Indwellers and Immigrants

Heroes of Battle Rock

Cover of “The Heroes of Battle Rock” narrated by J.M. Kirkpatrick and edited by Orvil Dodge, 1904. (Credit: Robert L. Ivie)

In the middle of September, Bill-the-mail-carrier delivered a package containing an old pamphlet and an accompanying note from my brother saying he thought I might find it “a fun fast read.”  The pamphlet likely belonged to our deceased mother.  She could have picked it up on a visit to the Oregon coast with her historically-minded brother and sister-in-law.  The whole family, including my brother and me, is Oregon born.

There is something atavistic about this pamphlet.  It manifests a recurring ancestral outlook, the cultural DNA of white settlers, the origin myth gone ironically nativistic in today’s battle of white indwellers against immigrants of color.

“The Heroes of Battle Rock” is what Kenneth Burke calls a representative anecdote “in a bad sense.”[1]  Its implications for human relations are anything but positive.  It is reductive in its “motivational calculus” and thus simplistic, polarizing, and combative in the attitude it conveys toward non-whites, which would not be a matter of so much concern if it were atypical and strictly historical. (more…)

Primer for the Trump Apocalypse (Epilogue): A Wedding in the Countryside (Part 2 of 2)


Santeria Centro Habana, 3 November 2014. (Credit: Bernardo Capellini)

Soul of the Drum

On September 29, 1947, Dizzy Gillespie and legendary Cuban drummer Chano Pozo unveiled Afro-Cuban jazz at Carnegie Hall by premiering George Russell’s Cubana Be, Cubana Bop. On that date, Chano’s conga drums and Abakuá chants were first combined with Gillespie’s griot trumpet and his band’s bebop sounds. The integration of jazz and Afro-Cuban music demanded virtuoso accommodations from all performers. But in a shining corner of the universe, the ancient sounds of Africa—heretofore fragmented in diaspora—were reunited again. Chano and Dizzy had bridged two separate and distinct ontologies.[1] (more…)

Conspiracy Theory: You Cannot Live


Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I’m a big fan of conspiracy theories. They are based mostly on what Mark Twain calls a set of “corn-pone” opinions: “You tell me whar a man gits his corn-pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”[i] I find it endlessly fascinating to contemplate why a man or woman would entertain a belief that is patently false (the United States, for example, staged the moon landing in a Hollywood set), and yet reject an occurrence that is demonstrably true (the water in Flint, Michigan is full of lead).

To my increasing horror, I have begun to weave a personal conspiracy theory—probably as a result of losing my mind after listening to too many Republican presidential primary debates. Since my theory—if it ever becomes fact—signals a great danger for many of us, pray bear with me lest we suffer the same fate of Trojans who did not listen to Cassandra.


Restoring the USA


(Credit: Donald Trump Facebook page)

Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is “not exactly” Donald Trump’s life story, as Oscar Giner observes in his most recent post for Hunt the Devil. Not exactly.

Trump’s personal experience does not conform to Springsteen’s lyrics. Trump has not been beaten up by life, drafted and sent off to war, suffered inadequate care in a VA hospital, or walked in the shadow of a penitentiary with nowhere to go. He is instead, as Wikipedia succinctly says, “an American business magnate, billionaire, investor, socialite, author, television personality,” and now a candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The closest he got to military service was as a high school “cadet captain” at a military academy. Four student deferments during his college years and, after graduation, a medical deferment (he says for heel spurs) kept him out of the military and the Vietnam War.

That’s the irony of Trump playing Springsteen’s song at political rallies. But “Born in the USA” is a metaphor that captures the feeling of Trump supporters, the feeling that they have been uprooted and betrayed by their own country. Trump gives voice to their frustration and anger. He “tells it like it is” for them, not him. (more…)

Feast of the Goat (La fiesta del chivo)

Mario Vargas Llosa at Göteborg Book Fair, 2011. (Credit:  Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons)

Mario Vargas Llosa at Göteborg Book Fair, 2011. (Credit: Arild Vågen / Wikimedia Commons)

Several weeks ago, Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa (Nobel Prize for Literature 2010) published an opinion in Spain´s daily El País in which he characterized Donald Trump as a “racist imbecile.” In his piece Vargas Llosa goes to great lengths to reassure his Spanish-speaking readers that Trump is not a representative figure of the United States, or a characteristic product of American capitalism, and that Trump’s garish brand of Ugly Americanism is not a stench upon the integrity and ideals of the country. This last, legitimate figure of the Latin American literature “Boom” of the 20th century (La ciudad y los perros, La guerra del fin del mundo, La fiesta del chivo), is almost convincing. (more…)

Day of the People (Día de la Raza)

Salvador Dalí, The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, 1959, oil on canvas, 410 x 284 cm, St. Petersburg, Florida: Salvador Dalí Museum.

