Monday, March 9, 2015

Girls Gone Wild

I can see from the ebbing of public interest in it that the story "young girls are joining ISIS" has ceased to be enough of a boob bait, even for the alte kockers who watch Fox News in between denture cream Ads. But while we were hearing every five seconds about how unbelievable, disgusting, terrifying, inhumane, and just plain unheard of it was for young girls to leave home and family to join up with a terrorist organization I had a strong feeling I'd heard this story before. And I had.  In this weeks New Yorker we are reminded that radical chic transcends religious dogma and, in fact, (rather obviously) can create a space of agency for young women even in the most unexpected of social situations. Becoming a recruit for a violent faction can sometimes be the only way a young person, or a woman, can assert herself in a society that doesn't prize agency or initiative in young people or women. Being cannon fodder is, at least, a kind of being.

Historically, women had enlisted in the I.R.A.’s female wing, known as the Cumann na mBan (Irishwomen’s Council). Dolours Price’s mother and grandmother had both been members of this group. But Dolours did not want to bandage men’s wounds, she said—she wanted to be “a fighting soldier.” The leadership of the Provisional I.R.A. convened a special meeting to consider her case, and, in August, 1971, Price became the first woman admitted to full membership in the I.R.A. She was twenty.

Marian soon joined her in the I.R.A. Dolours later said, “I should be ashamed to admit there was fun in it in those days.” People are often drawn to radicalism by a sense of community and shared purpose. In this case, there was also glory. I.R.A. members referred to themselves not as soldiers or terrorists but as “volunteers”—a signal that they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the cause.
Educated, attractive young women had not been seen carrying guns on the rubble-strewn streets of Belfast before, and the Price sisters acquired an iconic glamour. “They were sassy girls,” Eamonn McCann, a longtime friend of the sisters, told me. “They weren’t cold-eyed dialecticians or fanatics on the surface. There was a smile about them.” One press account described them as “pretty girls who would finish their school work and then take to the streets armed, one or both hiding an Armalite rifle under their raincoat, to take part in gun battles with the British army.” The sisters became the subject of sexualized lore, with stories circulating about Marian, in a miniskirt, charming her way past a British Army checkpoint while driving a car full of explosives. At the time, there was a shopping center in Belfast called Crazy Prices, and, inevitably, the sisters became known as the Crazy Prices. Another friend of the sisters told me that Dolours was drawn to the I.R.A., in some measure, by “rebel chic.” (From the New Yorker)

In another irony embedded in this story we are reminded that the murdered woman, Jean McConville, was a Protestant girl who married a Catholic boy and was so under the glamor of that relationship that she converted and proceeded to have ten children before she was 37 and widowed.  In other words she, too, had longed for something and gone out and gotten it and a religion to boot. And sacrificed her life doing it.  She might have had a longer life if she'd picked up a gun.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Two Deaths

So--a friend of mine died about a week ago.  She died on a Saturday, of a brain anyeurism, and her husband let us know almost at random with an email I almost didn't read. Her funeral was on Friday. A surreal experience, for me, since it was an open casket--she's literally never looked better--and my only associations with funeral home visitations on dark winter nights is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Alas: she did not come back from the dead.  She was the same age as I am, with children the same age as my children.  She was a tough, funny, odd, unique, cranky, fierce person--I've never met anyone like her, actually. She told me she came from a narrow-minded, punitive, appalachian type family. She married into an upper class intellectual and, as far as I can see, quite wealthy, academic family but remained an outsider her whole life.  My sense was that she hated them, and they hated her.  She was an accomplished poet, which I found out after knowing her for about ten years.  She loved my younger daughter, who she identified with and cheered on since the little one was in third grade.

 This is the second big death of someone our age, in our social circle, in a few months. One left a widow with two adolescent daughters, the other has left a widower with a girl and a boy of the same ages.  Both were sudden, absolutely sudden.  It certainly focuses your mind on your own mortality--especially given that both couples had been together approximately as long as Mr. Aimai and I have. Is there some expiration date coming that we are unaware of?

