Monthly Archives: October 2007

Self-Tagging “Your Ideal Field” Meme

I discovered my favorite intellectual question at age three: is language necessary to thought, that is, must one have language in order to have thought, or can thought precede language? I wanted to believe that thought came first, but my observations indicated that language so strongly informed thought, that what preceded language might not be classifiable as thought but as sensation and intuition.

I went into literature because this was the university curriculum which would permit me to advance the furthest in language acquisition. I have sometimes wondered whether this is the right field for me, given my practical skills, my activist bent, and my logical and sociological orientation. I have decided that it is because I get to live in departments where people can think metaphorically, whereas in other departments many people cannot.

Axé.

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In Church

I need to write the journalistic article I discuss here and two academic articles, and I need to do these things very soon. But it is Sunday and everyone in town but my pagan self is in church confessing, so I will confess, too. I dislike a post to which I will not link and the long comments thread it generated because it is a quite gratuitous attack on a friend of mine who had a very tough life until she was at least 25 if not much longer and who is now expected to say Oh dear, I am privileged! to a puritanical and even inquisitorial crowd.

One of the ways in which I am privileged is that it has always been clear to me that I was. In our modest neighborhood other families washed out sandwich bags to use again the next day and ours did not. At school I was one of the white ones who spoke native English, and I was therefore not ostracized the way some people were. I could afford to give pieces of my lunch away to others living in situations of “food insecurity.” We had to push-start our car until we got a good one when I was seven, but we always had good health insurance. We did not shop at Good Will or even very often at discount stores, and I went to Europe three times before I was eighteen.

On television Black people were being dragged away by police, and I was not; I leafleted Safeway for César Chávez but that was on behalf of the people working the fields, which I was not. And in the parts of Europe where we lived when I was very young, we sat in cafés and ordered espresso. Poverty stricken children with mangled and twisted limbs would ask for the empty sugar packets, in which they considered that there was a taste of sweetness left. Half-starved Portuguese workers hiding under truck floorboards, trying to smuggle themselves out to France, were discovered at the Spanish border and arrested. This scene looked more tenebrous than any I had witnessed in the United States, in part because there was nobody on hand to take pictures.

I am also privileged insofar as I know who my relatives are. I am descended on both sides from Roger Williams and from Tench Tilghman on one. A great great grandfather, exiled from St. Petersburg by the Czar, had a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne and his correspondence with Karl Marx is archived in the Kremlin. A great great grandfather on the other side was a United States Senator from a state of which his father had been Governor. His wife’s father, my great great great grandfather, had a plantation there which has been described in print by Frederick Douglass. Another famous ancestor of mine is Henry Ward Beecher. His sister Harriet wrote another classic text, whose sentimental Christianity we discussed in the living room when I was in middle school. One of my grandmothers graduated from the Pratt Institute and the other from the University of California. Her sister was a Socialist and her brother was a carpenter and a Wobbly. My father still has his hammer and I am going to inherit it.

My grandmother the Pratt Institute graduate married a man directly descended from that slaveowning family. He had a small insurance company which he did not lose even in the Depression. My grandmother the Berkeley graduate, who had grown up on a farm in Montana, married a man whose father had abandoned the family, then  strawberry farmers in Glendale, California. My grandfather, the youngest in the family, left school in ninth grade to work as a lineman for the telephone company. His older brother left MIT where he had been a freshman that year. Their sister graduated high school. She worked all her life and her savings are responsible for my father’s Ph.D. and mine. I have a tenured job and I am a homeowner, and if I look younger than I am it is because I am the product of many generations of privilege.

My house has central air conditioning, which adds to my carbon footprint and contributes to global warming. The system needs new duct work, which I do not have the savings to pay for since I am a professor in a low wage state. Yet I could do it easily with a home equity line of credit. I am not because my parents are giving it to me for Christmas. And out of convenience I am not a tax resister. Even if I were, as long as I continue to contribute to the United States economy, which I do just by buying food, I am responsible for this, which I do not consider to be canceled out by my years of work on things like this. The next time anyone wants to come down on someone because of “privilege” they should come down on someone like me who has never spent a day hungry.

