Monthly Archives: October 2014

“…time has ticked a heaven round the stars.”

Dylan Thomas born 100 years ago this week.

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art


Some Doctors Have More Borders Than Others


White docs and nurses returning from Ebola countries are getting a crash course in how blacks are treated in this country. Go save lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone or Liberia and you come back here as an honorary West African. Your temperature gets taken by some airport baggage handler, and Gov. Christie locks you in a tent in a hospital parking lot with a port-a-potty and little heat. Volunteers anyone?

Yes, of course I understand the necessity for strong measures in the face of an active case of the illness, but this nurse had no symptoms, not even an elevated temperature once she was removed from the airless airport back room where she was held and questioned for hours and became flushed and sweaty. And if there was that much concern, why was she not sent to Emory or Nebraska where facilities are in place until her situation was sorted out?


The Economist Backtracks

How is it even possible that such an atrocity made it past all sorts of editors at The Economist, out the door, and onto the news stands?

2JnpHjUo_400x400Editor’s note

Our withdrawn review “Blood cotton”

Sep 4th 2014
Apology: In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil. We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We have therefore withdrawn the review, but in the interests of transparency the text remains available only on this special page and appears below.


“ FOR sale: a coloured girl, of very superior qualifications…a bright mulatto, fine figure, straight, black hair, and very black eyes; very neat and cleanly in her dress and person.” Such accounts of people being marketed like livestock punctuate Edward Baptist’s grim history of the business of slavery.

Although the import of African slaves into the United States was stopped in 1807, the country’s internal slave trade continued to prosper and expand for a long time afterwards. Right up until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the American-born children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans were bought cheap in Virginia and Maryland to be sold dear in private deals and public auctions to cotton planters in the deep South.

Tall men commanded higher prices than short ones. Women went for less than men. The best bids were for men aged 18 to 25 and for women aged 15 to 22. One slave recalled buyers passing up and down the lines at a Virginia slave auction, asking, “What can you do? Are you a good cook? Seamstress? Dairy maid?” and to the men, “Can you plough? Are you a blacksmith?” Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters.

Raw cotton was America’s most valuable export. It was grown and picked by black slaves. So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses “the traditional explanations” for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.

Take, for example, the astonishing increases he cites in both cotton productivity and cotton production. In 1860 a typical slave picked at least three times as much cotton a day as in 1800. In the 1850s cotton production in the southern states doubled to 4m bales and satisfied two-thirds of world consumption. By 1860 the four wealthiest states in the United States, ranked in terms of wealth per white person, were all southern: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of “calibrated pain”. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, “The Slave Trade”; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their “hands” ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

Thug Kitchen Cookbook Thumbs Down!

Thugs Gotta Eat, But This Is Ridiculous


Image source: theplanetdaniel

The recipes are mundane, but the white authors’ racist stereotypes and insults are hair-raising. Think about it for a moment: How is this funny or a good idea? With spicy language, as with spice when cooking, it’s good to know when enough is enough.

Call me persnickety, but I’m put off by the word “shit” repeated throughout a recipe or other discussion of something I’m planning to eat. Which raises a larger point, these are some tin-eared white folks when in comes to black English (and certainly not all are). They have a remarkably limited vocabulary and zero gift for improvisation. Profane does not equal black. It doesn’t even equal Thug. Sharing food should be a bonding, empathetic, joyful experience. This book is  is mocking and exploitative.

No Pumpkins, No Peace. Looting Lacoste

Keene, New Hampshire, Pumpkinfest riot. Just kids being kids. Ruffians, not thugs. No risk of being shot dead. No armored vehicle police battalions — pepper spray, tear gas and some arrests. White privilege at its finest.



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Admitting to Nerdgasm Here

From the Open Culture Site


Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate

21 Years Ago Today Toni Morrison Received The Nobel Prize for Literature. 10343017_10152109245264058_8664006753028362288_n

A FEW years before that, I organized a program in her honor at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston, when she came to town to receive an honorary degree at Harvard. I was the curator at the Meeting House, and was able to arrange Toni Morrison’s visit thanks to her close friend, Florence Ladd.

There was a line of people around the block. Camille Cosby was there, sociologist Kenneth Clark, other notables. We ran out of space and sadly had to turn some away; fortunately we made a video. Morrison said she would be pleased to attend, but that she would be too tired, after all the Harvard events that day, to make any remarks beyond acknowledging the gathering. So we had a symposium on the raised podium area with excellent talks by Marcia Lloyd, Clyde Taylor, and others.

I gave the welcome, and Museum board chairman, the late Henry Hampton, spoke. I also made that the occasion for the donation of a signed first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s poems. It had originally been offered to Morrison, but I lobbied for it to go to the Museum and she VERY graciously agreed. Student intern, Kelly Stupple, received the volume for the collection.

AND THEN: when Morrison came forward to deliver the few words we expected, she went to the podium, said how moved she was by the evening, and that she would like to read something she was working on (!). She read for about ten gorgeous minutes. Followed by an extended standing ovation, of course. The feeling in the room was wonderfully festive and congenial.

Some months later, when I read her new book as soon as it came out, I discovered, along with others, that we had the incredible honor of hearing the beautiful final section of “JAZZ” as it was still coming into being.