Archives for category: Culture


He is laughing on us

It would be 61 years in the future, not 53. And the people leaving Southern towns in a new Exodus would be Latino, not black. But otherwise, Ray Bradbury was eerily prophetic. Bradbury, who died June 5 in Los Angeles at the age of 91, was a writer of science
fiction only in the sense that some of his stories were set on other worlds or in alternate realities—there isn’t much science in them. What there is in abundance is a revelation of interior life and what he once described as an effort to prevent the future, which meant arresting the disturbing present. The threat of nuclear annihilation was part of that present, and so was the national nightmare of racial segregation and lynch-mob violence. In “The Million-Year Picnic,” a couple and their three sons land on Mars just as everything on Earth goes dark. The boys believe they are on a vacation trip, and when they ask to see the Martians, Dad shows them their reflection in the waters of a canal. Maybe humanity, as new Martians, can get it right this time.

When I first read last year about the hapless farmers of Alabama and Georgia, whose workforce of skilled but undocumented pickers had departed en masse ahead of the new laws that would have got most of them jailed and deported, something clicked. The farmers were complaining that legal locals just couldn’t hack it. Wayne Smith, a tomato grower in northeast Alabama for 25 years, told the AP he’d never been able to keep a crew of American workers for any length of time. “People in Alabama are not going to do this,” Smith said. “They’d work one day and just wouldn’t show up again.” Millions of dollars worth of crops were going to rot in the fields.

That news from Alabama brought me back to 1952 when I was 12, addicted to EC Comics, from Weird Science and Mad to The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. In the early 1950s, EC began publishing illustrated stories by classic writers of gothic fiction, such as Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe (safely dead and in the public domain), as well as the living, breathing, 30-ish and copyrighted Ray Bradbury. After the first of these appeared, Bradbury sent the publisher a pleasant note saying that his check must have gone astray. EC apologized for the misappropriation, sent him some money and a contract, and over the next few years published about a dozen illustrated Bradbury stories.

I’m pretty certain one of those stories was titled (in its comic book form) “The Day the Negroes Left the Earth.” In his short-story collection The Martian Chronicles, the title is “June 2003: Way in the Middle of the Air,” which was first published with that title in the magazine Other Worlds in July 1950.

Like “The Million-Year Picnic,” “Way in the Middle of the Air” looks to a new beginning. Samuel Teece, proprietor of a hardware store somewhere in the South, is on the porch of his shop with Grandpa Quartermain and some neighbors, and one of them asks if he’s heard about it.

“About what?”
“The niggers, the niggers.”
“What about ’em?”
“Them leaving, pulling out, going away, did you hear? … Every single one here in the South.”

The women of the town come running to find their menfolk. Clara Teece implores her husband to come home because their maid, Lucinda, is leaving. But he’s got problems of his own, and we see them unfold as he tries to deal with two black men, sometime employees, from among the multitudes now tramping down the street past the hardware store, on their way to the rockets that will take them to Mars. The social conventions that have governed race relations in the Jim Crow South prove insufficient to allow Teece to exercise his normal command over them, and both go on their way. The last of them, a 17-year-old named Silly, turns as he leaves and calls to his tormenter, “Mr. Teece, Mr. Teece, what you goin’ to do nights from now on? What you goin’ to do nights, Mr. Teece?”

“What in hell did he mean?,” Teece wonders, and is enraged when it dawns on him that Silly knows of his participation in a gang of night riders. He recalls the “many nights of the wind rushing in the car, flopping their hair over their mean eyes, roaring, as they picked a tree, a good strong tree, and rapped on a shanty door!”

Later, after a failed attempt to chase down and shoot Silly, Teece and his friends are back on the porch as the rockets blast off into space. “Did you notice?” Teece says. “Right up to the very last, by God, he said ‘Mister’!”

Wounded white pride, if not on the order of Teece’s resentment, would seem to account for much of the animus that has propelled the anti-immigrant campaign. The illegal immigration of Polish janitors, Irish nannies and Greek busboys, among others, never seemed to be much of a problem, even when it was common in the ’70s and ’80s—but our nativist rabble has been angry that, in the words of a 1981 New York Times editorial, “We’ve Lost Control of Our Borders.” (And they weren’t referring to Canada.)

