Deck the halls with heathen holly!

Joyous Winter Solstice to all writers of good will! Here in the Fox's Lair we're celebrating our Pagan Holiday without the usual tree worship ("Ach, Tannenbaum!"), mistletoe and flowering Poinsettias. Somewhere, we know, fellow pagans will burn a Yule log for us.

My 2005 New Year's resolutions include getting my novel revised and published and getting at least 3 or 4 new stories into print or in web journals. That is in addition to the other work I'll be doing on our (Susana Torre's & mine) book on the history of architecture & urbanism in "Latin America," and maybe an article or two of think pieces.

Tomorrow we fly to London, where they know about Yule logs and tree worship, and on Xmas day we continue to Spain, where we shall be worshipping nothing in particular beyond our own affairs until almost the end of February. I plan to post at least one substantial (500-700 word) essay a week while we're gone, plus little notes on whatever comes up.

So until we meet here again next week, Happy Yuletide!


Can the world be saved?

Thanks to my old friend and colleague Ivan Light for forwarding this statement from Bill Moyers about the global threat from the delusional Christian right now in power in the U.S., On Receiving Harvard Medical School's Global Environment Citizen Award. I hope you will read it.

As I wrote to Ivan: Thank you, and thanks to Bill Moyers for taking such a strong, clear position through the years. I too am doubting that my optimism is justified.

What gives me some slender basis for hope is the loosening of the US Government & ruling group's influence over other parts of the world. In their very different ways, Western Europe, China, Russia and even the larger economies of Latin America are asserting their independence. And while each is, like all human groups, subject to some kind of folly, none of them is likely to buy into the "Rapture Index." It seems to me that US influence is deteriorating rapidly, with our unaccompanied disaster in Iraq, the falling dollar, and our government's rejection of international law in the World Court of Justice, the Geneva Conventions, the Kyoto Treaty, and so on. Our ballooning debt and deficit just accelerate these trends.

The "War on Terror" promoted by Washington is correctly seen abroad as another theological delusion, a war on evil to bring about God's kingdom on Earth -- a Christian fundamentalist theocracy disguised through plebiscitary elections (as in Iraq) as "democracy." A war conducted by an invasion force abroad and repression of information and of liberties at home is irrelevant to the real security issues here or abroad. Because this is understood in foreign capitals, the war has no followers -- except cynical ones, like Russia, who want to use it to justify state terror in Chechnya.

Maybe the true Armageddon will be the final collapse of US world hegemony. It's going to be messy, with guys like Rumsfeld and Cheney still ready to throw missiles and the tendency of the right-wingers to interpret any weakening as evidence of subversion at home. But I think (here's my optimism) that the world will survive. Western Europe, China, Russia and some of the near-big players like Brazil and Mexico will work out their own strategies for survival and growth. If our US society does too, it will have to be on a more modest scale of consumption and in collaboration with other power centers.

And with those thoughts on December 21, I wish you and all of us a happier New Year!


The U.S. war against the truth
Thanks to Douglas Smyth for forwarding this story by Naomi Klein in the Guardian: You asked for my evidence, Mr Ambassador. Here it is "In Iraq, the US does eliminate those who dare to count the dead."


Cortázar: El libro de Manuel

Cortázar, Julio. Libro de Manuel. Barcelona: Bruguera, 1981.

Cortázar escribió esta novela, la más abiertamente política de toda su obra, en Paris y Saignon (Provence), 1969/1972, incorporando noticias de los diarios franceses y sudamericanos en las experiencias de los personajes. Se trata de un grupo de jóvenes argentinos, apoyados por algunos sudamericanos (un panameño, un chileno, uno o dos brasileños) y un par de franceses, que forman la Joda, para luchar contra las dictaduras militares sudamericanas y la dictadura de la burguesía francesa de diversas maneras atrevidas y hasta absurdas (pegando gritos en los cines, por ejemplo). Su máxima empresa es mucho más seria: secuestrar al coordinador europeo de los servicios de inteligencia sudamericanos, para canjearlo por la libertad de presos políticos en Argentina, Brasil y otros lugares. Para realizar el secuestro, necesitan hacerse pasar por zoólogos para importar a París un pingüino turquesa de Malvinas y unos peludos reales, con el verdadero motivo de hacer llegar escondidos en los contéiners US$25 mil en billetes falsos (fabricados por un viejo amigo en Córdoba). Mientras preparan esta complicada hazaña, los padres del bebé Manuel, Patricio y Susana, recopilan recortes de los diarios – principalmente sobre horribles abusos cometidos por fascistas sudamericanos, mezclados con otros artículos que dan testimonio de las absurdas pretensiones de la clase media – en un libro para que Manuel, cuando sea grande, se entere de la época en que lucharon sus padres.

Otros personajes memorables son Marcos, el capo que planea la operación y tiene todos los contactos con cómplices franceses y de otros países; el que te dije, que parece ser el autor y que observa irónicamente su propia incapacidad de aportar mucho en esta aventura; Lonstein, “el rabinito”, que se mantiene al margen de la Joda pero a quien Marcos et al. confían sus planes y Susana su bebé (Manuel) mientras salen a enfrentar lo que podría ser su muerte; Ludmilla, una actriz polaca (le gusta leer a Ceslaw Milosz) que, como todos los demás personajes, habla una perfecta jerga argentina; Andrés Fava, argentino que no puede decidirse entre Ludmilla y su otra amante, la librera francesa Francine. Andrés tampoco logra decidirse, hasta el último momento, entre quedarse en casa con sus discos favoritos o incorporarse en la peligrosísima operación de la Joda.

El libro salió en 1973, año en que Susana lo compró y lo leyó, dejándomelo como recuerdo misterioso cuando, después de nuestro breve e impactante encuentro en La Habana, ella y yo tomamos vuelos para distintas partes en enero de 1974. Porque me lo había dado ella, tenía que leerlo, inmediatamente. Pero ¿qué puedo haber comprendido de tan extraño artefacto? Ni siquiera sabía descifrar las frases del rabinito y los demás. El pingüino, quizá. Perdí esa copia hace décadas, cuando perdí a Susana durante 3 años tristes. Recuperé a Susana, y más recientemente, en Montevideo, pude comprar otro ejemplar del Libro de Manuel. Ahora sí entiendo suficiente del hablar argentino, y de otras cosas.

Para leer fragmentos, vea Libro de Manuel.


Herein a log of some of my efforts to understand how writing works and how to make it work: Fiction Readings. I call this section "fiction," but in fact I have begun to doubt that there is any such thing as "nonfiction." There are works of the free play of fancy, where the author asks "What if," and there are others of thought, where the author tries to say, "This is." Any thought-out piece of writing is structured, and thereby "fiction" in the original sense of that word, and every writing combines what the author believes to be true and -- well, other things. Currently, I offer here only my notes on the works of fancy. See also a sisterly site, readliterature.com, for notes on more fiction & poetry. �


The struggle continues -- forever

Mark Engler just sent a link to his article Seattle at Five, about how little what he calls "the US globalization movement" has advanced since the protests in Seattle five years ago. He sounds a bit dispirited. I'm older, and have been through this before and long ago accepted -- emotionally as well as intellectually -- that ours is a very long struggle. It is possibly even a perpetual struggle, because every time we think we've won some space for greater justice and freedom (the 13 colonies in 1776, France in 1789 and Paris in 1871, the October Revolution, the Mexican and Cuban revolutions, etc.), the same old enemies reappear, sometimes within our very ranks. I think this is what Marx had in mind when he defined life as "struggle."

As a college student, I was deeply impressed by reading Eduard Bernstein, Evolutionary Socialism (originally published under the snappy title, Die Voraussetzungen des Sozialismus und die Aufgaben der Sozialdemokratie, 1899). I think I need to read it again. What I remember most clearly is his motto, "The end is nothing; the struggle is everything." There is no promised land, but that doesn't mean we give up trying to fulfill that promise. If you're curious and don't know the work, here's the reference: Evolutionary Socialism.

Against compassion

My National Writers Union colleague Dian Killian asked me to review this book that she co-authored: Connor, Jane Marantz, and Dian Killian. Connecting Across Differences: An Introduction to Compassionate, Nonviolent Communication. New York: Hungry Duck Press, 2004. It’s a sort of mutual self-help book, with exercises designed to help you get people you work with to be more open-minded toward one another, which sounds innocent enough.

Sorry, but I can’t do it. I thought I could, but as I read the first chapter with all its emphasis on promoting compassion, I realized that I disagree violently. “Compassion” is just what we don’t need to encourage at this point.

“Compassion” is passion on behalf of somebody else, vicarious passion. It was what Bill Clinton was expressing when he would say “I feel your pain.” The problem is that nobody can feel anybody else’s pain the way that other person feels it.

George W. Bush is a compassionate conservative; that’s why he ordered troops to invade Iraq, because of his compassion for people he imagined as longing to be ruled by the U.S. instead of Sadam. The people who try and sometimes succeed to murder abortion doctors are compassionate, saving the unborn whom they imagine as longing for good Christian lives. The 9 guys who hijacked the planes and rammed them into the Twin Towers were compassionate, delivering their correligionaries from the oppression of the Great Satan, and delivering the people in the towers from their lives of sin. There is entirely too much free-floating compassion going around.

Any kind of passion is powerful and therefore dangerous. Vicarious passion is the most dangerous of all, because it makes people intervene in other people’s lives in ways that can do much more harm than good. We can’t live very interesting lives without it, but to promote “compassion” as a value in itself is a very bad idea. What we need is more rationality, to hold the passion in check or to channel it to useful purposes. If you want a literary example of how destructive compassion can be, even in the context of a good cause, check out Bertolt Brecht, especially his short didactic play Die Maßnahme – “The Measures Taken.”


