#DiGiWriMo – November 26

Today will be recorded in history, and in this blog, as the day we woke up to hear news of the passing of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He was 90 years old and ruled Cuba from 1959 until a debilitating illness forced his retirement from leadership in 2008. He survived several US-directed and inspired assassination attempts. Castro had an overall positive image in two countries where I served, Guinea-Bissau and Angola, though his image in the country of my birth was decidedly mixed. Love him or hate him, he was a world figure during some turbulent times, and he managed to transcend his immediate surroundings, his tiny island nation.Some might even say he reached that final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy, self-transcendence. I don’t know. Heck.

When I was an IR-theory graduate student at SOAS in London, we had fascinating discussions about the Washington Consensus and what we postulated as the post-Washington Consensus moment we were approaching (this was the mid-90’s) wherein countries east and west, north and south, were spinning out of cold war hegemonic control. Somewhere I have an unfinished paper on string theory and international relations.  Might be time to dust that thing off…

Long and short of it, I ain’t mad at Fidel, but you probably already figured that out. I get why the US had to dog him, same reason why the French had to dog Toussaint L’Overture, because both represented threats to an established world order. And by extension, my country puts Cuba under a curse, just like France put Haiti under a curse, a voodoo curse if you will, for their obvious misbehavior and insubordination.

Anyway, let’s end on two positive notes. Donald Fagen (half of Steely Dan). I.G.Y. 1982. And Sonnet #44, 2013.

Sonnet #44

I was a runner in my hapless youth:
two times, four times, eight times around the track;
running to things, running from things, always
in a haste, never taking time to smell
the fragrance of the roses, know the truth.
In time, life slowed me down. I changed my tack.
I learned to walk, to circumspect, unfazed
by every shiny thing my eyes beheld.
But then the boundless sea became my Muse:
Her hidden wonders and her ways seduced
my every thought. Yet she was just a phase,
a short poetic phrase and a malaise.
This sonnet owns no ending, just a star,
to capture our attention from afar.

R.D. Maxwell ©2013

#DiGiWriMo – November 25

Looking back over the past 25 days, over the years, I see a unity, a common theme that can provide material for a novel, which is what November was supposed to be all about. I was surprised yesterday when my grandpop showed up out of the clear blue, but generations get skipped sometimes, and his favorite daughter, my mother, was already on the scene in the person of her macaroni and cheese recipe, which I made for Thanksgiving, and which went very well with the leg of lamb. I am rambling now, but there is even unity in the rambling, poetry in the disjointed clauses and phrases.

Job interview in Bethesda this morning. Time for something new, a new thing, a thing made new. Don’t worry, I will continue with #SaturdayLibrarian. Planning a roll call tomorrow in fact! I am missing poetry reading with the group, missing the camaraderie. Hey, did you see the Jorie Graham poem in December’s Poetry magazine? Center-tri-fold (is that a word?), folds out from the center of the magazine, back and front, The Mask Now. Is it a play on the Dunbar icon, We Wear the Mask? Naw, nothing to do with it. And there is a long essay by Carl Phillips, A Politics of Mere Being. I’ll read it, but I’m not sure I will dig it. Appears to be about political poetry, and that never ends well because politicians don’t really get poetry. And there’s a sonnet by Charles North, Lyrics of the Trouvères. Now we are talking. The rebirth of classical antiquity. Did you know Michelangelo wrote sonnets? His collection of sonnets is here in Italian and in English translation, and in other places on the internets.

Today’s post is more of a bridge than a chorus, thank the good Lord, the good Master as my grandmother would say, or so they tell me. Tomorrow a few students will trickle in, but most will still be at home with their families, still giving thanks.

#DiGiWriMo – November 24

Many years ago during my childhood, one of my first cousins (who was a college student and knew everything) told me that Papa, our grandfather, used to tell her he was descended from the Blackfoot tribe. I looked it up at the library, and told her that the Blackfoot Indians lived up north and out west, not in southern Virginia where our people were enslaved back when. She said there were northern Blackfoot Indians and southern Blackfoot Indians. I accepted that as a compromise, and I accepted that we were part Indian and part African. I would later learn that we were likely part Scottish too, but that is material for a different chapter. (photo of Papa, below.)

As a consequence, I have identified, from childhood, with the plight of Native Americans, or, as they are known in Canada, members of the First Nations.

Which brings us to today. Sort of.