At any rate here's a line I just came across and it seemed apposite:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929
US author & journalist (1899 - 1961)   

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Experimenting With Comparative Silence

Its only comparative. I'm still trying to do two or three things at once.  Baby steps.  Two days ago I began experimenting with eliminating my electronic tethers--my computer and my iPhone--from the bedroom after 9:00 pm.  Its a bit difficult to do right now because Mr. Aimai is out of town right now and I need to talk to him or text with him at night.  And our daughter, the Jethi Chori, is away at school and I like to text with her at night.  But, on the other hand,  what I really do with all this electronica is bounce around the internet all night long and I can never fall asleep from the hum drum excitement of the constantly refreshed screen. The most interesting thing about exiling my computer is that I've discovered that the urge to check email, or check in with the innumerable conversations I have online, or google some fact, or check to see if I need to order some book or gift, is like a kind of uncontrollable tic.  As I sit in the bedroom reading, or sewing, or watching TV and reading and sewing--so I'm still multitasking--I can feel my mind wandering from what I'm doing and I reach instinctively for my googlebox thinking "I'll just check" or "I wonder what that actor's name is?" or "what are the exact dates of this event in the book I'm reading?"  There's always a good reason to do this. But the leap from the thing itself to the internet is terribly destructive to actually doing whatever you are doing.  It seems like its additive but its really subtracting.  I realize that I was watching tv, or reading a book, or working on some writing,  and also sitting with my computer open in my lap, and my iphone ready to hand, in case on or the other connection was slow.  So I might toggle between working on an online book and reading the internet on my iphone, or texting with one child while surfing the internet on the computer.   At any rate last night was the second night, for me, of the new regime and I was positively giddy as the hour approached when I could put away the computer and the phone and consider myself unreachable.   Now if I could only put this into practice during the day.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No One Gets Out Of Here Alive

Its been a tough week here.  The father of my daughter's best friend died, suddenly, leaving two adolescent girls and his wife three days before Thanksgiving.  Then two nights ago a neighbor's adult son died in his sleep, leaving his mother alone.   Today I'm cooking dinner for the family, slowly walking around the kitchen and meditatively preparing moroccan chicken tagine with roasted cinnamon squash and eggplant, a pot of Italian Wedding Soup, Mujadhara, endive salad and little chocolate pots de creme.  The Soup is for my neighbor, who lives alone.  The rest is for the family of my daughter's friend.  Its peaceful doing this and, for me, its like a kind of walking meditation.  This would make more sense if I'd ever published my post about starting Yoga.  Also I've come back to report that the soup was absolutely inedible and got tossed but the pots de creme were among the best I've ever made.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On Ferguson and Separate Worlds

I've been reading a wonderful book--Writing With Scissors--and it seems very apropos for what is going on right now with media coverage of the murder of Michael Brown.  You wouldn't think it, of course, from the book's title: Writing With Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance and some of the reviewers on Amazon are mighty disappointed that it doesn't tell you more about scrapbooking techniques.  But as I've been reading it, in conjunction with a few other books on the Civil War, Race Relations, Gender and Race I've learned something new and important.  Maybe its not new to everyone and maybe it shouldn't even be new to me but, damn, you are never too late to learn something new about an old subject. What Garvey teaches us is that there exists a publicly shared medium--such as newspapers--that through a raced and gendered activity like scrapbooking can create and entrench a cultural set of meanings, a shared history and also mark, fix, and contest that shared history.  You can see it in the different ways Northern and Southern (white) women and men clipped, circulated, shared, and pasted stories and news accounts of the Civil War and its aftermath. And you can see it in the way the newly freed African American slaves clipped, circulated, shared, pasted, and commented on stories in the post war white and black press.