Recommended viewing
Here are some war photos from Fallujah that were too gory to be published. It's best to face the horrid facts, so we know what we're committing our troops to, and what sorts of things they are forced to do, or (what's much scarier) may even come to do willingly. Fallujah in Pictures.

For commentary on these photos, see Mark Morford's column in SFGate, Very, Very Dirty Pictures: You want explicit? You want raw and uncensored and free of media bias? Here you go.


Embarrassed Germans

Did you see today's paper? Charges of Mistreatment of German Draftees Are Investigated , by Richard Bernstein in the NYT. "Particularly embarrassing to the German Army, which was carefully designed to be a sort of model of a civilized and democratic armed force, are comparisons being made between the reported abuses in Germany and the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq." You know our "moral values" are in trouble when the *Germans* are embarrassed that their military abuses will be compared to those of the U.S. at Abu Ghraib.

Of course, Germany is not what it was 60 years ago. Unfortunately, neither is the United States. We seem to have reversed roles.

Also, this appeared on Reuters a day or so ago:
BERLIN (Reuters) - Lawyers acting for a U.S. advocacy group will today file war crimes charges in Germany against senior U.S. administration officials for their alleged role in torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

"German law in this area is leading the world," Peter Weiss, Vice President of the New York-based Centre for
Constitutional Rights (CCR), a human rights group, was quoted as saying in Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper's Tuesday edition.

According to the group, German law allows war criminals to be investigated wherever they may be living.

Those to be named in the case to be filed at Germany's Federal Prosecutors Office include Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet and eight other officials.

The group is due to present details of its case at several news conferences on Tuesday, according to invitations faxed to media organisations.


Rumsfeld's twisted history of El Salvador
Mark Engler has done fine work unraveling the extremely twisted history of repression, massacre and terrorism against democratic initiatives in El Salvador in the 1980s -- in Rumsfeld's (and Cheney's) version, the terrorists (Reagan-backed death squads) were the heroes! For some refreshing clarity, read Mark's latest essay in New York Newsday, El Salvador no model for the future of Iraq.


Manufacturing spontaneity
Were you too wondering how the youth protest movement in Ukraine suddenly got so organized? The U.S. State Department et al. have learned some tricks about mobilizing the masses. Check out the story by Ian Traynor in The Guardian, US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev. If only the Pentagon and friends had been so clever about handling regime change in Iraq! There are lessons for us here in the U.S., too, for mobilizing for regime change.

But the Pentagon doesn't do things the State Dept. way; naked force seems to be the only thing they understand, and it's why they keep losing. According to a front page story in the NYT today, Shadow of Vietnam Falls Over Iraq River Raids by John F. Burns, even our Marines patrolling the Euphrates (think of the Mekong) "privately admit to fears that this war could be lost."
Boosting ratings
My cheap ploy of Nov. 25 ("The naked blogger," below) worked! To my great surprise, that day I got 620 hits, as against my daily average (so far in November) of 297. But it's not something I'm willing to repeat; it gets chilly in November. I really should be infusing this blog with content. Right now, my writing time and energy is otherwise occupied right up to Xmas (book & article deadlines). I am going to make a renewed effort to post at least one substantial essay (say, 700 words, like an op-ed) per week after New Year's when we'll be in Spain. Meanwhile, it'll just be little stuff like you see this week. If you find that too boring, I hope you'll come back and look after 3 King's Day (Jan. 6).
Layers of injustice, a filigree of language
Another beautifully written piece by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, this time an op-ed in the NYT, The Line of No Return. She describes the process of "Renewing my American student visa in Lagos, Nigeria, ... a trip through complex layers of injustice." I've praised her writing before: see Another great story from Chimamanda in my blog of 2003/10/09. I haven't yet read her novel, Purple Hibiscus, but plan to soon. Have you? What did you think?


Postscript: "books that made a difference"

À propos the 11/24 blog (below), California author Dirk van Nouhuys writes:
"I was working for the Department of agriculture as an editor when Silent Spring was published. I'll tell you it shook that organization to it's roots (which were in agribusiness). The Secretary, it was Orville Freeman, issued a directive that no dept. employee could comment on the book publicly except in the area of "his" expertise and with the permission of his supervisor. I agreed with my sympathetic boss (People like her understood what was going on) that I could say it was well written, but no one asked me."

The naked blogger

Happy Thanksgiving!

In a desperate attempt to boost ratings for this blog, I am writing this STARK NAKED!

Hey, it worked for Sharon Reed, anchor woman of Channel 19 News in Cleveland. The night she took off her clothes on camera, "WOIO-TV achieved a record 700,000 viewers, a 17.1 rating, far above the station's usual average of about 10. The station also registered a million hits on its Web site," reports David Carr in today's NYT.

Thanks for this candid portrait to Professor Sanders.


Different ways to make a difference

Novelist and journalist John Gorman (author of King of the Romans) recently (on an e-mail list) posed this question: "It has occurred to me recently, however, that books may not matter as much as they once did. In this connection, can anyone think of a book published in the last 20 years that has made an important difference, comparable to Rachel Carson's Silent Spring or Upton Sinclair's Jungle?"

In response to John Gorman's question: His two examples show that he is thinking of books that change legislation or political order or a nation's whole moral outlook. The Pentagon Papers did that, and quite possibly the Report of the 9/11 Commission will also. Charles Patterson's book Eternal Treblinka aspires to make that kind of difference, too.

However there are many different ways of "making a difference." CATCH 22 has changed thousands, maybe millions, of people's ability to perceive the absurdity of military logic, a very useful lesson. Philip Roth's novels and even the somewhat less accessible ones by Thomas Pynchon are among many that have made readers ask uncomfortable questions, which is the first step in moving to change things.

Thoughtful and thought-provoking writing is more important than ever, as the flood of disconnected information and our awareness of the horrible consequences of state power have become overwhelming. Fiction is especially useful, affording an opportunity to explore possibilities and think through likely consequences of different courses of action. "Nonfiction" (if there really is such a thing) can also help change the world, especially in the forms of investigative journalism or clearly written (popularly accessible) reports on scientific discoveries. Books, blogs, plays, movies, poetry -- any writing that surprises and strirs us to think in new ways -- make a difference.


Recommended reading

Corey Robin's review of The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War, by Greg Grandin (Chicago, 311 pp), Dedicated to Democracy. Corey Robin teaches at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He is the author of Fear: The History of a Political Idea.


Don't misunderestimate him
A couple of my fellow recovering Kerry-voters have by now sent me this wisecrack : "As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents more and more closely the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." -- H.L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

Sorry, friends. I don't believe G. W. Bush is a moron. He just plays one on TV. It's worked so far, so he has no reason to change. As for Mencken, who was basically a monarchist, his contempt for the American people is equalled only by Karl Rove's. Our people, as a collectivity, may be slow to learn and susceptible to being confused, but as someone wiser than either Mencken or Rove once pointed out, You can't fool all of the people all of the time.
Colombia: the high price (in blood) of inequity
This news just reached me:
Two hit men riding a motorcycle gunned down renowned Colombian sociologist Alfredo Correa de Andreis and his bodyguard Edward Ochoa Martinez on the afternoon of September 17, 2004 as they left a neighborhood supermarket in Barranquilla. Ochoa died instantly of three bullets to the head, while Correa died moments later upon his arrival at the Clínica El Prado a couple of blocks away. The incident took place only a few blocks from the Barranquilla Police Station. No suspects have been apprehended in the case.
So many murders in that country, so little control over the armed bands. It's been going on, with varying intensity, ever since the murder of Gaitán in 1948, though its antecedents are even older, in the wars like the ones Col. Aureliano Buendía fought in the early decades of the 20th century. It's mainly about land and the wealth that can be produced from it. If the pro-land reform forces had been victorious, way back a hundred years ago, the FARC would not be in the field and the landowners wouldn't have the wherewithal to support the paras, and it would be a lot harder to find landing strips for your cocaine exports. Colombia is one of the starkest examples of the high costs of maintaining a system of injustice for so many scores of years. People keep rebelling, or at least protesting, and they have to be killed in order for the big owners to protect their property.


When victory means defeat
The goals are political and economic: a stable and at least superficially democratic order, to allow US corporations to exploit markets and resources. The means are military: tanks, howitzers, aerial bombardment, etc., no longer subordinate to either the political or economic goals. The means defeat the ends. What good does it do American long-term interests -- or even the interests only of our capitalists -- to turn Falluja into Grozny? Next the killing-and-levelling machine is moving to Ramadi, to Mosul, even to Baghdad. We are on our way to producing a nation of Groznys. You'd think that our leaders could have learned something by watching the Russian disaster. But no, they are doomed to following the same path, because, like the Russians under Putin, they do not understand the relationship between their methods and their goals.

(After I wrote the above, I just found these remarks by Tom Andrews, the former Congressman (D-ME) who heads Win Without War and served on the House Armed Services Committee: ‘Successful’ U.S. Incursion in Falluja Is a Major Political Defeat.)


Grim humor
Thanks to Sylvia Holms-Jensen for forwarding The Banana Republican Catalog. We need a chuckle. Meanwhile, Iraq burns. It's just like Vietnam: every step toward victory as our war leaders define it (another town destroyed, another few thousand young men defending their homeland killed, along with uncounted tens of thousands of civilians and lots of our own young men and women), the closer we move to utter defeat of our goals of ending foreign threats, securing resources for US corporations, fostering justice and stability (they are inseparable) in the lands we've invaded.
Recommended reading
Why Bush Won, by Don Monkerud. Don's conclusion: "For Republicans to be patting themselves on the back because of their superior moral values is likewise a big mistake. The country is not as conservative as they think, and they may not always be able to rely upon reactionary Christians and fear to win elections." I think he's right; read his argument to see why.


