Epithets and Implicatures, and History as Damage Control

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I haven’t been monitoring the controversy about the Washington football team that closely for awhile now, but the topic hasn’t entirely escaped my attention. This morning, I took a moment to scan the old Redskinsfacts website, which is a case-study in double-speak if there ever was one. That hasn’t changed.

…either.

One thing I find fascinating and revolting in equal measures is the way the site uses the work of a linguist, Ives Goddard, in defense of the team’s name, If you click on the option to “Get the facts” on the home page of the “Redskins Facts” website, you will be taken to another page telling you about the history of the name. Near as I can tell, that page hasn’t changed in awhile. Here is a screenshot of that history as it is now on 4/19/18:

Screenshot 2018-04-19 12.19.54

With just three items, this is a brief history to be sure, but the omissions aren’t entirely a function of brevity. What they leave out here is every bit as important as what they choose to tell us. Taking their bullet points in reverse order:

Notice they tell us that when the team came into being four players and the head coach “identified themselves as Native Americans.” This wording was carefully chosen to promote a common team legend without actually claiming that legend is true. Defenders of the team name commonly tell us that the team was named after a Native American (William “Lone Star” Dietz). It’s not at all clear that the team name was ever meant to honor him, but more importantly, Dietz’s claims to Native American heritage are questionable at best, having come under intense scrutiny when Dietz stood trial for evading the draft during World War I. The folks at Redskinsfacts.com know very well that team fans team defenders still cite the story of Lonestar Dietz in defense of the team name. Telling us that Dietz claimed a Native American identity enables them to promote that story without actually making any false claims on the topic themselves. So, I guess it’s not an outright lie. More like, a cowardly equivocation.

The second bullet point in this ‘history’ is simply off topic (and rather vague). That prominent native leadership of the 19th century, have referred to themselves as ‘redskins’ does not establish that the term is not now or at any other time free of pejorative implications. Resting as it does in this simple, narrative the claim that some of them have done so does nothing to tell us how they felt about the term or why they came to use it. It doesn’t even enable us to sort which ones called themselves ‘red men’ and which ones called themselves ‘redskins’. It doesn’t address problems of translation. It really doesn’t establish anything except for the sloppy thought process of the website administrator. He’d have to answer a few questions before we could even get to the ‘so what?’ part of the conversation. Or we could just skip to the chase, I suppose.

So what?

The first point in the pseudo-history of the team name is the one that interests me the most. Defenders of the name will often cite Goddard’s article as proof that the term in question is not an insult. (Seriously, I’ve long since lost track of the number of people that have done this,) I always ask them if they have actually read the article. Often that seems to be the end of the conversation. When these folks do tell me they’ve read the article, I ask them if they’ve read the last line in the article. To date, none have answered that question. So, what is the last line in Goddard’s article?

The descent of this word into obloquy is a phenomenon of more recent times.

My point is of course that Goddard didn’t write an article telling us that the term in question is not an insult. He wrote an article telling us that it did not begin as an insult, which is an entirely different claim. It isn’t entirely clear from Goddard’s piece just how he would account for the present significance of the term, but he is very clear on the fact that his own work does not actually address that question. So, the article should leave us with a full stop right around the 1830s. Goddard helps us to understand the use of the term up to that point, and he doesn’t have much to say about anything after that.

Goddard’s work is interesting for a number of reasons, but it doesn’t tell us much about what the term means today, or even what it meant by the end of the 19th century. He does take issue with the claims of at least some modern activists, Susan Shown Harjo being among them, but he himself points out that rejecting her claims about the origin of the term does not prove that many Native Americans find the term objectionable in the present time (p.1). I think Goddard does a pretty good job of showing that Harjo and others have been wrong about the origins of the term, leaving the rest of the case against the team name largely untouched by his article. The correction seems a bit one-sided to me, but at least Goddard has been clear about the limits of his own work on the subject. If he has published anything addressing the later history of the term or correcting any of team’s misuse of his work, I am not aware of it. (If anyone does know of such a response, I would very much appreciate a reference.)