Axé.

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A Very Nice Post

…from WoC PhD. Excerpting:

“When an atmosphere of trust exists in a department, students are more likely to come to class prepared to learn and to take accountability for their actions, conflicts are likely to be at a minimum, and real problems that arise can be handled with maturity and proper sanction. Without trust, everything is a battle and everyone is trying to get their piece.  Sadly working in the latter environment will happen to you at least once in academe but maybe this article will help you and others shift the odds in the direction of the former.”

Read on; the entire post is excellent, including the piece she quotes.

Axé.

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La Oroya

I

Blackwater mercenaries are going to Southern California. WoC PhD writes [I’ve edited her paragraph slightly, and added emphasis to fit my purposes here, but go read her whole piece, it is very interesting]:

Blackwater claims that the facility will be used solely for ‘border related training’ and that their goal is to strengthen the border against ‘illegals.’ [As if this were not bad enough] the scope of the facility and its location would leave a deployable, heavily armed, well-trained, private army poised at two major North American arteries. They could easily be deployed into anyone’s communities and take any actions they could get away with or be covertly sanctioned to do. Their impunity would be enhanced by changes in federal law last year to allow the deployment of the army or contracted paramilitaries on U.S. soil by the Federal Government and its branches.

My major research insight, out of field and from the very early 1980s, was that “we” were acting as we were in Central and South America so as to then bring not only the human rights policies, but also the economic policies then being imposed there, here. I wish I had written an article on it then. Perhaps I should even now, although it is late:

ora ch’è notte
che la mia vita mi pare
una corolla
di tenebre
.

And the reason I should write that piece is that the game is not yet up. As the Hedonistic Pleasureseeker reminds us, the Blackwaterization of the United States via economic shock therapy is still incomplete and Hillary Clinton is poised to pound the nails into our respective coffins.

Since none of my acceptable Democratic candidates, Kucinich, Richardson, and [Dodd], are likely to win the nomination, I am wondering whether I should re-register as a Republican so as to vote for Ron Paul in the primary. If he – with whom I do not agree on most matters, of course, but who is at least a traditional conservative – were to win the Republican nomination, then it might be possible to defeat the neocons-in-sheep’s-clothing Clinton, [Edwards], and [Obama] and Richardson. Please explain to me any logical problems in this rationale, or any facts I may have failed to take into account.

II

The Blacksmith Institute has placed La Oroya, Peru, on its 2007 list of the ten most polluted places in the world. Not in the top ten, but in the next twenty, are Mexico City, Mexico, Bajos de Haina, Dominican Republic, Huancavelica, Peru, and the Matanza-Riachuelo River Basin, Argentina. All of the other most polluted places, both in the top ten and in the next twenty, are in the former Soviet Union, Africa, and Asia. No place in the Global North is among the most polluted, of course. Read all about it and look at the very interesting map.

Some travelers say that the train trip from Lima to La Oroya is the most spectacular in the Andes. If I go to Peru this summer perhaps I will take it. I never did before because it seemed so touristy and La Oroya sounded so depressing. I am, however, very fond of the train trip from Puno to Cusco, and my favorite route, when it was still functioning, was from Quito to Guayaquil. You could ride on top with the baggage, and look the volcanoes in the eye, as it were.

Axé.

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Tacitus

Saturday there are war protests here and elsewhere, and our featured post on this matter is from the Hedonistic Pleasureseeker. Her featured music, recalling the first antiwar demonstrations we went to, is Peter, Paul, and Mary. We have responded with Grace Slick, in a particularly brilliant performance. Our featured writer for the present historical moment, however, is Tacitus.