The pediment above the Senate doors at the East front of the Capitol has a marble sculptural group that is titled “Progress of Civilization.”  Here is the whole pediment:

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Let’s take a look at the far right end. Yes, Native Americans, First Nations’ people.  Let’s zoom in for a closer look:

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The Indian: the Dying Chief Contemplating the Demise of His Race – Thomas Crawford, 1856

Erected in 1863. First sculptured in Rome, 1856, by the same sculptor who later made the pediment. Not a pretty sight. Pretty pessimistic view of the future. But official US policy at the time.  Round them up, march them west, make them die. These are not nice words, I know. But the history is fairly accurate. The Supreme Court ruling on Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia (1831) was every bit as odious for Native Americans as the Dred Scott decision (Dred Scott Vs. Sandford (1857)) was for free Blacks (or any Blacks) at the time. Sometimes the Supremes get it wrong. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 passed in Congress by one vote.

Now, finally, today. Thanksgiving. We give thanks. But Native Americans have a different view. Since 1970, they have called it the National Day of Mourning. Native Americans figure prominently in the story we all learn about the first Thanksgiving. It is largely a myth.

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A photo of Papa, my grandfather, Nelson Hairston, Sr., 1960’s

Late breaking:

The First Thanksgiving In America was a Catholic Mass

The Future is Indigenous: Decolonizing Thanksgiving

Why Jefferson Said No to Thanksgiving

What We Really Know About the First Thanksgiving

ON POWER, PALESTINE AND STANDING ROCK

#DiGiWriMo – November 23 – late entry

The New York Times and the Washington Post both advise that I have exceeded the number of free articles I can read on the internet in a month’s time.  There used to be a way around it, but now so many news aggregators link directly to the Times and the Post and they catch me every time. Oh well, there is always December!

For Thanksgiving we decided on lamb instead of turkey.  I will be making my mother’s secret recipe macaroni and cheese and my housemate (smile!) is making her traditional everything-in-it Portuguese salad. Oh, and pumpkin pie a la mode.

Life is on a steady course these days, these years. No sudden turns, no angles and dangles. We are happy at home, with our books and the radio and the occasional NetFlix /AmazonPrime series binge. Not doing any winter gardening, but thinking and prepping for the planting season next spring at the community garden.

So, on this Thursday in late November, we are thankful for good health, for family drama that enlivens and sometimes challenges, for interesting friends and acquaintances, for enriching past-times and hobbies, and for access to books and information in libraries and museums and galleries.

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Throwback Thursday. Last Thanksgiving at the Republican Palace, Baghdad, Iraq. 2008. 

#DiGiWriMo – November 22

I decided to go with the Honda. Better safety rating, better maintenance record, higher resale value (and lower depreciation going off the lot). With the exception of that ’72 Toyota Corona Mk II that I loved (even though it had a leaky trunk that eventually rusted right into the gas tank beneath it) I have been exclusively a VW and Ford guy. Well, its time for new things!

Learned today that I have been called a conspiracy theorist. Well as my LUCE shipmate Dan Lidell would say, I have been called far worse names by much better men (and women). ‘Nuff said on that.

Did a double today. Walked through the Jefferson Building to work on my presentation, then took a stroll through the Smithsonian American Art Museum to see pieces by the same muralists, sculptors and painters whose works grace the walls of the Library of Congress. All members, participants in the 1876 – 1917 American Renaissance movement. I found an old exhibition book from the movement at my library. Read it from cover to cover.  Let me share a few memorable passages with you, dear reader:

“The need to cultivate a heroic past for Americans included not only the past of Anglo culture. Sculptors were prompted to look anew at the American Indian. Alongside the rough and ready cowboys painted by  Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, who were mostly responsible for mythologizing the West, were extraordinarily refined portrayals of American Indians by A. Phimister Proctor. His “Indian Warrior” presents the Indian in quite a different way than narrative sculptures by others. There is a sense of heroic dignity that, in its way, equals that of heroes of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.” (Murray, Richard N.  The American Renaissance. The Brooklyn Museum. 1979. p. 178)

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Indian Warrior, 1898. Alexander Phimister Proctor (1862 – 1950). Bronze.