So, why is Goddard’s work the first thing Redskinsfacts.com cites in their history of the term? Well they have to know that many people equate the origin of a term (or at least our earliest known account of it) with its contemporary meaning. This is called the etymological fallacy, and it’s an extraordinarily common mistake. So, they don’t really have to tell us the article proves the term is innocent; the folks at Redskinsfacts.com know very well that is what many of their fans will take away from their reference to the article. Citing Goddard and providing a link to his work enables them to strengthen the impression that the team name is innocent without actually going so far as to say that’s what Goddard has shown. They invite their readers to indulge in an etymological fallacy, just as they invite us to think of Lonestar Dietz as a Native American when he was likely an outright fraud. It’s fascinating to see how the site avoids making the false claims in question, even as they invite readers to infer those very claims from the one they do make.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t even the worst of it. Defense of the Washington football team has produced all manner of horribles over the years. This isn’t even the worst of it.

Still, it’s pretty damned deceitful.

And cowardly.

Djou Know Juneau?

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Well over a thousand miles separates Barrow from Juneau. It’s enough to make the place as different from Barrow as either place would be from much of the lower 48. I imagine many of my friends and family must themselves imagine the sights Moni and I have been enjoying here this last few days are common experiences. But we don’t have eagles in barrow, nor trees or mountains. We don’t have glaciers either, unless you count the whole ocean as a glacier for part of the year. (Jokes aside, I’m pretty sure that’s not how glaciers work.) Southeast Alaska is a truly beautiful place. It’s one we don’t often get to enjoy.

Still…

Travel happens!

***

This guy was a little ways off, which is why Moni and I weren’t immediately sure what we were looking at. I was busy snapping stills of this eagle with as much zoom as I could. Moni scooped me with a vid.

…the persistence of seagulls pays off.

A needlessly hurried spin around Mendenhall Lake.

 

…and a short photo gallery (click to embiggen):

Irony Ain’t Erasure, Not Even in a Song

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Got any guilty pleasures?

Accident only knows, I sure do. Some of my favorites involve song lyrics. Don’t get me wrong here; there are plenty of off-color lyrics that I wouldn’t think twice about. Sexual innuendo, irreverence toward religious or political figures, or foul language? Unless these themes are just done badly, they won’t bother me in the slightest, and if they are done badly, then they aren’t a pleasure at all, much less a guilty one.

What I’m talking about here are lyrics that really do strike me as evoking a definite sense of wrong. It would be a little easier if my sense of aesthetics were completely amoral, but the truth is that I do sometimes react to art in moral terms. There are songs that I reject precisely because I find their content morally objectionable. Still, there are times when I like a song despite a few moral qualms about the lyrics, and maybe even a few that I like because of them. I don’t think I’m that I’m unusual in this regard. I expect most people could name a few such songs among their favorites, even as most people could name a song or three they don’t like on account of moral objections. If this isn’t inconsistency, the rationale behind the pattern isn’t entirely obvious. Sometimes we care, and sometimes we don’t.

…and sometimes the whole thing just gets a little uncomfortable.

One index of this discomfort would seem to be the lengths to which people will go to deny the problem altogether. Luckily, music fans don’t always have to do this on our own. The artists are often willing to help us find a way around the moral implications of an awkward lyric.

What has me thinking about this is a variety of efforts to explain away an offensive lyric by calling attention to its ironic usage. The problem is interesting enough at face value, but what fascinates me is the number of artists who seem to think an ironic usage means we can forget the baseline meaning altogether.

***

Case in point?

Remember that old Guns N’ Roses song, “One in a Million.” The song purportedly tells the story of Axl Rose’s arrival in Los Angeles. Fresh off the bus, and full of himself, Axl treats us to a range of prejudiced reactions to various people in L.A. scene. The song contains at least a hint of self-criticism, but it doesn’t do much to qualify the barrage of bigotry already present in the song. It was quite possible to see the song as a story about his past, but it wasn’t clear from the song just how much it reflected his current views. Axl’s explanation of the lyrics didn’t actually make things any easier. Asked about the offensive lyrics, Rose seemed to express a kind of ambivalence over the matter. He wouldn’t say that they reflected his actual views, but he didn’t quite disclaim them either. Perhaps that was honest. It was also disturbing.