"We can't win by playing defense and catch up"
Douglas C. Smyth, a friend and colleague in The National Writers Union, writes:
I think the election should cause us to reflect a bit on what was offered by each side.

As your email below reflects [a call to NWU members to plan how to respond to the election results], Democrats were largely on the defensive. What was offered was NOT BUSH, not something positive. A mailing from Tikkun also pointed out that Democrats did not address themselves to moral values. There were a lot of other moral values at stake besides gay marriage, such as corporate rip-offs, killings in Iraq, and the prison abuses there, caring for those less fortunate, and so on, but neither Kerry, nor Edwards were particularly comfortable with presenting issues in that way, and in fact the last Democrat to do so somewhat effectively was Jimmy Carter. Think of the moral outrage of Martin Luther King jr. That would have resonated with many of those white evangelicals who turned out in such numbers for Bush.

Democrats and liberals have let the Christian right define the moral issues, when really the moral issues are on the liberal side. And they still are, and will continue to be: issues of justice, freedom and caring.

And, as my despairing son (in Madrid at the moment) pointed out, Democrats will never win anything if they don't come up with new ideas and better ways to present them. Despite Kerry's skill in the debates, he was terrible at presenting ideas, because the ideas he presented were so complicated and convoluted and so much of "better not different" from the Republican policies he was criticizing.

Think how simple it would be to present the Single Payer Health system compared to Kerry's "plan." Or Bush's position on abortion, vs Kerry's, or on gay marriage. (I am just using these as examples: I hate Bush's simple positions on these).

Until our side can present a clear moral vision, and an inclusive one, and a simple platform that offers hope for everyone, we will continue to face election outcomes like the one on Nov. 2.

We can't win by playing defense and catch up.

Oh, and by the way, we did organize, but no organization can trump clarity of vision, when there is equal or better organization on the other side and that clarity as well.

I worked hard, volunteered, gave money, traveled for the campaign (I never did before), and so did thousands of others. I think our efforts went for little (we did win PA and NH and Wisconsin) because Kerry didn't really stand for much, except NOT Bush. I do hope that this is the death of the DLC, at least, and the beginning of a truly alternative (dare I say unequivocally progressive?) opposition to the radical Republicans who have taken control of our nation. At least the Republicans will make it extremely clear what we're really against, but we have to offer something positive, not just a slightly more humane version of the same.

I agree with most of what Douglas says. I think the real task is to strengthen all those organizations that defend the true, foundational moral values of our country, the ones spelled out in our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights. The National Writers Union is one of those organizations.


"One of the most cowardly wars ever fought"
"The invasion of Iraq will surely go down in history as one of the most cowardly wars ever fought. It was a war in which a band of rich nations, armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over, rounded on a poor nation, falsely accused it of having nuclear weapons, used the United Nations to force it to disarm, then invaded it, occupied it and are now in the process of selling it."
Arundhati Roy, from her 2004 Sydney Peace Prize lecture, November 3, 2004, Seymour Theatre Centre, Sydney University.


Was the vote rigged?
William Rivers Pitt thinks so: Worse Than 2000: Tuesday's Electoral Disaster. The moral of the story is that we who defend America's founding liberal values are going to have to work very hard for the reconquest of civil liberties and the "decent respect for the opinions of mankind" asserted in our Declaration of Independence. We will come back, just as our enemies on the right came back from ignominy after 1964 and then again the disgrace of Nixon (1974) and defeat of his unelected successor Ford in 1976. But the struggle to reclaim America's founding values is going to have to be waged statehouse by statehouse, precinct by precinct. And parallel to the ground war, in those overarching, nationwide (and even international) interest groups united by the Internet.


Political suicide -- a losing proposition
Michael Moore sent out a message the other day, "17 reasons not to slit your wrists" because of last Tuesday's vote. Then today's NYT reported that a 25-year old man from Athens, GA, distraught because of the election, had driven to New York and the World Trade Center site where he committed suicide with a shotgun. And these are only a couple of the many references, half serious, half jocular, to suicide because a majority of American voters (a slim majority, but a majority nevertheless) has rejected us and the values we hold most dear.

Killing ourselves? Hey, that's not even a good joke. Moore's "17 reasons" not to were not very convincing, all along the lines of "Well, it's not really that bad" -- but it is that bad. The election of Bush and the support he got from American voters is really bad news for the economy, for civil rights, for the environment and world peace. But it's no reason to commit suicide, especially not solo suicide.

That's the trouble with modern American liberals. They would rather die than raise a fist. The right-wingers behind Bush's victory are also ready to fight to the ultimate consequences (as long as they can send other people's sons and daughters to do the dying). The old-time liberals, like Patrick Henry, Sam Adams and all the others were willing to fight to the death for what they believed, but not to go peaceably without doing serious damage to the enemy. That's the American tradition we need to revive.


Now what?
Like other bloggers for Kerry (an unorganized group, but we -- mostly -- know who we are), I was stunned by yesterday's election results. Stunned, but not altogether surprised. Here are links to some other political blogs (not necessarily pro-Kerry). Some immediate thoughts:

I agree with much of what Eric Alterman say's about the election, and even moreso with the remarks of his correspondent Charles Pierce:
They showed up.  The Republican base, that is.  The people who believe that their marriages are threatened by those of gay people, the people who believe there were WMD in Iraq and that Saddam waved a hankie at Mohammed Atta, the people who believe His eye is on every embryo.  They all showed up, and there are more of them than there are of us.  This was a faith-based electorate and, for whatever reason, their belief was stronger than our reality.  This is a country I do not recognize any more.
But I think Alterman is on the wrong track when he says "He [Bush] speaks their language.  Our guys don’t.  And unless they learn it, we will continue to condemn this country and those parts of the world it affects to a regime of malign neglect at best—malignant and malicious assault at worse."

Are we supposed to begin claiming Biblical authority for our candidates? Or to say, "Yes, I understand your fear of foreigners"? Or talk about "known knowns and unknown knowns," or garble our grammar in folksy, Bush-y ways? It's their language that we have to avoid. Alter himself goes on in his next sentence to criticise "the media’s talent for pandering to their lowest common denominator," which is just what "talking their language" would amount to.

The change in thinking of that Republican base, and that larger group who voted with them this time, is not going to come from our learning to "speak their language." It is going to come much more painfully, when some of them, and then some more, and finally a critical mass wake up to see that it's all been a lie, that their husbands / wives / brothers / offspring have been killed or maimed in Iraq for no good purpose, that the tax cuts have impoverished them (by making all the formerly public services unavailable while enriching the already rich), that foreigners no longer admire but rather pity them, and that our country commands no respect because it has squandered its power.

What I'm saying is that reality, not rhetoric, is what it will take to shake faith-based politics. The rhetoric at best may help people see the reality a little sooner, but maybe not before they feel it nipping them in the ass.


Picking ourselves up from the mat
Angry? Perplexed? Ready to write fast?

Dear Readers:

The Philadelphia Independent will publish a free national edition reflecting on the presidential campaign and life in America over the next four years. The issue will be released on Friday, November 12. It will be a
full-size broadsheet with an increased print run FREE to the people of Philadelphia and elsewhere. All contents will also be posted online.

We want you to submit writing and original artwork about how you feel about what's happened, and where we might go from here.

Your thoughts needn't be polished so long as they are immediate, honest and address the situation at hand. Our purpose is to get a collective sense of how the city and the country are feeling and reacting, and transmit that to as many as possible as soon as possible.

SUBMIT WRITING: From 20 to 1,000 words. We want eulogies, interviews, essays, reports from the ground, vows, declarations, future plans, calls to action, interviews, accounts of how you voted & why, sequences of stunned expletives, and all other quality ideas and information, whatever you think might speak to everyone else right now. Send them to EDITORS@PHILADELPHIAINDEPENDENT.NET. The big questions that we want answers to are: What went wrong? What happens now? What should we take away from this? But you needn't limit yourself to those.

SUBMIT ARTWORK: Send as a TIFF or JPEG file to EDITORS@PHILADELPHIAINDEPENDENT.NET. Or stop by with a ZIP disk or CD at 1026 Arch Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107. Black and white only, please, 300 dpi or greater.

Please forward this email to anyone else who might be interested in contributing.

We know this deadline is a short one, and we thank you in advance for any time you can set aside to reflect and contribute. We're looking forward to reading and sharing your thoughts.


Para escucharme
En el caso remoto de que usted quiera escuchar en español mis comentarios sobre las elecciones en EE.UU. hoy, puede hacerlo en Radio Francia Internacional. Haga clic en el programa de 12h00 - 12h30.


I get to speak out
And speaking of Radio Francia Internacional, I just did the interview (originally scheduled for tomorrow morning) on the coming presidential election. You can listen tomorrow -- it will be broadcast at 12 GMT (7 a.m. here in New York), but should be on the Internet later in the day.
¡Felicidades, Uruguay!
The election of Tabaré Vázquez as president of Uruguay is a tremendous breakthrough for the left of that country. For the first time in 120 years, they've broken he stranglehold of the Blancos (roughly, conservative nationalists) and Colorados (big business interests, more internationalist, and lately under Jorge Batlle very cozy with G. W. Bush). (I'm listening to the report right now on Radio Francia Internacional.
Neither I nor William Safire knows what was on Osama bin Laden's mind when he presented his videotaped message a few days ago, but Safire and I are making very different guesses. In today's column, he claims that Osama was trying to sway us to vote for Kerry, because (according to Safire), "Stay-the-Course" W. is a greater threat to him. Wow! That seems like a really twisted interpretation. Others have argued that Osama would prefer Bush to win, because his aggressive blunders are recruiting thousands more to Osama's banner.

