Tuesday, May 01, 2012 2:32 PM
wisdom has it that hindsight is 20/20, but twenty years after the
LA Riots we’re still looking back with questions. New stories about
what happened are coming to light, as are new analyses about
circumstances that gave rise to disorder. While many publications
are using this anniversary as a chance for reflection, the underlying
question always seems to be, “Could it happen again?”
Understanding the causes leading up to the LA Riots is crucial to answering that question. A People’s Guide to Los Angeles offers an excellent brief on the circumstances that led to the riots
(unfortunately, you’ll have to get your hands on a print copy). Authors
Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng cite “four powerful
and intertwined dynamics: residential segregation, police repression,
economic restructuring, and collective resistance.” The Guide illuminates
how structural inequalities bred community activism, which played a
crucial factor in the Watts Riots of 1965, the creation of the Black
Panther Party, and the uprising in 1992 (all responses to widespread
abuse of power by the police).
The Mental Floss History of the United States offers more causes and outlines the five days of disorder following the acquittal of the officers that beat Rodney King. Los Angeles Magazine supplies a timeline focused on race-related civil disorder in South LA, as well as photo documentation of the riots. The final toll according to Mental Floss:
“[s]even thousand fires had destroyed 613 buildings and damaged another
960, while looters robbed and vandalized 2,700 businesses, many of
which never reopened. The total cost of the damage was $1.5 billion,
almost all in African American neighborhoods. As in previous riots, most
of the victims were also minorities: the death toll included 25 African
Americans, 16 Latinos, eight whites, two Asians, and two immigrants
from the Middle East.”
those impacted by the riots, Korean Americans have emerged with a
strong voice. Many Korean immigrants did not speak English fluently
enough to speak with the press in 1992. Their children are now old
enough to share powerful memories of 4-29, or Saigu. KoreAm has compiled an oral history
detailing how Korean merchants and individuals were targeted during the
riots, from looting and burning in Koreatown to media portrayal of
Korean immigrants as angry and violent. The publication also shares
reflections on how Saigu created solidarity within the Korean American community.
In Guernica, E. Tammy Kim, shares memories of the riot alongside her recent pilgrimage to South LA in search of “the lessons of 1992.”
A Korean American in Seattle at the time of the riots, Kim finds that,
while demographics have changed, many circumstances are the same. The
population is now mostly Latino, though African Americans and Koreans
still inhabit the neighborhood. “Outside Lee’s Market, I offered to help
Rita Nunley with two plastic bags full of groceries. An African
American woman, hair tucked into a kerchief and eyes ringed with dark
circles, she was a distant relation of Latasha Harlins [an African
American teen killed by a Korean shop owner in March, 1991]. In 1992,
Nunley was working for the Post Office. She remembers her boss locking
the staff inside the branch office until the coast was deemed clear.
Rita had hoped the riots would change the city’s inequalities, but, 'Conditions are the same now,' she said. 'I don’t know why it’s not
happening again.'” Similar thoughts were echoed by South LA teens, whose
teachers struggle with how to teach the riots when the history is still being written.
A recent survey found that most Angelenos believe that racial tensions in the city have eased reports The Pacific Standard.
However, the same study found that “public education, transportation,
jobs, street quality, air quality, housing costs and health care quality
have gotten worse since 1992.” The Pacific Standard makes no mention of police brutality, though Tim Cavanaugh of Reason claims that the problem of a “police force more focused on terrorizing the citizens than on solving crimes [...] has been largely solved, thanks in large measure to William Bratton’s work as chief of police.”
While some publications can’t resist the temptation to fan the flames of racial tension, others show that racism does not always trump compassion. Recent Los Angeles Magazine covers, featured in coverjunkie, put a face on the ever-shifting social constructs of race and ethnicity. And The Awl’s Maria Bustillos reminds us that “Reginald Denny, a white guy, was rescued by a black guy named Bobby Green, Jr., who saw [Denny’s] beating taking place on live television, realized that it was going on nearby and rushed out to help.”