What sticks in my mind most about the controversy was a particular account Rose gave to Rolling Stone Magazine. Asked about the line; “Police and niggers, that’s right/Get outta my way/Don’t need to buy none/ Of your gold chains today,” Rose had the following to say;

I used words like police and niggers because you’re not allowed to use the word nigger. Why can black people go up to each other and say, “Nigger,” but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it’s a big putdown? I don’t like boundaries of any kind. I don’t like being told what I can and what I can’t say. I used the word nigger because it’s a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn’t necessarily mean black. Doesn’t John Lennon have a song “Woman Is the Nigger of the World”? There’s a rap group, N.W.A., Niggers With Attitude. I mean, they’re proud of that word. More power to them. Guns n’ Roses ain’t bad . . . N.W.A. is baaad! Mr. Bob Goldthwait said the only reason we put these lyrics on the record was because it would cause controversy and we’d sell a million albums. Fuck him! Why’d he put us in his skit? We don’t just do something to get the controversy, the press.

The quote contains all manner of sketchy rationalizations. The one that interests me here is the notion that the term could be viewed as race neutral, that it could mean just about anyone who is ‘basically a pain in your life’. It’s a fascinating gambit, one that’s still rather popular with casual racists. But the pretense doesn’t quite work. You could choose to apply it to a limited range of black people. You could even apply the word to someone who isn’t black. And yes, African-Americans can use these words too, and yes again, that seems to mean something rather different than it does when the rest of us use it. So, yes, you could certainly use the word in ways that don’t quite equate to a racial category. What you can’t really do is erase the history behind the word, or pretend that any other meaning you care to associate with the word is somehow divorced from that history. No. Whatever odd or ironic significance Axl Rose or anybody else may attach to the term in question, that significance is built on the very racial significance that he (and so many others) hope to deny. You can build on such meaning, but you can’t escape it.

***

Prodigy tried a similar maneuver in explaining their song, “Smack My Bitch Up.” Like Guns N’ Roses, they seemed to explain their song in a variety of ways. At least one of these included an effort to suggest that anyone interpreting the song title as a reference to domestic abuse (or perhaps that of a pimp beating a prostitute) was missing the point entirely. It was actually, so they suggested, a reference to “doing anything intensely.” You could imagine the phrase as a general reference to intensity, but if that’s where they were going, they got there through an allusion to violence. Maybe that’s a deal-breaker for anyone listening to the song, and maybe it isn’t. Fair enough, but what doesn’t work is to pretend the phrase isn’t referencing a violent act. It is.

***

When I recently stumbled into Banjo Odyssey by The Dead South, I thought surely the band had been going for pure shock value. With allusions to incest, violence, possibly rape, and still more incest, I couldn’t imagine any interpretation of the song that didn’t involve all kinds of wrongitude. It should of course come as no surprise that the band received from flack for the song. Their response was to produce the following statement on their Facebook page:

 

ATTENTION EVERYONE: We would just like to clear the air over some recent online discussion concerning our song, “Banjo Odyssey”. There have been a number of people concerned that the song is about rape, and that the song condones non-consensual sex. We would like to take a moment to explain the song to anyone who has been hurt or offended.

The song is written as a narrative. It is a story about two cousins who engage in a relationship, and are trying to escape their family, who is not O.K. with the relationship. The lyrics were meant as a satirical, tongue-in-cheek reference to our own genre; playing on the inbred-hillbilly stereotype often brought to mind when one thinks of bluegrass music.

We sincerely apologize to anyone who has been hurt or offended by these lyrics, as the last thing we would want to do is offend anyone. We make music because we love to, and as anyone who has seen our live show knows, we try not to take ourselves too seriously; we like to laugh, dance, and have fun and the song was written in jest.

