Thursday, April 16, 2015

Eduardo Galeano (1940 - 2015)

"Our guy, Eduardo Galeano, died last night." That's what I emailed a friend a few days ago after finding out. We've both been reading Galeano's Children of the Days every morning since the beginning of the year, a "calendar of human history," as the subtitle notes, with a page devoted to every day of the year, each pertaining to something significant that happened on that day. Significant in the Galeano sense, I mean.

Eduardo Galeano was a man who knew that the world was upside down. With this in mind, he devoted his energy to undermining the myths and official narratives we've been told so many times, the malevolent stories whose presence distorts the way we understand and think about the world, a
 world built on, and out of, the wrong stories. To counter this—to offer us, through memory, another world—Galeano highlighted the interesting and notable and important things the "nobodies" have been doing throughout history. His intent, the purpose of his corpus, was not only to give credit where credit is due, but to celebrate that which is truly worth celebrating. That which—through its celebration—enables us to make a more conscious choice regarding the world we want to live in and build. A truer, more colorful world, as he would have it.

In order for his books to match this aim, Galeano had to create an original way of writing about history. His works are "people's histories" (in the Howard Zinn sense), yet written by a poet rather than an historian. His influence can be seen in Florian Illies' 1913: The Year Before the Storm (2013), which is organized by months (often down to the day) and comprised wholly of various short stories, anecdotes, and moments. What both authors aim to do
, each in their own way, is capture the ineffable and mysterious sweep of human history—not by assembling facts and building narrative straight lines, but by filling in as many dots as Mystery allows. What we're left with is not only a picture but also a feeling—some grand, inexpressible understanding. All of which is to say that this style of writing embodies a wholly different view of life than that which is catalogued by the typical historian. A kind of changing, unknowable flow, to use an exhausted image, compared to something more knowable and concrete.
     One can also catch glimpses of Galeano's veins weaving through Mariusz Szczygiel's Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia (2014), another work of history focused largely on those who're not typically thought of as the major players in the official dramas, told in (sometimes) intersecting stories, the style of which, again, offers us a more seemingly complete picture and perspective than that of authors who try to create a sweeping narrative out of disparate facts. Wittingly or not, the style of Szczygiel's writing represents an acknowledgement of the random, chaotic, often meaningless course of events we like to make sense of and call "history." Galeano, Illies and Szczygial all resign themselves to this truth, but this resignation is not cause for their despondency but rather a kind of liberation that they run with and transform.

I suspect that everyone who loves books has had the experience of reading something and, within minutes, feeling a kinship with the author. "This writer is mine. They understand me. They are me." (Probably where the love of reading originates.) 
Referring to Galeano, I wrote "our guy..." to my friend reflexively, without thought. He was (and is) "our writer" in many senses, not just in the sense of "me" and "my friend" who met with him every morning. If you're reading this, he's probably yours too, even if you may not know it yet (I recommend starting with Mirrors: An Almost Universal History / Stories of Almost Everyone). He's also "our" guy in the sense that "They" are not "Us" (in the tricky, oversimple, and highly problematic—yet tangible—"Us" vs. "Them.") "Their" stories do not contain "Our" stories. And he's also ours in the sense of the "offering us another world" above—those of us who want one, anyway.

* * *

Galeano would never want himself written into Children of the Days, of course. Though he had a great and warm sense of humor, he lacked the arrogance and self-importance to see the irony in something like that. And he'd certainly never have the heart to exclude another story so much in need of being told.

But it wold be very fitting, and a wonderfully bizarre thing for future readers of the book to encounter.

One of the fun things to notice about Children of the Days is its quasi-practical application. Due to its structure and formatting, the book doubles as a timer that measures the year rather than the hours and minutes, with flowing pages in place of falling sand. The days, in their thinness, become more like the ticking seconds of a clock. Here we are now, down to the day (the white mark near the bottom is where the year ends; an index follows):

