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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* The Journey
* Floating Enigmas
* Second Variety

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Pregnant Times

A Pi for Einstein
& Marielle Franco

Three important dates are marked today: Albert Einstein’s birth, he of the theory of relativity, in 1879; the Number Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, since 1988; and the murder of Rio councilwoman, and race and LGBT activist, Marielle Franco, a year ago.
Such events have little connection among them, but understanding each for its relevance help us get to know better the world we live in. Or rather, beyond champagne and cake, today could be suitable for a bit of soul searching as for why we are in the state we are in.
Number coincidences, to be sure, are mainly illusions our brains create for forming connections otherwise hard to notice by busybodies like us. Most times, the law of probabilities and statistics debunk claims of supernatural occurrences based on figures or even random events.
That being said, we’re consumed by possibilities they suggest to our overstimulated, and easily bored, existences. It’s enough to see, say, the same number appearing in a seemingly casual succession, for us to lose it, read it as a divine sign, or simply go buy a lottery ticket.
Gamblers blame their obsession to their automatic response to digits, and dare not to imply that luck, usually bad for everyone, has nothing to do with numeric values. Because, well, some of them, do strike rich every once in a while. People are just nuts for numbers.

THE POET OF LOGICAL IDEAS
Einstein, born 140 years ago in the then German Empire, had a peripatetic life. He renounced his country of birth, and spent five years as a stateless scientist. In 1933, while visiting the U.S. already as a Swiss citizen, he saw Hitler‘s ascent to power and decided to stay.
It’s also ironic that, while his research opened the door for the atomic era, which he personally urged Americans to join, later in life he co-signed the 1955 Einstein-Russell Manifesto, along philosopher Bertrand Russell, to this day, a monument to pacifism and an alert about nukes.
For science, Relativity was his biggest legacy, with implications in practically all fields of knowledge. To us, though, he is the benign-looking white-haired man with his tongue stuck out, in the famous pic by UPI photographer Arthur Sasse, taken 68 years ago today.
Millions of teenagers had that photo on their wall in the 1960s, together with Make Love, Not War signs, the Beatles, and other heroes of the era. Just like now, few could define Relativity, but most knew what Einstein stood for til the end: the dignity of the human experience.
He’s one of the 20th century’s figures that made his the world we all live in now. His sway over science and the culture seems boundless, and will certainly last. Less certain is whether his influence is still strong enough to convince mankind to opt for peace.

SO WHY SQUARING A CIRCLE?
It’s understandable that Egyptians made the first calculations about the circle’s diameter so early on in our recorded history. And that Greek mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse perfected that figure to what we now know to be 3.141592653589793238 (and counting).
After all, it was already known that heavenly bodies were round – even as the concept of nationality was still very fluid – and the circle is considered the most primitive of human inventions. ‘Don’t disturb my circles,‘ though, Archimedes‘ alleged last words, not so much.
William Jones is credited to picking the Greek letter P to name the diameter, in 1706. But only in 1988, the American scientific (more)
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* Albert’s Pie
* In a Relative Way
* American Pi

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Faulty Towers

That Time I Agreed
With Donald Trump

Like at least an arguably 100 million Americans, and countless around the world, I too am embarrassed and horrified by the ghastly, and tasteless, Donald Trump for President circus. When, and how, will it all end? To be honest, though, I never liked the guy.
But there was a moment, and it’s no wonder that it was one of the darkest in recent history, when I agreed with this ogre. Who for all I know, would likely squash me like a Manhattan cockroach, if given a chance, or care about it. Fortunately we never met.
As for what’s not too like about a white, rich bully who made his fortune in the most undignified way – inherited by his equally despised dad -, and whose business acumen can be measured by four multimillion dollar bankruptcies, it shouldn’t really be up to discussion. ​
Hey, for all it’s worth, we don’t really know he’s as rich as he boasts, and compared to all other lies he’s been telling, some uglier than others but still, all lies, the claim of being a billionaire may be reality only under his fading orangutan-orange hair.
I’m not being original here. Most New Yorkers have hated Trump since the time the Twin Towers were being built, and his daddy Fred was giving him the keys to the family loot. And if you didn’t dislike him before, you do now with his gag-inducing media coverage.

A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON
Sure, Woody Guthrie wrote ‘Old Man Trump,’ about his slumlord father. But in these witless times, we can see not even Bob Dylan, for one, coming up with something, even if full of contempt, that wouldn’t be misappropriated and wind up adding to the cult of Don.
The man has made a point in appearing vile through the years even in photo-ops, and while adding his name to the facade of mediocre buildings and shady casinos, he’s also been pictured next to quite a morally questionable bunch too. Just Google it.
But there was that moment, and again, I’m not alone in it, when reality was so punishing that at least briefly, bent everyone’s perception of it. And I agreed with the creep. That was 9/11, but hold it before hating me for linking it with his name.
In the weeks, then months, and then years after the attacks, all one could hear was, ‘rebuild,’ start over, erect something that would show the bastards that they had accomplished nothing. (more)
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* Of Birds & Beams

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John & Poe

October & the City Link
the Walrus & the Raven

Edgar Allan Poe (d. Oct. 7, 1849, Boston) and John Lennon (b. Oct.9, 1940, Liverpool) would’ve likely enjoyed each other’s company. One could even picture them sharing a coffee in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from where they both lived briefly in New York.
Sharing a certain sensibility, they’ve twisted rules and noses with their talent and non-conformism. While Poe’s genius was acknowledged mostly after death, Lennon’s was still shaping his own times when life was brutally taken away from him. Despite their enormous sway over our era, they’ve both died at 40.
Their status as two of the world’s most recognized pop icons often obscures the depth of their art and endurance of their legacy. And maybe their irresistible appeal owes more to a contemporary deficit of revolutionary artists than to their particular take on human expression.
Or it may be that we’re so desperate to find paradigms upon which to pile our frustration about the world, that a walking wound such as Poe, or a talking head like Lennon, may offer the conduit we seek to connect and placate our own shortcomings. Just like it ever was.
They couldn’t help it but being such tragic heroes, either, with terrible upbringings and disturbing deaths to boot. But that’s when shallow similarities between the two begin to falter, and no longer serve us to rescue their relevance out of the amber it’s been encased.
THE MESMERIC & THE MAUDIT
Poe, who lived in three separate places in Greenwich Village, New York City, before moving to a farmhouse uptown where he wrote The Raven at age 36, is the only American writer routinely mentioned along the French poètes maudits.
The Paul Verlaine-concocted term encapsulated the romantic ideal of the artist as a tragic hero, not suited to this world, who inevitably self-immolates. We won’t get into how flawed and self-indulgent it is such notion, but the literature the group produced transcended it all.
Perhaps the best known among those poets was Charles Baudelaire, who championed, translated and wrote essays about Poe, (more)
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* Murder & Unkindness
* Hallowed Ground
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