Sources: A People’s Guide to Los Angeles, Mental Floss, Los Angeles Magazine, KoreAm, Guernica,Pacific Standard, Reason, coverjunkie, The Awl
Images: First Marine Division along Crenshaw, from licensed under Creative Commons. "I am Black I am White I am L.A." from Los Angeles Magazine, design director Steve Banks, via coverjunkie.
Tuesday, December 27, 2011 3:23 PM
Pessimists, skeptics, and conspiracy theorists often have a fairly similar point of view. The difference is in the packaging of their arguments. It’s hard to tell where Guernica’s Russ Baker falls on the Chicken Little spectrum with his latest essay, which questions whether or not the federal government is grooming U.S. citizens for a war with Iran.
Baker’s evidence is of two types. First, he cites that the discourse around Iran’s nuclear ambition sounds very aggressive. Of course it’s important to note that many policy makers and analysts are still throwing their hands up on the Iranian nuclear situation, and Baker notes this. Further, there seems to be whispers, by Baker’s account, that the U.S. is trying to pin a financial donkey-tail on Iran for involvement with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “This one may gain traction due to powerful lingering emotions on the topic,” he adds, soberly. The other type of evidence he draws from is historic, namely the well-funded campaigns to depose Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Although Baker doesn’t provide links or extended quotes to back his argument, it remains persuasive—at least in a knee-jerk sense. But even if it turns out to be merely armchair speculation, it serves as a reminder of why we should keep a critical eye on mainstream media and federal government.
Image by AZRainman, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 27, 2011 4:52 PM
Given Muammar Qaddafi’s recent death and the continued political uncertainty in Libya, tourism will likely not be the country’s boom industry any time soon. Some people, however, get paid to visit the hot, ruined, sand-blasted terrain of North Africa. Journalists, sure, and politicians, too. But also travel writers.
On account of the Arab Spring the third and most recent edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Libya was never published, according to one of its primary authors Kate Grace Thomas. In a vignette-style article about being a travel writer in a warzone published on Guernica, Thomas explains:
I was writing a guidebook to a country that no longer exists; a country where busloads of Italian tourists gathered around hotel buffets; where billboards advertised the Qaddafi brand—forty-one years, they sang, the leader’s face peering down at the cars on the highways like that of a god who thought he created them. The guidebook I researched was a guidebook to the past.
Thomas’ dispatch from the turbulent Libyan heartland is as riveting as any other you’ve read, even lacking the injuries and explosions you’d hear about from an embedded journalist. But what really made this essay memorable was how Thomas repeatedly blurred the distinction between travel writing and traditional reporting, between natural landscape and political landscape, between tourist amenities and cultural anxieties. For Thomas, they are one and the same. Following are a few of the best tips for savvy tourists.
On the massive geographical rift down the middle of Libya:
“Tripoli and Benghazi are very far apart,” he said. “Not only in terms of kilometers, you understand? Most Libyans must choose; either we are true to Tripoli or we are true to Benghazi.”
On the best way to hire a cab:
“It is safer that way,” the driver told me. “If you want to travel safely in Libya, always ask the driver to bring his wife.”
On luxury accommodations:
“Qaddafi,” said the hotel manager, “has slept in this bed.” . . .
I couldn’t afford to stay there, so I thanked the manager and left to write up my review. This was the private wing of one of Benghazi’s largest hotels, concealed from the public by fat palm trees, elephant grass, and a thousand-dollar price tag.
On scenic routes:
We took the road south from Tobruk, past the World War Two cemeteries with their neat rows of headstones and swept pathways, stippled with aloe vera plants, flowering cacti, and simple dedications. These burial grounds were tidy, orderly, nothing like the mass graves slowly filling in Tripoli.
