Vessels of Tears

Beyond Memory, Three
Wrecks That Still Hurt

The schooner that brought the last 110 Africans to be American slaves, in 1860; a boxcar that carried many of the millions of Jews to Germany’s Auschwitz extermination camp, during WWII; a boat that sunk in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing over a thousand migrants.
For their riders, hope for breaking chains, breathe freedom, or find a future, was yanked out of their reach. But even stripped of their dignity, or forced to renounce name and identity, their lives were not wasted. Now, more than ever, they must be known by all.
It’s an intriguing coincidence. The Clotilda, a slave ship just-found in Alabama; a cattle car used in the Holocaust, being exhibited in Manhattan; and the rescued wreck of the Barca Nostra, on display at the Venice Biennale, are sharing a meaningful moment now.
Slavery. Racism. Xenophobia. Neither vanquished, as believed, nor gone. As their murderous spell threatens the world again, it’s timely that all three vessels have been given a new life as beacons of memory and resistance. History is not made to be repeated.
Some are weary of attributing to objects the significance of the pain and suffering experienced by actual human beings; it risks dehumanizing them further. But it beats forgetting it all. It jolts people out of complacency, and gives them agency over the immovable past.

THE LAST SLAVE SHIP, BURIED IN THE MUD
The story of the Clotilda, the boat that transported kidnapped West Africans to Alabama, is well known. The last slave ship to reach the U.S., at the dawn of the Civil War, it was among other things, breaking the federal ban on ‘importation,’ in effect since 1808.
To avoid being caught, after delivering its heartbreaking cargo, the captain burned and sank the boat. But in a generation, the then former slaves founded Africatown, and helped build this country. They did not forget, though, and now there’s proof for the stories they’ve heard.
The discovery is worth being part of the national conversation about the black African-American experience, just like Reparations for Slavery, and prison and drug reforms. All are about giving people and their stories their due acknowledgement and place in history.

THE SINISTER CARGO OF NAZI TRAINS
In America, circa 2019, when a white supremacist goes in a rampage, killing Jewish people, or another Latino child dies at an immigration facility, the president gives the first a nod, and ignores the other. No wonder that there’s been quite a few of both lately. People of a certain age know how this winds up.
Auschwitz, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a show about Germany’s biggest concentration camp between 1940-1945, features a railcar just like the ones Nazis used to ship thousands of Jews and others to gas chambers. But it teaches more than that.
Hate and murder are the stock and trade of psychopaths in power, but they rely on forgetfulness to come back again. If the murder of six million is no longer (more)
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Read Also:
* The Journey
* Floating Enigmas
* Second Variety

Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Profiteering From Misery, Colltalers

‘Breaking: Hurricane LeBron’s 200 mph winds drove the Atlantic to completely submerge long decaying Palm Beach, Fl, Mar-a-Lago Golf Club, once owed by ex-President Trump, who refused to comment. He’s serving a 5-year reduced term at N.Y. Rikers.’
‘Members of the once billionaire family, the Sacklers, start their prison sentences today, after being found guilty of profiting from the U.S.’s deadliest drug crisis: overdoses from the family-owned, Purdue Pharma-produced, OxyContin, an addictive painkiller.’
Sorry to interrupt almost a decade of fact-based discussion on this space, to sneak in a piece of karmic wishful thinking. Not that neither of the fictitious scenarios laid above could ever happen, if justice was to be served. But realistically, neither is likely to.
Those two opening graphs, though, touch some of the most crucial issues of our age, and to present them as fiction may ease the blunt of facing the nightmare they suggest: unbound government corruption, dead of democracy, and impeding global catastrophe.
The investigation into the president’s possible collusion, conspiring with a foreign power in exchange for personal business favors, has affected, when not already sentenced, virtually every one of his inner circle. Except him, who’s still unscathed and in control of the narrative, while even those not yet indicted may be destroying, or saving, self-incriminating records, as we speak, just in case.
By declaring a non-existent, probably unconstitutional, state of national emergency, Trump took another step towards full tyranny mode: ‘my wall or I’ll start a war,’ have been his terms all along. It’s up to adults left in Washington to challenge this act of power grab, hoping as well that the Supreme Court spares us from witnessing it issuing a shamefully-bias ruling on presidential powers.
Trump will have his way, though. Helped by Republicans – a small group of astonishingly rich and amoral Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

