Deborah Bird Rose

I just found this excellent presentation by Deborah Bird Rose, anthropologist, and author of books such as Dingo Makes Us Human: Life and Land in an Australian Aboriginal Culture.  It’s just under 45 minutes in length.  There are several other videos of Professor Rose online (easily found using your favorite search engine) that are also very good.  I purchased and read Dingo Makes Us Human years ago, and it made a deep impression on me, but I had never heard/seen any of her talks until now.  I deeply admire her passion and commitment to the plight of animals, especially animals that have been deemed pests and are being killed on a massive scale.  I just ordered a copy of her recent book, Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction (Under the Sign of Nature).  I am also delighted to learn, via the Amazon preview of this latter book, that she refers to Lev Shestov as one of her “great teachers in life.”  Me too!

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The New Jim Crow

Bridge[I am currently reading Michelle Alexander’s landmark book, The New Jim Crow.  In it, she lays bare the ugly truth that America has constructed a system for racial control that is more subtle than, in that it has a veneer of race-neutrality, but quite as devastating as, Jim Crow.  I cannot recommend her book highly enough.  The following selection from it provides an excellent summary of her thesis.]

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From The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, p. 185 ff.:

How It Works

Precisely how the system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage can best be understood by viewing the system as a whole.  In earlier chapters, we considered various wires of the cage in isolation; here, we put the pieces together, step back, and view the cage in its entirety.  Only when we view the cage from a distance can we disengage from the maze of rationalizations that are offered for each wire and see how the entire apparatus operates to keep African Americans perpetually trapped.

This, in brief, is how the system works:  The War on Drugs is the vehicle through which extraordinary numbers of black men are forced into the cage.  The entrapment occurs in three distinct phases, each of which has been explored earlier, but a brief review is useful here.  The first stage is the roundup.  Vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color. They are rewarded in cash – through drug forfeiture laws and federal grant programs – for rounding up as many people as possible, and they operate unconstrained by constitutional rules of procedure that once were considered inviolate.  Police can stop, interrogate, and search anyone they choose for drug investigations, provided they get “consent.”  Because there is no meaningful check on the exercise of police discretion, racial biases are granted free rein.  In fact, police are allowed to rely on race as a factor in selecting whom to stop and search (even though people of color are no more likely to be guilty of drug crimes than whites) – effectively guaranteeing that those who are swept into the system are primarily black and brown.

The conviction marks the beginning of the second phase: the period of formal control. Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty whether they are or not.  Prosecutors are free to “load up” defendants with extra charges, and their decisions cannot be challenged for racial bias.  Once convicted, due to the drug war’s harsh sentencing laws, drug offenders in the United States spend more time under the criminal justice system’s formal control – in jail or prison, on probation or parole – than drug offenders anywhere else in the world.  While under formal control, virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system, and any form of resistance or disobedience is subject to swift sanction.  This period of control may last a lifetime, even for those convicted of extremely minor, nonviolent offenses, but the vast majority of those swept into the system are eventually released.  They are transferred from their prison cells to a much larger, invisible cage.

The final stage has been dubbed by some advocates as the period of invisible punishment. This term, first coined by Jeremy Travis, is meant to describe the unique set of criminal sanctions that are imposed on individuals after they step outside the prison gates, a form of punishment that operates largely outside of public view and takes effect outside the traditional sentencing framework.  These sanctions are imposed by operation of law rather than decisions of a sentencing judge, yet they often have a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars.  These laws operate collectively to ensure that the vast majority of convicted offenders will never integrate into mainstream, white society.  They will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives – denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits.  Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In recent years, advocates and politicians have called for greater resources devoted to the problem of “prisoner re-entry,” in view of the unprecedented numbers of people who are released from prison and returned to their communities every year.  While the terminology is well intentioned, it utterly fails to convey the gravity of the situation facing prisoners upon their release.  People who have been convicted of felonies almost never truly reenter the society they inhabited prior to their conviction.  Instead, they enter a separate society, a world hidden from public view, governed by a set of oppressive and discriminatory rules and laws that do not apply to everyone else.  They become members of an undercaste – an enormous population of predominately black and brown people who, because of the drug war, are denied basic rights and privileges of American citizenship and are permanently relegated to an inferior status.  This is the final phase, and there is no going back.

