~ Archive for Culture ~

Katrina and America: My Dungeon Shook, by James Baldwin


(We reprint the 1963 essay of the great prophet.)

Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation

Dear James,

I have begun this letter five times and torn it up five times. I keep seeing your face, which is also the face of your father and my brother. Like him, you are tough, dark, vulnerable, moody – with a very definite tendency to sound truculent because you want no one to think you are soft. You may be like your grandfather in this, I don’t know, but certainly both you and your father resemble him very much physically. Well, he is dead, he never saw you, and he had a terrible life; he was defeated long before he died because, at the bottom of his heart, he really believed what white people said about him. This is one of the reasons that he became so holy. I am sure that your father had told you something about all that. Neither you nor your father exhibit any tendency towards holiness: you really are of another era, part of what happened when the Negro left the land and came into what the late E. Franklin Frazier called “the cities of destruction.” You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger. I tell you this because I love you, and please don’t you ever forget it.

I have known both of you all your lives, have carried your Daddy in my arms and on my shoulders, kissed and spanked him and watched him learn to walk. I don’t know if you’ve known anybody from that far back; if you’ve loved anybody that long, first as an infant, then as a child, then as a man, you gain a strange perspective on time and human pain and effort. Other people cannot see what I see whenever I look into your father’s face, for behind your father’s face as it is today are all those other faces which were his. Let him laugh and I see a cellar your father does not remember and a house he does not remember and I hear in his present laughter his laughter as a child. Let him curse and I remember him falling down the cellar steps, and howling, and I remember, with pain, his tears, which my hand or your grandmother’s so easily wiped away. But no one’s hand can wipe away those tears he sheds invisibly today, which one hears in his laughter and in his speech and in his songs. I know what the world has done to my brother and how narrowly he has survived it. And I know, which is much worse, and this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

Now, my dear namesake, these innocent and well-meaning people, your countrymen, have caused you to be born under conditions not very far removed from those described for us by Charles Dickens in the London of more than a hundred years ago. (I hear the chorus of the innocents screaming, “No! This is not true! How bitter you are!” – but I am writing this letter to you, to try to tell you something about how to handle them, for most of them do not yet really know that you exist. I know the conditions under which you were born, for I was there. Your countrymen were not there, and haven’t made it yet. Your grandmother was also there, and no one has ever accused her of being bitter. I suggest that the innocents check with her. She isn’t hard to find. Your countrymen don’t know that she exists, either, though she has been working for them all their lives.)

Well, you were born, here you came, something like fourteen years ago; and although your father and mother and grandmother, looking about the streets through which they were carrying you, staring at the walls into which they brought you, had every reason to be heavyhearted, yet they were not. For here you were, Big James, named for me – you were a big baby, I was not – here you were: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world. Remember that: I know how black it looks today, for you. It looked bad that day, too, yes, we were trembling. We have not stopped trembling yet, but if we had not loved each other none of us would have survived. And now you must survive because we love you, and for the sake of your children and your children’s children.

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that, for the heart of the matter is here, and the root of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits of your ambition were, thus, expected to be set forever. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know you countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying, “You exaggerate.” They do not know Harlem, and I do. So do you. Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your experience. Know whence you came. If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go. The details and symbols of your life have been deliberately constructed to make you believe what white people say about you. Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority but to their inhumanity and fear. Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words acceptance and integration. There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations. You, don’t be afraid. I said that it was intended that you should perish in the ghetto, perish by never being allowed to go behind the white man’s definitions, by never being allowed to spell your proper name. You have, and many of us have, defeated this intention; and, by a terrible law, a terrible paradox, these innocents who believed that your imprisonment made them safe are losing their grasp of reality. But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it. For this is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become. It will be hard, James, but you come from sturdy, peasant stock, men who picked cotton and dammed rivers and built railroads, and, in the teeth of the most terrifying odds, achieve an unassailable and monumental dignity. You come from a long line of great poets, some of the greatest poets since Homer. One of them said, The very time I thought I was lost, My dungeon shook and my chains fell off.

You know, and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon. We cannot be free until they are free. God bless you, James, and Godspeed.

