Watch it now: Embrace of the Serpent

Recently, a friend heartily recommended that I watch a film called Embrace of the Serpent after discussing one of my favorites, Aguirre the Wrath of God, written, directed, and produced by Werner Herzog. Both of the titles mentioned above present a strikingly similar plot in the same geographic location: the Amazonian jungle. Aguirre and Embrace follow the all-too-familiar conquest and exploitation trajectory of indigenous peoples and their pristine, resource-rich, and sacred environment. 

embrace-of-the-serpent-20159645

 

In Aguirre, the goal of the conquistadors is the city of El Dorado; in Embrace, the goal of the barons is rubber. In Embrace, directed by Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra, the only signs of the brutal rubber plantations are villages burned to the ground, only a few remaining indigenous groups (mostly the ones who do not resist the rubber barons), a strong distrustful and traumatic relationship between the natives and the whites, and scarred trees dripping out white, violent rubber. In one of the most gut-wrenching and gruesome scenes of the film shows the protagonist and hero of the story, Karamakate known by all tribes as “The World Mover,” along with another native named Manduca and the German botanist Theo Von Martius walk up on a rubber extraction area. The trees all have the telling marks of rubber extraction with buckets beneath them to catch the unrefined liquid. Manduca, full of rage and heartbreak from watching the bloody rampage in the Amazon over the past few years, runs screaming and cursing and thrashing through each bucket of unrefined rubber. Hearing the commotion, a native man runs up to the site. His is missing a foot and a leg from amputation and torture from the plantation owners. His eye has recently been gouged. He frantically hops about on his amputated limbs picking up buckets and desperately tries to scoop up the rubber that has been poured onto the leafy forest floor. The man then kneels in front of Manduca (the travel aide and companion of Theo Von Martius) and begs him to shoot him. He pulls the barrel of the gun right up to his forehead. Manduca, with resolve, says he will shoot the man to save him from more torture from the rubber barons. Manduca fires, only to see that the gun was not properly loaded or misfired. They leave the man still kneeling, pleading for his death.

 

The film switches back and forth from past to present. Karamakate is in both space-times.Karamakate is young when a gravely ill Theo Von Martius and Manduca land their canoe on his isolated patch of land. Karamakate lives in complete isolation–his tribe and village were wiped out because they fought the rubber barons. He is distrusting of all white men, for in his experience, they only bring guns, violence, and death. Karamakate is a healer. Known throughout the Amazonian villages as “The World Mover,” his powers are not a secret–even to botanist Theo Von Martius. The German scholar concerns himself with gathering and recording plants, recipes, stories, myths, art, and other dwindling cultural institutions unique to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

When Manduca first introduces Theo Von Martius to Karamakate, Karamakate staunchly denies any part in helping the sick white man. Then, Karamakate explodes in anger, lunging at the sick German’s neck, which is adorned with a necklace particular to Karamakate’s clan. Karamakate screams “Where did you get this?” Theo Von Martius answers that he got it from a tribe that is now existing up the river. Karamakate promises the man that he will help him find the sacred plant “yakruna” if he takes him to his villagers. The three men, Manduca, Karamakate, and Theo Von Martius set out on the river to find Karamakate’s people. Throughout their travel, they come upon a Spanish mission for children, villages full of people welcoming a familiar Von Martius, and villages smoldering, bloody, leveled. Von Martius, somewhere along the journey, becomes a subject that needs protecting by only Karamakate. Karamakate administers healing but temporary substances to the ailing Von Martius.
embraceoftheserpent_trailer1

The film then switches to an older Karamakate painting glyphs on the side of a rock. He is thigh deep in the river when a snake comes swimming past him. He senses something just like his younger self did in the beginning of the film as Manduca and Martius eddy out and approach him. This time, many years later, the white man is alone. He claims that he, too, is looking for the sacred yakruna plant. He explains to Karamakate that his illness is that he cannot, nor has ever, dreamed. The old Karamakate realizes that, in his interactions with this scientist from the United States, that in his old age and years of isolation, he has forgotten many of the recipes and traditions of his life. The American figure obviously has been taught how to make medicinal substances out of coca leaves and many other plants of the Amazon. Karamakate sees the American scientist, Evan, as a dream coming to fruition. The dream he refers to is his journey decades earlier with Von Martius. The old Karamakate has forgotten many things. He tells Evan that it is Evan who will lead the way to the yakruna plant, not the other way around. Evan is dumbfounded. They embark on their quest. They come across the same Spanish mission from Karamakate’s earlier journey. He and Evan get out of their boat and approach the mission to find an Apocalypse Now scene: a Brazilian man has assumed the figure of Jesus on the cross. His followers, now grown, were once the young children that young Karamakate, Von Martius, and Manduca encounter during the first journey of the film. The scene is delirious, unsettling, and full of Catholic imagery. There are signs throughout the mission that praises the priests who kidnapped the Amazonian children from their parents and villages. The signage claims that the priests brought God to savage cannibals. The scene escalates into a moment driven even further by a psychosis ailing the men who were taken as boys from their villages. Young Karamakate snuck away to teach the children the mythology of their culture–the tinctures and medicines and origins and uses for it all. But what he taught them was not enough. Their lack of mythology led them down a path of complete discord. Now, the children saved from savagery and cannibalism, are worshipping a figure whose flesh is consumed for communion. The effects of Catholic missions, money hungry rubber barons, conquistadors, etc., are felt strongly in this cathartic scene that see Karamakate and Evan escape the village while they mill around in complete hysteria after drinking a hallucinogenic substance mixed by Karamakate. Narrowly escaping the debauchery, Evan and Karamakate continue their journey down the river. To find out what happens, you must watch this gem!

serpent1-1

This description has no spoilers, for the meaning of this film is in every quiet moment, every pan-out, every crackle of a fire, bend in the river. The story is about cultural syncretism. It’s about protecting knowledge, but also not hindering anyone from it. It’s about remembering the actions of our ancestors–conquered or conquerors. It’s about defending what’s sacred, but destroying it when it’s threatened. It’s about the cycle of life and death–not fearing death and not taking each breath for granted.

Watch this beautiful film. The cast is just as diverse as the plants in the Amazon. The story as timeless as the Milky Way (part of the myth of the Great Serpent). The connection between humans as ancient as our first guttural grunts in communication.

I will leave you with director Ciro Guerra’s explanation of the origin of this title from an interview with Cineaste:

Cineaste: Does your film’s title refer to “the serpent” as a metaphor for time or of the Amazon? And why an “embrace”?

Ciro Guerra: In Amazonian mythology, extraterrestrial beings descended from the Milky Way, journeying to the earth on a gigantic anaconda snake. They landed in the ocean and traveled into the Amazon, stopping at communities where people existed, leaving these pilots behind who would explain to each community the rules of how to live on earth: how to harvest, fish, and hunt. Then they regrouped and went back to the Milky Way, leaving behind the anaconda, which became the river. The wrinkled skin of the serpent became the waterfalls.

They also left behind a few presents, including coca, the sacred plant; tobacco, which is also another kind of sacred plant; and yagé, the equivalent of ayahuasca, which is what you use to communicate with them in case you have a question or a doubt about how to exist in the world. When you use yagé, the serpent descends again from the Milky Way and embraces you. That embrace takes you to faraway places; to the beginning where life doesn’t even exist; to a place where you can see the world in a different way. I hope that’s what the film means to the audience.

 

 

The Lusitania: United States One Step Closer to War

April is the 100th anniversary of the United States declaring war on Germany and its allies the Great Powers.   The Wilson administration’s decision to go to war was not taken lightly or in haste. In fact, it was almost two years after the sinking of the Lusitania that  The president  appeared before a joint session of Congress on April 2, 1917 and asked that body to declare war.  Woodrow Wilson’s  speech outlined a number German actions – specifically unrestricted submarine warfare, committing sabotage in the United States and attempting to lure Mexico into the war on their side –  that justified this country being involved in what many Americans viewed as a European conflict.   This will be a two-part blog:  the first dealing with the sinking of the Lusitania;  the second,   German efforts at sabotage in the United States  and the  Zimmermann Telegram.

