Moby Dick, by Herman Melville

Test Test TEst

Herman Melville : Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick (Library of America)
By: Herman MelvilleGeorge Thomas Tanselle
Amazon Price: $40.00

Read More......

Emily Dickinson's Burglar Update

Good news, I suppose... To Find the Principles: Dickinson Break-in Update: Finally, the Facts
A University of Massachusetts student faces criminal charges for allegedly causing $600 in damage at the Emily Dickinson Museum after attempting to force his way into the building in the early morning hours of Sept. 5. Police say he was very drunk at the time. [ . . . . ] The man first smashed a window and door at the museum in an unsuccessful attempt to get inside, and in the process lacerated his right hand and bled extensively. A bookcase inside the museum was tipped over when he reached inside to unlock the door. Police said the cost of cleaning up the broken glass and the blood was $600.

Read More......


The largest table in the world

An interesting post from Bilgrimage, yesterday. The line that most struck me was this:

"Because race has always mattered and always will matter—as long as we choose to let it matter—Mary McLeod Bethune envisioned the school she founded as a place of reconciliation between the races (and the genders). A place in which everyone could gather around a table large enough to include all whose voices needed a hearing, all shoved from the table of participatory democracy in the culture at large."

The table, she talks about has some very dangerous implications. This is not to say anything against Ms Bethune (or Mr. Lindsey, the author of the post linked to), who I am led to understand was a saint. But, we as the inheritors of this legacy of activism, sometimes I think we misunderstand this legacy, or take 'the easy way out'.

After all, the statement that Mr Lindsey makes equates "all whose voices needed a hearing" with "all shoved from the table of participatory democracy." This, however, makes a dangerous assumption - the assumption that those who do not fit in this group do not need their voices heard. It assumes, or implies to some degree, that there is a party that ought to have the power - the currently dispossessed - and another party that does not need the power anymore - the non-dispossessed. This sets up, subtly, a dangerous dichotomy, a dichotomy of the suffering, and the wicked who cause the suffering.

In real life, of course, it isn't that simple. Those who are dispossessed are not always right - dispossession breeds crisis, and crisis makes us reactionary. This isn't to say that the 'oppressor class' is right either (they certainly aren't), but it is to say that the answer lies in conversation - not just conversation between all the people who are suffering, but conversation with those who, sometimes ignorantly, cause it. Without that dialogue, you have the blind oppression of the weak (a good example is found, for instance, in the majority of Americans who might buy goods that exploit labor in ways they would find unacceptable if they really understood), or the blind supplanting of the strong with a new oppressor group (the Russian Revolution, sadly, became a good example of this).

I recently read Aurora Leigh (review here. Beware the poor iambs...), and the metaphorical struggle there between the Poet and the Philanthropist sheds some light on this. To someone who has never been taught to read, someone whose daily survival consumes their entire energies, someone who has been driven into squalor so long that society has unmanned them, a poem is completely worthless, only the philanthropist has meaning - he might, at least, give you dinner. When you are treated like an animal, you often start to think like one. The starving animal wants to live, and they want the power to control their surroundings. And there is nothing wrong with that.

On the other hand, if you are wealthy, if you have no real reason to need to work, no need to struggle, the work of the philanthropist has no particular, immediate value for you. The work of the poet, on the other hand, has a great value, because it awakens your humanity. You do not care for material things if you've never had to care for them. The lack of struggle atrophies the spiritual in us, it deadens the passion in us. The starving human soul wants beauty, passion, life. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that one of these, without the other, creates only half of a man. A man in poverty must struggle to be alive in one way, a man in squalid wealth must struggle to be alive in another, and neither one can truly understand the struggle of the other. To the man who does not understand material want, someone who will not pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make their own way seems lazy and selfish. To the man who does not understand spiritual starvation, someone who is miserable in the midst of plenty seems effete and selfish. In neither case is selfishness really the cause (or so my naive belief in humanity's underlying goodness tells me), it's simply blindness.

To broaden the scope a bit, then, I would submit that earth is a planet of suffering - every human being here suffers. Each and every one. Perhaps some suffer more than others, and we could argue all day long about who causes the suffering. And sometimes, perhaps, people are not willing to acknowledge the suffering of others, and sometimes people twist themselves so hard that they are no longer capable of understanding the ssuffering of others. But, at some, basic level, if we are to have a table where everyone who could gather whose 'voices needed a hearing', that table would have 5 billion some-odd seats, one for each human being (and I just don't know if the dolphins and chimpanzees and such need seats, that's someone else's crusade to fight).