Of the hundreds of murals in public and private buildings, only one states the philosophical premise of the entire American Renaissance: Elihu Vedder’s Rome, or The Art Idea (below), which he painted in 1894 for the Walker Art Building at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. On the left Vedder painted a group of figures representing the art of Michelangelo and on the right another group representing the art of Raphael. In the center stands Nature. Vedder said: “Her right hand rests on the trunk and roots of the Tree of Life; her left holds a detached branch with its fruit – an art having reached its culmination never lives again; its fruit, however, contains the seeds of another development.” For Vedder and his many colleagues, that development was the American Renaissance.” (Murray, Richard N.  The American Renaissance. The Brooklyn Museum. 1979. p. 187)

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Rome, or The Art Idea, 1894. Elihu Vedder (1836-1923). Oil on Canvas.

And from Kenyon Cox, The Classic Point of View:

The Classic Spirit is the disinterested search for perfection; it is the love of clearness and reasonableness and self-control; it is, above all, the love of permanence and of continuity. It asks of a work of art, not that it shall be novel or effective, but that it shall be fine and noble. It seeks not merely to express individuality or emotion but to express disciplined emotion and individuality restrained by law. It strives for the essential rather than the accidental, the eternal rather than the momentary. And it loves to steep itself in tradition. It would have each new work connect itself in the mind of him who sees it with all the noble and lovely works of the past, bringing them to his memory and making their beauty and charm part of the beauty and charm of the work before him. It does not deny originality and individuality – they are as welcome as inevitable. It does not consider tradition as immutable or set rigid bounds to invention. But it desires that each new presentation of truth and beauty shall show us the old truth and the old beauty, seen only from a different angle and colored by a different medium. It wishes to add link by link to the chain of tradition, but it does not wish to break the chain.(Murray, Richard N.  The American Renaissance. The Brooklyn Museum. 1979. p. 189)

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Tradition, 1916. Kenyon Cox (1856 – 1919). Oil on Canvas.

OK. Does this post need a sonnet for an end? Oh, what the heck, let’s search the archives and plug one in:

Still life

my ideal still life painting would contain
a non-microwave safe cup and saucer,
a piece of ripened fruit, a wind up watch
with a leather band, and a book, hardbound,

with several bookmarks and tabs. On a desk.
And maybe reading glasses, depending
on the reader’s (and the painter’s) needs.
I’d stare at that canvas, and wonder

if he (or she) drank tea or coffee, hot
or lukewarm like I like it. I’d wonder
does the book have poetry inside it,
the bookmarks and tabs for his (her) favorite

passages. I’d hang it beside my wife’s
painting of the river ferry crossing.

RDMaxwell ©2016

#DiGiWriMo – November 21

This month was to have been the month I completed a first draft of my first novel.  But there was too much interesting non-fiction going to think about writing fiction. So I decided to content myself with doing a daily blog post, which I have done, much of which, some may argue, is actually fiction. That’s OK if you feel that way. It has crossed my mind.

I was driving back home from a tiring day of car-shopping and heard the coolest interview on NPR with Zadie Smith, the British novelist. Some of these young folks have some really refreshing ideas about things! I include Zadie Smith in that group. It made me think, consciously and with focus, about some things I have been mulling unconsciously and without focus over the past several months, especially as the fall election campaign and all its accompanying logical fallacies in the name of politics as usual heated up.

So where to start with the fuzzy thinking?

First of all, it occurs to me that so much of what we think we know about race is at best contextual and at the very lowest common denominator, socially constructed. In fact, we could easily cross over to post-racialism, that is to say, we could make ideas about race a thing of the past, an antiquated and false science like astrology (and/or eugenics), except that so many people profit from it. Politicians, academics, legal professionals, a whole host of folks benefit from maintaining these racial constructions, preserving them like finely detailed but totally unnecessary brick walls (you know if I am talking about you!). Just today I received an email reminder to attend a faculty and staff (as part-time reference librarian I fit somewhere hidden in the middle) information session on a new program next semester on “First Year Curriculum on Race and Identity.” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, y’all!  This is supposed to be progress?

Once we transfer “race” to the dustbin of history, or simultaneously, we can think about how other “divisions” in society are similarly contextual and socially constructed. A whole lot of koolaid has been passed around recently regarding gender and sexual orientation identity, especially during the presidential campaign. Although it puts me in a danger zone, I will say it: all contextual and socially constructed. Is it real? Perhaps, like racism is real when we need it to be. But need it be real? Not necessarily.

OK. Here is where I dig down into the archive and pull out a sonnet that is vaguely (?) related to what we have been talking about. Here it is, a flawed attempt!