The submarine brought a new dimension to warfare on the world’s oceans.   A vessel that traveled under the water, out of sight of other vessels, had an advantage over the ships they were targeting.   Before the submarine, if a warship stopped a merchant vessel belonging to an adversary or a neutral nation, their crew would board that ship, determine it was carrying forbidden cargo, send the crew safely off, and then sink it.   During the the early part of the Great War, submarines would surface, would use that procedure and sink the ship with a torpedo.   Neutral shipping would be left alone by the Germans as long they were not carrying contraband.   That is until the British started using neutral nations’ ships, such as American freighters, to carry war materials.  Early in February 2015, the German government stated that the area around the British Isles would be considered to a war zone and ships carrying contraband would be targets for U boats.  The German action was partly in response to the Royal Navy blockade of Germany’s coast. (1)

 The RMS Lusitania was scheduled to sail from New York on May 1, 1915, with cargo and passengers on board and Liverpool as her destination.  The German Embassy in the United States took out an advertisement in the New York newspapers warning Americans not to sail on British ships.   For the most part that warning was ignored by the Americans who had booked passage on her.

The day before the  Lusitania sailed out of New York harbor, a U boat backed out of its berth at Emden, Germany, followed the estuary of the Ems River into the North Sea, and set a northerly course that would eventually take it around the British Isles and Ireland to it’s patrol sector in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.   Periodically the U-20  would send radio messages back to it’s base in Germany, unaware that the Royal Navy code breakers in Room 40 in the Admiralty in London were intercepting them. Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger and the commanders of  the six other U boats at sea were under orders from the Hochseeflotte (High Seas Fleet) to hunt British ships and sink them without warning. ( 1 )

While the codebreakers in Room 40 knew the approximate location of the German U boats, they had no knowledge of the position of British passenger or merchant ships in the waters around the British Isles, where the submarines were on the prowl looking for targets.  Messages had been sent to masters of British vessels whose voyages took them past the south coast of Ireland to avoid headlands, choose a course that took up the middle of St. George’s Channel,  zigzag to minimize their ships as targets,  and to time their arrival at the Liverpool bar so they wouldn’t to stop to take on a pilot.

Meanwhile, in the United States, President Woodward Wilson was trying to find a way for the United States to bring peace to the war fought mostly in Europe.  When the conflict had broken out in the summer of 1914, Wilson had told the American people to be “neutral in thought as well as action.”   President Wilson sent his closest advisor Colonel Edward M. House on a peace mission to Europe  in January 1915 on the Lusitania.  On that voyage, the captain raised the United States flag when the vessel approached the Irish coast.

Kapitänleutnant Walther Schwieger’s U boat reached the southern coast of Ireland on 5 May.  Before he encountered the Lusitania on 7 May,  Schwieger attacked four other vessels.  He sunk two of them with torpedoes, shelled one after sending its crew away,  the torpedo he used for the fourth  mis-fired.  When the Lusitania appeared in his periscope, Schwieger released a torpedo.  It struck the ship on the starboard side, causing an explosion.  There was a second explosion minutes later causing the liner to sink in eighteen minutes.   Only 764 persons of the 1962 total of passengers and crew survived.  Of the dead a number were women and children,  and 128 were Americans.  After the fact, the U boat commander claimed he didn’t recognize the profile of the liner until after he had launched the torpedo and a crew member recognized her.   Most authors who have written about the tragedy claim Schwieger was being disingenuous. The German government justified the sinking by claiming the liner was carry munitions in its cargo holds, pointing to the second explosion as proof. In Great Britain, the sinking raised a number of questions; primarily, why hadn’t the Royal Navy sent destroyers to guide the Lusitania through treacherous waters where German submarines had been active.   On 10 May, the First Lord of the Admiralty (Winston Churchill) appeared at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons to answer members’ questions.  Part of  one of  Churchill’s answers: “I have stated that two warnings were sent to the vessel, together with directions as to her course. I made that quite clear. If the hon. Member asks if a special escort was sent out my reply is “No.” No exception was made to the regular method by which our seaborne commerce is conducted.” (2 )

For almost a year extensive diplomatic correspondence was carried out between the American State Department and the German Foreign Office. (4 ) In February 1916, the Germans agreed to quit sinking neutral vessels.  America stepped back from war, for at the least time being.

(1) For those readers who want to read the German government’s note, use the following: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/subch1

(2) Patrick Beesly, Room 40: British Naval Intelligence, 1914-1918, is the best source on Room 40, but the only copy in Cardinal in owned by Forsyth County’s Central Library, which is closed for renovation.   Beesly lists the reasons that could have contributed to the liner sinking so fast and questions the disappearance of documents that could answer several question relating to the Lusitania.

(3) For the full transcript of Churchill’s statement, use this link:   http:n//hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1915/may/10/statement-by-mr-churchi

(4)To read this correspondence: https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1915Supp/ch8

For further reading:

Christopher Andrew,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service,  pp. 86-127.

A. Scott Berg,   Wilson,  pp. 362-369.

Erik Larson, Dead Wake:  The Last Crossing of the Lusitania.

Diana Preston, Lusitania, an Epic Tragedy.

 

EWWWW…GERMS!

 

It’s that time of year again!  The time of year we are all confined to the indoors – okay not fully confined since winter seems to have taken a back seat to allow for a spring teaser, at least for the moment.  (Please note that if we are hit with a monster blizzard I take no responsibility!)

Unfortunately, it does not seem that this unseasonable weather has cut back on all the sickness that seems to be going around.

Of course, we all know that good sanitary practices like hand washing and coughing or sneezing into a tissue can help curb the spread of those pesky germs.   One group of people that have trouble with this can be children.  It’s not their fault, certainly.  I mean it isn’t like you can see a germ and if you can’t see it, is it really there?  They are just little people and need to be taught and retaught the best way to squelch the spread of germs.  Even some of us adults could use a refresher in how to cut down on the spread of germs.

Below are some resources available through Fontana Regional Library that can help children and adults better understand germs and how we can slow them down.

For Teachers and Homeschoolers

germs-kit

Check out this great Curriculum Kit!  It contains several books and some interactive things to use.  It is geared toward kindergarten but I can definitely see it being used with preschoolers all the way up to second graders.

 

For Parents

germproofyourkids

As I perused the catalog in search of germy resources I came across this title, Germ Proof Your Kids.  I will admit that I did not read it, but it looks interesting.  It was published in 2008 so I wonder what they say about hand sanitizers?

 

 

For Kids – right click on book cover for more informationiknowhowwefightgerms

 

thegermbusters

 

germzappers

 

blowyournosebigbadwolf

 

washyourhands

 

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A Fun Song to Teach Good Hand Washing – from our friends at Jbrary

 

Here’s to good hand washing and fewer germs to spread this winter season and throughout the entire year!

Rollicking Reads from 2016

It is the time of year for retrospectives.  And rather than recap celebrity deaths (Prince, Bowie, Mariah Carey’s career), I thought I’d pick a handful of materials I’ve checked out from the library that gave me hours of enjoyment this past year of 2016. They were not all published in 2016, but 2016 was the year I read them for the first time.

Overall, I’ve read 80 eBooks this past year, and about 20 additional books in print.  From those 100  I’ll select 10 things to recommend, all available from Fontana Regional Library or the NC Cardinal state system that FRL belongs to.

One explanation about my selections: I like science fiction and fantasy genres, but also like thriller and adventure novels, good comedies, and even some mysteries; when reading non-fiction I like histories, biographies, and memoirs.  So you will see “all of the above” in the ten titles/series I’ve chosen.  I’ll start with a memoir…about a movie, made about a book, that was written about a fictional book.

1.As you wish: inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (2014)

A memoir by the actor who played Westley in the now-classic movie The Princess Bride.  Hilarious and heart-warming, behind the scenes stories of how the movie came together, from the screenwriter (who also wrote the original book) to Billy Crystal to Andre the giant.

