The Looming Catastrophe Few in California Are Aware Of (or in Want to Address)
An excerpt from Perilous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Farming and How We Can Prevent it, by Tom Philpott.
THE FLOOD NEXT TIME
In November 1860, a young scientist from upstate New York named William Brewer disembarked in San Francisco after a long journey that took him from New York City through Panama and then north along the Pacific coast. “The weather is perfectly heavenly,” he enthused in a letter to his brother back east. “They say this is a fair specimen of winter here, yet the weather is very like the finest of our Indian summer, only not so smoky-warm, balmy, not hot, clear, bracing.” The fast-growing metropolis was already revealing its charms: “large streets, magnificent buildings of brick, and many even of granite, built in a substantial manner, give a look of much greater age than the city has.” He described San Francisco as a kind of gorgeous urban garden, graced by “many flowers we [northeasterners] see only in house cultivations: various kinds of geraniums growing of immense size, dew plant growing like a weed, acacia, fuchsia, etc. growing in the open air.” [Read more…]
Precontact California Indians: Their Life Prior to Genocide
An excerpt from the first chapter of An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, by Benjamin Madley.
CALIFORNIA INDIANS BEFORE 1846
Within a few days, eleven little babies of this mission, one after the other, took their flight to heaven.
-Fray Junipero Serra, 1774
We were always trembling with fear of the lash.
– Lorenzo Asisara (Costanoan), 1890
In the centuries before Europeans arrived, California Indians inhabited a world different from the California we know today. Rivers ran undammed to the Pacific, man-made lakes like the Salton Sea and Lake Shasta had yet to be imagined, and vast wetlands bordered many rivers and bays. Other bodies of water were far larger than they are today. Eastern California’s now mostly dry Owens Lake covered more than 100 square miles, San Francisco Bay was almost a third larger, and the San Joaquin Valley’s now vanished Tulare Lake was the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi. [Read more…]
Eknath Easwaran’s Lucid, Scholarly and Ever-Timely Preface to the Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita
Translated by Eknath Easwaran
Vintage Books, 122pp., $15.00
Many years ago, when I was still a graduate student, I traveled by train from central India to Simla, then the summer seat of the British government in India. We had not been long out of Delhi when suddenly a chattering of voices disturbed my reverie. I asked the man next to me if something had happened. “Kurukshetra!” he replied. “The next stop is Kurukshetra!”
I could understand the excitement. Kurukshetra, “the field of the Kurus,” is the setting for the climactic battle of the Mahabharata, the vastest epic in any world literature, on which virtually every Hindu child in India is raised. Its characters, removed in time by some three thousand years, are as familiar to us as our relatives. The temper of the story is utterly contemporary; I can imagine it unfolding in the nuclear age as easily as in the dawn of Indian history.
The Mahabharata is literature at its greatest – in fact, it has been called a literature in itself, comparable in its breadth and depth and characterization to the whole of Greek literature or Shakespeare. But what makes it unique is that embedded in this literary masterpiece is one of the finest mystical documents the world has seen: the Bhagavad Gita. [Read more…]
Cornel West’s “Democracy Matters in Race Matters”
Preface to the 25th Anniversary Edition to Race Matters
by Cornel West
Beacon Press, 110pp., $11.60
Black people in the United States differ from all other modern people owing to the unprecedented levels of unregulated and unrestrained violence directed at them. No other people have been taught systematically to hate themselves — psychic violence — reinforced by the powers of state and civic coercion — physical violence — for the primary purpose of controlling their minds and exploiting their labor for nearly four hundred years. The unique combination of American terrorism — Jim Crow and lynching — as well as American barbarism — slave trade and slave labor — bears witness to the distinctive American assault on black humanity. This vicious ideology and practice of white supremacy has left its indelible mark on all spheres of American life — from the prevailing crimes of Amerindian reservations to the discriminatory realities against Spanish-speaking Latinos to racial stereotypes against Asians. Yet the fundamental litmus test for American democracy — its economy, government, criminal justice system, education, mass media, and culture — remains: how broad and intense are the arbitrary powers used and deployed against black people. In this sense, the problem of the twenty-first century remains the problem of the color line. [Read more…]
Denis Johnson’s “Emergency”
In further tribute to the great Denis Johnson, who died late May, an excerpt from Jesus’ Son:
I’d been working in the emergency room for about three weeks, I guess. This was in 1973, before the summer ended. With nothing to do on the overnight shift but batch the insurance reports from the daytime shifts, I just started wandering around, over to the coronary-care unit, down to the cafeteria, et cetera, looking for Georgie, the orderly, a pretty good friend of mine. He often stole pills from the cabinets.
He was running over the tiled floor of the operating room with a mop. “Are you still doing that?” I said.
“Jesus, there’s a lot of blood here,” he complained.