Here's what I think: Osama doesn't care which candidate wins the U.S. presidential election, because he wins either way. Both Kerry and Bush are committed to continuing the war in Iraq, and both have vociferously proclaimed their support for Israel's government no matter how aggressive. These twin policies continue to isolate the U.S. government from its potential allies and make a peaceful transformation of Mideastern societies and economies almost impossible. Thus they are great for al-Qaeda, and fuel Osama & company's Holy War. I think the timing of Osama's message was not to influence the election particularly, but simply his awareness that he would get maximum attention at a time when the two parties were trying to talk about other things (health care, threats to social security and the environment, jobs, etc.). "Hey, guys, I'm still here! And you're going to have to deal with me, like it or not."
Ghouls & goblins for Kerry!
At least, that was the message of many of the revelers in last night's Halloween Parade up 6th Avenue (a.k.a. Avenue of the Americas) in Greenwich Village. One float featured a mammoth Uncle Sam doll spanking a George W. Bush doll, and other fiendishly-costumed creatures were, contrary to type, carrying signs opposing death and bloodshed in Iraq or elsewhere. Clearly these were but fake ghouls and goblins; the real ones are in the White House.

Tomorrow is the Day of the Dead (a.k.a. All Soul's Day). I am hoping that the spirits of all those who created America's great liberal tradition -- George Washington, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and all the others -- will rise from their graves to guide voters that day, lest we all tumble into a dark and hellish cave.


What do we tell the world?
Next Tuesday morning, before I will have had a chance to vote, I will be discussing US politics on the Spanish-language service of Radio France Internationale. I think (from her accent) that interviewer, Alexandra Pineida, must be Colombian, and the audience will include people throughout Latin America as well as in Spain. She and most of her listeners are astounded that Americans (that is, U.S. Americans) could re-elect (or actually elect for the first time) George W. Bush. She'll be calling me at 7 a.m. New York time, 1 p.m. in Paris, so we will not yet have any news on how our compatriots have in fact voted, but I hope to come up with something more than your usual indecisive pundit commentary. What can I say to foreigners, to help them make sense of a political campaign that seems to them just bizarre?

What would you like foreigners to understand about our process? Scotty Embree has helped already, by sending me an article about all the newspapers that have turned away from Bush, after backing him in 2000. That list sort of redeems at least one sector of the media from the accusation of idiocy. What else can we say, about a president who jokes and a vice president who snarls and denies obvious facts (Halliburton, the abandonment of the weapons dump, the non-connection between Saddam and international terror)? I'll be happy to see your suggestions: write me at gf@geoffreyfox.com.


Producing ignorance
A friend just forwarded to me this report by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, with some of the findings of a new study of the differing perceptions of Bush and Kerry supporters, based on polls conducted in September and October.
Even after the final report of Charles Duelfer to Congress saying that Iraq did not have a significant WMD program, 72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%). Fifty-six percent assume that most experts believe Iraq had actual WMD and 57% also assume, incorrectly, that Duelfer concluded Iraq had at least a major WMD program. Kerry supporters hold opposite beliefs on all these points.

Similarly, 75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found. Sixty percent of Bush supporters assume that this is also the conclusion of most experts, and 55% assume, incorrectly, that this was the conclusion of the 9/11 Commission. Here again, large majorities of Kerry supporters have exactly opposite perceptions.
Disturbing but not surprising. On this same subject, I thought Gore's statement (full-page ad in today's NYT) was right on the mark. Gore is much better on paper than as a speaker, because he thinks things through.

Also, did you see the item a couple of days ago, that GWB may in fact have a slightly higher IQ than Kerry? (Based on analysis of National Guard & other tests from student days on both men -- actual IQ scores were not available.) This could be true. Playing dumb may be the smartest thing GWB has been doing. He has been very canny about advancing his extreme right-wing agenda.

However, neither one of them is as smart as Gore (or as Clinton, either, who was probably our smartest 20th century president). The issue isn't who has the more gray-matter cells, but who is more thoughtful -- and there, Kerry wins over Bush hands down (and Gore probably beats Clinton). The Democrats problem is that they (we) are appealing to other thoughtful people, while the GOP finds it expedient to bombard them with confusion and make 'em more and more ignorant. As Gore says (quoting Orwell), sooner or not much later, they're going to bump into reality -- like, on the battlefield.


The power of mestizaje
As often happens, e-mails to my friends serve as drafts for the blog notes I've been putting off writing. Don Monkerud asked if we has seen the The Aztec Empire exhibit at the Guggenheim.

Yes, we have, and I 'd been meaning to put a commentary on my blog ever since we attended the symposium last Saturday. It's a very good show -- different from the one at the Royal Academy in London ( "Aztecs") organized by the same curators last year. That one was all about one great city, Tenochtitlan, and had enough space to reproduce some of the feel of the Great Plaza in its heyday, and a large-screen demonstrations of the stages of building of the Templo Mayor, the pyramid with the twin temples to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. But this show at the Met has a different emphasis and also has things that they didn't have in London. Here the focus is on the great mix and reciprocal influences of very different cultures in ancient Mexico: Mexica ("Aztec") v. Mixtec v. Zapotec, etc. They were all learning from one another, while working the borrowed ideas into their own traditions and using local (quite different) materials to create things that were quite novel. Some Mexican archaeologists are beginning to refer to pre-Hispanic forms as parts of an "international style" -- which is a sly reference to the usual meaning of that term, and a recognition that these peoples were in fact separate, and often hostile, nations. And despite their differences, they were aware of and keenly interested in each other's art and architecture.

While you're in New York, be sure to see the show at the Met on Andean textiles and silverwork of the colonial period. Fascinating syncretism of ancient Andean techniques and Spanish and even Chinese models (Spain's trade with China passed through Peru, and Andean craftsmen were quick to pick up on new ideas from anywhere -- amazing Andean versions of Chinese lions, which are themselves fabulous representations of European lions, since neither the Chinese nor the Andeans had ever seen a lion).

We also were blown away by the show China: Dawn of a Golden Age, 250-750 AD, on the same floor as the Andean show. Here you get to see how many different cultures within what is today China, and contacts with India, Iran and Europe, all produced much more dynamic forms, highly differentiated by region, than we usually imagine in China. All three shows in effect celebrate the creative energy that comes from the meetings of disparate cultures. I don't know the Chinese term, but in the Americas we call that "mestizaje."

Whitey, go home! (Kicking oneself in the shins)

In Caracas, Venezuela, demonstrators pulled down a 100-year old bronze statue of Christopher Columbus and dragged it through the streets to protest the Oct. 12 commemoration of Columbus' 1492 arrival in the Americas, which they described as the start of the biggest genocide in history against the continent's indigenous peoples. Caracas police recovered the pieces of the statue and arrested five people in connection with the incident. Earlier, President Hugo Chavez Frias had presided over an official event paying homage to indigenous chief Guaicapuro for his resistance to the Spanish invaders. The leftist Venezuelan government marks Oct. 12 as a day of indigenous resistance. [La Jornada (Mexico) 10/13/04 from Reuters, AFP, DPA; El Diario-La Prensa 10/13/04 from AP] In an Oct. 14 statement read by Chavez's minister of communication and information, Andres Izarra, the government condemned the trashing of the statue. The Chavez government "decidedly and totally rejects anarchy and any action of vandalism which attacks national heritage," according to the statement. [Communication and Information Ministry (MINCI) Press Release 10/14/04 via Colombia Indymedia]
It's really too late for Guaicaipuro. Venezuela is partly Amerindian, and to a larger part African, but most of all it is Spanish. It has developed the only history it has as a nation, since the first explorers nicknamed it's lake-dwellings "Venezuela" ("Little Venice"), in Spanish. Trashing the statue can't hurt Columbus, but it can hurt Venezuelans if it means attacking part of who they are.


Derrida on film
We caught this flick last night: Derrida. It is laughably stupid, as Derrida himself obviously thought but was too polite to say. He looks perplexed, like he can't believe they are asking him such stupid questions, like "Que pensez-vous sur l'amour?" What? What about "l'amour"? Posez une question! Sometimes the interviewer can't think of any, perhaps just awed to be in the presence of the dapper little man. There are long moments of silence, as he waits for some question or thought to come from "l'autre," in this case the filmmaker, that he can grapple with. Elvis Mitchell of the NYT is quoted as saying it was "Blissful -- a delight to watch," which I guess means he wasn't paying any attention to the dialogue. (Read the whole review to see how far Elvis was in over his head -- he has no idea what Derrida was about.) Oh, well, for all its inanity, the film was still fun to watch, because little Jacques is quite charming. He was a self-declared narcissist who fussed over his long white hair and was delighted and embarrased to see his image in a portrait; he dressed in outlandish patterned suits, patterned shirts and patterned ties (all different patterns), and was especially delighted by all the attention of film crew with lights, booms, cameras, and all the rest, who followed him for months, in Paris, New York and South Africa. But he was a generous sort of narcissist, too courteous to put someone down. Except maybe in this very funny scene: A British journalist asks him if "Seinfeld" wasn't an example of deconstruction. He stares at her. She tries to explain to him what "Seinfeld" is. He frowns harder. She explains that it is a popular television comedy. At last he takes a breath and says, "If people think that a television comedy is deconstruction, they should turn off the TV and start reading." Right!
Random celebrity
After months of unavailability, I now can view the page showing number of visits to my website. Amazing. With no promotion whatever, and without even updating this weblog more than sporadically, I've been averaging 355 hits a day. That's not a lot, I know, but it's a lot more than I expected. Without making the least effort, anybody with e-mail or an Internet connection can become notorious! For a more or less grievous example, see Laurie Garrett of Newsday's very frank report on Davos and commentary by Shaun Waterman.
Personal update
My friend and fiction-writing colleague R. D. Larson asked how things were going & how our trip to Spain went, so I told her:

Spain, good. World, not so good. Get well. My little story, "From a Trolley Stop in Amsterdam," has just come out in a second Ink Pot anthology, which seems awfully nice and extravagant of them.