2.The Brilliance series by Marcus Sakey

3 titles: Brilliance (2013),  A Better World (2014), Written in Fire (2016)

An edge of tomorrow science-fiction thriller-adventure, about the social problems that occur when a percentage of the world’s children start manifesting savant-style gifts (like lightning calculation, but also mind-reading, pattern recognition, fantastic reflexes, etc.). It’s the story (somewhat similar to the story line of Blade Runner), about a special agent who hunts down the “Brilliants” who have broken the law.  And he and his youngest daughter are also Brilliants…

3.The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman

3 titles: The Invisible Library (2016), The Masked City (2016), The Burning Page (2017)

This fantasy series contains the tales of an alternate reality wherein many alternate realities can be traveled to, and the Invisible Library where the librarians attempt to collect all the versions of various books by travelling to the multi-verses involved.  Each alternate has a varying degree of Law vs. Chaos – Law based realities are like ours, with science and technology, whereas Chaos realities have fairies, dragons, magic, etc.  The realities are on a spectrum, so many of them have a mix. One of the first places the first book goes is a steampunk world with a Sherlock Holmes surrogate vs. vampires.

4.Chronicles of St. Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor

8 novels, plus novellas: https://www.goodreads.com/series/109102-the-chronicles-of-st-mary-s

In this fast-paced science-fiction series, St. Mary’s is an historical institute where historians study history via time travel.  A secret to all but their sponsoring Thirsk University, these tales tell of a the madcap adventures of the historian Madeline Maxwell, as she bounces with her colleagues from the fall of Troy to the Gates of Thermopylae to encounters with Isaac Newton and dodo birds.

5.Night School by Lee Child (2016)

Like all the Jack Reacher books written by Child, this one can be read as a standalone work, and not in any particular order.  Some of the Reacher books are “contemporary” and others are set back in Reacher’s past, while he was still in the Army.  This is a “past” title detailing how Reacher and a select team of both FBI and CIA agents undertake a secret mission to stop terrorists before they strike.  The appeal of the Reacher novels lies in the Jack Reacher character himself, as his unique brain and his indomitable physical gifts combine to thwart evil wherever he encounters it. In total, there are 21 books as of Night School.

6.Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

2 titles: Six of Crows (2015), Crooked Kingdom (2016)

This fantasy duology is set in a steampunk world with some magic, and is sort of a fantasy version of Ocean’s Eleven. A group of six misfit but highly competent mercenary/criminals set out to infiltrate an un-breachable fortress and liberate the prisoner held there. There are lots of plot twists, with the leader Kaz usually (but not always) one step ahead of his opponents.

7.Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley

8 published novels and one novella : https://www.goodreads.com/series/46160-flavia-de-luce

A mystery series set shortly after WW2, whose heroine Flavia is only 11 (in the first book), but possessed of a mind like Sherlock Holmes, a rather morbid interest in chemistry (specializing in poisons), and the youngest of a very interesting English noble family.  Most of the books are set in the environs of the decaying mansion and grounds of the de Luce estate, but one of the books sees Flavia off to Canada.  The series has ongoing themes, and is not really designed for standalone reading, but it can be done that way without undue difficulty.

8.The Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson

3 novels and one novella: https://www.goodreads.com/series/93010-reckoners

An Earth where there are no super-heroes, only super-villains (the Epics), opposed by an extraordinary band of non-superpowered human rebels known as the Reckoners. Their goal – somehow defeating the Epics and restoring their world. Their only hope is to exploit the secret weakness of each super-villain.

9.Ex-heroes series by Peter Clines

5 titles: https://www.goodreads.com/series/67447-ex-heroes

{from the author’s website} In the days after civilization fell to the zombie hordes, a small team of heroes—including St. George, Zzzap, Cerberus, and Stealth—does everything they can to protect human survivors. Each day is a desperate battle against overwhelming odds as the heroes fight to keep the undead at bay, provide enough food and supplies for the living, and lay down their lives for those they’ve sworn to protect. But the hungry ex-humans aren’t the only threats the heroes face. Former allies, their powers and psyches hideously twisted, lurk in the shadows of the ruin that lies everywhere…and they may be the most terrifying threat of all.

10.The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013)

[from the publishers webpage] “The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.”

*****

As you can see, I discovered some wonderful series last year, as well as individual books, that kept me up too late, made me laugh out loud, and grabbed my imagination.  I hope you find something here that you will likewise enjoy!

[disclaimer: with series I am just linking to the first title in the series for you to get started, but I either list the existing books in the series or provide a link so they can be read in order]

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Trumpet of Conscience

The subject matter of my blog was not a hard choice for this round. I checked out the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches titled Trumpet of Conscience. While I have read and listened to some of King’s well-known speeches, there are still many words of his that I have not read or listened to. Focusing this blog on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will not only be appropriate as we honor the day of his name, but will also serve as a relevant reminder of his urgent charge for all humans to unite and understand each other–not necessarily agree. As I have stated in my past blogs, our nation is arguably as divided now as we ever have been. There is no better time than now to turn to the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. While he urged that nonviolence was the most effective form of protest, he did not condemn those who resorted to riots or outbreaks. While he charges the white man as the African American’s adversary, he explains that it does not encompass the whole white race. Rather, he speaks about the adversarial relationship as something driven by morality (or lack thereof) rather than skin color.  We find ourselves in a political climate where so many things are classified dualistically–one or the other–no negotiation. Each stance is diametrically opposed to the other. We find ourselves in a large, echoing room, screaming over each other so someone will listen to our stance. In King’s words, he unites us to our very core–the only core that matters–the human core.

 

Below, in his speech titled Impasse in Race Relations any reader or listener can hear King’s willingness to approach any problem from all angles. Forgive the long block quotes; it’s rather difficult to convey his message with small excerpts:

“The arresting of the limited forward progress by white resistance revealed the latent racism that was deeply rooted in U.S. society. The short era of widespread goodwill evaporated rapidly. As elation and expectation died, Negroes became more sharply aware that the goal of freedom was still distance and our immediate plight was substantially still an agony of deprivation. In the past decade little had been done for Northern ghettos. All the legislation was designed to remedy Southern conditions–and even these were only partially improved. A sense of futility and frustration spread and choked against the hardened white attitudes.

“Nonviolence as a protest form came under attack as a tactical theory, and Northern Negroes expressed their dismay and hostility in a succession of riots.”

“The decade of 1955-1965 with its constructive elements misled us. Everyone underestimated the amount of violence and rage Negroes were suppressing and the amount of bigotry the white majority was disguising.

“The riots are now in the center of the stage, and are being offered as basis for contradictory positions by whites and Negroes. Some Negroes argue they are the incipient forms of rebellion and guerrilla tactics that will be the feature of the Negro revolt. They are represented as the new stage of Negro struggle replacing the old and allegedly outworn tactic of nonviolent resistance. At the same time some white forces are using riots as evidence that Negroes have no capacity for constructive change and in their lawless behavior forfeit all rights and justify any form of repressive measures. A corollary of this theory is the position that the outbursts are unforgivable, ungrateful, and a menace to the social order.

“I would like to examine both questions: is the guilt for riots exclusively that of Negroes, and are they a natural development to a new stage of struggle?

“A million words will be written and spoken to dissect the ghetto outbreaks, but for a perceptive and vivid expression of culpability I would submit two sentences written a century ago by Victor Hugo:

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness

“The policy-makers of the white society have caused the darkness: they created discrimination; they created slums; they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance, and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes, but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also declare that the white man does not abide by law in the ghettos. Day in and day out he violated welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he fragrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them, but they do not make them, any more than a prisoner makes a prison.

“Let us say it boldly, that if the total slum violations of law by the white man over the years were calculated and were compared with the lawbreaking of a few days’ riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man.