Now, understandably, in some sense this is impossible. I accept that. In some sense, though, the wonder of the present is that this table is more and more beginning to exist. One hundred years ago, it would be difficult, even if one wanted to, to understand someone from another culture. We mock this now, we think how stupid our forefathers were, we're filled with righteous indignation at blind acts - how could the British Empire have believed that tripe about the White Man's Burden? How could the Conquistadors have just wantonly slaughtered entire nations that they barely understood to exist? But, turn upon thyself, oh questioner, and ask - why am I different? Are we all just better people today? Of course not. There are better, there are worse, but overall, I think most of humanity really does mean well. The problem is that, to a British reader in 1890, India, for example, was a vague idea, it was something you heard about from other White people who might have been there in the military, visiting a country of brown people while surrounded by and making your daily company with other white people, also visiting. How could you possibly understand what it meant to be Indian? And how judgemental would we be to look at such a person and say - they are bad? Some were, to be sure, but some always are. The reason you know better is, largely, one of education, exposure, and technology (and to be honest, we're still not that great).

To return to the present then, whenever I see a group of people that holds an opinion that horrifies me - sure, I allow myself to be horrified. We SHOULD be horrified. The fact that we don't feel like it's okay for someone with more melanin in their skin to be president is absurd, and in one hundred years, it will look as foolish as some of the examples I mentioned. But, be horrified at the sentiment, and then realize the people holding it are human. How can they feel that way? What is it that prevents them from being as wise as they could be? And, most challenging of all, ask yourself this: what blindness do I have, that they don't have? What is it that they can teach me? Remember : unless you're Jesus, you'll never be able to teach someone unless you open expect to be taught in return. Teaching the world something they're too stupid to understand makes for long diatribes that get screeching assent from those who already agreed with, and alienated distaste from those who don't. You know. Like Sarah Palin
(shoutout to my alienated, distasted wife!).

After all, that's been the genius and wisdom of Barack Obama, so far, I believe - he can be black, without telling you that's why you have to vote for him.

Read More......



Gonaives, Haiti is the city where the Haitian people declared independence. Imagine, then, for a moment, if the city of Philadelphia, days after a storm, had water that ran knee-deep through the biggest streets in the city, if 500 people were gathered together in the Cathedral there, to escape the floodwaters, crammed into the choir gallery. Imagine if Galveston had been hit by Ike, three times in the space of a few weeks, and that there was nowhere to evacuate the people to, and that the poverty rate was so high that people were already dying before the storm even came. The three seminal revolutions in the turn of the 18th century were the American, the French, and the Haitian. America now considers itself the beacon of democracy in the world, France, the birthplace of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Haiti is the great grandmother of decolonization, the lady who frees men from kings and despots, but also from empires and slavery. These other mothers of modern liberty are wealthy, now, and comfortable. Haiti is a collection of human beings, forced to drink the infected waters that flood their own cities, forced to eat the muddy earth that is the birthright of years of neglect and isolation. Anyway, it hurts to see human beings living the way the souls of Haiti are forced to live, now. If you care to donate, I know the organization Yele Haiti has a good reputation, and is right now distributing food and supplies there.

Read More......


This season's attack ads, simplified

Hey, if we're going to treat each other like dogs, we may as well be frank about it...

Read More......


Ghost Ships

The American Scholar - A Dark Page in Our History - By Marcus Rediker

The slave ship is a ghost ship, sailing around the edges of our consciousness. We pretend it is not there, but it haunts us. It also challenges us: a telling test of any society that considers itself to be a democracy is its ability to face the dark pages of its history. Do we dare in this post-9/11 age to look back on the terror that was instrumental to the making of America?
I found this reference in 3quarksdaily. The quote comes from a speech given by the author of a new book documenting the American slave trade (this is the 200th anniversary of it's being abolished, here, apparently), but the idea of a ghost ship was so evocative, and the more I consider it the more perfect. The quintessential ghost ship tale in English literature is probably the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and it speaks to the point that Mr. Rediker does with a certain poignancy. The Mariner and his crew are accidentally driven into the waters of Antarctica, where they suffer until they are led out by a great albatross, a sort of tutelary spirit there - only as they enter warmer seas, the Mariner kills the albatross with a crossbow. Later, he is forced to wear the body of the bird about his neck, as a representation of the weight of his sin. Leaving aside the finer points of literary narrative, this struck me as such a powerful literary narrative, that we, as a nation were carried from the squalor of the early colonies largely on the wings of the unwilling slaves - not only in the south, where they had plantations, but in the North where Massachussets, for instance, was founded on the infamous Triangle trade, producing molasses to be made into rum, from the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. We expanded westward by trampling on the Native Americans, and more or less enslaving wave after wave of 'albatrosses' - the Chinese immigrants that built the transcontinental railroad, the immigrants that we stuffed into the squalor of cities and used to enrich the pockets of factory owners, and establish our industrial might, the Irishmen in the civil war, taken straight from the dock of the immigration ship to the dock of the military ship, then shipped back a few months later on the same ships in coffins. This is what our nation was built on, this is, more or less, the only reason our nation survived and prospered, and we wear these sins about our necks, always travelling onward, but never resting. Like the mariner, I do not think we can recreate the things we have destroyed. I don't believe in restitution for the ancestors of slaves, not because I don't think they are owed something, but because any payment you could give would be an insult to what we took by force, so long ago. Redemption is a process of love, mercy, forgiveness. It's not something that can be 'made right', anymore. In one of the most famous ships, the Mariner's ship happens upon the ship where Death and Life-in-Death play at dice, to claim the souls of the men on the ship. Death wins the lives of the crew, Life-in-Death wins the soul of the mariner, the guilty one. And the Mariner is cursed, forever, to wander the earth and tell his tale to instruct the world's people with his history. America, if it cannot man it's ghost ships, it's ships of pain and injustice and sorrow, is doomed to the same fate - to live on as a mockery of life, as a mockery of what it is meant to be, to serve as a warning instead of a beacon.