This is the first paragraph of the Annals of Imperial Rome:

Rome at the beginning was ruled by kings. Freedom and the consulship were established by Lucius Brutus. Dictatorships were held for a temporary crisis. The power of the decemvirs did not last beyond two years, nor was the consular jurisdiction of the military tribunes of long duration. The despotisms of Cinna and Sulla were brief; the rule of Pompeius and of Crassus soon yielded before Caesar; the arms of Lepidus and Antonius before Augustus; who, when the world was wearied by civil strife, subjected it to empire under the title of “Prince.” But the successes and reverses of the old Roman people have been recorded by famous historians; and fine intellects were not wanting to describe the times of Augustus, till growing sycophancy scared them away. The histories of Tiberius, Caius, Claudius, and Nero, while they were in power, were falsified through terror, and after their death were written under the irritation of a recent hatred. Hence my purpose is to relate a few facts about Augustus – more particularly his last acts, then the reign of Tiberius, and all which follows, without either bitterness or partiality, from any motives to which I am far removed.

“Read the whole text and consider parallels to our time,” says my professor friend. And Chalmers Johnson has taken on this question.

From the much maligned, but terribly useful Wikipedia:

After the demise of the Second Triumvirate, Octavian restored the outward facade of the Roman Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, but in practice retained his autocratic power. It took several years to work out the exact framework by which a formally republican state could be led by a sole ruler, the result of which became known as the Roman Empire. The emperorship was never an office like the Roman dictatorship which Caesar and Sulla had held before him; indeed, he declined it when the Roman populace “entreated him to take on the dictatorship”.[1] By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including those of tribune, censor, and consul, without being formally elected to either of those (incompatible) offices. His substantive power stemmed from financial success and resources gained in conquest, the building of patronage relationships throughout the Empire, the loyalty of many military soldiers and veterans, the authority of the many honors granted by the Senate,[2] and the respect of the people. Augustus’ control over the majority of Rome’s legions established an armed threat that could be used against the Senate, allowing him to coerce the Senate’s decisions. With his ability to eliminate senatorial opposition by means of arms, the Senate became docile towards his paramount position of leadership.

Meet Saturday at Judkins Park in Seattle; San Francisco Civic Center; Olympic and Broadway in Los Angeles; Union Park in Chicago; Washington Square in New Orleans; Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City; Union Square in New York; Welcome Park in Fort Lauderdale; Eola Lake Park in Orlando; Coolidge Park in Chattanooga; Boston CommonSeattle

Axé.

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Sobre la escritura y lo que no es

Almost a year and a half ago I wrote a post called Professor Zero and Me in which I discussed the construction of identities on line, and most specifically mine. Is the author the same as the narrator in any literary text? Must a blogging persona correspond to a real life identity or may it be a fictional character? The Angry Professor says she is a fictional character, and I believe she is not; the Hedonistic Pleasureseeker implies she is not and I believe that at least in part, she is. I am interested in their writing. As with writers of books it is always interesting to meet the author but I read primarily because I am interested in the writing.

Weblogs are of interest for many reasons, including that through them one can get the news out. Mine, however, exists most fundamentally for the purpose of developing a new writing voice. I am interested in other blogs by academics experimenting with nonacademic writing like Slaves of Academe and Fatima & Ahmed’s Son Ridwan Laher, in a number of blogs which explore ideas, and in writers searching to expand intellectual, political and spiritual horizons and to experiment with voice, like Jennifer Cascadia and Kitty Glendower.

What is admirable in writers, as any student of literature knows, is the willingness to cultivate the mind, challenge the spirit, and take risks with form, content, technique. Every writer does this, including storytellers in the oral tradition reciting twice-told tales. If you are only repeating what you already know, you are not really writing. If you do not have the imagination necessary to leave your everyday self behind, you are not really writing.

Axé.

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Clarior

The trees outside the window are in rapid transformation as we move into fall and everything is so clearly living. In Reeducation it was not acceptable to place negative events in perspective. It was prohibited to stand at the head of one’s own acts. The absurdity of these ideas is shocking.

It grows increasingly evident the further I move away from them. And yet it is so clear how these ideas were inculcated. My youngest brother, calling from New York: “I do not want to go home because of how people are there. Their interest is in exerting control over you by putting you down.”

Axé.

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