The Obama administration’s overzealous ICE raids and deportations, Arizona’s “papers please” law of 2010, and the even more aggressive anti-immigrant laws passed last year in Georgia and Alabama, all seem to have brought the system to the point of collapse. South Carolina, apparently gripped by Antebellum nostalgia, tried to escape a similar fate this year by carving out exemptions for faithful field laborers and household servants, which would seem to defeat the original purpose of the law requiring employers to verify the immigration status of all new hires.

Even in the Pacific Northwest, migrant workers are avoiding chance encounters with the authorities: In Washington state, third-generation grower Al Robison told CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy last fall that for all the unemployed people in the area, he still can’t get “American” workers—Tracy’s word—to pick the required 8,000 pounds of apples, per person per nine-hour day, for $150. (I wonder why?) The state’s apple crop, worth $1.4 billion a year, might not survive long term, said Bruce Grim, state ag-industry executive who wants an expanded official guest-worker program.

As Bradbury sensed in 1940s Dixie—the only change in his 2003 setting seems to be the availability of rocket travel—the old order is once again under tremendous strain. Voting citizens who get hassled on the highways and whose non-citizen friends, relatives, and co-workers have been deported or slammed into ICE detention, are mad as hell—not exactly fired up and ready to go for Obama. The businesses—agriculture, construction, landscaping and others—long dependent on cheap, reliable immigrant labor, will now have to fight their right-wing allies to reverse policy or somehow convince “American workers” to take on hard manual labor for Third World wages.

On their way out, the undocumented may say “Señor,” but it will carry the same sneer as Silly’s “Mr. Teece.”

The mass homicide in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater this July had a predictable arc in the media voicebox. Fervently ricocheting, on TV and online, opinionators tried to one-up each other about What’s Really Wrong with, well, just about everything.

That the arguments settled on the matter of assault munitions being as easily purchasable as tennis balls is both inevitable and proper.

But other cultural factors are entangled with James Holmes’ pathologies, including, obviously, movies. The discussion about the shooting’s relationship with violent films and The Dark Knight Rises appeared immediately and was quickly vanquished. Critics, editors and columnists barked en masse—don’t blame the movie!—as if their very industries depended upon it. Which they do, to some degree. And, yes, the vast majority of ticket-buyers for The Dark Knight Rises did not, in fact, hurt anyone.

But so? Amid the dread of having a cause-and-effect line drawn between viewership and berserk action, one reality has been overlooked: Our mass entertainment culture has changed, and we have changed with it. In her new book In Broad Daylight: Movies and Spectators After the Cinema (Verso), Gabriele Pedullà, an Italian professor of literature, builds a cogent and alarming argument about how much change we’re talking about. Pedullà’s concern is with how we watch cinema, and the ways cinema was and is produced to accommodate that process.

Low performance begins with American racism. Our society, Delpit writes, has a “deeply ingrained bias of equating blackness with inferiority,” and it “seems always ready to identify African Americans with almost all negative behaviors.” At tender ages, black students undergo a series of “microaggressions…small psychic insults” that debilitate them. Black males perform poorly because “our young men have internalized all of the negative stereotypes.” Sometimes black students are invisible, unnoticed, and disrespected, and sometimes they are “hypervisible,” their normal youth behaviors magnified into pathologies. They end up estranged from school culture (“disidentification”), mistrusting their own capacities and fulfilling belittling expectations.

Teachers misinterpret them again and again, Delpit alleges, mainly by disregarding the culture black students inhabit. This is the second cause of low achievement. The classroom is a white, middle-class space often hostile to African American norms. It downplays collaboration, she notes, even though these students need it to “feel more secure and less vulnerable.” It ignores past contributions to learning and science by African Americans. It neglects spirituality, whereas “traditional African education” incorporates “education for the spirit” into everyday lessons.

Delpit assembles classroom anecdotes, including her daughter’s experiences, with research on “stereotype threat” to prove the point. Voices of black students bespeak the demoralizing results, as with the middle schooler who announces, “Black people don’t multiply; black people just add and subtract. White people multiply.” On the other hand, Delpit provides counterexamples of success, for instance, Afrocentric assignments, inspiring teachers who love and sympathize but maintain rigor, and a beloved white teacher whom the students consider “black” for this reason: when asked “how he felt as a white man teaching black history…tears came to his eyes as he answered that when he learned about Emmett Till and other terrible things white people had done to black people, it sometimes made him ashamed to be white.”