Back in New York, Thomas reflects on her travels, her commissioned writing, and the rapid changes sweeping Libya. Specifically, she meditates on Qaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound:
The compound used to be sand. Qaddafi had concrete poured into its grounds, burying the ghosts of footprints, sowing grass seeds around its vast contours. He covered the compound with the concrete of his ideas, his doctrine. He covered Libya with them too. But when the rebels showed up, firing their rounds, chipping away at its surface, pockets of sand became visible.
Qaddafi had tried to turn Libya into rock, his rock, but underneath it was sand, shifting sand, all along.
Thursday, July 07, 2011 10:39 AM
How much is a pound of cigarette butts worth? A San Diego-based environmentalist will give you $3 for them.
Androgynous fashion model Andrej Pejic walks the runway in men’s and women’s fashions for Brazilian designer Lino Villaventura. Which look do you favor?
Has a businessman from Denver committed the biggest green scam in history?
Want some fresh toxins with that strawberry shortcake? Methyl iodide on California strawberry fields gives you one more reason to go locavore and organic this summer.
Before you head to the beach this weekend, check out Guernica’s list of 10 States Where You Should Think Twice Before Jumping in the Water.
How fewer smokers led to a public health problem in Arizona.
These 27 maps show the cartographic history of Africa.
If “I love that book” is your only pickup line, then e-readers have effectively destroyed your love life.
Strange bedfellows: The intellectual libertarians at Reason released Canadian singer-songwriter Lindy’s video for “No-Knock Raid,” which graphically shows the accidental violence typical of unannounced drug raids. Cannabis Culture follows up with an interview parsing Lindy’s politics. While you’re at it, check out rapper Pharaohe Monch’s short film for “Clap (One Day),” which dramatizes a no-knock raid gone tragically wrong.
Fast Company takes a deeper look at Matt Damon and Water.org: "Our vision is clean water and sanitation for everyone, in our lifetime…So we better get to work."
What would you do if you were stuck overnight at Dallas-Fort Worth airport?
Image by indi.ca, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011 1:34 PM
As the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf approaches we look to some of our most trusted sources to get us up to date on all things BP and the Gulf. Below are some of the nominees for this year’s Utne Independent Press Awards in the environmental and political categories with their most recent coverage of the oil spill, one year later.
Let’s start at Audubon Magazine for a little history on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, by way of an excerpt from A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout by Carl Safina (who also appears in the latest issue of Utne Reader). Even though we know how it all ends, Safina’s build up to the blowout is tense and makes you anxious while reading:
A churning drill bit sent from a world of light and warmth and living beings. More than three miles under the sea surface, more than two miles under the seafloor. Eternal darkness. Unimaginable pressure. The drill bit has met a gas pocket. That tiny pinprick. That pressure. Mere bubbles, a mild fizz from deep within. A sudden influx of gas into the well. Rushing up the pipe. Gas expanding like crazy. Through the open gates on the seafloor. One more mile to the sea surface.
The always feisty Mother Jones doesn’t beat around the bush with their latest blog post about the spill: “10 Reasons to Still Be Pissed Off About the BP Oil Disaster.” The all-too-clear-but-all-too-easily-forgotten reasons include, “BP is gunning to get back to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” even though “People are sick” and “Fish and other sea life in the Gulf are still struggling after the disaster.” Meanwhile, “GOP House members want more drilling off all our coasts with less environmental review” and “Congress hasn’t changed a single law on oil and gas drilling in the past year.” As promised, the list of 10 will piss you off. (Also, if you missed Mother Jones’ September/October 2010 issue with the cover story “The BP Cover-Up” it’s worth revisiting now.)
And if that’s not enough to piss you off, add this to the mix from The Nation: “BP’s Oil Spill Tax Credit Matches EPA’s Entire Annual Budget.” While the oil giant’s tax credit claim may be old news, The Nation highlights the protests of US Uncut, a group focused on corporate tax breaks and attacks on the public service sector:
Thousands of young voters rallied at the White House this Tax Day to demand President Obama stand up to Big Polluters and make them pay their fair share. During the day of action, a flash mob, led by US Uncut’s Carl Gibson, successfully shut down a BP gas station in response to the company’s $9.9 billion tax credit from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which nearly matches the EPA’s entire annual operating budget.