Obviously, we do not condone rape or violence, and “Banjo Odyssey” (like many of our songs) is written as a story, and not as something to be taken literally.

Nate, Colton, Scott, and Danny

I still can’t decide just how much that explains and how much it doesn’t. It certainly helps to put the central theme of incest in a sensible story-line, but does that explain pulling the girl out by her hair? And what is the whole thing about going faster? I can’t help thinking the song is inviting us to savor the prospect of the girl’s discomfort in that particular moment. If it isn’t the allusion to rape that some took it to be, they have certainly traveled well down the path toward such an implication.

So, the song is meant a tongue-in-cheek parody. Got it! But how was this ever supposed to be inoffensive? I’m almost inclined to take that line from the statement as a deliberate barb in itself, because I cannot imagine any take on this song that isn’t built around the intentional discomfort inflicted on the audience. That the song means to play with that discomfort, and not to inflict real harm, seems clear enough to me. I could even add that I enjoy the song, but then again, I’ve never faced any of these themes in any meaningful sense. It’s a kind of privilege to be able to think of such things as fodder for humor. I can do that easily enough, myself, but what I can’t do is pretend a song like this doesn’t contain material that would be genuinely hurtful to some people. How that shapes any particular person’s response to such a song is an interesting question, but once again, I think it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend the offensiveness isn’t really there, or that it isn’t a significant feature of the song.

***

It isn’t just bad boys that give us music to take to the confessional. The song Kiss with a Fist by Florence and the Machine is a really catchy tune with a really violent theme, at least if you think songs about hitting people, breaking their bones, and even setting fire to a bed come across as violent.

…but not according to Florence.

I’m quoting this from Wiki, but apparently the statement originally appeared on the Myspace page for the band:

“Kiss with a Fist” is NOT a song about domestic violence.

It is about two people pushing each other to psychological extremes because they are fighting but they still love each other. The song is not about one person being attacked, or any actual physical violence, there are no victims in this song. Sometimes the love two people have for each other is a destructive force. But they can’t have it any other way, because it’s what holds them together, they enjoy the drama and pushing each other’s buttons. The only way to express these extreme emotions is with extreme imagery, all of which is fantasism and nothing in the song is based on reality.

Leona Lewis‘s “Bleeding Love” isn’t actually about her bleeding and this song isn’t actually about punching someone in the mouth.”[

Once again, I think I get it. Hell, I even love it. This song is about intensity; it is about reckless passion, and it’s a damned compelling song precisely because it conveys that intensity very well. What doesn’t work is to pretend that violence didn’t play a vital role in achieving that sense of intensity. It clearly did. This song too, may use disturbing content to achieve something interesting, perhaps even wonderful, but the disturbing content is certainly there. Some of us can enjoy the Hell out of it, but I suspect it’s a little easier for those of us who have never had to worry about getting beaten by someone we love.

***

So, where am I going with all this? Maybe nowhere. I actually like all these songs, and many with far more disturbing messages than these. Suffice to say that I’m not in the habit of policing musical taste, but there is something challenging in the way that irony skews each of these tunes, something the artists themselves have trouble explaining, at least outside the context of a performance.

None of these tunes actually advocate the views or actions expressed within them, but each plays with objectionable content in ways that at least some listeners are likely to find a bit too much. Pressed on the issue, the artists (or perhaps in some cases their management teams) each tried a bit too hard to backtrack out of their musical beds. Each has tried at some point or another to deny the central motif of their songs, which is a shame.

It’s a shame to see people work so hard to erase some of their work, at least in the narratives they tell outside their performances. It’s a shame, partly because it’s worth remembering we aren’t all uniformly sensitive to such things. One man’s guilty pleasure can easily be his girlfriend’s time to leave the room (guilty as charged). It’s also a shame, because it’s a denial of the something valuable in the songs themselves. Such music isn’t innocent, and that’s part of its appeal. If there is anything good about these songs (and I do realize that’s debatable), then that good thing is somehow built around all the disturbing themes contained in them.