“In using the term ‘white man’ I am seeking to describe in general terms the Negro’s adversary. It is not meant to encompass all white people. There are millions who have morally risen above prevailing prejudices. They are willing to share power and to accept structural alterations of society even at the cost of traditional privilege. To deny their existence as some ultranationalists do is to deny an evident truth. More than that, it drives away allies who can strengthen our struggle. Their support not only serves to enhance our power, but in breaking from the attitudes of the larger society it splits and weakens our opposition. To develop a sense of black consciousness and peoplehood does not require that we scorn the white race as a whole. It is not the race per se that we fight but the policies and ideology that leaders of that race have formulated to perpetuate oppression” (pp. 6-10).

Throughout the rest of this speech given for the Massey Lecture Series of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, King delineates each part of the race crisis in the United States and the main problems that are perpetuating the injustice practices and ideologies. In a hopeful but firm ending, King charges his listeners to fight for what’s right–that everyone be equal–that everyone who is in a position of privilege use that privilege to help their fellow humans:

“We may now be in only the initial period of an era of change as far-reaching in its consequences as the American Revolution. The developed industrial nations of the world cannot remain secure islands of prosperity in a seething sea of poverty. The storm is rising against the privileged minority of the earth, from which there is no shelter in isolation and armament. The storm will not abate until a just distribution of the fruits of the earth enables man everywhere to live in dignity and human decency. The American Negro in 1967, like Crispus Attucks, may be the vanguard in a prolonged struggle that may change the shape of the world, as billions of deprived shake and transform the earth in their quest for life, freedom, and justice” (18).

The next speech in The Trumpet of Conscience is titled Conscience and the Vietnam War where Dr. King, once again, brings to the forefront not the side that is better, but the moral, human, and compassionate analysis of the issues of violence, war, inequality, injustice, and death and the detriment inflicted on a nation claiming itself to be the land of the free. Speaking to the listener’s nature of “choosing sides,” King directs his charges not to stand on one side or the other, but to dig down to the root of the issue. He explains that while he condemns the war in Vietnam, he is not on the side of North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front nor is he against our soldiers. He states:

“Since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I had several reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demoniacal destructive suction tube. And So I was increasingly compelled to see the war not only as a moral outrage but also as an enemy of the poor, and to attack it as such” (p. 22).

Dr. King goes on to exemplify is observant nature in the ways that he is outraged by the very fundamental rights being denied to those who serve a country in the name of freedom and democracy and justice:

“Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die and in extraordinarily higher proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southwest Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. We watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor” (p. 23).
Throughout this wonderful book (and audio recording) of his speeches for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation between November and December of 1967, the reader can become enraged and outraged and angry. But right around the corner is a light shining. It is the hope that Dr. King could always see–the reason that the good fight is a lifelong path–that as long as humans can unite, we have the power to demand what’s right and good. Please check this book out from one of our libraries and listen to this man’s exemplary charges against his fellow humans.

My Favorite Mystery Writers 2

When I’m not reading history or biography I tend to read mysteries, suspense novels,  and / or thrillers.  I have written in this blog before about some of my favorite mystery authors.  Here goes with some more!   I love British police procedurals, series that have a strong woman as the main character, mysteries with a touch of humor to them,  thrillers with an international twist, the noir genre,  and mysteries that are set in the near past (19th and 20th centuries).  Over the years, I’ve come to realize that some authors mean to have their books read in the order in which they are published, so I read them thusly.

Some authors are content to let their characters live in a particular time and others stretch their lives out to encompass long periods of time.  Here are some examples.   Jacqueline Winspear enters Maisie Dobbs’ life when Maisie is a young teenager in the first decade of the 20th century.  In her twelfth book,  an adult Maisie travels to Berlin in 1938.   Contrast that with Sue Graftons Kinsey Millhone, who appears to be stuck in the 1980s and  ages  one year every two and half books.    Anne Perry‘s character Thomas Pitt has been combating criminals and traitors in London for the last twenty years of the nineteenth century through thirty-one volumes in the series.  He and his wife, whom he met in his first case, married at the end of the first book and now have two teen-aged children.   Elizabeth George‘s Inspector Lynley mysteries seem to follow chronologically one right after another.

Although I prefer British mysteries written by British authors, I have found there are American writers who write mysteries set in the British Isles almost as good as the natives.  Elizabeth George is one of these.   Inspector  Thomas Lynley is a peer who likes to downplay his title, but dates a woman who is also an aristocrat.  His creator has paired him with a duo of detectives, Barbara Havers and Winston Nkata from totally different cultures:  Havers is from a lower middle class background who lives with aging parents  in council (public) housing;  Nkata is a black man who came from a violent, troubled youth.

Martha Grimes is another American author whose main character is a Scotland Yard detective.   Grimes is unique because all her mysteries have titles that are the names of real pubs in Great Britain.   Her main characters are Richard Jury, and Melrose Plant, a friend who helps Jury with some of his cases.   Plant is a hereditary peer who has given up his titles to the dismay of his American born aunt.  Jury and Plant’s worlds go from Islington, the area of London where Jury lives, to New Scotland Yard where he works, to Long Piddleton, where Plant’s ancestral home is located.   Secondary characters inhabit these locales and other places where Jury has to go for his cases.

An author’s success with a series of books inhabited by the same characters, such as Grimes’,   depends on similar characteristics that make for hit series on television.  First, of course, there has to be good writing.   The main characters have to be believable and supported by an entertaining secondary cast of characters.  A good example of this is one of my favorite authors whom I haven’t mentioned yet, Daniel Silva, who writes thrillers that could mirror tomorrow’s headlines.  The main character of Silva’s books is Gabriel Allon, an Israeli art restorer who doubles as a spy/assassin.  Among Allon’s supporting cast is his second  wife, Chiara, also an agent for the Office, the Israeli intelligence agency they both work for.  In addition to her, he has a team who supports him in whatever op they are running.  Various agents from MI6, CIA, etc. also populate these books, along with villains from a number of Arab organizations, both real and fictional.

To close, I’d like to remember one of my favorite writers, Ruth Rendell.   She died in May 2015 at the age of 85.  She was honored by the Queen as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1996 and as a life peer, Baroness Rendell of Babergh, in 1997.  As such she was an active Labourite member of the House of Lords until she had a stroke four months before she died.  “The last words of Ruth Rendell’s 66th novel, which can be revealed without a spoiler, consists of someone declaring: “Now it’s all over. ” May she rest in peace!

20+ from 2016

A lot of people think that as a librarian I get to sit around and read all day.  Nothing could be farther from the actual day to day of my job.  But, I can say that reading is a definite perk!  And for this post I got to read some pretty amazing books for children.

As we say farewell to 2016 and welcome 2017 with open arms, I wanted to take a moment to share some great children’s titles that Fontana Regional Library added to its collection.  I originally planned to call this piece “16 from 2016” but found so many great titles we have added that I could not narrow it down to 16.  I have included the link to our catalog if you click on the title and if you click on the book cover it will take you to another reputable review of the book.

A quick note:  I included the ages I felt the selection was suitable for.  Preschool or young children means children under the age of 5, lower elementary is kindergarten-first grade, middle elementary is second-third grade, and upper elementary is fourth-fifth grade.

51qoecng5gl-_sx258_bo1204203200_I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste it Too!)

Rachel Isadora

  • What a great picture book to help teach the 5 senses!  Simple text.  Lots of examples for each sense.  Very inclusive in the illustrations with children’s faces depicting diversity.  You have to wait until the end for the pickle.  Safety is addressed in pointing out things you do not touch.  Trying something new (like spinach) is depicted in a positive way.  Suitable for younger children.

Denise Fleming

A little boy, Michael, tries to get dressed with the help of his dog Maggie.  Maggie ends up getting dressed instead of Michael.  Bright colorful illustrations.  Color words are emphasized using ink the color the word represents.  Simple text which is a trademark of Denise Fleming.  Suitable for younger children.

Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

This book follows a pattern of action verbs to highlight animals, some familiar like an elephant and some unfamiliar like a hoatzin, that use that particular action for their movement.  Illustrations are a good representation of the animal in real life. The name of the animal is in bold print.  There is a glossary of sorts at the end that gives a little more information about each animal in the book.  Suitable for middle to upper elementary children.

David A. Adler

This selection starts off pretty basic and I could see the first 3 pages being used in lower elementary grades to introduce basic things like circle, sphere, cone, cylinder, ovals, and spirals.  Then the text gets more involved with vocabulary like diameter, radius, major and minor sectors and so on.  It shows students how to trace and cut out a circle and then use that circle to illustrate the concepts related to a circle.  At the end there is a Glossary with definitions of the bold faced terms in the book.  There is an answer key to go with the questions posed in the book at different points.   Suitable for upper elementary and middle school.  Math teachers would love this book!

Mo Willems

Definitely not your Elephant and Piggie story but it packs a powerful punch all the same.  I see lots of potential for vocabulary development with words like baguette and regret.  There are good stopping points for predictions when the author asks, “Can Nanette stop tasting the baguette?” and when the author asks, “What will she do?”  The images are interesting.  It says, “The images in this story are comprised of photographed handcrafted cardboard-and-paper constructions digitally integrated with photographed illustrations and additions.”  This selection would make a great book to teach character traits like responsibility and honesty.  Suitable for younger children and lower elementary children.

Sergio Ruzzier

The illustrations begin with a white background as a duck finds a book with no pictures.  At first he is upset that it has no pictures.  A bug comes along and asks if he can read it.  As he begins to read the book there is color in the illustrations.  This is a great book to illustrate how we all make our own mind movies for books we read.  Suitable for children in elementary school, especially those transitioning from picture books to chapter books.

Steve Goetz & Eda Kaban

We all know the story about Old MacDonald having a farm.  This book takes that and gives it a twist so Old MacDonald has big earth movers and diggers like an excavator, front loader, dump truck, etc.  There are lots of great sound effect opportunities in this one!  Suitable for preschool and young elementary aged children.

61ycre4x3gl-_sx258_bo1204203200_La Madre Goose Nursery Rhymes for Los Ninos

Susan Middleton Elya and Juana Martinez-Neal

In this book nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb and Little Boy Blue are beautifully illustrated and key words are replaced with Spanish words.  For example, lamb is replaced with oveja and blue is replaced with azul.  There is a Glossary at the beginning with pronunciations and definitions for the Spanish words in the text.  What a great way to incorporate diversity through familiarizing children with the Spanish language as well as giving children who are bilingual a way to hear both English and Spanish.  Suitable for all ages.

9780805092516Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep

April Pulley Sayre & Steve Jenkins

This selection highlights the different types of squirrels:  gray, fox, red, flying.  It uses simple rhyming text.  At the end of the book is more information about “Squirrels and Their Trees”.   Suitable for younger children as well as lower/middle elementary with the extra information at the end of the book.

61yhuahfw7l-_sx258_bo1204203200_Woodpecker Wham!

April Pulley Sayre & Steve Jenkins

This book includes all kinds of woodpeckers.  It shows how they live.  The illustrations are colorful and accurate to nature.  Uses simple rhyming text/simple sentences.  At the end there is more information about entitled “Woodpecker World”.  Suitable for younger children as well as lower/middle elementary with the extra information at the end of the book.

9780374300494Dragon Was Terrible

Kelly DiPucchio and Greg Pizzoli

The king puts out the word that there is a reward for whoever can tame the terrible dragon.  This dragon is pretty terrible.  He spits on cupcakes, burps in church, and pops birthday balloons.  The dragon gets worse as more and more people attempt to tame him.  But, along comes someone with a new approach.  Kindness.  What is the reward for this kindness?  A new friend!  This would be a great book to use for teaching the character trait of kindness.  Suitable for children of all ages.

velasquez-eric-looking-for-bongoLooking for Bongo

Eric Velasquez

A little boy is looking for Bongo.  At first I thought he meant his bongo drums.  It turns out to be his stuffed dog.  He asks everyone in the family.  No one seems to know where Bongo is.  This story incorporates Spanish words for key words/phrases like “No se.” for “I don’t know” and “Buscalo” for “Look for it.”  The English translation is included within the text to assist comprehension of the Spanish.   Suitable for preschool and younger elementary children.

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Dan Santat

What a great story!  I needed to highlight this one in my last blog post.  It is about a family traveling to Grandma’s house and the inevitable tiresomeness that comes from a car trip.  The illustrations are super cool and cause you to look at the book from different perspectives as in you have to actually turn the book sideways, upside down, and practically read upside down.  Dan Santat has incorporated QR codes to add a techy interactivity to the illustrations/storyline.  I love the message that you should just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Suitable for middle and upper elementary children.  The illustrations may be hard to follow for younger children.

Suzanne Lang & Max Lang

This book celebrates diversity in a unique way.  It looks at the differences in kids in regards to things they like to do, what they wear, how they eat, or their hobbies.  It uses cartoonish looking animals in the illustrations along with photographs of different settings like the playground, a classroom, or the ocean.  Its message is that no matter what it is you like or do all kids are great.  It uses short sentences with rhyming text to help the book flow with its message.  Suitable for preschool and young elementary children.

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Robie H. Harris & Nadine Bernard Westcott

This book is part of a series “Let’s Talk About You and Me”.  It talks about the things that make us similar and the things that make us different.  The text is longer narrative.  The overall message is that even though we are not all the same (how boring would that be?) there is more about us that is the same than is different.  I really like the use of new vocabulary like “melanin”.   Suitable for elementary aged children due to the longer narrative length.  I could see it being used with preschool aged children but not in one sitting.  I would use it in multiple sittings.

TRC38-4-2016 COV 175L CTP.indd

Eric Litwin & Tom Lichtenheld

If you love the original Pete the Cat then you are going to love Groovy Joe!  This book has a great message of sharing.  There is a website link for music you can use with the story.  I think my newest favorite song is “The Groovy Dance”.  This selection uses repetitive, rhyming text.  I am super excited to use it in an upcoming storytime!  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary children.

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Mariam Gates & Sarah Jane Hinder

Yoga is a wonderful way to re-center ourselves and relieve stress.  This book is super kid friendly and helps children with yoga they can handle.  The illustrations show children doing the yoga poses in different settings which relays the message that yoga can be done anywhere at any time.  There are gentle directions in the text to guide each pose.  Personally, I am a little intimidated by yoga due to my body’s inflexibility but this book gave me some simple and easily understood directions of some yoga poses I can do on my own.  Suitable for all ages.

Jonathan London & Frank Remkiewicz

Froggy’s energy practically jumps off the page in this wonderful story about Froggy going to the library with his mother and little sister.  I love the way Froggy thinks storytime is for babies and then cannot resist joining in with what they are doing.  Froggy definitely adds his own flavor of fun to storytime.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Daisy Hirst

A wonderful story about two monster looking siblings, Natalie and Alphonse.  Alphonse can be a bit trying and then ends up eating Natalie’s book.  When Alphonse tries to fix the book he creates even more chaos.  I love the way this book gives insight to sibling relationships.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Ame Dyckman & Zachariah OHora

I love the message in this story that you get more from being kind to others than from being mad.  The little girl in this story blames Bear for something that he didn’t mean to do.  Actually, she was kind of trespassing.  I really like how the little girl’s anger is illustrated.  It would be a great discussion starter for kids and how they react in situations that do not go their way.  The goat eating the kite string on the last page could also spark some good problem solving discussions.  I like the use of vocabulary like indignant – the bear says this after the little girl calls him horrible many times.  Suitable for preschool and younger elementary aged children.

Holly Sterling

This is a story about a little girl named Ruby and her attempts to help her dog, Oscar, get rid of his hiccups.  The text offers plenty of opportunities to incorporate action and have kids repeat fun words like “slurpity-slurp” and “fizzy-wizzy, sparkly stuff”.   Suitable for preschool aged children.

