With the passing of Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger, America has lost two very important voices. One was an outspoken activist who was unafraid to challenge power, and the other was an iconoclast who drifted into a hermit-like existence. Perhaps drift is the wrong way to put it; perhaps it was his conscious choice to do so, to seclude himself into the nether-regions of New Hampshire. Whatever the case, both men despised phony people, for different reasons. Despise is a word that requires a note of elaboration. At first glance it appears to denote hatred but, in fact, it literally refers to the act of looking down upon. Zinn and Salinger, quite literally, looked down upon phonies, inauthentic people, cogs in machines, because such people chose to become, or had no choice but to be, automatons, serving a higher purpose over which they had no real control.
Much is said about a famous address Zinn made in the Boston Common in 1971, addressing the plainclothes tools of state power interspersed among the listening crowd. He, along with Daniel Ellsberg and others, were beaten the next day, by interlocutors of law and order, although on an individual level the agents wielding heavy batons were at the very least reluctant to carry out their orders and, according to the account Ellsberg has given, expressed their sympathies for the cause.
As for the creator of Holden Caulfield, an ennui-obsessed teenage lost soul who despairs of the world, the impulse to change the world retreats to a desire to escape. It is certainly understandable; the world can be a demented, dangerous place, filled with mercenary, unfeeling people. But that is far from all that it is. Perhaps it was the hope that there are decent people everywhere you go, doing what they can to improve things, even in the smallest ways, that kept people like Zinn going, up to the very end.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Anderson Cooper jumped in and carried a Haitian boy, bleeding and helpless, to relative safety. People are giving him a lot of kudos for his bravery and compassion; I never cared for him but that was a real class-act. Also, this raises the question of when reporters/journalists/TV personalities can take the mask off and just be human. In the photos, the Haitian cops look sort of shocked, astounded. I have to keep reminding myself that the aid is barely trickling in, the hospitals collapsed for days with rising levels of what we lazily call anarchy, literally absence of government — there are reports of paramilitaries, private citizens rich enough, here and there, to arm make-shift police forces. Hence Cooper’s newsworthy rescue. “Looting” is in use again, as if it is a criminal act to do whatever you can to survive when civilization is destroyed, to defend your life; especially when there’s barely any aid, too few people to distribute, and no order.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, has witnessed a catastrophe that has ripped through its capital, Port-au-Prince. Over 100,000 Haitians are feared dead, although the search for bodies has just begun and aid relief continues to flow in from all around the world. (The projected toll is about one percent of its population.)
In a report from the capital, Pooja Bhatia seems to sound uncomfortably like Pat Robertson.
A second night in the streets.
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Dubai, which is nearly bankrupt from real estate loans, has just unveiled the (absurd) Burj Khalifa. It will not be fully occupied anytime soon, because Dubai just escaped bankruptcy and a ridiculous debt burden (notwithstanding the oil wealth it is sitting on, which can all be surveyed from 160 floors).