Of the wartime scrapbooks Garvey argues that North and South drew on separate news sources but, where they had to share news sources clipped or ignored specific pieces of news in such a way as to build up or explore their own "side" of the conflict.  Certain emotionally significant pieces of story, memoir, or poetry transcended sides by being clipped and stripped of identifying markers such as poems of grief and loss about infants, which could stand in for loss of soldier sons without attributing a Northern or Southern valence to the story.  After the war, Garvey demonstrates, the two sides both joined in creating new, shared, memories of the privations of the war and also handled the post war period differently.  When read in conjunction with David Blight's magesterial Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory you can see individual citizens actually performing the act of remembering and forgetting that he describes on a National, political scale performing the same function in the intimacy of their own homes, in the privacy of their own grief.

 Blight demonstrates, through a study of speeches and public acts, the ways in which the War against Slavery and the Reconstruction itself were slowly vanished from public discourse in favor of praise for a shared "soldier's faith" and "soldier's duty" and an imaginary union of mourning mothers for all the dead (white) sons.  Garvey shows this happening with specific poems, stories, and recipes or memoirs of Southern White suffering which come to circulate in the North as well as the South.  Garvey also shows us that the war for the understanding of the war which was happening in scrapbooks throughout the conflict ended in a different way and at a different time for North and South.  Not surprisingly, but shockingly, Northern Scrapbooks end with Lincoln's assassination while Southern Scrapbooks end five years later with Lee's death.  One way of looking at this fact is that the horror of Lincoln's assassination basically kills off the ability or desire of the Northern scrapbooker to contemplate the war and its meaning.  While the refusal of Southern Scrapbookers to "end" scrapbooking at, say, Appomatox, is a sign that Southern Scrapbookers continued to see the war as happening, and the meaning of the war, in a historical and cultural sense as something to be fought over.  The war ended for the North with the winning, while the South continued to fight for its "lost cause" through other means.  Garvey has some data on the post war publication of anthologies of Southern wartime domestic writing and poetry and its sale up North which proves the point.  While the North failed to spread the gospel of abolition and freedom through cultural motifs like poetry, short stories, recipes, and memoirs of the struggle the South rushed to fill the gap, very self consciously, and sold these stories in national newspapers and magazines specifically aimed at a new pedagogy of the Southern Cause.  Since the war for freedom included Reconstruction, losing the war for the definition of the struggle resulted in a failure of Northern/Republican willingness to fight for Reconstruction--as you can see in Blight's account of famous abolitionist Greeley's turn towards Southern sympathizer after the war.

What does all this have to do with Ferguson and the current rise of overt White Racist language and viewpoints in the press? The second half of Garvey's book introduces us to the world of African American Scrapbooks which served an entirely different purpose from white people's scrapbooks--a historical and polemical purpose from the get go.  Fredrick Douglass and Ida B. Wells, like other public figures (white and black) kept scrapbooks of their own exploits, lectures, and public appearances. And they also kept scrapbooks as a way of fixing public accounts of atrocities and historic events which would not be reported anyplace other than the newspapers.  Douglass and (I believe but I'm not going back to check before posting) Wells and others urged ordinary African American citizens to cut and paste incidents such as lynchings or other violence against the ex-slaves so that if they were called upon to testify or to present written testimony they would have the information/proof at their fingertipes.  No public libraries, or no access to public libraries for blacks and no access to newspaper morgues for blacks meant that buying and clipping news stories as they happened was the only way for African Americans to gain access to their own historical record: to clip, paste, read and share newspaper accounts was the only way to participate in maintaining a historical record.  But, like Southern writers who had to clip Northern accounts of the war, African American scrapbookers used their scrap collecting to "talk back" to a presumably hostile account, a foreign account, of a shared history.  Garvey has fantastic examples from several important male scrapbookers** who used their positions (in one case as a janitor) to access reams of newspaper and other accounts and who cut and pasted those accounts in a very organized way to respond to or critique the partial nature of white newspaper accounts of black life.  One of these albums (or several of these albums) were focused on "Negro Centenarians" since the occasion of a person reaching 100 years of age was considered so important and remarkable that even white papers would cover it.  The scrapbooker used white and black accounts (if available) pasting them up together so that one "responded" to the other--the respectful nature of the black account pointing up the disrespectful nature of the white account.   At the time these scrapbooks were put together a Centenarian would have been a child during the Revolutionary war and Garvey argues that the scrapbooker was asserting, through these clipped obituaries or notes, on a US history in which black people were always present, always significant, always part of US history.