Busy with tasks as co-chair of our New York chapter of the National Writers Union -- we have a major event tonight. Also working to finish draft of chapters for our editor at W. W. Norton, on history of Latin American architecture & urbanism. Also, I just got a surprise note from an agent apologizing for the many months without responding and asking to see my novel -- I'm not quite ready to send it, though. I have to finish the Latin American draft first, so I can focus on making the revisions I think will make it stronger. Also, I'm writing articles on minority careers for Monster.com (supposedly two a month, but not always possible to get the interviews as quickly as needed, so there's been a gap since the last one). I also have an essay in, of all the surprising places, the inaugural issue of the Journal of Turkish Literature (I know next to nothing about Turkish literature, but I did discover a charming old manuscript about a woman poet of the 15th century, which the Journal has now published, and I wrote the intro).


The Author's Guild just sent me a request to join The Authors Legacy Society, i.e., to remember the Guild in my will. That reminds me of when I was working with the indefatigable Sandy Levinson in the Center for Cuban Studies, where she too thought legacies would be a dandy way to raise funds. But she wouldn't let me send out the follow-up letter I drafted: "Dear supporter of the Center for Cuban Studies: If you have remembered the Center in your will, have you considered the advantages of an early demise?"

I'm still working on creating another kind of legacy, in words. And I've decided against an early demise.


Recent reading
I just finished reading "the greatest international success of the Spanish novel" which is now (just since 2002) in its 39th edition. It's awful, as Spanish critics have been quick to point out. Spanish readers, however, love it. For my detailed critique (in Spanish), click on Ruiz Zafón, Carlos. La sombra del viento. Characters are one-dimensional, save one -- Fermín Romero de Torres, a marvelous comic creation -- and the spooky plot is ridiculously complicated and utterly implausible. The truly evil bad-guy and the crazy failed novelist trying to destroy his own books become less and less interesting as you get to know them, until finally you (or at least I) don't care much what happens to them. Except for the puzzle interest, which must be why the goofy mystery kept me turning the pages. Apart from Fermín and his hilarious monologues -- imagine a Catalonian Cantínflas -- the other thing I liked was the evocation of Barcelona in the early, fear-saturated years of Franco's rule. Coincidentally, Alex Cockburn's essay in the current Nation, written from Barcelona, also discusses the notorious prison-castle of Montjuic, which figures large in this novel.


Peeking out from my hedge
On Thursday I went off to hear a panel at the New School on "DEFINING THE NEW MAINSTREAM: THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF LATINOS IN AMERICA," to see old friends -- Univisión anchor Jorge Ramos and Lorraine Cortés Vázquez, both of whom I'd interviewed, and others -- and to see if there was anything new to say on the subject since my 1996 book, Hispanic Nation. Not really. Guy Garcia, author of The New Mainstream: How the Multicultural Consumer is Transforming American Business, made the same points I had eight years ago.There are now more Latinos in the US -- over 40 million, according to García -- and consequently more buying and potentially more voting power. But there still is no unified "Hispanic agenda," and not likely to be one. Hispanics biggest contribution to the U.S. culture is making our old black-white racial distinctions obsolete. Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Raul Yzaguirre were the other speakers. Yzaguirre -- a generous, plain-speaking, common-sensical man -- got a huge standing ovation when we were reminded that just that day he was retiring after 30 years as President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Good man.

The other event was Friday, and it was truly beautiful: a graduation ceremony in a Mexican restaurant for a dozen or so workers, members of various unions (DC 37 was prominent among them), who had taken a writing course offered for free by my colleague Tim Sheard of our New York Chapter of the National Writers Union. Tim is a crime mystery novelist, nurse, and dedicated union man. The group included people whose first language was Polish, Chinese or something else, as well as several native-born Americans, all people who have stories the needed to tell, and now they have begun to tell them in well-crafted English. And they are published! Tim arranged for the printing of a little book of their collected works. It was a very happy moment for everybody.


In training to be a hedgehog
There is a line among the fragments of the Greek poet Archilochus which says: 'The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing'. -- Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox

It goes completely contrary to my nature, but I am trying hard to become a hedgehog -- at least for a while. The one big thing right now is the book on the history of Latin American architecture and urbanism. Which of course is part of an even bigger thing, my career. Except, fox-like, I've never settled exactly on what my career was -- pursuing "many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle," as Berlin describes us. But I'll try to be at least a temporary hedgehog, pretending to ignore all those other many ends -- fiction-writing, news commentary, social activism, etc. -- at least for the duration, until I get this draft done. I've managed to do something like that a few times before; it never lasts, but it does get a specific job done. I may sneak out of my hedge now and then to write something on this blog -- it's hard to control myself -- but I'm going to make an effort to just let those little inspirations go.

There are those who think I already have too many animals in my editorial team. Those are the people who have forgotten to think like children. Such a shame.

Portrait of a hedgehog


More satire from Don Monkerud
Oddly enough, the editors at The Pedestal call this nonfiction. Maybe they're right. Republican Women to Polish Their Image.
VP debate: Who loses?
OK, since we can't avoid the spin, I'll throw my slight weight into the machine. I got a message from Joe Lockhart (your probably did, too), and I tried to do what he said: Vote for Edwards as debate winner in every available poll. Turned out to be too much of a time-waster; AOL and MSNBC polls were easy to get to (AOL had Cheney ahead slightly, MSNBC put Edwards way ahead by about 60%, so what does that prove?). Alas, the other poll sites are buried behind many other pages and some (WSJ, at least) require a subscription. But dammit, this isn't a sports contest! Regardless of who had the better rhetoric or the nicer scowl, we, the people of the U.S. and the people of Iraq and the people of the world, are losing with every day of this mindless attempt to solve political and social problems with military might.


About me
This blog was not supposed to be about me, but today's entry is different. My idea up to now has been to use the blog to comment about events and ideas that I thought would be of general interest. In fact, what I was trying to do was write a kind of column, like a newspaper column, of news & literary commentary.

And what was the point of that, a kind of pretend column? Hardly anybody sees things here, and I've done almost nothing to promote viewership. And of course nobody pays me. The reason was in part, just to see if I could do it, that is, write interesting little essays regularly. And the other part was that this was the safest way -- no possible rejection by editors. Maybe (I tried to convince myself) I would eventually draw so many readers that ... What? Somebody would pay me to advertise? Editors would be clamoring for my work? Whatever. I didn't explore that fantasy to its logical conclusions, because I didn't really believe it. Then, after trying to make intelligent comments on various Spanish topics while we were in Spain this summer, I let my blog fall silent. And I've been thinking, about the blog and about all my writing. And it's time for a shift.

Today I'm using the blog just to sort out my own thoughts. And what I'm thinking is, first, yes, I have proven to myself that I can write little essays on politics and/or literature, and do it frequently. Second, it's ridiculous to avoid editors. I'm ready to face the inevitable rejections ("Thank you, but it's too close to something else we're publishing," or simply "Sorry, but not appropriate for our needs," or -- most irritating of all -- utter silence). I am giving myself permission to send the stuff out. No, more than that, I am giving myself the assignment. And I'm confident that, if I play this smart, it won't all be rejection.

If you've checked into this space before, you may be familiar with our editorial team. Bear has just been appointed assignments editor. As for the blog, maybe I'll use it for more personal commentary, and maybe for notes on the pieces I'm sending out. So, I hope you will be seeing my byline more frequently elsewhere. (To see where it has appeared in the past, check out my c.v.) And if you want to drop by here now and then, welcome! (And thanks to Diane Patrick for helping me see some obvious things.)


Recommended blog: the Iraqi war
Juan Cole, Professor of History at the University of Michigan, provides very useful, very pessimistic summaries of what is going on in Iraq on his blog, Informed Comment. It's clear (to me, anyway) that the U.S. has lost this war, and in a sense lost it even before our government invaded -- because by invading, we lost any chance to establish or encourage democracy there or in other Muslim countries in the region. The debate between Bush & Kerry is over which one will lose the war most disastrously -- "Staying the course" (Bush) is by far the worst option, "Correcting the course" (Kerry) is not a lot better, unless the "correction" is a complete turn-around.

"American Respect," a mysteriously anonymous group that says it is based in Swarthmore, PA has published a very persuasive argument against this war, An Urgent Call for a New World Vision. I think they are absolutely right that "History shows decisively that, over the long haul, attacking terrorism increases terrorism." I question their assertion, "We were right to invade Afghanistan" -- it might have come to that, if the Taliban had refused to turn over Osama bin Laden, but in fact the Taliban had offered to turn him in if the U.S. presented credible evidence that he had been involved in the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. Very likely, the offer was no more than a ploy, but we'll never know; Rumsfeld & crowd had already decided to respond by bombing. From all reports I've seen, Afghanistan, like Iraq, is in worse shape than before we "liberated" it. It was awful under the Taliban, but today there is no more practical respect for women's rights (regardless of what the laws say), much less security from random violence, possily just as much torture, and any improvement in the economy is for the very limited sector profiting from the resurgence of opium exports (suppressed under the Taliban as part of their generally repressive policies).


Global unionism to confront global capitalism
Yesterday I caught the closing session of a "Conference on Global Unionism," to inaugurate Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations new Global Labor Institute. Important ideas by 3 experienced labor leaders about how to move beyond the trade union movement's cliché of "Solidarity" -- which is fine, but often means nothing more than joint resolutions -- to practical organizing work across national boundaries. Here's some of what I got out of it:

Bruce Raynor, after years as an organizer in the very union-resistant textile mills in the U.S. Southeast, is now General President, UNITE HERE! (According to their web site, "UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Textiles and Industrial Employees) and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) merged on July 8,2004 forming UNITE HERE. The union represents more than 440,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America.") He said he had never thought about "international relations" as related to labor, and had never traveled abroad, until he had to try to organize workers in a French-owned firm in Indianapolis, a town with a very anti-union establishment. Then the U.S. union organizers appealed for support from the French Conféderation Générale de Travail, which had organized that same company's factories in France. The CGT began a campaign of embarrassing the company around the world; the company responded bitterly, but finally agreed to card check neutrality, and the workers got their union.