Conveniently, OnEarth has all of its coverage of the Gulf oil spill in one spot—Disaster in the Gulf—including the most recent post from Ian Somerhalder (the actor most known for his role as ‘Boone’ on Lost).
A year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, dozens of dead baby dolphins are washing ashore in the Gulf of Mexico; oyster populations are devastated, crippling a multi-billion dollar industry and the tens of thousands of jobs that go with it; and Gulf residents continue to complain of lingering health problems that they believe were caused by the BP oil spill. Despite what you may read in the mainstream media, the oil has not gone away.
Finally, In These Timessums up the situation clearly and succinctly. Simply put, one year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history the “government and media may be moving on from [the] aftermath of the Deepwater disaster, but the scars left behind by the spill are still raw and festering.”
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention here the story “Fish with the King” that we recently reprinted from the excellent online magazine of politics and arts, Guernica, about the devastation the oil spill has had on the fishing communities in the Gulf.
Source: Audubon Magazine, Mother Jones, The Nation, OnEarth, In These Times, Guernica
Image by lagohsep, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 17, 2011 12:22 PM
This post originally appeared on Guernica.
A report from the Pew Research Center says that over 50% of the American public doesn’t know about what has happened in Egypt. Or if they do know about the revolution that occurred over there, they don’t really care all that much about it.
We’re looking at this thing from a tired old script.
Some Americans, feel the Egyptian protesters were looking for a U.S.-style democracy. Basically, they wanted American nylons and Hershey bars, and whatever else liberated people want in those old movies. It seems these people were also inspired by George W. Bush and his belief in the one-size-fits-all exportability of democracy.
Of course, the shiny people (they’re the ones who believe that America is a shining inspiration to all, since World War II) forget that there are many strains of democracy, and that it doesn’t always lead to the same kind of corporate one that we have here. They forget that democratic governments emanate from national identities. And these governments operate out of national interest, and nothing else. What’s in the national interest of some country elsewhere may not match what’s in ours.
Meanwhile on the far left, they’re running with the unicorns, predicting that these changes will mean a new, more peaceful world. Or revolution here (I went to a rally for Egypt that was hijacked by Maoists who said that, with our pathetic little posters, we were going to rise up and take over New York City and then the country). Many on the left attack Obama for not having urged revolution, right away. Of course, they forget that the United States serves its corporations first, and that it has long-been entangled in a variety of foreign alliances. We’ve hardly ever (have we ever?) supported a people’s revolution. Yet, Obama is supposed to be a superman. He isn’t. America hasn’t elected a revolutionary into office in some 200 years.
As Americans, we have inherited a stacked deck. We’re in a headlock with our corporate masters and in exchange we’re kept numb by entertainment and assurances that we’re the strongest country on the face of the earth. We serve our corporations and what they want. What these corporations want from Egypt is a territory kept cooperative enough for America to pick clean of its resources.
The Egyptian revolution is inspiring, even more so because it occurred at the edge of U.S. power. We can’t control what’s happened. No one can, not even the lords at GM GE Exxon Mobil—and that’s what a revolution is. It’s, well, revolutionary. what happened in Tahrir Square happened without us, and we weren’t even invited. It was the result of what Steven Berlin Johnson calls emergence: it was leaderless, and all the more powerful because of that.
For over 30 years, we gave Egypt the shaft, because it was in our national interest to do so. Now it’s time for Egypt to find out where its own interests are, without a strongman leading the way. The country has a difficult and terrible road to walk. I hope they’ll have enough of a jaundiced sensibility to look to themselves for guidance, because the United States and its allies will first be interested in keeping the world safe for 9 to 5, not in engendering equality and economic parity. One can only hope their revolution succeeds—and that it spreads.
Image by mshamma, licensed under Creative Commons.