We all have some guilty pleasures. Hell, sometimes we may not even have genuinen cause to feel all that guilty about them. Sometimes, an artist can wring something really positive out of disturbing material. Sometimes they fall a bit short of that and still end up giving us something enjoyable. Either way, there is no sense kidding ourselves about the matter.

…or about what we are listening to.

 

Self-Awareness and Internet Dating Profiles

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I can’t really remember when I created my first profile on a dating website. It’s been a very long time since I was active on any them. What I do remember was how conflicted I was about doing it, and how that made every step of the sign-up process really irritating. When my chosen username kept coming up as already used, and adding digits didn’t seem to help, the result was a username that reflected my irritation. (No, I’m not posting it here.) I told myself I would change the name later, but I forgot. Soon, the first question I received from any women I contacted was about the name. For a time, I entertained the notion of changing it, but I soon realized something. The women I actually connected with found the name humorous. Those who didn’t like the name weren’t going to stick around long anyway. So, if my sarcastic username was a deal-breaker, it was probably just as well that the deal was broken anyway. It was a useful lesson, one that served me well, I think.

Another lesson, I don’t think I really got at the time was just why I found the whole thing so irritating to begin with. Oh, there can be lots of reasons to be nervous about dating sites (or dating in any context), but at least one of them would be this, it’s hard to tell people about yourself. Really hard! Of course, doing so for the purpose of making a personal connection ups the stress level considerably. So, in retrospect I really think a good deal of my discomfort was probably normal. Internet dating begins with a whole bunch of writing, writing about yourself, and that is bound to make people uncomfortable.

It’s been a long time since I’ve scanned the pages of any dating sites, and even longer since I did so for reasons other than idle (possibly morbid) curiosity, but a few of those thoughts that formed in those odd days of trying to find a match are still with me. I could tell a few horror stories. Hell, I’m probably featured in a few horror stories myself! More to the point, I keep reflecting on all those profiles from back in the day. They were an education of sorts. I may or may not have gotten the lesson right, but whatever it’s worth, I thought I’d share a few observations on those profiles.

Note: Just about all of my observations would relate to the early 2000s, which is when I was on these sites. If things on the net-dating scene are now different, well then get off my lawn anyhow! (Age happens.) Hell, I don’t even know if people are still doing this. I think so. Anyway…

First and foremost, it’s hard to escape the notion that most dating profiles aren’t all that accurate. Most seem to see this as a reflection of dishonesty, and I can certainly think of a few women who may have deliberately misrepresented a thing or two on their profiles. Mostly , I think the problem is a bit deeper than that. The vast majority of us (both men and women) aren’t all that sure how to describe ourselves. We may have a notion or two in mind, but these rarely stand up to scrutiny. If someone describes themselves as ‘outgoing’, they probably have a vision of a certain kind of context in which they really will be outgoing. What they don’t think about is the many contexts which will find them sitting in the corner quietly. That’s not even all that much of a problem for most people, not until they meet someone who thinks they are outgoing because they specifically said they were on a profile designed to help you figure out whether or not you want to meet them in the first place. Thus, ordinary human frailty comes to look like outright deception. Now multiply this by countless other descriptive themes and you have plenty of cause for suspicion, frustration, and general noncallbackalation.

The pattern that always stood out for me was pretty simple; time and again, I found that women had not described themselves in their profiles so much as an idealized version of the person they wanted to be. I really don’t know if men do that same thing on these sites (or if we have some completely different and possibly more irritating quirk), but I certainly saw this self-idealization in a good number of the women I met. In particular, I remember someone who had one of the most positive profiles I’d ever read. I’m not normally a sucker for warm and fuzzy sentiments, but I couldn’t help smiling when I read this woman’s profile, and it wasn’t just the ten-year old photo. She really seemed to capture a sense of what it meant to wake-up with hope and carry that hope with her all day. A few weeks after we began making phone calls, I found myself thinking this person complains more than anyone I know. Hell, she complained more than I do! (…and that IS saying something.) She wasn’t the sunny positive person in her own profile. If anything, she was chronically depressed, and probably had been all of her life. None of the positive themes in her profile made it into any of her communications with me. So, had she lied? I don’t think so. I think that bright and happy source of positive energy she put in her profile was what she truly wanted to be. That she wasn’t that happy person was sad, and I found the difference rather jarring, but I could never really hold it against her. Like so many others, she had imagined herself in terms of aspiration.