It may all be lost in a masquerade –
that’s what Benson used to say
in the song that criss-crossed
between jazz and rhythm & blues –

maybe the universe is a giant hologram –
two dimensions projected over a 3d space,
and we all live in a simulated lab
of our own making – or our enemy’s –

which would explain the gaps
and limitations that often present themselves
in our silent hopes and daydreams –

and all the chit-chat we engage in
about race and sex and intersectionality.
Stop, the love you save may be your own.

-RDMaxwell
©2016

#DiGiWriMo – November 20 – late entry

A series of tweets Saturday about Hamilton led to a discussion about the role of art to describe, to define and to resist and protest in times of turmoil and trouble. I made mention of the role and place of the art itself, not (and opposed to) commentary or discussion about the art – primary original stuff, not its many derivatives, nor its critiques, nor its amplifications. Please check out the tweet thread linked above for details of the conversation.

The following day, I came across the weekly summary of Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, which headlined the article by Toni Morrison below,“No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear,” originally appearing in the 150th anniversary issue of The Nation.  Reproducing it here for Sunday’s blog post. 

This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

Christmas, the day after, in 2004, following the presidential re-election of George W. Bush.

I am staring out of the window in an extremely dark mood, feeling helpless. Then a friend, a fellow artist, calls to wish me happy holidays. He asks, “How are you?” And instead of “Oh, fine—and you?”, I blurt out the truth: “Not well. Not only am I depressed, I can’t seem to work, to write; it’s as though I am paralyzed, unable to write anything more in the novel I’ve begun. I’ve never felt this way before, but the election….” I am about to explain with further detail when he interrupts, shouting: “No! No, no, no! This is precisely the time when artists go to work—not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. That’s our job!”

I felt foolish the rest of the morning, especially when I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed.

The list—which covers centuries, not just the last one—is long. A short sample will include Paul Robeson, Primo Levi, Ai Weiwei, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Picasso, Dashiell Hammett, Wole Soyinka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Lillian Hellman, Salman Rushdie, Herta Müller, Walter Benjamin. An exhaustive list would run into the hundreds.

Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists. This is the first step of a despot whose instinctive acts of malevolence are not simply mindless or evil; they are also perceptive. Such despots know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish. Their plan is simple:

1. Select a useful enemy—an “Other”—to convert rage into conflict, even war.

2. Limit or erase the imagination that art provides, as well as the critical thinking of scholars and journalists.

3. Distract with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of superior religion or defiant national pride that enshrine past hurts and humiliations.

The Nation could never have existed or flourished in 1940s Spain, or 2014 Syria, or apartheid South Africa, or 1930s Germany. And the reason is clear. It was born in the United States in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s assassination, when political division was stark and lethal—during, as my friend said, times of dread. But no prince or king or dictator could interfere successfully or forever in a country that seriously prized freedom of the press. This is not to say there weren’t elements that tried censure, but they could not, over the long haul, win. The Nation, with its history of disruptive, probing, intelligent essays sharing wide space equally with art criticism, reviews, poetry and drama, is as crucial now as it has been for 150 years.

In this contemporary world of violent protests, internecine war, cries for food and peace, in which whole desert cities are thrown up to shelter the dispossessed, abandoned, terrified populations running for their lives and the breath of their children, what are we (the so-called civilized) to do?

The solutions gravitate toward military intervention and/or internment—killing or jailing. Any gesture other than those two in this debased political climate is understood to be a sign of weakness. One wonders why the label “weak” has become the ultimate and unforgivable sin. Is it because we have become a nation so frightened of others, itself and its citizens that it does not recognize true weakness: the cowardice in the insistence on guns everywhere, war anywhere? How adult, how manly is it to shoot abortion doctors, schoolchildren, pedestrians, fleeing black teenagers? How strong, how powerful is the feeling of having a murderous weapon in the pocket, on the hip, in the glove compartment of your car? How leaderly is it to threaten war in foreign affairs simply out of habit, manufactured fear or national ego? And how pitiful? Pitiful because we must know, at some level of consciousness, that the source of and reason for our instilled aggression is not only fear. It is also money: the profit motive of the weapons industry, the financial support of the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about.

Forcing a nation to use force is easy when the citizenry is rife with discontent, experiencing feelings of a powerlessness that can be easily soothed by violence. And when the political discourse is shredded by an unreason and hatred so deep that vulgar abuse seems normal, disaffection rules. Our debates, for the most part, are examples unworthy of a playground: name-calling, verbal slaps, gossip, giggles, all while the swings and slides of governance remain empty.

