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