Posted in Alexander, Michelle, Civil liberties, Current events | 1 Comment

“True Believer”

Another new song (though not yet a demo) of ours.  It’s a folk song, about a public defender in Georgia.

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“Play With Your Toys”

Here’s a new song Dean and I have been working on, for which we have high hopes.

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Humanimalia: a journal of human/animal interface studies

Here’s an online journal I just found, called Humanimalia, that looks quite interesting.

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All the being of the world, if it dreams, dreams that it is speaking

[The words in the title of this post are the (translated) words of Henri Bosco, taken from his book, L’antiquaire (p. 121).  They inspired the following passage by Gaston Bachelard, which dovetails well with certain ideas about language expressed by Johann Georg Hamann and Walter Benjamin (the latter, especially, in this essay).  I hope to post more on this topic soon.]

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From The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos by Gaston Bachelard (as translated from the French by Daniel Russell), p. 186 ff. (footnotes not included):

The poet’s exploit at the summit of his cosmic reverie is to constitute a cosmos from the word.  What a lot of seductions the poet must link together in order to draw in an inert reader so that the reader may understand the world from the basis of the poet’s praise! What an adherence to the world to live in the world of praise!  Every beloved thing becomes the being of its praise.  By loving the things of the world, one learns to praise the world: he enters into the cosmos of the word.

Then what a new company of the world and its dreamer!  A spoken reverie transforms the solitary dreamer’s solitude into a company open to all the beings of the world.  The dreamer speaks to the world, and now the world is speaking to him.  Just as the duality of the looked-at to the looking-at is magnified into a duality of the Cosmos to the Argus, the more subtle duality of the Voice and the Sound rises to the cosmic level of a duality of the breath and the wind.  Where is the dominant being of the spoken reverie?  When a dreamer speaks, who is speaking, he or the world?

Here we shall invoke one of the axioms of the Poetics of reverie, a veritable theorem which ought to convince us to link the Dreamer indissolubly with his World.  We shall take this poetic theorem from a master in poetic reveries: “All the being of the world, if it dreams, dreams that it is speaking.”

But does the being of the world dream?  Ah! long ago, before “culture,” who would have doubted it?  Everyone knew that metal ripened slowly in the mine.  And how can anything ripen without dreaming?  How can goods, forces and odors be amassed within a beautiful object of the world without accumulating dreams?  And the earth – when it did not turn – how would it have ripened its seasons without dreams?  The great dreams of cosmicity are guarantees of the immobility of the earth.  Even if the reason, after long work, comes to prove that the earth turns, it is no less true that such a declaration is oneirically absurd. Who could convince a cosmos dreamer that the earth spins around upon itself and that it flies in the sky?  One does not dream with taught ideas.

Yes, before culture, the world dreamed a great deal.  Myths came out of the earth, opened the earth so that, with the eye of its lakes, it looks at the sky.  A destiny of height arose from the abysses.  Thus the myths found men’s voices immediately, the voice of man dreaming the world of his dreams.  Man expressed the earth, the sky, the waters.  Man was the word of his macroanthropos which is the monstrous body of the earth.  In primitive cosmic reveries, the world is a human body, a human look, a human breath, a human voice.

But can’t those times of the speaking world be reborn?  Whoever goes to the bottom of reverie rediscovers natural reverie, a reverie of the original cosmos and the original dreamer.  The world is no longer mute.  Poetic reverie revives the world of original words. All the beings of the world begin to speak by the name they bear.  Who has named them? The names are so well chosen that they seem to have named themselves.  One word leads to another.  The words of the world want to make sentences.  The dreamer knows it well, that dreamer who makes an avalanche of words issue from a word that he dreams.  The water which “is sleeping” all black in the pond, the fire which “is sleeping” beneath the ashes, all the air of the world which “is sleeping” in a fragrance – all these “sleeping beings” (dormants) bear witness, by sleeping so well, to an interminable dream.  In the cosmic reverie, nothing is inert, neither the world nor the dreamer; everything lives with a secret life, so everything speaks sincerely.  The poet listens and repeats.  The voice of the poet is a voice of the world.

Posted in Bachelard, Gaston, Benjamin, Walter, Hamann, Johann Georg | Leave a comment

“Nearest Open Manhole”

Another song demo of ours that we just got back.  I’m sorry to post what is, basically, a “put down” song on Christmas Day (g).  We wrote the song last month.

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