For most of the last five centuries, Africa has been understood to be poor, desperately poor, in spite of the fact that it is outrageously rich in oil, gold, diamonds, precious metals, etc. But since those riches do not, in large part, belong to the people who have lived there all their lives, it has remained in the mind of the West worthy of disdain, sorrow and, of course, pillage. We sometimes forget that colonialism was and is war, a war to control and own another country’s resources—meaning money. We may also delude ourselves into thinking that our efforts to “civilize” or “pacify” other countries are not about money. Slavery was always about money: free labor producing money for owners and industries. The contemporary “working poor” and “jobless poor” are like the dormant riches of “darkest colonial Africa”—available for wage theft and property theft, and owned by metastasizing corporations stifling dissident voices.

None of this bodes well for the future. Still, I remember the shout of my friend that day after Christmas: No! This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.

#DiGiWriMo – November 19 – late entry

Saturday tweets

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#DigiWriMo – November 18 – late entry

Short entry.

Came across three websites of interest Friday.

Blue Feed, Red Feed shows liberal Facebook and conservative Facebook posts, side by side.

All Sides shows news and issues from multiple perspectives along a blue to red spectrum.

Media Bias Fact Check identifies the political and philosophical bias of various news websites.

I will continue to populate this list as I come across similar sites.

Addendum

DMOZ is the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web.

Yale University Library LibGuide – Ethics & Watchdog Groups Research strategies and resources on media, popular culture, journalism, copyright, digital society, and related topics.

Stanford study on student ability to evaluate fake news

 

#DiGiWriMo – November 17

It was a tale of two cities, almost three. In 1800, President Adams approved an act to relocate the capitol from New York to Washington, which came to be known as the Accommodation and Removal Act,

to make provision for the removal and accommodation of the Government of the United States.

But that is only the end of the story. The whole tale has far more detail.

Jefferson arrived at the nation’s capital in New York in 1790 to begin his service as Secretary of State. The southern legislators, led by Madison, wanted a decentralized farming economy where slavery would be preserved. The Northerners, led by Treasury Secretary Hamilton, wanted their debts from the war to be assumed by a strong national economy and were willing to grant taxing powers to that government in exchange for debt assumption.

The plot thickens.

The southern states, flush with slave labor and agricultural cold cash, had not incurred significant war debt and stood to gain very little from a federal assumption of the war debt. But northern industrialists and businessmen, holders of the overwhelming majority of the war debt, figured that their combined fortunes would grow even larger with their debts being assumed by a growing, and taxing national government.

Now, unrelated (perhaps) to the debt assumption issue, the Constitution mandated a central location for federal authority, but did not specify where the location would be. There were at least 16 possible cities being considered, all between New York and the Potomac. Madison, a Virginian, advocated for a site on the Potomac, near Washington’s Mount Vernon home. But votes were leaning towards Philadelphia as a more central location.

Hamilton, Treasury Secretary, supported a strong central governing authority, with a strong fiscal policy arm, and read the Constitution as supporting the same.

On a June evening in 1790 Thomas Jefferson hosted a dinner at his New York residence with Madison and Hamilton. Legend has it they worked out the deal over the dinner table. As a nod to Madison and Jefferson, the capital would move from New York to Washington, not Philadelphia. As a nod to Hamilton, the federal government would assume all war debt of the states. But as an additional nod to Madison, Virginia who owed very little war debt, would have its share of the combined federal debt reduced by $1.5 million. Hamilton would support the relocation of the capital to Washington, and the Virginia delegation would convince all the states bordering the Potomac to vote for Hamilton’s debt assumption plan.

Did I leave anything out?

For a ten year interval, Robert Morris negotiated into the agreement a short, temporary stay for the capital in Philadelphia, hoping that perhaps, a case could be made for permanent relocation to the City of Brotherly Love. But at the end of the ten year interregnum, and no doubt influenced by a mid-decade yellow fever epidemic, the Virginians won out and the move was made to Washington.

Oh yeah. Let me tell you the Library hook. Physically moving the capital to Washington required a Congressionally-approved appropriation, i.e., funding for moving all the stuff, the records, books and papers of the legislature and executive departments, and for furnishing the President’s house and congressional offices. A single clause in that appropriation provided “for the purchase of a library to assist the Congress in its work.”  And hence, the Library of Congress was born.

p.s. Did I forget to say that one of my ancestors, George Hairston, Virginia (Henry County) politician, farmer and slave breeder, was the richest guy in America at the time?