The Expediency of Tomahawks, Colltalers

It’s easier to bomb than to talk. The Trump administration has tried hard to get to this point, when headlines are about hitting another country. It’s already got North Korea, Venezuela, and Iran, on its crosshairs, but Syria has had the best excuse, so it got struck twice. More to come?
Very likely, indeed. Even that bombing changes nothing, only kills more people, at both times, timing was most convenient. But the strikes we’d rather support are those by teachers. For what they demand, from West Virginia to Arizona, will improve our life without killing anyone.
To this president, who dodged the draft and never had to fire a bullet to save a soul, war is always a handy diversion. Whenever lies, sex and incompetence threaten to derail his week, talk about bombing someone does the trick, playing the compliant media as Nero did with his lyre.
But alas, there are things that even Trump can’t be solely blamed for, even as he’d gladly take credit for them. For war, as a highly profitable business that it is, has always opportunities for all, from the aggressor to the invaded, except of course, the unarmed people on the ground.
It keeps the weapon industries solvent, the multi-billion defense contractor market well oiled, and Pentagon hawks and militaristic zealots quite happy. War is never about saving people, proving a point, or righting some perceived wrongs; it’s a self-feeding engine despots and tyrants can’t live without. Few see it that way but how can a massive loss of innocent lives be justified by some ephemeral ideal of justice?
Both times, the justification to strike Syria has been the alleged use of chemical weapons, with what’s called the ‘international community’ blaming both the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian support for the attack. Pictures of victims, many children, are indeed devastating.
It wasn’t enough in the 1980s however for the U.S. to bomb the Saddam Hussein regime, which used it several times against Kurds, Iranian forces, and his own people, if intel of the time is to be trusted. The reason was pragmatic albeit not less inexcusable: he was then a U.S. ally.
Of course, the U.S. is not alone applying that kind of ‘measured’ hypocrisy as a foreign policy tool. Specially now, Continue reading

The Thriller Is Gone


Michael Jackson, Who’d
Be 59 Moonwalks Today

When he used to pop and flare up his dance moves and magnetism, no one could touch him. And when he crashed and burned, his ashes spread out quickly, and took with them the legend of a tainted Peter Pan. Still his talents remain unmatched.
He shot to fame during what now looks like tamed times, but just as he ascended, he was taking the unwitting steps that brought him down, like a defective Icarus. Musically, his legacy may have been all but relegated to obsolescence.
As he stretched that Motown sound that could be no longer, the deconstruction of rap was prescribing his irrelevance. But only a spiritual black son of Fred Astaire, breakthrough brother of Prince, and perennial stardust pixie, could reach such heights of divine entertainment.
Today we won’t remember the grotesque caricature he crafted, which ultimately consumed his gifts. Nor his despicable tabloid reign, or the misguided dream of racial reengineering. We’ll believe, for a moment, in that elusive delusion of eternal youth he pursued with abandon.
That he failed is the personal tragedy which he ultimately shared with the humanity that he fought so hard to be free of. He had already passed and gone way before the June, 2009, headlines that finally confirmed. At that point, he just switched coffins.
The moment in time he’s seized so brilliantly, though, has no expiration date. That’s why once, we all wanted to be Michael Jackson, the boy wonder who, despite captive to a nightmare, still managed to create a fairy tale out of pure dreams and sheer magic.