note: As far as I know, Galeano's books have no clear antecedent, at least not as far as history books are concerned. Rebecca West, in her nonfiction work 1900 (1982)—which I have not read in full but rather jumped around and sampled in chunks—wrote a history of the title year, with a compassionate eye toward the dispossessed and a large focus on artists (one senses all four of the writers mentioned are in agreement with Shelley's famous remark about who the unacknowledged legislators of the world truly are). But it's still largely a traditional history, however unique the premise might have been at the time, however well the photographs have been integrated, and however personal it is (West lived through 1900 as a girl, knowing and meeting many of the players). Galeano was already writing before West's book was published, but it's possible that Illies' 1913 was birthed more from West than Galeano... but this is all speculation. Anyway, while we have an excuse, let's make a quick stop in at 1900 to get a quick sample of West's tone and point of view, which I love. In reference to the Queensberry debacle: "Oscar Wilde was not so lucky. He should have been put by the fates on a list of endangered species, not to be hunted like the rest of us human game, for in The Importance of Being Earnest he had written the only great comedy which had graced the English stage since Congreve's day."

Galeano photo via

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015

OLD JOKE: A tourist passed violinist Mischa Elman on Fifty-seventh Street, Manhattan.

"Excuse me," said the tourist, noticing his violin case, "Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?"

"Yes," Elman said, continuing on his way. "Practice!"

OLDER JOKE: Bacchus wanted to retrieve the recently deceased poet Euripides from the underworld but wasn't quite sure how to go about it. Without a better plan, he decided to adorn himself with a lion's skin and club in a feeble attempt to appear like Hercules, who had successfully travelled to the underworld to wrestle Cerberus. Then he sought the strongman's advice.

He arrived at his half-brother's door, where the heroic Hercules mocked the effeminate Bacchus for his ill-suited disguise until the god of wine and theater revealed his serious intent.

"How may I soonest arrive at Hades below?" Bacchus asked.

Hercules, put out by his annoying sibling, replied, "A rope and a bench."

(Taken from Aristophanes' The Frogs, 405 BC)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

american sniping

Chomsky reviews the reviewers of American Sniper:

* * * 

For reasons that aren't particularly interesting, I won't be seeing American Sniper. I have never been convinced that Clint Eastwood is a very good filmmaker (or actor, for that matter) and, fairly or not, the fact that his films are generally praised very highly makes me feel differently towards them than I would, say, the films of another competent or better than average filmmaker whose work was consistently treated with the lack of reverence and respect I thought it deserved. I also have no patience for any of the recent movies about war and terrorism that couch themselves in vague notions of neutrality, whether that be through a director's insistence that the work is "not political" (and critics largely treat it as such), an actor says that a given film is not about war but rather a "character study" (meaning that the war itself is mere backdrop—an inherently political decision in its implications), or any of the other myriad ways this stance might be expressed. The Hurt Locker, with Kathryn Bigelow's insistence that the film was somehow "neutral" or apolitical, was for me the first and final straw in breaking any interest I had in watching these dishonest (at worst) or woefully naive (giving benefit of doubt) films. At the same time I do sometimes wonder how much this kind of framing is genuine sentiment and how much of it is merely a cynical marketing strategy designed to make the films appeal to the largest number of viewers possible, both pro- and anti-war1. (When it turns out that a given movie is "serious" enough to contend for awards, this strategy would also help ensure that it doesn't ruffle too many feathers in the Academy2, a body thought to be much more in opposition to the Iraq war than in support of it.)3

1: An easy shorthand. But yeah, I just did that unfair thing with language that anti-abortion types do when they frame themselves as "pro-life." (By definition, no sane person is ever "pro-war," however much they might support a particular action.)

2: Not a Birdman reference.

3: I already told you in the beginning that my reasons weren't particularly interesting; you have no one to blame but yourself.

* * *

A comment found below Matt Taibbi's online review of American Sniper :

Normally I wouldn't respond to this at all, or I'd respond to it directly on the page. But since the comments are closed, I'm snowed in, the comment itself is frozen directly below the article for all to see, and I have nothing better to post at the moment...

helloiamyo: You seem to be under the impression that it is somehow possible to go into a movie completely objectively, with no preconceived expectations or prejudice
—how quaint! The irony is that you did the exact same thing you criticize Taibbi for, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum. You expected to like the film! How do I know? Because you paid to see it! (Though you've already demonstrated that logic isn't your strong suit, I'm assuming that the reasoning behind this particular deduction is intuitive enough for you to infer without my having to explain it.) It follows, then, that you had the mindset of finding what is "right" and "good" in the film and therefore enjoyed it like "the rest of us" (who likewise paid for it) did. Add to this the possibility of having to face the disappointing prospect of having plopped down ten bucks for something you didn't even enjoy and, well, it's no wonder you found something to like, right? Or should I give you more credit than you're giving Taibbi?