Copyright 2011 Meakin Armstrong
Meakin Armstrong is a freelance writer and fiction editor at
. His nonfiction has been featured in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, TheAtlantic.com, TheAlanticWire.com, Time Out New York, USAir Magazine, and in the books, New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg and Museyon Guides Film + Travel North America. In 2007, he received a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarship for fiction.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011 2:36 PM
Most zoologists would be thrilled to find an animal species yet unknown to science—but Kim Howell’s 1996 discovery of a rare toad in Tanzania has turned out to be a mixed blessing, since it lived near a river waterfall that was slated to be dammed for hydropower. In a gripping conservation tale called simply “The Toad,” Guernica recounts Howell’s discovery and the ensuing conflict it has brought—to him, to Tanzania, and to the beleaguered amphibian at the center of the fight:
Discovering a new species can define a zoologist’s career and Howell’s big find came in 1996 when he reached into some vegetation at the base of a waterfall and pulled out a little toad, believed to inhabit the smallest native habitat of any vertebrate on Earth. Following his discovery, the Kihansi spray toad became the focus of one of the most controversial conservation efforts in recent decades, a crucible for the clash between biodiversity conservation and Tanzania’s need for economic development.
“I’ve often said I wish I had never discovered the toad,” reflected Howell.
In plot turns that recall an outrageous T.C. Boyle story but are in fact true, author Maura R. O’Connor describes an elaborate artificial spray system set up to mist the wild toads’ habitat after the dam was built; an airlift in which 500 toads were flown, in boxes lined with foil and wet paper towels, to a captive breeding program at the Bronx Zoo; and the wild toads’ subsequent extinction, probably from a fungus that has endangered amphibians worldwide. Now scientists are considering reintroducing the Kihansi spray toad to its native gorge at great cost—and with great uncertainty.
Ultimately, story prods us to ask hard questions. How far should we go in attempting to save endangered species? Is an animal removed from its native habitat really “saved”? One ethicist lays out some of the terrain to O’Connor:
“We’ll never know with any degree of certainty whether these animals can be reintroduced or not,” said Mark Michael, a professor of environmental ethics at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. “There are a lot of environmentalists who say, ‘If you take a species out of the wild and there is very little possibility of reintroducing them, then you shouldn’t do it.’”
But proponents of captive breeding believe it’s better to have the species in the world than to let them disappear, even if the animals that remain in zoos are essentially, as Michael said, “museum pieces.”
Image by Julie Larsen Maher ©
Wildlife Conservation Society
Thursday, January 20, 2011 11:22 AM
On the heels of Utne’s Work Package in our latest issue, Boston Review has a forum on the possibilities for full employment in today’s economy.
Who says that wind power needs to come from turbines? Introducing: fibro-wind arrays.
In what may be the most important piece of news this week, Paul the Psychic Octopus’ soccer-predicting legacy will not be forgotten.
From Guernica: Detroitism: What does “ruin porn” tell us about the motor city?
A visual number crunching of the state of modern-day marriage. There’s nothing like graphs and pretty pictures to get the point across.
The New Republic’s art critic on the state of photojournalism.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010 5:30 PM
Writing for Guernica, anti-war activist Norman Solomon had this to say about the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks this week:
No government wants to face documentation of actual policies, goals and priorities that directly contradict its public claims of virtue. In societies with democratic freedoms, the governments that have the most to fear from such disclosures are the ones that have been doing the most lying to their own people.
That above statement—as well as the rest of the essay by Solomon, and others, like this one by Arianna Huffington and this one by Tom Hayden in The Nation—is exactly why Tim Heffernan at Esquiremisses the point on what WikiLeaks is doing. These leaked documents may not be all that surprising when one thinks about what governments do and how armies act in times of war. Any lack of surprise, however, comes from previous speculation (by you, me, anyone paying attention) for which there is now proof in the form of these released documents. While they may confirm more than inform, what led us to become informed has been much guess work and the stuff of Tom Clancy novels—not necessarily the proof of actual government documents. The dismissal, then, of these documents as unimportant is the wrong response. Indeed, confirming speculation is of great importance, otherwise the deceit continues unabated and jabs of “conspiracy theory” are more easily thrown (see video below).