“Where?” The floor looked clean enough to me.
“What the hell were they doing in here?” he asked me.
“They were performing surgery, Georgie,” I told him.
“There’s so much goop inside of us, man,” he said, “and it all wants to get out.” He leaned his mop against a cabinet.
“What are you crying for?” I didn’t understand. [Read more…]
Good English And Bad
From The Mother Tongue
by Bill Bryson
Consider the parts of speech. In Latin, the verb has up to 120 inflections. In English it never has more than five (e.g., see, sees, saw, seeing, seen) and often it gets by with just three (hit, hits, hitting). Instead of using loads of different verb forms, we use just a few forms but employ them in loads of ways. We need just five inflections to deal with the act of propelling a car — drive, drives, drove, driving, and driven — yet with these we can express quite complex and subtle variations of tense: “I drive to work every day,” “I have been driving since I was sixteen,” “I will have driven 20,000 miles by the end of this year.” This system, for all its ease of use, makes labeling difficult. According to any textbook, the present tense of the verb drive is drive. Every junior high school pupil knows that. Yet if we say, “I used to drive to work but now I don’t,” we are clearly using the present tense drive in a past tense sense. Equally if we say, “I will drive you to work tomorrow,” we are using it in a future sense. And if we say, “I would drive if could afford to,” we are using it in a conditional sense. In fact, almost the only form of sentence in which we cannot use the present tense form of drive is, yes, the present tense. When we need to indicate an action going on right now, we must use the participial form driving. We don’t say, “I drive the car now,” but rather ‘I’m driving the car now.” Not to put too fine a point on it, the labels are largely meaningless. [Read more…]
1949 | 2017
Excerpted from Jesus’ Son
Car Crashing While Hitchhiking
A salesman who shared his liquor and steered while sleeping . . . A Cherokee filled with bourbon . . . A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student . . .
And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri . . .
. . . I rose up sopping wet from sleeping under the pouring rain, and something less than conscious, thanks to the first three of the people I’ve already named–the salesman and the Indian and the student–all of whom had given me drugs. At the head of the entrance ramp I waited without hope of a ride. What was the point, even, of rolling up my sleeping bag when I was too wet to be let into anybody’s car? I draped it around me like a cape. The downpour raked the asphalt and gurgled in the ruts. My thoughts zoomed pitifully. The travelling salesman had fed me pills that made the linings of my veins feel scraped out. My jaw ached. I knew every raindrop by its name. I sensed everything before it happened. I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside it I knew we’d have an accident in the storm.
I didn’t care. They said they’d take me all the way. [Read more…]
The Babies: I
by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Again last night as we slept,
were falling from the sky.
So many of them–
eyes wide as darkness,
glowing lifeless palms. [Read more…]
Who are you and what do you want here?
Upon your arrival, birds swooped into the trees,
dogs cowered in the bushes,
and the one cat stepped through her own shadow
on a wall and disappeared.
Because you could only have come from one direction– [Read more…]
Where she is opened. Where she is closed.
by Donika Kelly
When he opens her chest, separates the flat skin
of one breast from the other, breaks the hinge of her ribs,
and begins, slowly, to evacuate her organs, she is silent.
He hollows her like a gourd, places her heart
below her lungs, scrapes the ribs clean of fat
and gristle with his thick fingers. He says, Now you are ready, [Read more…]
In Memoriam, 20 January 2017: What Have We Done?
From Tree of Smoke
Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed. Seaman Houston and the other two recruits slept while the first reports traveled around the world. There was one small nightspot on the island, a dilapidated club with big revolving fans in the ceiling and one bar and one pinball game; the two marines who ran the club had come by to wake them up and tell them what had happened to the President. The two marines sat with the three sailors on the bunks in the Quonset hut for transient enlisted men, watching the air conditioner drip water into a coffee can and drinking beer. The Armed Forces Network from Subic Bay stayed on through the night, broadcasting bulletins about the unfathomable murder. [Read more…]
Bowie Meets Burroughs
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: Have you ever met Warhol?
DAVID BOWIE: Yes, about two years ago I was invited up at the Factory. We got in the lift and went up. When it opened there was a brick wall in front of us. We rapped on the wall and they didn’t believe who we were. So we went back down and back up again till they finally opened the wall and everybody was peering around at each other. That was shortly after the gun incident. [Read more…]
In Memoriam: 8 November
Election Night Thoughts, 2016
Excerpt from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian:
The following day on the skyline to the south they saw clouds of dust that lay across the earth for miles. They rode on, watching the dust until it began to near and the captain raised his hand for a halt and took from his saddlebag his old brass cavalry telescope and uncoupled it and swept it slowly over the land. The sergeant sat his horse beside him and after a while the captain handed him the glass. [Read more…]