Your Uncle,


Katrina: A Rack of Lamb


From Gerald L. Campbell: Racism, class, indifference!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The talk about
looting is a deliberate distraction. For God’s sake, look: The city has been destroyed!
All this talk is only a cover to hide what is really going on. Let people loot.
It simply doesn’t matter. Let’s focus on what does matter — the need to engage
the tragedy directly.

By Bill Van Auken, 2 September 2005, Various sources, New orleans, courtesy

New Orleans descended into abject social misery and chaos Thursday as
survivors of Hurricane Katrina, left abandoned to their fate for four days,
literally began dying in the city’s sewage- and trash-filled

Many of those waiting to
be evacuated have no water and have not eaten for days. Crowds chanted as
television cameras filmed the scene, “We want, we want help,” while others
begged, “Don’t leave us here to die.” Many cursed local, state and federal
officials for what has emerged as criminal neglect and incompetence from the
White House on down. CNN reporter Chris Lawrence reported seeing “many,
many bodies” both inside and outside the convention center, where the elderly
and the sick have dropped dead in the intense heat.

There were reports of deaths inside the crowded stadium,
including the suicide of one man who hurled himself from a balcony after
learning that his home had been destroyed. Those who went into the
stadium were not allowed to leave. Many complained that they were being “treated
like animals” and that the facility was “worse than a prison.” Little or no
information was provided to these storm refugees.

Gordon Russell of the
New Orleans Times-Picayune noted pointedly that these hellish conditions “stood
in stark contrast to those of people nearby in the restricted-access New Orleans
Centre and Hyatt Hotel, where those who could get in lounged in relative
comfort.” A line of state police armed with assault rifles drove the crowds of
homeless refugees back from the entrance to the facility.

Russell continued, “A few blocks farther
away, guests were being fed ‘foie gras and rack of lamb’ for dinner, according
to a photographer who stayed there, while the masses, most of them poor, huddled
in the Dome.”

Freedom and Ghana: new editorial


Click on title.

Freedom and Ghana


I went to Home Depot this afternoon to pick up an extra key. The key “engineer” was from Ghana. Since there was some trouble with the key “machine”, we had some time to talk — maybe 20-30 minutes — while he worked to figure out what was wrong.

I asked him how long he had been in the US. He said 5 years. How do you like it? He replied: “There is no freedom here. We have much more freedom in my country!”

Much more freedom in Ghana than America! Say that to yourself three times! Much more freedom in Ghana than America! Much more freedom in Ghana than America! Much more freedom in Ghana than America! I thought to myself: Good Lord! “Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.” “Beacon On the Summit of the Mountain.” “Shining City on the Hill.” Where art thou, ole buddy?

This is the same dismal message I heard eighteen years ago at USIA. But during those years you sort of had to get it in bits and pieces. If you weren’t intuitive, you’d miss the whole thing. But this guy was much more direct and to the point. His judgment was startling, even to me.

I asked him how the other Ghanans felt who worked at Home Depot. He said their feeling was the same. They were here to save money and then go home. He said one hundred thousand dollars would buy you a house in Ghana that was half the size of Home Depot!

The attraction to the U.S. is utilitarian — not even hedonistic. Hedonism carries them back to Ghana.

When did America stop radiating freedom to the world? How can the U.S. exercise moral leadership in international politics when “hearts and minds” around the world feel like this gentleman? The answer is: you can’t. Increasingly, the U.S. will have to rely on power to secure its interests. Balance of power politics ala Europe will be the only option one day if U.S. relations to the world do not change. And what does that portend? Well, here is one way to put it: The entire U.S. Army is tied down in Iraq, a country of 24 million, which no longer has an army! Yet, we are tied down. What happens when the whole world is mad at us, and our survival depends on worldwide commerce? And they tell us to go to hell. What if people get mad — really mad?

I wonder what the graduate schools, even IWP, are teaching. Is their strategic framework straight out of the past? Better Ambassadors? Better diplomats? Better country officers? That won’t cut it.