Salvador Dalí, The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, 1959, oil on canvas, 410 x 284 cm, St. Petersburg, Florida: Salvador Dalí Museum.

My grandmother was a retired 1st grade schoolteacher who lived in a large cement house with my uncle (my mother’s brother) in the barrio of Los Pinos in Havana. She had come to Cuba with her family as an adolescent from Barcelona, and was already a widow when I was born. Every day when I returned home from school I would receive a supplementary education from her. (more…)

The Shame of Murrieta

Murrieta, California.  Photo credit:  R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

Murrieta, California. Photo credit: R Lee E / Wikimedia Commons.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 

Matthew 18:5

In this great country, teachers and school staff members have often thrown themselves in front of the bullets of shooters to shield their young students from harm (and that, by the way, is how a truly good person stops a bad guy with a gun); elderly and infirm grandparents have taken on the daily care of their grandchildren when parents are absent; single mothers and fathers have offered themselves in daily sacrifice to the welfare of their offspring. In spite of our craven worship of Founding Fathers (where, if you please, are the Founding Mothers?), the true backbone of this nation has always been a profound commitment to its descendants—a devotion to its children. This is what fuels our belief in the American Dream, and what fires up our irrepressible hopes in the future.

In the past, the United States has welcomed children fleeing a murderous tyranny (I was once one of these children), and has offered them sanctuary from oppression and persecution. That is why the recent events in the town of Murrieta, California, are a stain on the national honor, an affront to the American spirit, and shameful to every decent citizen of this bounteous land. (more…)

The Devil and the NBA (Second Half)

The NBA wasn’t always ensnared by the wiles of the devil we all carry inside. In the perennial struggle between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in our “agonized womb of consciousness,” (R.L. Stevenson), Mr. Hyde does not always win.

                (Now the buzzer sounds, and the Second Half begins.)

Steve Nash dribbling the ball (Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons).

Steve Nash dribbling the ball (Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons).

One tries to forget the devilish, mean spirited rhetoric surrounding the passage of the infamous SB 1070 law by the Arizona Legislature and Governor Jan Brewer in 2010. From that dark, vituperative cloud, one scene stands out, one statement that nailed the issue: a very young man, smiling in the way that only the young can smile, holding up a poster that proclaimed: “Hey NASH! JAN Needs To See Your DOCUMENTS.” (Daily Kos)

The message of this tricksterish placard was aimed at Mr. Steve Nash, two-time MVP, heart and soul of the Phoenix Suns, and a Canadian citizen. It pointed out the flaw that ultimately proved fatal to SB 1070 in federal court. (more…)

The Devil and the NBA (First Half)

Los Angeles Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Boston Celtics Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, late 1980s (Steve Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com).

Los Angeles Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Boston Celtics Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, late 1980s (Steve Lipofsky Basketballphoto.com).

Mr. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the legendary center for the Los Angeles Lakers, has pricked the balloon of our complacency, of our devilish and self-congratulatory hypocrisy, in a recent opinion piece for Time magazine. In reference to the public reaction to comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the LA Clippers, he writes:

“If we’re all going to be outraged, let’s be outraged that we weren’t more outraged when his racism was first evident. Let’s be outraged that private conversations between people in an intimate relationship are recorded and publicly played.”

In his opinion piece, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar enumerates previous instances—part of the public record—that reveal objectionable racial attitudes on the part of Sterling. These the NBA had ignored. But Sterling was caught in a taped conversation asking his girlfriend to not broadcast Instagram photos of herself with Mr. Magic Johnson and other black athletes:

“You can do anything. But don’t put him on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don’t bring him to my games.”

THAT—and nothing else about Sterling’s past record—was too much for the NBA, for the sports media, and for the American public. Insisting that Sterling’s remarks were “contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the foundation of our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver imposed a multi-million dollar fine, a lifetime ban, and began proceedings to force Sterling to sell the LA Clippers. (Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2014)

Anyone who has lived under the oppression of a totalitarian regime cannot but be repulsed by the national reaction to this private revelation. (more…)