Of course, tales and profiles and selective research don’t amount to proof, nor do they serve as grounds for policy revision. Delpit identifies a significant problem—the clash of school culture with African American out-of-school culture—but her racial lens casts it simply as one of respect and morale, not of effective education. She believes that the former produces the latter, for “African American students are gifted and brilliant,” and they would prosper if schools and teachers became sensitive to their culture.

But this translation of teacher sensitivity into student achievement is precisely what remains to be demonstrated. Delpit praises Afrocentric curricula, but her support focuses entirely on inputs and premises, not on outcomes. A unit that instills math by taking racial profiling as the subject wins her admiration, but her only evidence for its effectiveness comes from a student who professes, “now I realize that you could use math to defend your rights and realize the injustices around you.” But what about the math scores those students attain in 12th grade? What grades do they get in first-year college calculus? Delpit claims that schools impart the message that “you must give up identifiably African American norms in order to succeed,” but she never shows that embracing those norms produces higher college enrollment or workplace readiness.

If that evidence doesn’t exist, then Delpit’s argument isn’t with schools. It’s with U.S. history, society, culture, economics. Many pages in “Multiplication Is for White People” suggest that this is, indeed, the case, such as the indignant section on racist actions after Hurricane Katrina. If society at large is racist, though, then schools should receive more credit than Delpit allows. She asserts that “Typical university curricula leave out contributions of people of color to American culture, except in special courses in African American studies,” a flatly false claim. Syllabi in U.S. history, literature, music, and other areas at nearly every campus amply represent African American creators. Her complaint really is that schools haven’t sufficiently countered popular attitudes.

Delpit’s prescription that schools show more respect for African American culture, then, may have the effect of cultivating an adversarial posture among students. If American society is anti–African American, then a “culturally relevant curriculum” necessarily conflicts with it. If high schools offer an Afrocentric curriculum, will students find university offerings uncongenial and drift toward African American studies and away from STEM fields, where job prospects are brighter? Will a high school teacher ashamed of his whiteness alienate students from white college teachers and employers not so ashamed? Delpit notes that yelling is often assumed in African American culture to be a sign of caring, but won’t failing to inform students of the inappropriateness of yelling in public and in workplaces set them up for future tensions?

These are open questions, and this book doesn’t begin to consider them. We might easily dismiss it as an expression of resentment—the shadow of Jim Crow looms on every page—but we do better to take the starting point seriously: we have a culture clash in the classroom. Rather than expounding the pains and injustices and prescribing a “sensitivity” reform, however, let’s examine various schools and curricula on the standard accountability measure. Do they produce graduates who proceed to college and workplace and thrive?

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) captured a wicked looking filament eruption on the Sun. NASA says the video shows the eruption of a long filament of solar material that was hovering in the sun’s atmosphere. The eruption was recorded on August 31, 2012. The coronal mass ejection (CEM) traveled at over 900 miles per second.

Designed and produced by the World Wide Web Foundation, the Web Index is the world’s first multi-dimensional measure of the Web’s growth, utility and impact on people and nations. It covers 61 developed and developing countries, incorporating indicators that assess the political, economic and social impact of the Web, as well as indicators of Web connectivity and infrastructure.

When a group of artists took over the Teatro Valle, Rome’s oldest theater, in June 2011, nobody thought they would last long. Yet the artists, actors and crew members who first barricaded themselves in Valle soon grew into a crowd of fierce Occupiers who under the national media spotlight became the country’s foremost anti-austerity crusaders.

The past year has brought a great number of Italian theaters into the political spotlight in what might be considered the country’s parallel to the Spanish indignados or the Occupy Wall Street movement. Though two different efforts to kick-start an Italian version of the indignados failed—the first large one taking place in June and the second in late October of 2011—the ongoing Valle occupation is a unique response to the austerity crisis crippling much of Europe’s economy.