Drink More, Earn More (& Give More)


Economists assert that the benefits from alcohol are also financial: for you and your favorite charity.
We’re talking moderation …. click on the title and find out for yourself.

Drink More, Earn More (& Give More)


This isn’t an editorial of ours, but amazing article from the Wall Street Journal On-Line.

July 13, 2005; Page A14

W.C. Fields once recommended, ‘Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.’ Traditionally, practical rationales for drinking were unconvincing, at best. More recently, however, alcohol’s reputation has improved as new benefits from drinking have come to light. Best known are the studies showing the health benefits of moderate alcohol use. It is now so well established that it is almost a clich�that red wine lowers the risk of heart disease. A new study by researchers at the National Cancer Institute also claims that drinkers may have a lower risk of lymphoma than nondrinkers.

Economists assert that benefits from alcohol are also financial, showing that moderate drinking is associated with higher earnings. If two workers are identical in education, age, and other characteristics except that the first has a couple of beers each night after work while the second is a teetotaler, the first will tend to enjoy a ‘drinker’s bonus’ in the range of 10% to 25% higher wages. (Don’t get carried away with this information, though. Research also shows that beyond about two drinks per day, wages start to fall.)

While it is clear that drinking and prosperity are related, the reasons why are still obscure. Some economists believe that the health benefits of moderate drinking make for greater productivity. Others argue that alcohol is a social lubricant: People who drink together get along better, and make deals. Another possibility is that people who enjoy professional success tend to experience pressure, and so ‘self-medicate.’ Whatever the reason, a little drinking might seem like a pleasant way to invest in one’s career.

Recently, while toasting the drinker’s bonus with a friend, he asked me whether drinking might not be related to virtuous behavior as well: Are moderate drinkers more likely to give to charity? A worthy question, so I did a bit of analysis and found that, indeed, moderate drinkers tend to be more charitable than nondrinkers. For example, 54% of nondrinkers contribute to charity each year, giving away an average of $1,100. In contrast, 62% of those who take one to two drinks per day have an average annual giving level of $1,200. The alcohol effect has diminishing returns, however: Just 40% of people drinking five or more drinks per day are donors, and they give only $230 per year on average. (So once you get past two or three, you have to stop claiming you’re ‘doing it for a good cause.’)

The only exception to the pattern of ‘charity drinking’ is the case of giving to religious organizations, which sees a negative impact from alcohol use. For all other types of donations — to the poor, hospitals, schools, the arts, international aid, etc. — drinking pushes giving up.

Perhaps you are thinking that this is just a side-effect of income or education differences between moderate drinkers and abstainers. After all, teetotalers have lower average incomes than social drinkers, which might explain why they give less away. But the matter is more complex. Compare two people who are the same in terms of income, education and even religion, but where one drinks moderately and the other doesn’t: The drinker will give between $50 and $100 more to charity each year.

Shakespeare’s Pericles warned that, one sin ‘another doth provoke.’ In the case of booze, however, the good news is that one sin a few virtues doth provoke. So what’s the practical advice in all this? As summer broils you, pour yourself a cool drink and raise your glass to your favorite charity. But stop at two and don’t forget to write the check.

Mr. Brooks is associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Prophet of Decline


A pioneer atheistic shock journalist of the left
criticises Europe and Islam. But read what
Oriana Fallaci says about Benedict XVI.

Outline of a Ratzinger Papacy


The following
article (always click on titles for links to originals) appeared
shortly before the election of the pope. Thanks to James Murphy for
sending it to us.

