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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Native American History, its overlaps with South Africa, and the villainous Ronald Reagan

I’ve just finished reading a book on Native American history, The Earth Shall Weep by James Wilson. The US government is not in my good books right now, and books like this don’t help! As one Amazon reviewer points out, the book does focus more on the settlers crimes, the massacres, the betrayals, rather than on Native American history before colonisation, or at times of relative peace. It makes grim reading, from the racist murderers, land-hungry colonists, legal shenanigans attempting to justify the crimes, Christian missionaries stealing children from their parents in order to ‘civilise’ them and US government deceit. After reading a particularly grim section, I could barely believe Wilson when he started the next section claiming that what he’s about to describe brought a new low to the situation. I found the historical atrocities interesting to read, reacting with an uncomplicated hopeless outrage. But the most recent history was also interesting. Being more complex it doesn’t make as ‘good’ a story, but there are interesting overlaps with the situation in South Africa. The San people here suffered similar atrocities, and the recent difficulties mirror some of the Native American experiences. A marginalised people trying to make do as a minority in a society that they do not well-understand, and are ill-equipped to face. Tensions between the ‘traditionalists’ and the ‘modernists’. (See the Sunday Independent articles San wait for a gate back to their old lands and the subscriber-only article Divisions within San community not the only factor in land fiasco.) Wilson covers these tensions within the community well, and I can only wish for some similar scholarship here, as well as some of the Native American experiences to be passed on in the local situation.

I was also struck at the role of Ronald Reagan. I seem to keep coming across the man, an example of the worst of the US government. Yesterday I read that he was an FBI spy during his time in Hollywood (in a Sunday Times article) (if Hogarth was being serious!). Today I read his idiotic comments about Native Americans in 1988, as well as his role in cutting back Pauite water rights while California governer in 1968 by ‘convicing’ a dissenting official (of course the Pauite’s had no say themselves) to withdraw his opposition by inviting him on a gambling cruise. The Pauite had been assured of first-user rights in an 1859 treaty, but like most, if not all, treaties with Native Americans, this was ignored when it became inconvenient for the US government.

Add to that Reagan’s role as bad guy in the life of one of my favourite poets and activists, Allen Ginsberg, his support for the Contras and of course, closer to home, his support for Jonas Savimbi and support for the apartheid government by viewing the ANC as terrorists.
The only thing making me look a little more positively at all of this is that it does seem things are getting better. Reagan’s atrocities were undertaken a less visibly and with less opposition than, say, Bush’s invasion of Iraq. So I hold out some hope that humanity is waking up, thanks in no small part I’m sure to the technology we’re sharing to read and write this piece.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

M&G blogs, $1 DVD’s and pushing hands

I’ve been following the Mail and Guardian’s entry into blogdom quite closely, and so far been quite disappointed. The functionality seems limited, anonymous readers can’t post, and, most importantly, there aren’t many contributions. One of the few contributors I enjoy (and one of the few active contributors) is Ian Fraser.

A friend of mine is visting China, and offered to bring me back some DVD’s, priced at US$1. I’ve avoided buying any DVD’s, as I tend to become compulsive, and have a book collection that needs another room soon, and a chaotically large CD collection, so much so that I still don’t know what was taken in a recent theft. My first thought of course was “pirated DVD’s, never, piracy is like murder, only worse”. Luckily I came across Ian Fraser’s post on why film piracy is good for South Africa. And I’m sure they’re $1 originals anyway. So, conscience eased, I began to think what I’d like. Of course, Lord of the Rings was first to mind. Then perhaps some good French movies just to annoy Anique. Or perhaps the Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D alluded to by Ian.

But what I’d really like are some good tai chi videos. Grizzled old men (or women) tossing foolish young upstarts around, like the classic video of Cheng Man-ch’ing showing the US navy soldiers what pushing hands is all about. The grin on their faces when they realise they’re airborne is well-worth it. Having been airborne myself while training with my teacher, Dr Lan, I can relate – it’s a childlike grin akin to a child witnessing some amazing new physical phenomonen (at the moment for Dorje it’s walking). And, let me confess, Anique got me off the ground too, once. Of course it was after a late-night get-together and I was barely able to stand before we started, much less do pushing hands, but disclaimers aside, I was still impressed.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

History is the home address

I’ve been getting a surprising amount of referals looking for Sarah Johnson’s Personae. Of course, being far, far from an A-list blog, my hits are so low it could just be one person (or perhaps the author herself 🙂 ) looking for information. Unfortunately I haven’t read the work yet, but I plan to soon. My weekends, even though they’re 4 days long these days, fly by, aided by sleepless nights thanks to Dorje, who’s 13 months today.