Curtain Raiser

Losing Cats & Whales, Colltalers

‘Scientific.’ That’s how Japan calls its annual slaughtering of minke whales, which it resumed last week, defying public opinion and a 1986 international ban. While it disregards current wild life preservation efforts, it’s not an isolated act.
Just as last summer’s unconscionable killing of Cecil, the beloved African lion, by a prize hunter, didn’t halt the booming bred-for-hunt industry, what follows grief over violence against animals is more often inaction than institutional change.
One of the most disturbing trends, captive breeding of big cats, is actually increasing in Africa and in the U.S., even as their numbers in the wild are quickly receding. It’s not just that the morals of raising such amazing animals for the enjoyment of a few wealthy individuals is utterly questionable. But that such practices result in poor genetic pools due to in-breeding.
It produces disease and physical deformities-prone animals, that could never survive if released. Unfit to replenish the diversity found in nature, they could also represent a high risk of rushing extinction if in contact with wild populations.
There are now more big cats living in the U.S. than anywhere in the world, but the great majority of them has been raised in captivity. Since, thank heavens, they’re not bred for being hunted, there’s also the issue of how to create enough sanctuaries to provide for aging animals whose amateur caretakers are no longer Continue reading

Curtain Raiser

Behind the Killing of a Big Cat, Colltalers

It was as swift and definitive as the killing itself was not. And it showed just as effectively how the global media at times accurately reflects the bipolar aspects of our short attention span. And seemingly endless ability for changing the subject.
When news broke that Cecil, a supposedly protected lion in Zimbabwe, felled to an American amateur hunter’s high-powered bow, coverage of the universal grief that followed it immediately interrupted all the other news of the day.
Almost gone from the headlines was ISIL’s murderous campaign, Turkish air raids of Kurds in Iraq and Syria, change in Taliban leadership with Mullah Mohammed Omar’s death, the Palestinian toddler killed by Israeli settlers, and that’s just skimming through the usually bloody but limited and biased coverage of the Middle Eastern cauldron.
In the U.S., outrage provoked by the beloved feline’s killing has also managed to wipe from front covers the extremely rare indictment of a white police officer in the death of yet another unarmed black male. And divert speculation about the suspicions death of Sandra Bland, a black professional who hung herself in jail, following her arrest for a traffic violation.
Cecil’s death sent in fact such a powerful shockwave around the world that many decried it, on the assumption that people care more about animals than the preventable killing of innocent humans singled out for their race or social status.
But even if there’s some truth to that – after all, advocates say, animals would never be accused of a crime against humans -, such misperception is less about a supposed ranking of species with, you guessed it, us on top, than with the seemingly insurmountable precariousness of sustaining momentum for discussing race relations in the U.S. now or ever.
Specially when combined with the leeway law enforcement agents enjoy to make life and death decisions, shortcomings of their psychological training, centuries of racial injustice and, of course, the gun issue, arguably another non starter.
Two other issues, both converged under the general bracket of cruelty against animals, got bonus mileage on the back of Cecil’s headless carcass, and we’re not corroborating threats to the Minnesota dentist by the ever agreeable Internet trolls.
One, the rapid expanding endangered species list, Continue reading

Space Droppings

The High-Speed Junk Our
Dreams Left Above Earth

Look at that sky above you. See how the stars are bright tonight. Think about the immensity of the universe, quasars and nebulae, waiting to awe you, just beyond the reach of your fingers. And be careful with the falling debris of thousands of objects man placed on Earth’s orbit.
That’s right. We can’t seem to live without producing many times as much as we’re capable of consuming. And just like the oceans, all that floating garbage is choking us. Or, in the case of space, either falling often over our heads or racing around the planet at top speed.
So, hail poets and philosophers and astronomers and dreamers. But also, hail the new class of space cleaners that will have to be trained and sent to do what janitors have been doing since time immemorial, besides taking the blame for their bosses’ crimes: cleaning after us.
The U.S., and as a distant second, Russia (as in former Soviet Union), are by far the biggest producers of space junk around. But neophyte China‘s also doing its part, as it launched this week a monitoring center to protect its over 130 space objects in orbit.
Other countries are concerned too. A month ago, Japan announced that it’s studying the possibility of laser-blasting, Star Wars-style, all that junk out of existence, probably from the International Space Station itself. Just imagine George Lucas losing his sleep over this.
But theirs is only a slightly more sophisticated idea that’s been tried before, with disastrous results. We’ve covered that a few years ago. Then as now, there were few reasons Continue reading