By John L. Allen, Jr., National Catholic Reporter

… In his memoirs, “Milestones,” Ratzinger reflected on the German
church’s struggle to hold onto its schools under the Nazis. “It dawned
on me that, with their insistence on preserving institutions, [the
bishops] in part misread the reality. Merely to guarantee institutions
is useless if there are no people to support those institutions from
inner conviction.”   In the case of at least some colleges,
Ratzinger’s instinct would thus be to drop the pretense that these are
still Catholic institutions. He spelled this out in a book-length
interview called Salt of the Earth: “Once the church has acquired some
good or position, she inclines to defend it. The capacity for
self-moderation and self-pruning is not adequately developed …. it’s
precisely the fact that the church clings to the institutional
structure when nothing really stands behind it any longer that brings
the church into disrepute.”  The point applies also to hospitals,
social service centers, and other institutions…
Because Ratzinger is the prime theoretician of papal authority, it is
often assumed that under him the Vatican would take on even more
massive proportions. In fact, like most conservatives, Ratzinger feels
an instinctive aversion to big government. …  “The power typical
of political rule or technical management cannot be and must not be the
style of the church’s power,” Ratzinger wrote in 1988’s “A New Song for
the Lord.” “In the past two decades an excessive amount of
institutionalization has come about in the church, which is alarming. …
Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of yet more
institutions, but at their reduction.”   While Ratzinger
would not hesitate to make decisions in Rome that others believe should
be the province of the local church – revoking imprimaturs, replacing
translations, dismissing theologians – he would not erect a large new
Vatican apparatus for this purpose. Ratzinger would encourage bishops’
conferences and dioceses to shed layers of bureaucracy where possible…

Zbigniew Brzezinski Reflects on Pope John Paul II – April 5, 2005


… He certainly deserves an enormous amount of credit for [the end of
communism in Eastern Europe], but not in the way it’s being expressed,
particularly in the American mass media. He is only too often in my
view presented as somehow or other having colluded with the U.S., even
with the CIA, to overthrow communism. It didn’t work that way… We …
and then later Reagan promoted human rights very directly politically.
The pope did something very different, which was not political but it
had a political effect. He stripped communism of its myth of
invincibility. He demonstrated that the appearance of unanimity in
communism was a sham, that people were universally against it, and that
is what had that effect.

The communist writers in the city of Krakow – the communist writers —
were having a party cell meeting, and a secret police colonel was
giving an oration on subversion. And he really referred to Karol
Wojtyla …as being the source of this subversion… Before he was
pope. He wasn’t pope yet. When all of a sudden, the lady who presides
over the buffet … bursts into the courtroom and screams loudly
“Wojtyla has just been elected pope.” The colonel comes to a dead stop.
… The first party secretary was so stunned that he forgot that the
microphone was on. He turns to the second party secretary where the
colonel is silent and says to him loudly, “My God, my God, from now on
we’ll have to kiss his ass;” whereupon, the second secretary turns to
him and equally loudly says, but in a whimper, “Only… only if he lets
us.” That tells you how the communist regime felt and immediately
recognized that they were now dealing with a formidable force.

We just shouldn’t instrumentalize him as a politician. He was not in
the same sort of league as FDR or Churchill or Gorbachev or Reagan,
which some people have been saying. He was apart, in my judgment, above
that because he tried to deal with the totality of the human condition
and he really saw as his mission the creation of a direct bond between
humanity and divinity I think in a unique way, transdenominational. He
achieved that in a significant degree on a global scale.

[H]e had two gifts, one kind of fundamental and one instrumental.
Fundamental was a faith and a charisma that was really infectious. It
was very hard to understand it, but there was something about him that
was serenely confident and yet strong. Secondly, he was a very good
communicator. He was an actor at one point in his life, and he knew how
to reach out. He had an enormous impact, particularly on young people,
which I think tells you something about his magnetism. I think the
combination of the two made him a man of the time but probably a pope
for the ages.

Marxism of the Right


by Robert Locke, March 14, 2005 Issue, The American Conservative

“…[L]ibertarianism is basically the Marxism of the Right. If Marxism
is the delusion that one can run society purely on altruism and
collectivism, then libertarianism is the mirror-image delusion that one
can run it purely on selfishness and individualism. Society in fact
requires both individualism and collectivism, both selfishness and
altruism, to function. Like Marxism, libertarianism offers the
fraudulent intellectual security of a complete a priori account of the
political good without the effort of empirical investigation. Like
Marxism, it aspires, overtly or covertly, to reduce social life to
economics. And like Marxism, it has its historical myths and a genius
for making its followers feel like an elect unbound by the moral rules
of their society.

The most fundamental problem with libertarianism is very simple:
freedom, though a good thing, is simply not the only good thing in

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