrous cleaving sword, but the Capitol of the United States steadfastly refused to divulge its complicity, or even slavery's very occurrence. It gave full lie to its own gold-spun half-truth. It shrank from the simplest honesty. It mocked the shining eyes of the innocent. It kept from us all--black, brown, white--the chance to begin again as co-owners of a national democratic idea. It blinded us all to our past and, with the same stroke, to any common future.

Randall Robinson, The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks, pp.6-7

27 May 2011

Cuba and the American Media

If our government decided to hate Fidel Castro for declining to play the Latin cipher, our people with small inspiration decided to hate him for stuff they would just make up, without, I think, knowing they were fabricating rationales for their reflexive antipathies. Their comments would quite frequently make them look silly, but not to each other because they believed what they were saying no matter how baseless. Nice people, even, said these things. Not lying, because I believe they thought they were telling the truth.

We were witness to samples of such malignant blather when the Baltimore Orioles played in Havana against the Cuban national team on March 28, 1999. Baseball Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Joe Morgan, with stunning illogic, said to an American viewing audience: "Cubans don't have access to information about American baseball but they get it." Indeed, Cubans know a great deal more about American baseball than Americans know about baseball in Cuba, which is next to nothing.

Thomas Boswell, sports columnist for the Washington Post, wrote of Havana: "Of course, almost every structure you can see from your panoramic picture window looks like it's been neutron-bombed." What quality of anger drives such extreme and, in this case, wholly unwarranted hyperbole? Havana is an attractive city in need of cosmetic repairs in a developing country saddled with shortages occasioned by our country's economic embargo. Faced with the choice of investing scarce resources in people or paint, the government chose people.

Boswell went on to write: "Maybe it's because there are no clocks in Cuba. In two days, not one clock has come into view anywhere."

Of course this is absurd and I feel somewhat diminished to need report to you that on my several visits to Cuba, the country was awash with clocks. Digital clocks in every hotel room I'd ever stayed in. Moon-faced clocks in public places. Clocks on wrists. And I hardly think Cuban officials would go to the trouble of concentrating all the country's timepieces on the walls and night tables and wrists I might likely have seen. But perhaps they might have, had they known that among all the many charges leveled at them by Americans, clocklessness would one day find its way into print.

A Washington Post staff writer, Richard Justice, wrote that "team executives jammed into a ramshackle airport this morning to board a charter flight back to the United States." There are grounds on which the Cuban government deserves criticism. But why the petty whole-cloth invention? Havana's airport is a spanking brand-new state-of-the-art facility.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a Los Angeles Times reporter, wrote: "Havana smells like a jar of vaseline and if you stand outside for more than fifteen minutes, your skin gets coated with black goo." This is but a snippet of a screed that appeared in the Washington Post. Why would so widely respected a newspaper as the Washington Post print writing so palpably counterfactual as this? Havana does not smell like anything or anyplace in particular. In fact, I don't recall that it even has a smell.

What would cause otherwise competent journalists writing for preeminent American newspapers to produce such spectacular distortions? Did Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez in a schizophrenic moment actually believe herself to be covered with "black goo"? Did she rush screaming through Mr. Boswell's neutron-bombed streets to her clockless room to scrub off the goo? Or did she make a goo-impeded headlong rush to Mr. Justice's ramshackle airport to flee this godforsaken place netherward of hell? Did their various detached and objective editors accept en toto their claims? Black goo? Neutron bombs? Clocks? Come on. They skewed the truth and they all knew it. But what would drive a professional journalist to bend descriptions of simple things, physical phenomena, inanimate objects? Could they hate a government enough to violate the basic canons of their profession, to chance shredding their very credibility as journalists by inventing images that bear no relation to any objective reality?

Robinson, pp.153-156

25 May 2011

The Ethics of Collecting

The practice of collecting buried bodies and cultural properties finds its origins in the paradigms of imperialism, science, racism, and the bounty of war. While some of the Europeans who settled North America came for religious refuge, others came in search of adventure, bent on discovering the exotic. In the process of leaving behind their histories in the old lands, the colonists became a people in search of a history--a desire that led many to collecting the history of other peoples. The desecration of Native American remains and sacred objects began with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas: Pilgrims looted graves after arriving in Wampanoag territory on Cape Cod, Thomas Jefferson looked into burial mounds and documented his findings, and priests and ministers often took great pleasure in collecting and then destroying sacred items.

Perhaps it is in an effort to feed the immense spiritual void inherited from its colonial past that the mainstream culture has maintained a persistent tendency toward wanting to discover, classify, and collect everything the mainstream culture considers exotic. Descendants of settlers are, in a sense, haunted by nostalgia for the lost cultures and fabled pride their forebears worked so hard to annihilate. The sociopathology of the United States rests on its colonialist history and, in particular, on the awesome weight of genocide. In attempting to dispel this burden, science has been instrumental.