However, I have just read History is the Home Address, by Mongane Wally Serote. I was slightly distracted reading it, (you know, where you read the same sentence three times and still don’t take it in – I was about to blame Dorje again but let’s not pass the buck), but I was rather disappointed. To me, the Serote of the 70’s, the passionate writer lyrically pouring out the agonies of apartheid, has been replaced by a praise-poet for Thabo Mbeki.

From the first page:
why are they asking if he is fit to rule

who are they to ask that

Not a great start. Now a member of government, I find the silencing of his own rebellious voice, that he denies other’s right to ask, disturbing. Little annoys me more than ungracious white whining, but Serote’s attitude seems to be that criticism is off-limits. I remember being equally disturbed by his complaints about “the wailing” of the Mail and Guardian (if memory serves me, this was from Third World Express), but this trend seems even more pronounced in his newest work. Perhaps I should have written his silencing of himself – it is likely to be that most human folly of only criticising from afar, but denying this service to those closest to him, who would most benefit. There are moments in the poem where some of his old voice shines through, but generally I find the new Serote muted. Here’s a review that puts it much better.

Perhaps its time for the rise of new writers – Sarah Johnson, my expectations are growing! With Cape Town being such a small city (I realised a friend of mine was at school with Kim McClenaghan), author of the Revisitings, which I read last month, perhaps I already know her, or a friend of hers.

Finally, to the person/people who keep looking for information on Sarah Johnson, come back soon, I plan to read it this weekend.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Found a great quote on Cath’s M&G blog.

“Psychosclerosis: the hardening of the attitude which causes a person to cease dreaming, seeing, thinking, and leading.”

Ashley Montague

In my case it’s caused by interminable meetings about trivialities. Now that I’m working 3-day weeks (Tue-Thu), I find I can see by Saturday and think by Monday. Now for the other two…

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Kim McClenaghan – Revisitings

I recently bought two poetry books, both written by recent graduates of the UCT Creative Writing MA. I studied creative writing in my second and third years at UCT as part of my BA – a course I enjoyed more and found more valuable than my IT studies. In spite of the intellectual snobbery that is directed towards arts and social sciences from the science and commerce worlds, I felt I learnt more in that course, and feel tremendously grateful for having the opportunity. Not too many have majors in both IT and Arts, and the combination has given me an important perspective on the strengths and failings of both disciplines.

Having read one of the books, Revisitings by Kim McClenaghan, I did some searching on the web, and found surprisingly little. So much of todays knowledge does not yet exist on the digital media. Books are written, sold to a small audience, and forgotten, doing a disservice to the content. Poetry doesn’t work for me online – it’s best read besides a stream, in a forest, as I did today, but there needs to be some sort of digital presence. So, doing my bit, I’ve added the author to Wikipedia. There was a slightly different version of one of Kim’s poems at Michael Cope’s Virtual Anthology – a great idea, but seemingly a once-off.

I enjoyed Kim’s his poetry – if the term romantic incorporates the cliche of pining after lost loves, it clearly applies to him, and not to me. I found the theme repetetive at times, but there were moments of inspiration, especially in the first few poems. In That Time “all poems are about endings,/words cease only in death”, he develops the idea of writer as being forced to write “we choose either/to write or die”. In Only Night “I write to live/or live to write of life”. Mentions of CP Cavafy, Guy Butler, Arthur Nortje and Douglas Livingstone betray his influences, and probably the influence of UCT MA course director and well-known poet Stephen Watson. A solid work, I look forward to reading the other, Personae by Sarah Johnson. Just to give myself some balance I’ve also recently bought two works by old masters – History is the Home Address by Mongane Wally Serote, one of my favourite South African poets, as well as Even the Dead by Jeremy Cronin.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Visited Countries

Thanks to a link I discovered at Forest Blog, I’ve created a Visited Countries image. I’ve visited all of 4% of the world’s countries. And that includes a bus drive through France on my way from Holland to the UK. At least I excluded Brazil – Sao Paulo airport is not something I want to remember. These kind of things do encourage a list mentality of course. Been there, ticked it off, next please. I don’t even feel I’ve explored much of South Africa, or even Cape Town. There’s a whole world of discovery right outside your doorstep – how many of my neighbours names do I even know?

But back to the link – there are some interesting projects at (onetime?) Google employee Douwe Osinga’s site.

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Earth (Arts and Literature)

Creative Commons Licence

I’ve decided to use a Creative Commons licence for my blog. Coincidentally, Tectonic has just published an article comparing the GNU GPL and the creative commons licenses. So as not to repeat everyone else, read the Creative Commons website on why to use a creative commons licence.