Matteo Bianchini, 24, an engineering student at Sapienza University of Rome and one of the 50 people currently occupying the Valle, explains: “We are not against the concept of privatization. What we don’t want is a form of privatization that only benefits [those who are] already rich. A privatization that is done by politicians for politicians. We decided we had to end that vicious cycle and take control of the theater ourselves in order to give it back to the people and the community.”

Today, similar occupations are underway at four other major theaters in Palermo, Catania, Venice and Rome, along with smaller theaters around the country. Over the past year, these scattered initiatives have become a single intertwined reality that has created a perpetual cycle of plays, shows, exhibitions and talks that move through the occupied stages of Italian cities.

Critics should also be reminded that in 1921, Teatro Valle staged the first performance of Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of Author,” a precursor to what would become known as the Theater of the Absurd. At the end of that show, the crowd chased Pirandello down the corridor and into his dressing room, shouting: “Mental hospital! Mental hospital!”

Inspired by Pirandello, the Valle’s Occupiers are defending their theater from an angry crowd that is shouting: “Austerity! Austerity!” 

Book review

O primeiro dos artigos que abre esta coletânea, integrado na parte sobre Política, inicia-se com uma referência ao processo singular que deu origem aos Estados Africanos e ao facto de estes terem sido impostos de “fora” e relaciona três temas: Estado, Descentralização e Cidadania. O seu autor, João Óscar Monteiro, coloca no título do seu capítulo a questão que lhe sugere esta complexa relação–“Equação possível ou imperativa”–e que guia a sua reflexão. Reflectindo na formação e evolução dos Estados africanos, o autor centra-se, posteriormente, nas formas através das quais o processo de descentralização está a ser conduzido, afirmando que embora o conceito de descentralização tenha uma conotação favorável, actualmente “fez parte da panóplia crítica dos poderes excessivos do Estado” (p. 25) sendo também “gerador de receios de fragmentação” (p. 26). Lembra-nos que a descentralização também está identificada com autarcização e que o grau de descentralização é geralmente quantificado através do ritmo de criação de autarquias. O autor crítica o facto de esse processo ser imposto de cima para baixo (“iniciado pelo Governo e negociado em sede parlamentar” (p. 27) e pergunta se não seria possível dar “mais relevo à vontade popular” e fazer resultar a criação das autarquias da capacidade dos cidadãos se organizarem a nível local e “tomarem conta dos seus assuntos” (p. 27). Por outro lado, o autor afirma que existe a tendência de se considerar que apenas a descentralização autárquica é descentralização quando, segundo ele, existe também em Moçambique uma “descentralização administrativa participada” (p. 29) no caso em que as leis consagram o papel das comunidades na gestão dos seus recursos. O autor enumera no final do seu artigo os principais desafios que o processo de descentralização enfrenta em Moçambique.

O conjunto de desafios colocados por este autor contêm–como muitos dos desafios que ao longo deste livro são colocados por vários autores–um conjunto de premissas que necessitam de ser ultrapassados para que os desafios colocados o possam deixar de ser. Essas desejáveis mudanças passam por ver a realidade (neste caso concreto a descentralização) sobre outros prismas (como um processo que vai “para além de mudanças entre escalões administrativos,” p. 33), ultrapassando diversos obstáculos e receios (como sejam o ver a descentralização como fragmentação) e incapacidades (dos diferentes órgãos governamentais provinciais e distritais) e ainda o desafio de saber sé possível vencer a “mentalidade dirigista” (p. 34).

O segundo artigo intitulado “’Transformações sem mudanças?’ Os conselhos municipais e os desafios da institucionalização democrática em Moçambique”, da autoria de Salvador Cadete Forquilha e Aslak Orre, coloca dois importantes desafios relacionados, igualmente, com a descentralização politica e com os poderes e as formas de governação local em Moçambique. No primeiro dos desafios, os autores abordam os processos de inclusão políticos a nível local e a representatividade dos conselhos locais e, no segundo desafio, equacionam as possibilidades de estes órgãos de poder locais, os “conselhos locais”, se tornarem em órgãos efectivos de governação local. Na sua conclusão, os autores resumem as principais constatações a que a sua análise sobre a “institucionalização democrática de Moçambique” a partir das “dinâmicas e logicas de funcionamento dos espaços de participação criados no âmbito do processo de democratização” ao nível dos distritos (p. 36), chega e afirmam que, embora o processo de democratização iniciado nos anos de 1990 tenha implicado a existência de novas instituições, estas não trouxeram mudanças significativas pois a “estruturação do campo politico … conduziu à constituição de um sistema de partido dominante, cristalizado numa cada vez mais captura do Estado pelo partido do poder” (p. 51) que domina as instituições politicas a nível distrital e que os conselhos locais têm um papel marginal nas decisões de nível local não sendo instrumentos políticos participativos e inclusivos.