 

Jonathan London & Meilo So

This is a great non-fiction title about otters.  It starts with otter babies and goes through all the seasons and how they grow and develop.  There is additional text that could be used with older children to expand on the information presented in the narrative.  The book includes an index and additional information at the end of the book about otters.  Illustrations are beautifully done and are true to nature.  Suitable for elementary aged children and perhaps preschool children on an abbreviated basis.

Kathryn Cole & Qin Leng

A sensitive story about a little girl named Claire and a secret her soccer coach tells her to keep.  This is a very important and delicate topic.  I am glad there is a resource out there to help bridge the fear that is cultivated from this type of situation.  It definitely sends the message that telling is the best course of action and that it is not the child’s fault.  Suitable for elementary aged children.

 

Stacey Roderick & Kwanchai Moriya

This book is set up with a page asking which ocean animal has a head, eye, fin, etc. like this and it shows a part of the animal in the illustration.  On the next page it shows a full illustration of the ocean animal along with a description of that animal’s characteristics.  I like that it gives a definition in parenthesis for predator and prey.  There is also a pronunciation in parenthesis for “anemone” which is always a hard one to say.  The last two pages have additional ocean animals with an interesting fact about each one.  Suitable for preschool and early to middle elementary aged children.

My hope is that some of these titles will suit your needs as we embark on this journey we call 2017!  Check them out at your nearest Fontana Regional Library branch!

Repeat Viewings

Recently I saw on Facebook someone asking folks to talk about movies they’ve seen 5 or more times.  There is something to be said for a movie that makes you want to pick it up and watch again (and again) even though there are no real surprises left to be viewed. Although, I guess the best movies, like the best books, have enough depth and layers that a viewer might pick up something never seen before, or that went by fast enough not to significantly register on the first watching.

One of the first movies I ended up seeing five or more times was Young Frankenstein.

yf

The movie features the recently deceased Gene Wilder as the eponymous hero.  Gene’s character is the grandson of the infamous creator of the Monster, a patchwork creature put together from dead bodies and rejuvenated/revived/brought to life by the original “mad scientist.”  Filmed in black and white and featuring Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Peter Boyle, Gene Hackman, and many other excellent actors, it was directed by Mel Brooks (who also co-wrote the script).  This comedy is filled with hilarious ad-libs and many quotable lines, but it was somewhat accidental that I ended up watching it as many times as I did.  After the initial viewing, it just kept on popping up where I was in situations available to watch it again, and since I enjoyed the movie greatly, that’s just what I did.

A second movie I watched repeatedly was one I was far more deliberate about in my viewing.  That movie is probably the top of my list of favorite movies – Casablanca.

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Now I have to really rein myself in when speaking about this classic title – for example, I wrote a college paper exclusively on the recurring aerodrome beacon motif that director Michael Curtiz uses to such good effect in the film  (I know, pretty geeky).  Set in the early days of WWII, before the U.S.A. entered the fray, it has a complex plot that is ultimately very satisfying, but what makes the film so enticing are the actors (both the leads and the other 22 speaking parts), the cinematography, and the writing (again, lots of quotable lines).  Watch it if you’ve never seen it – you will agree (I believe) with why it is at the top of so many “greatest of all time” film listings.

Interestingly enough, those first two films were done in black and white; the former for effect and the latter due to its age (1942).  The next movie(s) I’m going to reference were noted for their state-of-the-art special effects – the Star Wars trilogy (the original 3 movies, now referred to as IV, V, and VI).

sw

I first heard of these when I saw a paperback at a drugstore where the back cover said “soon to be a major motion picture.”

sw-pbk

This novelization was pretty good, and I enjoyed it, but like a lot of science fiction books turned into movies, it engendered very low expectations.  I was amazed when the movie became such a great hit.  Now just to make it perfectly clear, I’m talking about Episode IV – A New Hope; Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back; and Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.  These movies redefined for me and a generation what science fiction movies were, and what one could expect from superior special effects. On top of that, it’s a classic coming of age, good vs. evil tale, just coincidentally set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.  I will probably watch Episode VII five times eventually (so far I’ve only seen it twice), but I have no plans to re-watch the “prequel” trilogy. [BTW, copies of that paperback are now going for between $150-$300 on eBay, and no, you cannot borrow mine.]

Speaking of movies that were on the cutting edge of special effects, the next film was literally on that special effects boundary – the movie was begun in black and white, and part-way through it changed to color.  You might have guessed by that I’m referring to The Wizard of Oz.

oz

I first saw this when I was five years old, on broadcast television (the film was decades old at that time already).  Now I do not recommend this film for every five-year old – I had nightmares after watching this.  And while the Wicked Witch was terrifying to me, the nightmares involved the Flying Monkeys.  The thought of creatures that could swoop down from above and either destroy me (as they did the Scarecrow) or carry me off really freaked me out.  Still, the wonderful music, the drama of the tornado, the magic of Oz, and the overall quality of the film drew me back and I think I might have watched it at least once a year for the next five of six years. Look for the way the filmmakers took the “opportunity” of color movie-making and incorporated it into the plot as the story moves from Kansas to Oz (and back).

I’m returning to another classic black and white film for my final recommendation.  The story around my “repeat viewing” of this movie is two-fold: the first is that I genuinely like the movie and probably would have watched it multiple times completely on my own, but the second reason is that my friends Mark and Ginny used to throw an annual Christmas party at their house called “It’s a Wonderful Party.”  Yes, the movie is one you might very well be watching this very season – It’s a Wonderful Life.

life

Now the party was very much like other Christmas parties for the most part:  food, beverages, party games, etc.  But the party always concluded with the playing of the movie as we all sat around and ate popcorn popped in bacon grease (one of Mark’s specialties – don’t ask, just try it if you have not). The film is officially defined as a “fantasy,” and was director Frank Capra’s personal favorite of all his films, and one he personally showed to this family every Christmas. It tells the story of a good man who comes to believe it would have been better if he’d never been born, and the efforts of his guardian angel to show him otherwise by taking him to an alternate reality where his community suffered drastic changes due to his absence. The lead, James Stewart, also said this movie was his personal favorite of the films he acted in.  Heartwarming, with moments of deep emotion, it can still choke you up at Christmas time with its conclusion.

I might share other titles in the future – I’m sure these five titles are quite likely to match many others’ list of movies seen five or more times, and maybe next time I’ll share some films less likely to be common to a big number of readers of this blog.  Until then, Fontana Regional Library has all of these titles if you’d like to either watch them for the first time, or do some “repeat viewings” of your own!

Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

with only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population (see ACLU infographic at the bottom of this bl0g).

Several weeks ago, the Jackson County Public Library hosted a screening of Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot for the 50 year anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. Those who marched were demanding their right to vote. Those who marched were demanding that their fellow Americans had rights equal to theirs. It was when I watched this documentary produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center that I realized much of my understanding of America’s civil rights era was static–stuck in the 1960s. That didn’t last long. Selma:The Bridge to the Ballot began to bear striking similarities to the current social climate in which we all live now. I had become part of a truly frightening thing–history forgotten on the old dusty textbook pages–then that very same history is once again repeating itself–right under my nose. When history is treated like a cyclical, dynamic, and multidimensional entity, current events can be seen through a lens that is not only more holistic in understanding but also vital to our understanding of justice, freedom, and equality. Justice, freedom, and equality granted to all citizens of the United States…not just a few. So, I ask myself, are all citizens of the United States equal? They should be. But not even on paper are we all equal.

Consider the police shootings of black men, a nation that is arguably as divided now as in the times of the Civil War, and the sobering reminder that racism is still alive, well, and thriving in the land of the free. Michelle Alexander aims her eagle focus on the incarceration situation in the United States. She directly links mass incarceration and our prison booms to inherent, insidious racism that pervades various institutions that were set in place to protect its citizens.