Despite such examples, and despite all the efforts of organizers in his and other unions, the percentage of unionized workers in the U.S. private sector has dropped to 8.2, and if we keep on going the way we're going, may soon be reduced to nearly 0. The same trend is seen in other countries, where Germany is down to below 26% (probably well below, but Germans have a way of counting pensioners that inflates the numbers of union members), France to about 10%, and so on. The difference is that, when those European social democratic unions were at their peak, they managed to win important legal reforms, such as health care and other benefits for the general population. The U.S. trade union movement, even when it was at its peak in the late 1940s and 1950s, never did, so the social costs of a weakened labor movement in the U.S. are felt much more immediately -- increase in those without health insurance, weakness of unemployment benefits, minimal or no social investment in housing, education, etc.

Tom Woodruff, Executive VP, SEIU, is looking to form joint campaigns with European and other union confederations to organize janitors, security workers and school bus drivers, who -- increasingly -- are employed by multinational firms based in Sweden (Securitas), England (the school bus drivers) and other countries, where their workers ARE organized. The problem for the European workers is that, as capital becomes more integrated internationally, there will be a tendency for all corporations to demand the same kind of union-free environment enjoyed by U.S. businesses. The only thing for U.S. labor to do is to radically change its way of operating to collaborate directly in international organizing, but the AFL-CIO continues to operate under rules that haven't changed for 50 years, and that create separate unions with separate bureaucracies where their needs to be joint effort. And unions here have to be much more aggressive organizers. Woodruff got his biggest applause when he said that Mercedes Benz plants in the U.S. would be organized a lot faster by Germany's IG Metal (the ironworkers union) than by the UAW.

The star speaker yesterday was Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and a veteran of the bitter anti-apartheid struggle. His whole talk is promised to be reproduced on the Global Institute's website (see URL above), but it's not there yet. Main points (from my notes): COSATU's strength is its overall approach of "social trade unionism," which means it's not just about hours and wages but about all aspects of the worker's life: health, housing, sanitary conditions in the neighborhood, transportation -- everything that affects that life. COSATU also gains strength from its tripartite alliance with the African National Congress (which is in power) and the Communist Party -- an alliance that cost it U.S. opposition, including from the AFL-CIO in its pre-Sweeney days, but which Vavi regards as fundamental to the union's strength. COSATU and the ANC government are not always in agreement -- in particular, COSATU believes the government has been too ready to adopt the kind of "neo-liberal" (not the word he used, but that's the term used in Latin America) policies promoted by the IMF. But the government has passed the most progressive social legislation in Africa, and progressive governments like that one must be supported, he argues. Since the end of apartheid 10 years ago, COSATU has grown phenomenally, but in the last three years that growth has stopped -- because of the swallowing up of South African firms by global capital and drastic losses of employment. Unemployment in South Africa, is around 40% today -- , and that's the most prosperous country in black Africa. Workers have only three reasons to join a union, he believes: 1) practical solidarity -- the sense that one's comrades will help one out; (2) expectation of empowerment, for example through education through the trade union, and (3) the capacity to use collective power to change conditions.

Those are just sketchy notes. Check the Global Institute's site in a few days for more, or look at COSATU's and the other federations' sites. We've got a lot to do to save the world.

Stats on Iraqi civilian deaths
An article in Editor & Publisher begins: "An exclusive report from Knight Tidder's Washington office... revealed Saturday that U.S. and multinational forces and iraqi police are killing twice as many Iraqis, most of them civilians, as attacks by insurgents." Check it out!


On not winning the Hugo
After wasting hours at a superbly inefficient ticket-distribution system (and never getting a ticket), I learn today that Hugo Chávez is not coming to New York after all -- so to all those people who persisted in waiting hours longer than I, and got their tickets, Sorry! The official reason is some suddenly discovered mechanical difficulty in the presidential airplane, but I can imagine several other reasons why el presidente might want to stay close to home.


Identity & trauma I: Germany and Sander's portraits
I have long been fascinated by his work, and so was eager to see the Metropolitan Museum's show, August Sander: People of the Twentieth Century, a photographic portrait of Germany. Most of us are familiar with at least a few of these marvelous portraits. The one used for the exhibition poster, taken in 1914 in the countryside near the Dutch-German border, inspired Richard Powers' 1985 novel Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. (Click for a summary). Sander's "Pastry Cook" is another one that is widely reproduced. For the first time, the Met exhibit makes it possible for the general public (like me) to see these and hundreds of other portraits (out of the many thousands of plates that Sander made) in the context of his grand project, to portray all the social types of Germany in the new century. Sander (1876-1964) grew up in a Germany that where extreme social conservativism of the rural gentry (insisting on preserving their power as food producers and the perpetuation of traditional social statuses) confronted the growing power of urban industrialists (seeking social mobility, including the right to hire and fire at will, and lower food prices so they could pay lower wages) and the rapidly growing labor movement that challenged both elites. Sander's "20th century" project begins in 1914, the eve of the Great European War, which temporarily suppressed these tensions under aggressive nationalism. He kept photographing through the Weimar years, the Nazi's 12-year "Thousand Year Reich" (1933-45), and on until his death in the western part of divided Germany. Sander's own sympathies were clearly with the workers and the poor, though he also meticulously portrayed aristocrats and dandies as well. Sander's son Erich, himself a very good photographer and a Communist (or at least close to the party), died in a Nazi prison, but before he did, he got himself appointed prison photographer and managed to smuggle out shots of his fellow prisoners for his parents to deliver to their relatives. He also smuggled out a photo of himself, working at his prison desk. The last photo in the exhibit is by his father August: Erich's death mask.

What is wonderful about Sander's portrait collections dedicated to workers, industrialists, women (there are women included in the other sections as well), officials, et al. is that the subjects are all aware that they are being photographed and pose as they wish to be memorialized. Thus the Nazi officer, the revolutionary, the beggar, the bailiff, the bohemian actress, the Ukrainian forced laborers, the Jews preparing for exile or worse, come across with all the dignity (or arrogance, or flippancy) they can summon.

For my earlier reflections on the great 20th century drama of Germany, see Pagan Pilgrimage: Berlin, Oktober 2000.


Don't miss...
New Documentary by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis

THE TAKE: occupy. resist. produce

Two weeks only, Sept.22-Oct.5
Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, between 6th Avenue and Varick (7th Avenue)1:00, 2:50, 4:40, 6:30, 8:20, 10:05
tickets on-line:www.filmforum.org
Directed & Produced by Avi Lewis. Written & Produced by Naomi Klein
Official Media Sponsor: The Nation

Argentina: not just another poor country, but a rich country made poor! The extraordinary drama of Argentina's decline during the last decades of the 20th century is a cautionary tale of violence, corruption and betrayal. Suave, smiling and tanned, President Carlos Menem shamelessly presided over a great nation's economic collapse. No Logo author Naomi Klein and Canadian TV producer Avi Lewis follow the exhilarating rise of a workers' movement to repossess abandoned factories, re-creating the jobs they once held within the framework of a democratically run cooperative. THE TAKE embodies a vision of working people forging genuine alternatives to a brutal economic model - a story whose implications are universal.

A cross between Michael Moore's caustic style and Ken Loach's eloquence."-- INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE

"...the filmic equivalent of a 60s era folk song by the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, mixing hope and despair, idealism and cynicism, faith in working people and distrust of their bosses."-- TORONTO LIFE

"...a revealing documentary which plays like a time-lapse portrait of history-in-the-making"-- MACLEANS

"A dramatic and inspiring tale, bolstered by the humble brilliance of the workers." EYE MAGAZINE

Look out Donald Trump. You're totally fired.-- THE NATIONAL POST


This morning we went up to the roof of our building at 4th Street and Broadway, to look again as we did that day three years ago, a warmer morning than today and even sunnier, as the two towers burned. Here is what I wrote that day and the four days following, five entries, Attack on New York.


Personal notes
- My story, "From a Trolley Stop in Amsterdam" (an "honorable mention" published in Ink Pot Special Edition, Short Story and Flash Fiction Contest Winners), is about to be reprinted in a new Lit Pot (Literary Potpourri) anthology.

- I am now co-chair of the New York chapter of the National Writers Union, UAW 1981.

- Our book on Latin American Architecture and Urbanism (for Norton) is progressing, but I'm going to have to cut great chunks of fascinating contextual information to avoid turning it into an encyclopedia.

- "Fahrenheit 9/11" gives the impression (shared by almost everybody I talked to in Spain) that G. W. Bush is the world's most dangerous imbecile -- but no, not really. He is quite shrewd and utterly ruthless about achieving short-range goals, like getting elected in November. He is only imbecillic about those things that matter most to you and me, how to use America's many strengths to contribute to the security and prosperity of the world.


LitPol is back!
De vuelta a casa / Back home again. We've just returned from Spain, and LitPol will resume more frequent publishing. However, for the time being, it's just going to be Fox and Lion ; Bear is off writing a novel, and Glib has started working for Dick Cheney (!) and so will have little time to spare for us until after November 2. Or even after, because if things go as some of us hope, Cheney will need Glib more than ever to explain how the sneaky liberals stole the election from him and his puppet W. (See Our Editorial Team for profiles.)