The gap between our own character and that we hope to have can be a problem, but how much of a problem it is varies. Some people have a constructive relationship with their ideals. It shapes their actions in meaningful ways, and they seem at least to move toward those ideas over the course of their lives. Others have long since relegated their idealized self to a kind of fantasy life. They don’t even hope to achieve that version of themselves, and they cannot even begin to think about what it would take to become a little more of what they would like to be. Here, I’m thinking of a woman who billed herself as a writer in her profile. She was working on her life story. When she shared the first page of that story, it contained more grammatical errors than I could count, to say nothing of poor stylistic choices, vague word choice, and a generally incoherent narrative line. Hell, I make plenty of mistakes in my own writing. So, I try not to cast too many stones. Her response to polite suggestions told me everything I needed to know about her project. She couldn’t even begin to grasp questions about how to tell her story. Spelling and grammar were beneath consideration, and she didn’t get any considerations about stylistic choices. In her mind, that story was so compelling that she didn’t need to worry about the craft of telling it. Anyone who might bother her with such things clearly didn’t get it.

…and I didn’t.

Really.

Yes, the world is full of wanna-be writers (guilty as charged), but this one wasn’t even on the case, so to speak. Her idealized self wasn’t even an ambition. It was an indulgence. Like the depressive woman with a sunny profile, I could hardly blame this lady, though I did think for awhile about what it said about her approach to life. Being a writer for her was about getting away from the daily struggles of life, a chance to imagine herself as someone else for awhile, someone with more to show for all her struggles than she had at that time. To actually take seriously the task of writing her life story would make that too into a struggle. As much as she needed to be writing a book, she needed that writing to be free of hard labor. And thus, the appearance of a lifelong ambition within her profile turned out to be a lot closer to naming her favorite television show. Sometimes profiles are like that; information just shows up in the wrong places under the wrong labels.

One thing that came to jump out at me more and more over time was the number of pointless descriptions that never seemed worth reading. So many lay claim to being open minded, down to earth, and intelligent in these profiles. Almost everyone tells you they have a good sense of humor, even a great one. It gets frustrating to read such things, especially when the rest of the profile contains absolutely no hint of any of these qualities. When you see counter-indications, the whole thing just gets sad.

Somewhere along the line, I recall going through my own profile and taking out any the direct descriptions of my own character. I don’t think I included many of these claims to begin with, but I do remember making a conscious effort to get rid of any that I might have been boring enough to write in the first place. I figured the old writing idiom that you should show people instead of telling them also made a good rule of thumb for dating profiles. If you want someone to know you have a good sense of humor crack a joke. To show that you can appreciate humor, explain what you like about your favorite comedy. Want someone to think you’re intelligent. Tell them what you think about something important to you. As to down to earth and open minded? …I got no suggestion for these cliches, other than simply dropping them. The point, is that people will decide for themselves whether or not you are smart, good looking, humorous, or anything else. It just doesn’t work to tell them these things.  So, just like you put your best picture in a profile in the hopes someone will find you attractive enough to want to chat, I reckon you do the same for character. You put things in the profile to display the character you hope you really do have. Whether or not that works will be a judgement your prospects make for themselves.

…which of course brings us back to the first problem, knowing yourself. It really is the tricky part to these profiles. I don’t say this in order to set up internet dating as a voyage of self-discovery. (Blech!) Really, I think the lesson here is a lot closer to a kind of humility. Most (probably all) of us don’t really know ourselves all that well. This is another reason to be a little restrained about your own self-descriptions. It’s also a reason to be a little compassionate when you discover the difference between the profile and the person you are actually meeting. That difference is going to be there. So, I at least tried not to be too harsh when I noticed it. That probably applies to a few other contexts as well.