Read More......


Attempted Break-in of Dickinson's Home

habent sua fata libelli: Breaking News: attempted break-in at Dickinson Museum
There was an attempted break-in Friday morning at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, specifically, the 1813 Dickinson Homestead in which the poet spent most of her life.

Thieves, floods, forces of nature, leave a poor dead woman be! I'm a bit puzzled, honestly, as to what they'd steal - the only thing actually belonging to Dickinson there, supposedly, is one of her dresses, or so I'm told. The rest is just a suggestion of how someone thought things might have looked at the time. Not, I suppose, that none of that is valuable. It just seems more profitable to break into, say, an antique that will be invariably less protected. I imagine it had more to do with the thrill of the thing than any sensible motive.

Read More......


Prime Minister Pierre-Louis in Haiti - Finally Approved!

Haiti OK's new prime minister, government - 09/05/2008 - MiamiHerald.com

(Photo from HaitianDiaspora.com)

Good for Haiti! At last, it's done, they've managed to assemble a government against all luck, I like the new Prime Minister. She's a capable-sounding woman, with a lifelong interest in the things that matter in Haiti, right now. I thought a quote from the article was terrifically indicative, both of the hopelessness, and ever-blooming hope in the Second Oldest Western Republic.

Still, the U.S.-educated economist and educator and her cabinet faces a daunting task. The storms have left many parents unable to afford school fees, and lawmakers are now asking that the beginning of the school year be delayed until October. They are also seeking relief for Gonaives and other areas hard-hit by this hurricane season's storms. Also, the five months of impasse has cost Haiti hundreds of millions of dollars in badly needed dollars to address rising food and oil prices and meet the impoverished nation's basic needs. ''The condition this country is in at the moment, everything is a priority,'' Clérié said. ``But I am very optimistic about her.''

Read More......


Tea party in a freight van

I love that this fellow is working on his dissertation, and that somehow he made time to both consider the possibilities of, and go to the trouble of filming a video of, a tea party in the back of a transit van... of course they're weenies, crumpets ought to be served with real cream, and I saw nary a cup of hot tea in this party...

Read More......

America, Haiti, and the IDB

A disturbing article in today's Guardian, here, about how the Inter-American Development Bank, an organization chartered to help countries social and economic infrastructure needs be fulfilled, is being used as a political tool to bully Haiti into having the government America wants:
Internal emails reveal that a US legal counsellor inside the IDB proposed to the US Treasury that, though the loans faced no legitimate technical obstacles, the US could effectively block them by "slowing" the process. Indeed, by requesting further review of the loans, Haiti would have to make scheduled payments before the funds were even disbursed. "While this is not a 'bullet-proof' way to stop IDB disbursements," the counsellor wrote, "it certainly will put a few more large rocks in the road."
The reason?
In 2001, US officials threatened to use their influence to stop previously-approved IDB funding unless Haiti's majority political party submitted to political demands to accept a particular apportionment of seats in a Haitian electoral oversight body. Soon after, at the behest of the US, instead of disbursing the loans as planned, the IDB and its members took the unprecedented step of implicitly adding conditions to require political action by Haiti before the funds would be released. These actions violated the IDB's own charter, which strictly prohibits the bank and its members from interfering in the internal political affairs of member states.
Why can't we just keep the promises we make? If we don't want to keep them, why do we make them in the first place?

Read More......