The following comment can be seen shortly thereafter, wherein a marooned citizen proudly fires his cannons from the shores of Philistia:

Nothing to say to that; one can only marvel. (I would ask, however, that if "entertain" is truly "ENOUGH!" for movies to do, then why does Mr. Lously bother to spend time reading about them, let alone take the time to write a response? I sense some inner conflict...)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

snowballs in hell: a repost

CBS NEWS February 26, 2015, 8:09 PM

 -- While the rest of Washington spent Thursday trying to avert a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe brought a snowball to the Senate floor during a speech questioning the science behind climate change.
"Do you know what this is? It's a snowball," Inhofe said, holding the snowball aloft. "It's just from outside here, so it's very, very cold out ... very unseasonable."
"Mr. President, catch this," he said, tossing the snowball away. An Inhofe aide told National Journal the projectile was caught by a congressional page.
Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has long argued that climate change is a "hoax," and he's opposed the Obama administration's efforts to reduce carbon emissions. He brandished his snowball prop on Wednesday during a broader speech questioning global warming.
"We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, but now the script has flipped," Inhofe said.
NASA has determined that 2014 was, in fact, the warmest year since modern recording began in 1880.
* * *

 photo logicalfallacycomic-1.jpg
Originally posted 04/2011

"A comic but not comedic. To ridicule -- by way of three small exposures -- a certain pervasive mentality."

Monday, February 02, 2015

inspiration, derivation, or no relation? (affinities XXIII)

Crazy Horse (Wiseman, 2011); Under the Skin (Glazer, 2013)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

waterboarding: five definitions

[waw-ter-bawr-ding, ‐bohr‐, wot-er‐]

1. an enhanced interrogation technique in which water is poured over the face of an immobilized suspect until information is elicited that proves their culpability, thereby creating an easy workaround to the naive, pre-9/11 pipe dream "innocent until proven guilty."

2. a form of enhanced hazing involving water performed on certain immobilized detainees until they admit that they are in fact "enemy combatants," thereby justifying their initial capture, subsequent detention (indefinite), and whatever else might happen to befall them should their treatment ever get leaked to a journalist—particularly one whose hatred of America is so intense that they might actually consider reporting on it.


1. a method of torture that no legal or political or cultural authority from the Spanish Inquisition until the Bush administration ever doubted for a moment was torture. definition (US): definition (UK):

The first two definitions are mine; the third, which I deemed obsolete, is taken from The Atlantic

Thursday, January 08, 2015


"My grandfather, Earl Collins, painted airplanes in England during World War II. After, in civilian life, he painted houses, until he was hired by a Baltimore savings and loan company to supervise maintenance of their city branch. I remember him as a kind and exceptionally generous man with impeccable style. When he died in 1996, my grandmother gave me his 35mm Nikon. I don’t remember him ever taking pictures, but a box of slides I found recently are evidence that he took a lot in the years between 1959 and 1972. These photos are also evidence of an aesthetic, which, if such things can be handed down generations, I believe I inherited. Though we never discussed photography or art and he didn’t like the movies, I am haunted by the similarities between the subjects that interest us and the way we organize the frame." —Matthew Porterfield

top image: By Earl Collins [More]; bottom image: By Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill)

Thursday, January 01, 2015


From Eduardo Galeano's Children of the Days (2013)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bacons & Hogg

From The Wordsworth Book of Literary Anecdotes (Robert Hendrickson, 1990)

Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). A witty murderer was brought before Bacon when he served as England's lord chancellor in 1618.

"Your honor should let me go," the man said. "We're kin. My name is Hogg, and Hogg is kin to Bacon."

"Not until it's hung," Bacon replied.

Figure with Meat (1954) by another Francis Bacon

Monday, December 15, 2014



The world decided that the punishment for subjecting prisoners to such techniques was death [via / more]

(NKVD was a law enforcement arm of the Soviet Union) [via]


Quote from Mariusz Szczygieł's Gottland (2008)

Obama continuing to "Look forward, not back." [via]



Interview via Meet, What Some Have Dubbed, "the Press."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

clinical, targeted, precise

In light of a new report by the human rights group Reprieve, which found that US drone strikes kill on average 28 unidentified people for every strike made on an intended target, I wanted to highlight a comment that was made by former head of the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center, Henry A. Crumpton, in the 2012 New York Times article, "The Moral Case for Drones." In response to concerns being raised over civilian casualties, Crumpton defended the merits of drone technology.