Leading up to the march from Selma to Montgomery, several oppressive institutions specifically in the south, were stifled, reformulated, and renamed in order to keep current with federal legislation such as Emancipation, Desegregation, Civil Rights, etc. In her book titled The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander takes the reader on a journey through the lives of Africans brought as slaves and indentured servants to the Americas, their fight for dignity, human and civil rights, their triumphs, their tragedies. She focuses her keen eye on the issue of mass incarceration of specifically black men (although she does acknowledge that the issue of mass incarceration is facing men and women, black and brown in this country).

Alexander starts her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by explaining social caste, the concept of race and how it began, white supremacy and how it justified and propelled the European slaughter and brutalization of American Indians and Africans (and later freed African American citizens). In the quote below, Alexander explains how both caste and class are understood and negotiated in the mind of America:

“We avoid talking about caste in our society because we are ashamed of our racial history. We also avoid talking about race. we even avoid talking about class. Conversations about class are resisted in part because there is a tendency to imagine that one’s class reflects upon one’s character. What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief–despite all evidence to the contrary–that anyone, with proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class. We recognize that mobility may be difficult, but the key to our collective self-image is the assumption that mobility is always possible, so failure to move up reflects on one’s character. By extension, the failure of a race or ethnic group to move up reflects very poorly on the group as a whole” (13).

In the quote above, Michelle Alexander gets down to the root of upward mobility in society and how it is possible for some and extremely difficult and unlikely for others. She explains that this misconception informs many people’s understanding of certain classes not as locked in and static, but somehow able to overcome the restrictions of class and caste. Below, she breaks down race in the United States much like she does class and caste:

“The concept of race is a relatively recent development. Only in the past few centuries, owing largely to European imperialism, have the world’s people been classified along racial lines. Here, in America, the idea of race emerged as a means of reconciling chattel slavery–as well as the extermination of American Indians–with the ideals of freedom preached by whites in the new colonies.

“In the early colonial period, when settlements remained relatively small, indentured servitude was the dominant means of securing cheap labor. Under this system, whites and black struggled to survive against a common enemy, what historian Lerone Bennett Jr. describes as ‘the big planter apparatus and a social system that legalized terror against black and white bondsmen.’ Initially, blacks brought to this country were not all enslaved; many were treated as indentured servants. As plantation farming expanded, particularly tobacco and cotton farming, demand increased greatly for both labor and land” (23).

So now she explains why race is so important in our society–our country. Race is something that shaped our country for good or ill, and that’s why Alexander urges that we simply cannot live under the false understanding that we are, in fact, in a colorblind society. Simply by understanding that most black people are here because they were brought in chains as servants and slaves, many of them and their ancestors and their descendants (still) perishing under awful circumstances, one cannot assume that we all have equal opportunities in this society. Below, Alexander explains the dehumanization phenomenon that occurs when already slave-powered imperialism and demand upon land and labor meets indigenous populations:

“The demand for land was met by invading and conquering larger and larger swaths of territory. American Indians became a growing impediment to white European ‘progress,’ and during this period, the images of American Indians promoted in books, newspapers and magazines became increasingly negative. As sociologist Kelly Kilty and Eric Swank have observed, eliminating ‘savages’ is less of a moral problem than eliminating human beings, and therefore American Indians came to be understood as a lesser race–uncivilized savages–thus providing justification for the extermination of native peoples” (23).

She then explains the trajectory that imperialism, slavery, and racism takes on–ultimately leading to the ideology of white supremacy:

“The notion of white supremacy rationalized the enslavement of Africans, even as whites endeavored to form a new nation based on the ideals of equality, liberty, and justice for all. Before democracy, chattel slavery in America is born” (25).

Emancipation was soon passed. The plantation economy was in shambles in the South. Poor whites began to see themselves better than their newly “freed” black neighbors, because, the few rights poor whites possessed were still much more. After the Emancipation, the economy was in shambles. Alexander explains: “Even among poor whites, the collapse of slavery was a bitter pill. In the antebellum South, the lowliest white person at least possessed his or her own skin–a badge of superiority over even the most skilled slave or prosperous free African American” (27).

But once Emancipation was enacted, the same story plays over again, just by a different name. Vague laws were created and vehemently enforced, creating an inmate population that led to “convict leasing,” a program that put convicted blacks on a bidding block for private bidders looking for labor:

“Once again, vagrancy laws and other laws defining activities such as ‘mischief’ and ‘insulting gestures’ as crimes were enforced vigorously against blacks. The aggressive enforcement of these criminal offenses opened up an enormous market for convict leasing in which prisoners were contracted out as laborers to the highest private bidder. Douglas Blackmon, in Slavery by Another Name, describes how tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested during this period, many of them hit with court costs and fines, which had to be worked off in order to secure their release” (31).

Through convict leasing programs, slavery was reborn–just under a different name. There were high death rates for the prisoners as well as no means to pay off debts. The private bidders who “bought” the laborers were even less invested in the laborers than slave owners were about their slaves, according to Alexander.

She goes on to explain that the harsh punishments for insignificant “crimes” resulted in the first of many prison booms in the U.S. The boom was mostly made up of young black males, resulting in what Alexander calls a new caste. An undercaste.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Populist party gained momentum when they began to try and unite people among class lines rather than racial ones. After the populist party gained much speed and support by insisting that poor whites and blacks unite and demand social justice together, conservatives and liberals alike were alarmed. Conservatives saw this boom for the populist party as a reason to drive a wedge between poor whites and blacks again:

“Segregation laws were proposed as part of a deliberate effort to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. These discriminatory barriers were designed to encourage lower class whites to retain a sense of superiority over blacks, making it far less likely that they would sustain interracial political alliances aimed at toppling the white elite. The laws were, in effect, another racial bribe. As William Julius Wilson has noted, ‘as long as poor whites directed their hatred and frustration against the black competitor, the planters were relieved of class hostility directed against them’’’ (37).

“The general public generally traces the death of Jim Crow (era) to Brown v. Board of Education, although the institution was showing signs of weakness years before. By 1945, a growing number of whites in the North had concluded that the Jim Crow system would have to be modified, if not entirely overthrown. The consensus was due to a number of factors including the increased political power of the blacks due to migration to the North, and the growing membership and influence of the NAACP, particularly its highly successful legal campaign challenging Jim Crow laws in federal courts.

“Far more important in the view of many scholars, however, is the influence of WWII. The blatant contradiction between the country’s opposition to the crimes of the Third Reich against European Jews and the continued existence of a racial caste system in the United States was proving embarrassing, severely damaged the nation’s credibility as leader of the ‘free world.’ There was also increased concern that, without greater equality for African Americans, blacks would become susceptible to communist influence, given Russia’s commitment to both racial and economic equality. In Gunmar Myrdal’s highly influential book An American Dilemma, published in 1944, Myrdal made a passionate plea for integration based on the theory that the inherent contradiction between the ‘American Creed’ of freedom and equality and the treatment of African Americans was not only immoral and profoundly unjust, but was also against the economic and foreign interests of the U.S.” (38).

After the Civil Rights Movement garnered support and success with the help of JFK and LBJ, Alexander explains that this moment of triumph was short lived. Just like in the past, slavery by a new name was emerging: “With the success of the Civil Rights Movement and the launching of the Poor People’s Movement, it was apparent to all that a major disruption in the nation’s racial equilibrium had occurred. Yet as we shall see below, Negroes stood only a ‘brief moment in the sun.’ Conservative whites began, once again, to search for a new racial order that would conform to the needs and constraints of the time. This process took place with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it would have to be formally race-neutral–it could not involve explicit or clearly intentional race discrimination. A similar phenomenon had followed slavery and Reconstruction, as white elites struggled to define a new racial order with the understanding that whatever the new order would be, it could not include slavery. Jim Crow eventually replaced slavery, but now it too had died, and it was unclear what might take its place. Barred by law from invoking race explicitly, those committed to racial hierarchy were forced to search for new means of achieving their goals according to the new rules of American democracy” (40).

It is here that Alexander explains what she means by “new Jim Crow.”