Another point where the debate goes awry is in discussing the prosecution of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks is the vehicle by which these cables—and the previous war logs—are released. The only people who should be held accountable by any U.S. court would be those providing the information to the messenger, as was pointed out this morning on Democracy Now! by Scott Horton, a contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine:
I think, here, the U.S. government does have a basis to bring criminal claims against persons who disclose this information. It’s the individuals who owe the duty to the United States to preserve the confidentiality or secrecy of the information and who disclosed it. So whoever did that—and, of course, Bradley Manning is a focus—would naturally be the subject of a criminal investigation and prosecution.
While the claim that WikiLeaks should be prosecuted is troubling, The Washington Times’ claims that WikiLeaks should be responsible for any sort of “verification” or “corroboration” of the leaked documents may be more so. The paper itself admits that “The WikiLeaks database may be a starting point for analysis of events in the Iraq war, but it renders only a superficial look at any given topic.” Why then should an organization whose stated purpose is “to publish original source material” be expected to also fulfill the job of the journalists who come to the “starting point” to create their stories? It is the responsibility of The New York Times, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, and, yes, even The Washington Times—though they apparently have the desire to shirk that responsibility—et al. to craft the stories that appear as news to the public. As with the Pentagon Papers, the lot of the information is there, but it may take news organizations or political theorists to wade through what it all means. That’s the journalists’ responsibility, not that of the vehicle delivering the information.
And while the expectation of The Washington Times is misbegotten, it is another suggestion in the same article that is downright scary:
The government also should be waging war on the Wikileaks Web presence. There are a variety of means whereby technicians could render inoperable the sites distributing the classified information. Wikileaks could respond by using alternate sites, but those could be targeted as soon as they came online. Wikileaks has a small staff and limited resources. Relentless attacks on the servers and sites dispensing this classified information would have a debilitating effect on the leakers' morale and help widen the fissures that already have appeared in the group. This battle could offer some practical experience to American cyberwarriors who one day will face even greater threats from state-sponsored Web war.
The fact that anyone in the world can view Pentagon classified documents at will sends a signal of American impotence and inspires future cyberfoes. If Wikileaks wants to play this game, the very least our government can do is suit up and get out on the field.
That’s the true American spirit! Get caught lying and use the whistleblower as target practice for a future war. Norman Solomon long ago concluded that the “nation’s military and diplomacy are moving parts of the same vast war machinery.” With calls to action like that from The Washington Times we might as well add the nation’s media to the list.
Source: Guernica, Esquire, Democracy Now!, The Washington Times, The Huffington Post, The Nation
licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 18, 2010 2:11 PM
Every week we share links to stories, articles, and other interesting things we’ve come across online for you to enjoy over the weekend. It’s the utne.com crockpot; we add the ingredients for a great online meal.
Want to get away? Far away? Feel like disappearing for a time, even if only vicariously? Hermitary is a one-stop resource for your inner hermit. One of the most consistently wondrous sites on the internet.
You can also escape by checking out issue three of Porter Fox’s travel mag Nowhere.
Ernie Button takes cool photos of breakfast cereal. His project is called Cerealism, and Cheerios and Lucky Charms have never looked so beautiful.
Over at The Oxford American, Kevin Brockmeier presents his personal selection of Ten Great Novels of the Apocalypse. Is there anything one might conclude from Brockmeier’s list? Yes: the end of the world is not likely to be pleasant.
Europeans were thrilled when we elected Barack Obama. Now they’re just confused.
Jen Jackson considers her well-kept trailer home in Moab, Utah, a “27-foot bit of silver-plated paradise”—but it’s made her an outlaw.