A segunda parte desta coletânea, designada Economia, inclui cinco artigos que equacionam questões relacionadas com as diferentes opções económicas que se colocam a Moçambique. A essas opções não são alheios interesses e dependências externas e interesses instalados de diferentes grupos sociais.

Esta parte inicia-se com uma análise de Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, sobre a questão da mobilização dos recursos domésticos e as formas através das quais essa mobilização pode ser feita, apresentando, o autor, o debate que tal tem gerado em Moçambique, as motivações que o impulsionam e as questões que levanta. O autor apresenta seis grandes questões/motivações: a substituição da ajuda externa; a redução da interferência politica; o aumento da receita e mudança da estrutura fiscal; a eliminação de benefícios fiscais redundantes; o que fazer com os recursos naturais; e, por último, aborda os perigos e desafios do endividamento público. Conclui que “do ponto de vista da construção de uma economia diversificada e articulada a tributação do capital parece ser a melhor opção para mobilizar recursos domésticos” (p.122). No entanto, o autor, ao interrogar-se sobre as razões que explicam a não opção por esta via, refere que estas se predem com o facto de a “função principal do Estado moçambicano na fase actual” ser o de “facilitar o processo de acumulação de capital das classes capitalistas emergentes … na completa dependência das dinâmicas e interesses do capital multinacional, através da expropriação e controle dos recursos naturais a baixo custo para o capital” (p. 123). Por último refere que “o debate sobre opções de financiamento do Estado é também sobre opções e padrões e reprodução social” (p. 128). Se o segundo artigo desta parte reforça a ideia que o aumento das receitas do Estado deve ser feito por via da tributação dos rendimentos do capital (em especial das grandes empresas que gozam de benefícios fiscais), o terceiro artigo levanta a possibilidade de esse financiamento poder vir a ser feito através do endividamento e reflecte sobre os diferentes tipos de endividamento possíveis.

O último artigo que se insere nesta segunda parte do livro é da autoria de Zaque Sande e foi publicado a título póstumo (o livro é-lhe dedicado). Este artigo aborda a polémica questão dos “7 milhões” e coloca dois desafios. No primeiro, o autor, refere que importa relacionar o impacto dos “7 milhões” com o alargamento, a diversificação e expansão da base produtiva local na estratégia de investimento público e privado e na estratégia de expansão do sistema financeiro em Moçambique (p. 223), e no segundo desafio refere que esta a iniciativa “precisa de gerar uma base de dados de informação de forma a permitir análises detalhadas” (p. 224).

Ana Benard. Review of de Brito, Luís; Castel-Branco, Carlos Nuno; Chichava, Sérgio, eds., Desafios para Moçambique. H-Luso-Africa, H-Net Reviews. August, 2012.



The CPI(M) Programme updated in 2000 succinctly summarises the caste question as follows: “The bourgeois-landlord system has also failed to put an end to caste oppression. The worst sufferers are the scheduled castes. The dalits are subject to untouchability and other forms of discrimination despite these being declared unlawful. The growing consciousness among the dalits for emancipation is sought to be met with brutal oppression and atrocities. The assertion by the dalits has a democratic content reflecting the aspirations of the most oppressed sections of society. The backward castes have also asserted their rights in a caste-ridden society.
“At the same time a purely caste appeal which seeks to perpetuate caste divisions for the narrow aim of consolidating vote banks and detaching these downtrodden sections from the common democratic movement has also been at work. Many caste leaders and certain leaders of bourgeois political parties seek to utilise the polarisation on caste lines for narrow electoral gains and are hostile to building up the common movement of the oppressed sections of all castes. They ignore the basic class issues of land, wages and fight against landlordism, which is the basis for overthrowing the old order.
“The problem of caste oppression and discrimination has a long history and is deeply rooted in the pre-capitalist social system. The society under capitalist development has compromised with the existing caste system. The Indian bourgeoisie itself fosters caste prejudices. Working class unity presupposes unity against the caste system and the oppression of dalits, since the vast majority of dalits are part of the labouring classes. To fight for the abolition of the caste system and all forms of social oppression through a social reform movement is an important part of the democratic revolution. The fight against caste oppression is interlinked with the struggle against class exploitation.”