This is without a doubt the most important presidential election since the last one. The problem was that, in 2000, most of us had no idea how important it was. We couldn't imagine the magical effect that GWB as president would have on our budget surplus, our national prestige abroad, or on the lives of over a thousand young men and women in the armed services -- that he would make them all disappear! Now we know.

At this writing, it appears that the Bush campaign's scare tactics may work, and that we may have to endure another four years of the erosion of American moral authority, environment and economy, and continued blood-letting of our nationals and theirs in Iraq. Prepare for the worst, work for the best, as Gramsci said more elegantly. In the long run, America is weakening itself by trying to project its power rather than its founding values, which include "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind," as our Declaration of Independence puts it, and liberty (which means respecting other peoples' choices, not imposing ours) and democracy (which means real decision-making by the people affected, who also get to establish their own laws, and not a plebiscite to approve a candidate selected by the occupying power). -- More later, and maybe something more than a rant.


New York responds to Bush
I couldn't be there myself -- Susana & I return from Spain on Thursday -- but my friend and National Writers Union colleague Bob Lamm sends this report:
Dear Friends--For any of you who weren't there and who might be interested, here is a personal report on the anti-Bush protests in New York City this weekend.

Just a quick preface. During my freshman year at Yale, I was in small Spanish class for a year with George W. Bush. He was exactly the shallow fraternity boy that has been described in the media. I detested him then and so I can genuinely say that I've detested him for 40 years!

I was also in the Yale Political Union as a freshman when John Kerry was the
president of the Political Union and George Pataki was the head of the Political Union's Conservative Party (basically the equivalent of Young Republicans). I detested Pataki, wasn't a huge fan of Kerry, and still feel exactly the same about those two. But I'm certainly supporting Kerry in this election.

Anyway... on Saturday I went with my friend George Robinson to the March for Women's Lives sponsored by Planned Parenthood and many other organizations. We assembled at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge for a rally in City Hall Park. Very good turnout and terrific spirit. And it's always worthwhile to walk across the absolutely glorious Brooklyn Bridge!

For those who've read the media lies about how younger women don't care about feminism, a significant majority of the demonstrators were indeed younger women, though there were plenty of middle-aged and older women and a good number of men. Before the demonstration began, George and I had a nice chat with two women and a man from Medical Students for Choice who'd come from Pennsylvania and who had plenty to say about how so few future doctors are being trained to perform abortions. Overall, it was an excellent,inspiring march apart from being *very* hot and humid.

Today (Sunday) was what was planned as the largest anti-Bush, antiwar demonstration of the week. After much wrangling about whether the demonstrators would be allowed to rally in Central Park, it was finally agreed that we'd march past Madison Square Garden (where the GOP convention will be) and eventually head down to Union Square (the traditional rallying point for radical demonstrations dating back many generations).

I went with my friend Steve Brier and we hooked up with a contingent from the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty union for the City University system. The crowd was staggering. They say it went on for a full two miles. Organizers had hoped for 250,000 and many people feel there were more, perhaps 400,000 people.

It was a *very* diverse crowd in many respects. Completely peaceful anywhere we were, great spirit, lots of energy, some incredibly funny signs. (I wish I'd taken notes!) In the midst of that huge assortment of people, I unexpectedly ran into four or five I knew and for a good while we marched right behind an actor whose work I've long admired (Stanley Tucci). Special tribute here to my friend George Robinson. Some of you may have seen on TV that there were people at the back of the march carrying coffins to remember those who've died in the Iraq war. George was one of them, helping carry a coffin for many hours on this hot, humid day.

Then, tonight, I got a taste of what the coming week will be like, as I unexpectedly ran into a protest I hadn't heard a word about. I went to the Walter Reade theater in Lincoln Center to see THE LAST FRONTIER, an Anthony Mann Western from the 1950s. As I was leaving, heading for Broadway at about 9:45 P.M., I heard shouting, whistles, obviously a protest happening right near me. Some GOP visitors were apparently arriving for a welcoming party at Alice Tully Hall (a concert hall on Broadway that's part of Lincoln Center). And there was a crowd of about 100 demonstrators offering the Republican fat cats a much less than pleasant welcome.

This is an indication of what's ahead in the next four days. Some protest groups have obviously studied the official and unofficial calendar of events for Republican delegates and will be turning up outside (or perhaps inside) their social events.

So that is a brief report from the battlefront here in Manhattan. For anyone receiving this who was out demonstrating this weekend, I'd certainly love to hear *your* thoughts about what you did and saw.

And if you don't like the chicken hawks, corporate crooks, and religious bigots who run the Republican Party and all three branches of the federal government... here's my unique, jaded perspective. I got a distressing look at George W. Bush and George Pataki forty years ago... and now one of them is my president and one is my governor.



¡Viva la República!
There are probably some people in other countries who believe that the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939. Here in Spain everybody knows that it is still going on. Last Thursday (August 20), Paco Ibáñez came to Carboneras to sing two songs and thus assist our mayor in dedicating a new memorial to the sons of Carboneras who died during that bloody period or later, because of it.

Actually, I was surprised to learn from the mayor’s little introductory speech in the Parque Andaluz, before a scant crowd of a few hundred survivors, survivors’ descendants and sympathizers, nobody was killed in Carboneras during the hostilities. The names on the plaque were of sons of Carboneras who had sacrificed in battles elsewhere. This is such a little village, and was so much littler then, and so remote – not on the way to a larger city -- that the combatants never bothered to fight for it.

Our mayor, Cristóbal Fernández, Socialist, has been in office for all but one term since 1982, when the PSOE first won nationwide. What “socialism” might mean in Carboneras has little to do overthrowing capitalism or revolutionary mobilization of the working class, which besides fishermen now includes restaurant workers and other tourist service workers, the staffs of the big cement plant and of the electric power plant, and all the municipal employees. with the day-to-day running of a village. But socialism, even at the village government level, does mean, sentimentally, a reverence for the tradition of struggle, and, pragmatically, the belief that public policy can make life a little better for all people – these days, the emphasis is on ecology and protecting the rights of women, and attempts to accommodate and assist in assimilating the immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Ecuador, Eastern Europe and other places who find their way even to this little place.

I got to speak with Paco Ibáñez for a few minutes after the ceremony. He is older, of course, but still recognizable from the photo on the cover of the old LP we have at home and still play. I told him how important his music had been to us, even in distant New York, as a reminder of the dignity of struggle. On that old record, as in the ceremony the other day, he sings Spanish poems, his baritone and guitar bringing them alive, as they must have been meant to be sung. On Thursday he sang one by Luis Cernuda, “Un español habla de España,” and then he sang the poem that is inscribed on the stone of the Carboneras memorial, “A galopar,” by Rafael Alberti. Our new friend, the ceramics artists Vidal Hurtado, had brought and waved a big flag of the II Republic, like the current Spanish flag but with a purple bar below the bars of yellow and red. And our little group, veterans of that and other struggles, felt a little stronger about still trying to use public policy to make life a little better for all of us.

¡Viva la Virgen!
A week ago Sunday was the Fiesta del Pescador in Carboneras, dedicated to the Virgen del Carmen, and so we clambered onto one of the fishing boats for the annual procession out to sea. It was around 11 in the morning when, taking advantage of a moment when the boat rocked closer to the dock and the owner’s son – who had already decided that the boat was too full of celebrants and was trying to shoo them away – was otherwise occupied, we leapt aboard. Several others followed us, then and for the next half hour. Someone, the captain I suppose, had filled a cooler with cans of beer and soda for the kids; it was all happily unorganized, climbing aboard, grabbing for beers, finding a place to stand or sit on the crowded boat, either aft under the brutal sun, or under a plastic canopy forward, or up on the foredeck at the prow, where I finally found myself a space where I could stand supporting my buttocks against the low steel wall creating a protected space for ropes and anchors in front of the cabin with the steering wheel. Almost everyone else, those without such support, had to sit once we cast off, because the sea was heaving and the boat was rocking up and down.

Sun. Crowd. Chatter and jokes in a guttural Andaluz where I could catch only every fourth or fifth word. A boy of about 10 frightened by the violent leaps and falls of the boat and bawling, until his father, with the gentle help of one of the rough fishermen aboard, hoisted him to safety behind the wall where I was leaning. Bouncing on the waves. The other five or six good-sized fishing boats, plus a spontaneous flotilla of smaller craft, all heading out of the shallow bay, into the open sea. The boat behind us carried La Virgen, a plaster statue with a baby in her arms and protected from God’s sun by a canopy of palm branches. She looked overdressed for August in Carboneras, but I suppose a topless virgin, or even one in a bikini, would be distracting to the congregants when they returned her to her usual place inside the gloomy church.

We went so far out to sea that Susana said she could see Mojácar, the next town northeast, blocked from view from the Carboneras shore by two intervening capes. I didn’t notice, because I was watching the sea, and listening to the Banda Municipal which, luckily, had chosen our boat. There were at least a dozen musicians down below, where Susana was, horns and drums playing Spanish marches, like the ones that accompany bullfights, and keeping time despite the bouncing of the boat. Then we saw the dolphins. At least half a dozen of them, maybe more, leaping from the water to come to greet the Virgin and Child. One of my mothers-in-law used to sing an old Spanish song, “Cantan y bailan los peces en el agua / Cantan y bailan porque ha nacido un niño.”

And I thought again about what was the Virgin. Being literal-minded, I had always imagined her as a particular young Jewish woman named Miryam in the time of Herod. Clearly the Virgin has long since grown beyond that mortal representation. She is something much grander, among other things the motive for the Cofradía de Pescadores, the Fishermen’s Brotherhood, to sponsor a lubricated revel for the town aboard their boats, for even the non-believing Socialist council members to join the procession that later, on foot, carried her statue through the streets back to the church, and afterwards for the Cofradía to treat all comers to a sardinada -- volunteers frying thousands of big sardines in salt and olive oil, piling them on paper plates to the chaotic crowd (no such thing as taking a number, you just reached and called out and hoped to be the next to get a heaping plate). Beer and soda free, too. Now, that’s some Virgin! She smiles even on unbelievers.