If government spending is a pie, the military is very, very hungry.
, is it possible that the new TSA security procedures are a bigger deal online than they are in real life?
analyzes George W. Bush’s official portrait, concluding that W’s break from tradition suggests that “he wants to present himself is as a faux President.”
As the U.S. ends its combat mission in Iraq, it builds up its construction projects in the region. Nick Turse, writing for Guernica, explains why President Obama’s “end of our combat mission” announcement could be another “mission accomplished” moment.
Thursday, May 20, 2010 4:29 PM
Will bedbugs bring down New York? I wonder, after reading Sara Faye Lieber's lovely piece about the pests in a recent issue of Guernica. And yes, I meant to say lovely—though her beautifully written essay is, at times, a bit vivid for the squeamish reader. After the critters infiltrate her apartment, Lieber sets out to learn everything she can about them, for example: Did you know that bedbugs prefer to bite women and children? That they can live in your books for years? Or that months in a freezer will not kill them? (Did you want to know these things?)
Lieber channels her obsessive research into an interesting argument about the threat these hardy insects pose to cities (particularly New York), where secondhand furniture and dumpster-diving are ways of life.
“If city dwellers are unable to acquire and sell used things, they will be unable to furnish their apartments, fill their bookshelves, clothe their bodies, continue to build their rare record collections and create the comfortable and eclectic habitats that are the cornerstones of bohemian or at least somewhat affordable city living,” Lieber writes. “These practically invisible pests constitute an assault on anyone who believes in the value of the old, of sacred objects culled from bargain bins, of rare books found on shady street corners.” For example:
Whoever says kids these days aren’t into books has either never been to Brooklyn or is getting their information from an unreliable source. After I had salvaged eight plastic bins of my most beloved books and papers, my sister helped me lug the rejects out to join the rest of the tainted garbage on the curb. Because the bags were black, we used thick masking tape to make impromptu labels on the outside, on which we again wrote and illustrated the most ferocious warnings we could think of in both Spanish and English. My sister and I went inside to gather up the next batch of garbage bags. When we came back outside, the bags we had previously lugged to the garbage heap were already ripped open and little Dominican boys and girls were running away with the salvaged booty. We yelled after them in Spanish, “NO! NO! NO! LOS LIBROS TIENEN INSECTOS!” But they did not listen.
We chased after them, in some cases all the way to their doors, where we explained in Spanish to their parent sitting on a stoop why bedbugs are to be taken seriously. This was not an easy thing to convince them of in the face of a bounty of free books for their children. Even in Spanish, the name “bedbug” sounds like a punch-line. By the time we returned to the garbage pile in front of my apartment, new children had arrived. For what are a few measly bugs to an information-starved eight-year-old when right before her is the entire, lushly illustrated, multi-volume encyclopedia of animals or dance or space exploration? My sister stood guard while I went inside and got a bulk bottle of dish detergent, then poured it over the tainted bags of books the way I had seen my babysitter do more than once with the offending second-half of a dessert she felt too fat to finish. The green slime trick works every time. I didn’t feel triumphant depriving these inner city kids of their loot though. I felt like I had gone over to the dark side.
Image by Oldmaison, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 02, 2010 2:49 PM
There is a great interview in Guernica with philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler about her latest book, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable?. Here are a few excerpts from the exchange:
Guernica: In the book’s introduction, you set out a principled vision for how we might go about defining life—
Judith Butler: I am not at all sure that I define life, since I think that life tends to exceed the definitions of it we may offer. It always seems to have that characteristic, so the approach to life cannot be altogether successful if we start with definitions. All I really have to say about life is that for it to be regarded as valuable, it has to first be regarded as grievable. A life that is in some sense socially dead or already “lost” cannot be grieved when it is actually destroyed. And I think we can see that entire populations are regarded as negligible life by warring powers, and so when they are destroyed, there is no great sense that a heinous act and egregious loss have taken place. My question is: how do we understand this nefarious distinction that gets set up between grievable and ungrievable lives?