Winona LaDuke, Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming, pp.75-76

24 May 2011

Energy Junkies

Let's face it, we are energy junkies. The United States consumes a third of the world's energy resources with only a twentieth of the population. We own more major appliances, televisions, cars, and computers than we have people to use them. We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops. We have allowed our addictions to overtake common sense and a good portion of our decency. We live in a country with the largest disparity of wealth between rich and poor of any industrialized nation in the world. And, we live where economic power is clearly translated into political power. A good portion of that power is held in the hands of energy corporations. That is the story of the United States, and that is what we must change.

LaDuke, p.237

12 May 2011

Jane Mt. Pleasant

I love the corn because it represents accumulated knowledge passed down from farmer to farmer over the millennium. I love the corn because it provides sustenance to my family and community today. I love corn because it represents our promise and commitment to the future. The simple act of planting connects me to the past, roots me in the present, and commits me to the future.

Jane Mt. Pleasant, Iroquois biologist, quoted in LaDuke, p.165

In a time....

In a time of immense violence, it only takes a short time for life to be totally transformed.

LaDuke, p.70

22 April 2011

Status Of Forces Agreement

Within the political class and the media it is reflexively assumed that Washington has the right to demand terms for the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq. No such right was accorded to Russian invaders of Afghanistan, or indeed to anyone except the United States and its clients. For others, we rightly adopt the principle that invaders have no rights, only responsibilities, including the responsibility to attend to the will of the victims, and to pay massive reparations for their crimes. In this case, the crimes include strong support for Saddam Hussein through his worst atrocities on Reagan's watch, then on to Saddam's massacre of Shiites under the eyes of the U.S. military after the first Gulf War; the Clinton sanctions that were termed "genocidal" by the distinguished international diplomats who administered them and resigned in protest, then the invasion and its hideous aftermath. No such thoughts can be voiced in polite society.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes & Prospects, p.237

We Are All Moors

The more I listened to the acrimonious dispute over the fate of illegal aliens in the United States, the more I realized the extent to which modern Western nations are still operating by the principles of Spanish conquistadors and inquisitors in their war against Islam. Spain's crusade for religious purity was not a blessing to that nation, but the delusion that a nation could regain its strength by excluding those who are different, the minorities who don't belong to the common stock, continues to drive states to the brink of folly.

Anouar Majid, We Are All Moors, p.19

Israel and South Africa

Israel's global status is already coming to resemble that of South Africa forty years ago, particularly after its invasion of Gaza in December 2008. And it is reacting much the same way as white nationalists did: with "information campaigns" to instruct the world on its errors and misunderstanding, arrogant self-righteousness, circling the wagons, defiance, reliance on the United States to protect it no matter what the world thinks, and often with extraordinary paranoia.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes & Prospects, pp.162-163

18 March 2011

Charlie and Ira Louvin

The Louvin Brothers enjoyed success, but fell short of superstardom. Their old-school country was subsumed by the first wave of rock'n'roll--although Elvis Presley idolized the Louvins, and took them on tour--and then by the riotous cultural upheavals of the 1960s. A greater impediment was the gathering volatility of Ira Louvin. Speaking to Uncut, Charlie sighingly confirmed that every legend about Ira's volcanic temper, artistic caprice, alcoholic excess and romantic recklessness is regrettably true. "There's only a millimetre difference between an idiot and a genius," said Charlie.

He blamed Ira, though with no hint of bitterness, for depriving them of what might have been a career-transforming moment: an Elvis Presley version of one of their songs. Ira fought with Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told Elvis his music was "trash," and sneered to the King's face that he was "a white nigger." "My brother," said Charlie, in a prize-winning understatement, "was way too outspoken."

The Louvin Brothers couldn't go on like that, and didn't. In his early eighties, Charlie still remembered the date and place precisely. "Every time we'd go on tour, Ira would say, 'This is it, I'm getting out of this rotten business,' and he'd say to me, "I don't know what you'll do, maybe you can get your job at the service station back.' I just heard this so many times, and then on August 18, 1963, in Watseka, illinois, I said on the way home--of course, I did 95 per cent of the driving--'this time, you're right. This will be the last show."

To the regret of many and the surprise of few, Ira Louvin died young, just 41, in 1965. Of all the fates he tempted, it was a car accident that claimed him, along with his fourth wife, not long after his third wife had shot him five times during a domestic dispute (and subsequently informed reporters waiting at the hospital that "If the son of a bitch don't die, I'll shoot him again.")

from "When You Listen To The Louvins, You Hear The Deep, Haunted South," Uncut magazine, April 2011