Garvey touches on a very interesting aspect of this shared but contested history: that children and teens were exposed, in African American families, to a kind of news/history that was hidden from white children and teens.  Because AA scrapbooking was seen as an important historical and educational duty a teen might be shown a scrapbook full of accounts of lynching, at a time when white teens were scrapbooking romantic images and pictures from Hollywood or of celebrities. AA scrapbooking was political and intertextual, while post war white scrapbooking was personal and focused on ideas of personal growth, success, and popular culture.  Garvey tells a story of a young AA woman receiving shocked criticism from her white teacher for having a scrapbook filled with "horrors" like lynching instead of bobby soxer style concerns.

This post is way too long for anyone to read so I'll just jump to my point which is that you can see the same thing happening right now, with the supposed "news" from Ferguson--the white and black viewpoints expressed in comment threads around the country show a completely balkanized news circulation: white people (minus liberals and radicals) believe that they "know" the "facts" of the case as reported to them by unimpeachable news sources that Darren Wilson was viciously attacked by an enormous, drugged up, black thief and he had to shoot to protect himself and the at risk population around him.  Black people and the white people who follow a different set of publications or Internet sources know that an unarmed black teenager was killed by an out of control white cop who along with his entire police force had a history of jacking up and arresting black people for minor offenses so that fines could be levied that would pay for the entire police/justice apparatus without raising taxes on white citizens. See Radley Balko's invaluable article on this point.  White people who aren't paying attention, or who are actively pursuing a racist agenda, believe that the protests were always riots and that riots are always proof of criminal intent masquerading as political action.  Black people and (some) whites know that riots are the natural result of a pattern of confrontation and aggression from the police and the political hierarchy which stifle ordinary means of representation and accountability.  White people hear that black people get shot all the time because they are criminals so when they hear, if they do, that a 12 year old boy named Tamir Rice was shot by two police officers, or that a perfectly innocent man who entered a stairwell when two police officers were patrolling got shot without warning, they assume that the police officers must have had a "legitimate reason."  The rest of us know that the police are out of control and completely unaccountable at this point. But basically to the extent that we are seeing the same media we are clipping, pasting, and circulating different stories about our national life.  One party clips, pastes, twitters and circulates a set of stories about out of control, animalistic, blacks and one clips, pastes, twitters and circulates a counter story.  But the two accounts don't intersect and only one talks back to the other or presupposes that the official story is not the real story.

If we lose this battle for the meaning of Michael Brown's death, or Tamir Rice's death or John Crawford's death we are, like the ex-slaves and the abolitionists, going to lose the battle for the heart and soul of the country. We are going to lose our chance to move this country forward.  We can't afford to be complacent about this.

**No time here to go into why the gender of the scrapbookers changes when you move from the white community to the black community but it would be a very interesting study.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Food Stamper, Please!

I guess Scalawag is the New Black?

ScalawagsAs I keep saying, I'm not surprised they go after the poors, but that they go after the disabled...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Can Of Worms Has Been Weaponized

Apparently the Supreme Court has weaponized a can of worms.  Not to mix my metaphors but let the popcorn popping begin.

Lawyers for two Guantanamo Bay detainees have filed motions asking a U.S. court to block officials from preventing the inmates from taking part in communal prayers during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The lawyers argue that – in light of the Supreme Court’s recent Hobby Lobby decision – the detainees’ rights are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The motions were filed this week with the Washington D.C. district court on behalf of Emad Hassan of Yemen and Ahmed Rabbani of Pakistan. U.K.-based human rights group Reprieve said both men asked for the intervention after military officials at the prison "prevented them from praying communally during Ramadan."
During Ramadan, a month of prayer and reflection that began last weekend, Muslims are required to fast every day from sunrise to sunset. But what is at issue in this case is the ability to perform extra prayers, called tarawih, "in which [Muslims] recite one-thirtieth of the Quran in consecutive segments throughout the month."