+ + +
Guernica: Your account of life depends on being intertwined with other lives; does it really then call on us to be more concerned for the lives of others in distant places and conflicts?
Judith Butler: Along with many other people, I am trying to contest the notion that we can only value, shelter, and grieve those lives that share a common language or cultural sameness with ourselves. The point is not so much to extend our capacity for compassion, but to understand that ethical relations have to cross both cultural and geographical distance. Given that there is global interdependency in relation to the environment, food supply and distribution, and war, do we not need to understand the bonds that we have to those we do not know or have never chosen? This takes us beyond communitarianism and nationalism alike. Or so I hope.
+ + +
Guernica: What does the grief you call for consist of? How does it act upon us?
Judith Butler: If we were to start to grieve those against whom we wage war, we would have to stop.
Monday, March 15, 2010 4:29 PM
In the Jan.-Feb. issue of Utne Reader, we reprinted a great interview with Richard Sennett about the value of craftsmanship, what the sociologist calls “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” In a recent piece for Guernica, Rochelle Gurstein looks at craftsmanship from a policy perspective—by way of exploring the history of labor in the United States and the intentional dismantling of a skilled labor economy.
“There is nothing natural or inevitable about our system of labor,” Gurstein writes. “It came about through conscious decisions made by industrial capitalists in the name of profit for them alone.” The assembly-line mindset hastened the demise of meaningful work and, of course, bolstered the consumerism that’s come to define American life and threaten the environment. But while conversations about consuming less are in vogue, discussions of a new (or renewed) way to work are not. As Gurstein puts it:
Instead of putting forward, as so many of our elected officials, policy analysts, pundits, and journalists predictably do, a picture of our world that is essentially the same, except that it is somehow “green” and somehow peopled with college-educated or better “trained” workers, we need to focus our attention on the more pressing and more basic question of what kinds of work people should be expected to devote their lives to doing.
Image by K. Kendall, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 28, 2009 2:37 PM
If thinking about Detroit conjures up depressing images of battle-scarred landscapes, you must read Mark Dowie’s proposal to turn the city into an “agrarian paradise.” Writing for Guernica, Dowie lays out an ambitious argument for why this maligned city—which is home to zero grocery chains or big-box stores and is very nearly a complete food desert—“may be best positioned to become the world’s first 100 percent food self-sufficient city.”
The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, 60,000 owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
Dowie examines a few interesting proposals and checks in with several burgeoning urban-farming movements in the city, from nonprofits and schools to the “backyard garden boom” being spurred by immigrants from Laos and Bangladesh.
He also meets a few skeptics who are wary of a field-filled Detroit, but he remains excited at the prospect of the city’s “rural future.”
“Where else in the world can one find a one-hundred-and-forty-square-mile agricultural community with four major league sports teams, two good universities, the fifth largest art museum in the country, a world-class hospital, and headquarters of a now-global industry, that while faltering, stands ready to green their products and keep three million people in the rest of the country employed?”
Image by photofarmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009 10:09 AM
The title character of Junot Diaz’s excellent, Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a pudgy, awkward kid from the Dominican Republic. In an interview with Guernica, Diaz tells how he got the inspiration for the book’s title:
That night we were just all hanging out and it was a bunch of Mexican bohemians and me and my Guatemalan buddy. And one of these Mexican cats just pulled a book off a shelf and just cornered me and was like, “My favorite writer in the world.” He was telling me, “My favorite writer in the world is Oscar Wao, I love Oscar Wao, Oscar Wao is brilliant.” And I was dying because I knew he meant Oscar Wilde. That’s where the book began. After that party I went home and I laid in bed, and I suddenly had this idea of this fore-cursed family. This idea of this awkward fat boy and this idea that this family would be cursed in love, that they would have great trouble finding love. You know it just felt like a real good kind of novella, telenovela type plot. I just thought, “Hey, I can work with this, you know, I can really change this into something else.”
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