"We never said, 'Let's build a more humane weapon,' " Mr. Crumpton said. "We said, 'Let's be as precise as possible, because that's our mission — to kill Bin Laden and the people right around him.' "

Since then, Mr. Crumpton said, the drone war has prompted an intense focus on civilian casualties, which in a YouTube world have become harder to hide. He argues that technological change is producing a growing intolerance for the routine slaughter of earlier wars.

"Look at the firebombing of Dresden, and compare what we're doing today," Mr. Crumpton said. "The public's expectations have been raised dramatically around the world, and that's good news."

Huh? So people used to think it was perfectly fine to firebomb entire cities? Modern wars don't produce routine slaughter? YouTube is the driving force behind creating more precise weaponry? The 25,000+ people killed in Dresden is a case of justifiable moral outrage, yet the much larger number of civilians killed in the Middle East is an example of progress because our weapons are now more "precise" and our targeting more discerning?

Opponents of drone warfare hoping to satirize the government's defense of the practice would be hard-pressed to write a better statement for a key official to make earnestly during an interview. When the bar has to be set that low in order to justify your view—"I mean, compared to the firebombing of Dresden..."—then certainly part of you must know—or rather, should know—that something is majorly wrong with your position.

Later, speaking about the US invasion of Iraq, Crumpton got defensive.

"I don't understand what the big concern is," Mr. Crumpton said. "Yes, it's been a messy affair, and mistakes were made. [...] But look at the bombing of Nagasaki. When you compare what we're doing today in the Middle East with Nagasaki, it's nothing. War is never going to be perfect, but we've made incredible progress. I don't see how anyone could deny that. Sure, more civilians may have been killed in Iraq [than in Nagasaki]. If some of the larger estimates are correct, which I doubt, then it might be true. But that gets to my point, actually, because all of that happened before we were using drones. When we dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they were single, indiscriminate bombs [and we] deliberately target[ed] two civilian cities. Whereas now in the Middle East, we're using extremely discriminating, precise technology to selectively target specific enemies, as well as those whose behavior we deem suspicious. That is, we're able to wage a very clinical war by using drones. [...] There's no real argument to be had. It's either [drones] or Nagasaki. Or Dresden. Is that what people want? If we're going to act morally, we have no choice but to use drones. It's that simple." (He didn't really say any of this, of course(?). At least not in so many words!)

The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur.

Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.

However many Americans know who Zawahiri is, far fewer are familiar with Qari Hussain. Hussain was a deputy commander of the Pakistani Taliban, a militant group aligned with al-Qaida that trained the would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad, before his unsuccessful 2010 attack. The drones first came for Hussain years before, on 29 January 2008. Then they came on 23 June 2009, 15 January 2010, 2 October 2010 and 7 October 2010.

Finally, on 15 October 2010, Hellfire missiles fired from a Predator or Reaper drone killed Hussain, the Pakistani Taliban later confirmed. For the death of a man whom practically no American can name, the US killed 128 people, 13 of them children, none of whom it meant to harm.

A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.

Click link [X] above for full chart.

Note (from the same Guardian article):

Neither Reprieve nor the Guardian examined the subset of drone strikes that do not target specific people: the so-called “signature strikes” that attack people based on a pattern of behavior considered suspicious, rather than intelligence tying their targets to terrorist activity. An analytically conservative Council on Foreign Relations tally assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Iraq and Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.

As well, the data is agnostic on the validity of the named targets struck on multiple occasions being marked for death in the first place.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


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darren wilson, clean conscience, michael brown, ferguson
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 photo michaelbrown2-1.png, michael brown, ferguson, darren wilson, tamir rice, eric garner, protest, injustice      photo tamirrice2.png, tamir rice, ferguson, michael brown, police violence, injustice, protest, eric garner
eric garner, death, verdict, chokehold, not guilty, Daniel Pantaleo, protest, injustice, ferguson,