“For more than a decade–from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s–conservatives systematically and strategically linked opposition to civil rights legislation to calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime. Civil rights protests were frequently depicted as criminal rather than political in nature, and federal courts were accused of excessive ‘lenience’ toward lawlessness, thereby contributing to the spread of crime. In the words of then–vice president Richard Nixon, the increasing crime rate ‘can be traced directly to the spread of the corrosive doctrine that every citizen possesses an inherent right to decide for himself which laws to obey and when to disobey them.’ Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime, citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary.

“Some segregationists went further, insisting that integration causes crime citing lower crime rates in Southern states as evidence that segregation was necessary. Unfortunately, at the same time civil rights were being identified as a threat to law and order, the FBI was reporting fairly dramatic increases in the national crime rate. Beginning in the 1960s, crime rates rose in the United States for a period of about ten years. Reported street crime quadrupled and homicide rates nearly doubled. Despite significant controversy over the accuracy of crime statistics during this period (the FBI’s method of tracking crime was changing), sociologists and criminologists agree that crime did rise, in some categories quite sharply. The reasons for the crime wave are complex but can be explained in large part by the rise of the ‘baby boom’ generation–the spike in the number of young men in the fifteen-to-twenty-four age group, which historically has been responsible for most crimes. The surge of young men in the population was occurring at precisely the same time that unemployment rates for black men were rising sharply, but the economic and demographic factors contributing to rising crime were not explored in the media. Instead, crime reports were sensationalized and offered as further evidence of the breakdown in lawfulness, morality, and social stability in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement”  (40-41).

Throughout this book, as you can see, there are worlds of knowledge regarding our current social state. Below is an infographic by the ACLU explaining the mass incarceration age in America. Alexander explains how laws like “three strikes you’re out” and mandatory sentencing, racial profiling, and more has led to the new Jim Crow era. Black men experience much harsher sentencing for minor drug crimes compared to white men. This is not a political issue that divides us among party lines. This is a humanitarian issue that must be treated like any other Human Rights issue across the globe. massincarceration_20110617_0

If you want to help, donate to Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and more.

LD

“War is all Hell”

William T. Sherman was one of the more famous generals of the American Civil War.   Best known for his march through Georgia in 1864-65, cutting themselves off from their supply trains.  His armies foraged off the territory they were traveling through, reaching Savannah right before Christmas 1864, in time for Sherman to present the President of the United States with a Christmas present of the Georgia city.  By the spring of 1865, Sherman continued his march, this time northward through South Carolina and North Carolina, where he accepted the surrender Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate army.

 Sherman didn’t believe, like a lot of military officers, that war was a gentleman’s game.  For example, when boats  and trains carrying his troops were shot at, Sherman sent soldiers to burn buildings in the towns where the shots came from and placed hostages on the trains and boats.   When he was the military commander in Memphis in 1862, he sent families south through Confederate lines as retaliation for his troops being shot at.

Almost as controversial was Sherman’s policy toward runaway slaves.  As a Democrat, Sherman was against freeing slaves, the opposite view from his brother John, the Republican senator from Ohio.  When the Union army moved into Tennessee following the battle at Shiloh, slaves thought the troops were their salvation.  Sherman  gave Union commanders permission to take slaves as long they could prove they were used in the war effort.

Sherman first encounter with combat was at First Bull Run.  After that, he was sent to Kentucky when he was forced to leave to recover from mental problems.  At Shiloh, Tennessee, in April 1862, he fought alongside Ulysses Grant.  He followed Grant as the Union commander in Memphis.  After spending a number of weeks in Memphis in 1862, Grant ordered Sherman to move downstream and attack Confederate forces near Vicksburg, Mississippi.   Although that expedition was a failure, it set the stage for Grant’s attack on Vicksburg the following year, when, after a long siege, the Confederates occupying the city surrendered on July 4, opening the Mississippi and splitting the Confederacy.   The next target for the two generals was Chattanooga.

The Chattanooga campaign was Grant’s last in the West, before he was sent to Virginia by President Lincoln to oppose Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.   Before Sherman and Grant got to East Tennessee, the Union Army of the Cumberland was soundly beaten by Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee as Chickamauga in Northern Georgia.  Sherman and Grant’s task was to raise the siege placed on Rosecrans’ Union forces in Chattanooga by Bragg’s army, which occupied high ground around the city.   In two months, the Union Armies of the Tennessee and the Cumberland drove the Confederates into Georgia, setting the stage for Sherman’s Atlanta campaign and eventually the March to the Sea.

For much of the the next year, 1864-65, Sherman’s army strived to capture Atlanta by not confronting Joseph Johnston’s Confederate army head on, but rather using flanking attacks.  The one time he did order a full frontal attack, at Kennesaw Mountain, it was a disaster for the enemy was dug in, in well built trenches.   Sherman’s army attacked with 15,000 men and suffered twenty percent casualties.   After that, the only barrier keeping Sherman from Atlanta was the Chattahoochee River, which he crossed July 17.  After a series a battles around the city, Sherman, tired of bloodletting, settled in for a siege, which ended on September  1st, when the Federals learned the enemy had retreated.

Sherman famed March to the Sea through Georgia began on November 15.   His army was divided into two wings both heading generally southeast.  The Confederates thought Augusta on the border of South Carolina was the target, so Jefferson Davis sent Braxton Bragg to defend the city.  But right before Christmas Sherman’s army reached the outskirts of the real destination, Savannah.  Since the defenders of the city had withdrawn, the local government declared Savannah an open city, saving it from destruction.  Sherman sent President Lincoln a telegram presenting  him with Savannah as a Christmas present.

The Union army occupying Savannah rested in preparation for the next step in their advance through Confederate territory: South Carolina.  Where Sherman governed his troops actions in Georgia, that was not the case in South Carolina.  Union soldiers were looking forward to causing as much damage in South Carolina as possible because they knew that’s where the war started.  The state capital, Columbia, was heavily damaged by fire, which Sherman blamed on Confederate troops under the command of South Carolina native Wade Hampton.   As Jacqueline Campbell states, historians have debated the cause of the extent of the damage in Columbia.  Having read both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion it was a combination of the Confederates burning cotton to keep it out of the hands of the advancing Federals and Union soldiers getting their hands on liquor and carrying on with drunken partying while setting fires.

The Spring of 1865 found Sherman and his army in the Old North State, where the war was winding down. The original plan which he and Grant had cooked up had Sherman’s army moving north through North Carolina to Lee from the rear.  However, Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia  to Grant on April 9 at Appomattox Courthouse.  That ended that aspect of the war in Virginia.  President Davis and other members of his administration had already escaped southward by train, but making it clear he wished the war to continue.   In the meantime, Sherman was pursuing General Johnston’s army in the piedmont of North Carolina, hoping to negotiate  a surrender soon.  That happened on April 26, two weeks after Lee’s capitulation.

The books listed below include Sherman’s Memoirs;  Biographies by Eisenhower, Fellman. Kennett, and Marszalek;  Flood’s study of his relationship with General Grant;  and finally Campbell, Hess, and Trudeau’s books on the Atlanta campaign, the march through Georgia and beyond.   There is caveat about General John Eisenhower’s book:  he died before it was published and the person who edited it evidently didn’t have a background in Civil War history for the Union Army of the Tennessee and the Confederate Army of Tennessee are thoroughly mixed up the book.

Battles and Leaders of the Civil WarVolume 4.

Jacqueline Glass Campbell.  When Sherman Marched North from the Sea:  Resistance on the Confederate Home Front.

John S. D. Eisenhower.  American General: The Life and Times  of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Michael Fellman.  Citizen Sherman:  a Life of William Tecumseh Sherman.

Charles Bracelen Flood.  Grant and Sherman.

Earl J. Hess.  Kennesaw Mountain:  Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign.

Lee Kennett.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Life.

John F. Marszalek.  Sherman:  A Soldier’s Passion for Order.

William T. Sherman.  Sherman: Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman.

Noah Andre Trudeau.  Southern Storm:  Sherman’s March to the Sea.

Steven E. Woodworth.  Nothing But Victory:  the Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865.