The Political Resolution of the 18th Congress of the CPI(M) held in 2005 gives concrete guidance to the Party to take up caste and social issues. In the section titled “Caste Oppression and Dalits”, it says, “The caste system contains both social oppression and class exploitation. The dalits suffer from both types of exploitation in the worst form. 86.25 per cent of the scheduled caste households are landless and 49 per cent of the scheduled castes in the rural areas are agricultural workers. Communists who champion abolition of the caste system, eradication of untouchability and caste oppression have to be in the forefront in launching struggles against the denial of basic human rights. This struggle has to be combined with the struggle to end the landlord-dominated order which consigns the dalit rural masses to bondage. The issues of land, wages and employment must be taken up to unite different sections of the working people and the non-dalit rural poor must be made conscious of the evils of caste oppression and discrimination by a powerful democratic campaign. There are some dalit organisations and NGOs who seek to foster anti-communist feelings amongst the dalit masses and to detach them from the Left movement. Such sectarian and, in certain cases, foreign-funded activities must be countered and exposed by positively putting forth the Party’s stand on caste oppression and making special efforts to draw the dalit masses into common struggles.”

In the section titled “Fight Caste Appeal”, the Political Resolution says, “The intensification of the caste appeal and fragmentation of the working people on caste lines is a serious challenge to the Left and democratic movement. Taking up caste oppression, forging the common movement of the oppressed of all castes and taking up class issues of common concern must be combined with a bold campaign to highlight the pernicious effects of caste-based politics. The Party should work out concrete tactics in different areas taking into account the caste and class configurations. Electoral exigencies should not come in the way of the Party’s independent campaign against caste-based politics. Reservation is no panacea for the problems of caste and class exploitation. But they provide some limited and necessary relief within the existing order. Reservation should be extended to dalit Christians. In the context of the privatisation drive and the shrinkage of jobs in the government and public sector, reservations in the private sector for scheduled castes and tribes should be worked out after wide consultations.”

A 2010 report from the society urged the government to invest in science, education and innovation to fuel economic development. It generated much press. But the global economic downturn thrust a dagger to the heart of its most ambitious proposals.


Yet doubt of a more genteel sort lingers even among members. A current society fellow, an evolutionary biologist of fine repute who asked not to be quoted by name, says he greatly enjoys the conversation at the society’s dinners (he fortifies himself for the rounds of wine and port by drinking a quart of milk beforehand). But ask if the organization has much effect on the intellectual battles that roil his discipline, and he shakes his head.

“I can’t say that the society is a great presence in my field,” he says. “It’s a challenge: How do you muck your way through and remain relevant?”

At the beginning, the question facing society fellows was more elemental: How to challenge a worldview in place for thousands of years?

That’s what I seem to prize, the child or the ingénue, the less worldly characters. You can say that the world may not be getting worse—in a pinch you can say that. But it absolutely incontrovertibly is getting less innocent. You get the feeling that childhood does not last as long as it used to. Innocence gets harder to hold on to as the world gets older, as it accumulates more experience, more mileage and more blood on the tracks.

Your youth evaporates in your early 40s when you look in the mirror. And then it becomes a full-time job pretending you’re not going to die, and then you accept that you’ll die. Then in your 50s everything is very thin. And then suddenly you’ve got this huge new territory inside you, which is the past, which wasn’t there before. A new source of strength. Then that may not be so gratifying to you as the 60s begin [Amis is 62], but then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look sort of slightly magical again. And it’s imbued with a kind of leave-taking resonance, that it’s not going to be around very long, this world, so it begins to look poignant and fascinating.