So it doesn’t really matter what sort of robes they put on the plaster Virgin, because the Virgin is not in the plaster, but in the collective spirit of those fishermen, the ones who think of the sea itself as female and say “la mar” (almost everyone else says “el mar”). The Virgin is the comforting security we associate with our mothers (the luckier ones among us, who have had such mothers). So it is quite possible to accept the power of the Virgin without torturing the imagination to believe in anything as preposterous as God.

She had smiled on us, too, that Virgin. Our business here had finally prospered – that is, our dogged defense of the little piece of land that we want to make into something beautiful. So, ¡Viva la Virgen!


Recommended reading
Love of Reading's A Labor Lost For Many Now. But who knew half the nation was still reading? BY DANIEL HENNINGER, WSJ OpinionJournal.

Recent readings: Fielding, Cela, Yourcenar

Fielding, Henry. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling. Washington Square Press, 1964 ed. London, 1749.
Who were the real parents of the infant that Squire Alworthy finds in his bed and rears as his own son and calls "Tom Jones"? After he ruefully expels the lad from his estate, due to the treachery of the squire's nephew & Tom's rival Blifil, will Tom regain the good Squire's favor? More urgently, how will Tom consummate his love, requited, for the lovely Sophia, despite his own low and bastardly birth and the violent opposition of Sophia's father, Alworthy's crude and simple neighbor, Squire Western? Through many rollicking adventures, including bedding & nearly bedding several other women, saving the life of a very peculiar hermit, a night's entertainment with a band of gypsies, the acquisition of comical superstitious barber-surgeon-pedant as his loyal companion, a tussle with a highwayman, a masked ball, some letters gone astray, mistaken identities, a duel and a charge of murder, and the shock of hearing that he has lain with his own mother, Tom pursues his Sophia to London. Thither she has fled her father to avoid being forced to marry Blifil -- and nearly is raped by a young lord, and then caught and reconfined first by her father (who loves her but demands she marry Blifil, because it would be good to join the two estates and thus, he believes, good for her happiness), and then by her father's old maid sister. All is finally resolved in the last pages: we learn Tom's true origins, he gets the girl & they live happily ever after, reconciled to Alworthy & Squire Western, and all the many other characters get their various just desserts.
I have never enjoyed a book more. At many moments I laughed out loud at the droll adventures. I chuckled over Fielding's wicked prologues (where he expounds upon the writer's craft, the reader's likely impatience, the obtuseness and perversity of critics, the superiority of noble & energetic spirits over dour repression, and the vagaries of fame). And finally I was amazed at the ingenious turns of plot & its ultimate resolution. 2004.6.26

Cela, José Camilo. La colmena, Clásicos Castalia. Madrid: Editorial Castalia, 1989.
Madrid, invierno de 1943, es una colmena donde sendos personajes siguen sus instintos y tímidos deseos, tratando de sobrevivir con algún rasgo de dignidad bajo el frío, la pobreza y la represión de los recién victoriosos franquistas. Sus vidas entrecruzan en el café "La Delicia" de la repugnante y gritona doña Rosa, el bar "Aurora" del anarquista y veterano del ejército republicano Celestino Ortiz (que puso ese nombre al bar porque es gran admirador del libro Aurora de Nietzsche, que lee como si fuera la Biblia), y la "casa de citas decente" de la Celia Vecino, viuda de Obdulio Cortés. La señorita Elvira, "buscona asidua del café de doña Rosa" (según el Índice de Personajes en esta edición) tiene un sueño/pesadilla erótica donde se masturban unos enanos mientras un terrible tigre se le lanza encima y se convierte en gato-amante). Otros momentos memorables incluyen cuando don Roque, médico, y su hija Julita se cruzan en la escalera de la casa de citas de Celia (donde a Roque los espera su querida de turno, y Julita acaba de dejar a su amante), y cada uno inventa una excusa para estar allí; la rabia y orgullo de Petrita cuando decide aceptar prostituirse para ganar dinero para curar a su novio, que está en cama con tuberculosis; la muerte de la anciana Margot, madre de el mariquita de 53 años Julián Suárez, "la fotógrafa", aparentemente estrangulada pero no se sabe por quien, y la noche que pasan "Fotógrafa" y su amante Pepe el Astilla en carcel. Entre más de cien personajes con nombre y señas, no hay uno cuya historia toma precedencia sobre las otras, pero la que se destaca un poco más (y concluye la novela) es el de Martín Marco, "un hombrecillo desmedrado, paliducho, enclenque, con lentes de pobre alambre sobre la mirada," que raras veces tiene un duro (cinco pesetas), ni tiene trabajo ni carrera, pero escribe poesías y tiene una idea vaga de ser escritor, y al final de la obra está buscado por la policía, posiblemente por haber militado en el FEU (Federación Española, o Estudiantil (?), Universitaria) durante la II República. 20040716

Yourcenar, Marguerite. Memorias de Adriano. Translated by Julio Cortázar. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1999.
Viejo emperador, moribundo, cuenta su vida y filosofía a su sucesor escogido, Marco Aurelio, en esta larguísima carta. Nacido en España y criado por su abuelo cerril y medio mago, Marulino, el joven Adriano hace brillante carrera militar contra las tribus germanas y luego en Dacia. Nombrado gobernador de Palestina por el emperador Trajano, prevé el desastre cuando éste, ya viejo, emprende campaña para conquistar Asia y realizar un viejo sueño inspirado en las historias sobre Alejandro Magno. En su lecho de muerte Trajano finalmente adopta a Adriano como hijo y sucesor cuando éste ya tiene 42 años. A diferencia de Trajano, el nuevo emperador negocia la paz cuando puede con las naciones vecinas y pretende extender la justicia y el orden a través del imperio para que Roma dure aún cuando en un future dejase de basarse en Roma (la ciudad); en sus últimos años (se enferma antes de llegar a 60) desgraciadamente no puede evitar una guerra terrible contra los celotes judíos que termina con la casi total destrucción de Jerusalén. Adriano también cuenta de sus amores, especialmente con el griego Antinóo, una suerte de joven fauno rústico, que se suicida a los 20 años en un acto de sacrificio por amor al emperador Adriano. La guerra en Palestina y la muerte de Antinóo, a quien Adriano convierte en dios y en cuyo nombre funda una ciudad, son las grandes tragedias en un gobierno mayormente de paz y fortalecimiento del orden y economía imperiales que ha durado 18 años. Hay pasajes descriptivos lindísimos (de España, Alejandría, Roma), observaciones filosóficas intrigantes, y episodios dramáticos, pero el interés del libro en total reside en su retrato de la vida de élites en este período; Adriano mismo no llega a ser un personaje tan cautivante como el Claudio de "Yo Claudius" de Robert Graves. 2004/08/06

Delibes, Miguel. La hoja roja, Biblioteca Básica Salvat de Libros RTV. ?: Salvat Editores, S.A. con la colaboración de Alianza Editorial, S.A., 19??
Un anciano que sólo espera la terminación de su vida encuentra una jóven que no sabe cómo empezar la suya. La Desi es más bruta que la pila de un pozo (como le dice una amiga) cuando llega de su pueblo y empieza a trabajar como criada del viejo Eloy, que repite continuamente que le "ha salido la hoja roja" (del librito de papel de fumar, que advierte que sólo quedan cinco hojas), y el decir de un amigo de juventud de que la jubilación es la antesala de la muerte (y que ese amigo se había ido hace más de 20 años sin guardar antesala). El viejo, tímido toda su vida de 70 años, hace esfuerzos por reconectarse con antiguos compañeros de trabajo (53 años en aseo urbano), del club de fotografía, y cuando éstos lo rechazan, finalmente con su hijo en Madrid, donde ve que es un estorbo. La Desi, que se considera vieja porque solera a los 20 años, hace todo lo posible por comprometer a casarse un chico de su pueblo an bruto y hasta más cerril que ella, cuando éste llega a la ciudad para la mili (servicio militar); pero el chico ("el Picaza") sólo quiere aprovechar de ella (para que el lavado de ropa y las relaciones sexuales, que ella no concede) y finalmente comete una locura tan grave (degüella a una mujer en la calle porque le mentaba la madre porque él le había tirado una rata muerta a la cara) que termina en un calabozo militar, haciendo añicos las ilusiones de la chica. Al final el viejo Eloy y la Desi aceptan que se necesitan mutuamente, y él le propone el matrimonio.
Escenas memorables: nochebuena, cuando el viejo le manda a la chica a comprar una botella de clarete, se emborrachan (con muy poco) y empiezan a cantar y hasta bailar (torpemente) las canciones de boda que la Desi recuerda de su pueblo; Eloy en el cementerio, después del entierro de su último amigo de juventud, Isaías, lee las lápidas de otros y recuerda las muchas historias de esas personas que las lápidas no cuentan; el bochorno del viejo cuando visita al hijo en Madrid y no puede hacer ni que el hijo se sonría ni que la nuera le diga "padre"; Eloy llevando a la chica al cine por primera vez en la vida de la joven. Todo ocurre en 1955 en un Valladolid donde nada cambia, salvo que en lugar de un rey (Desi ni siquiera sabe que significa "rey") hay un Franco en los titulares que Desi, bajo la tutela paciente de Eloy, se esfuerza por leer. Libro muy sentimental, con un conmovedor retrato de la vejez y otro de la bruteza obstinada de la vida de pueblo, que hace más comprensible los delirios de los analfabetos aferrados a sus creencias ya sea en el Talibán o en otras partes. 2004.08.09