***

It should go without saying that none of my comments here should be taken in the spirit of authority. Like many I found internet dating to be a rather frustrating experience (which, I suppose, makes it an awful lot like ‘regular’ dating’). I met a few women this way whose presence in my life was a genuinely positive experience, but the majority of contacts were disappointing to at least one of us. So, these aren’t the pro-tips of a champion internet dater, not by any means. They are just the observations of a rather awkward fellow who happened to do this for awhile.

***

A couple random observations:

  • When speaking to women about their profile pics, I found an awful lot of them favored one of their least attractive pictures. If there was a pic that I particularly liked, it was often one she was thinking about deleting. There is probably an interesting lesson in there about self-perception and physical beauty, but I wouldn’t be too quick to suggest it applies to women only. In my case, the pic I liked the best (or hated the least) was the one that almost cost me a few replies. Some pic I hardly thought twice about was usually the one they liked. Guess maybe it’s hard to tell what others really find attractive about yourself.
  • It’s easy enough to see that people may not want to meet too quickly. Lots of reasons to take it easy! In time, I realized that meeting up too late could be an issue as well. Actually, the process of meeting seemed to involve a few stages; a transition to email, another transition to phone conversations, and finally a meeting with perhaps a second and so on. Anyway, I think the transition to phone and then to actually meeting can come too late. The issue here is imagination. You just can read too many messages before imagining all the rest. You fill in your sense of the other person with a voice, a sense of body language, intonation patterns, etc. In the context of dating, this too gets filled with hope. So, if you’re not careful, the person you meet won’t be able to compete with the one you’ve imagined while messaging back and forth. …and of course, visa versa.
  • Kids are fine, but they don’t belong on the first date. …and you will probably regret making an exception. (At least I did.)
  • People often make multiple contacts on dating sites, partly because most contacts come to nothing. If someone stops responding, there is a good chance that they have begun seeing someone in real life. That may sting, but it probably shouldn’t. More to the point, the transition to actual dating is full of hazards. So, if you wait a week or two, there is a good chance that things will have already gone south and she may be free again. She may even be wondering how to re-initiate. Whether or not that is a prospect worth following depends on a lot of variables, but sometimes it’s worth considering.
  • Lots of people put way too much stock in personality tests.
  • Shirt off and/or posing with guns or weights may work on some women, but the ones I met sure did spend a lot of time griping (and laughing) about men with that in their profile.
  • I figured it was always best to meet in public for an event planned to take an hour (lunch, dinner, or drinks work just fine). Optimism regarding a first meeting should take the form of leaving time open afterwards, NOT committing yourself to spend hours together at some event from which neither of you can easily escape.
  • I once said to one date; “I can be nice to anyone for an hour.” The next woman I met put that claim to an awful test. …speaking of self-awareness!
  • I met a couple women who circumvented many of the problems mentioned above by letting someone else write their profiles for them. This might have injected a little more objectivity into the narratives, but in the long run, I don’t think it was helpful, because their descriptions didn’t carry their own voice. I just had to get that much further into an exchange with them before I gained a sense of their approach to things. …which may be an important lesson in itself. People don’t really learn about each other by collecting a set of facts about them; they do it by interacting, by seeing and hearing the other person in action. What you communicate yourself, or what others may say about you, will never be quite as important as how you say it, and that only works if you yourself are willing to be the one saying it.

 

 

Also Not a Contest: Slavery

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

It’s always been odd to me, seeing how the history of American slavery makes some of my fellow white people uncomfortable. You can see their discomfort in the various ways folks try to minimize the significance of slavery. Sometimes, it’s enough to put slavery in the past, to grant that it was an horrible crime, but to imagine that crime taking place so far in the remote past and so completely resolved with the official end of slavery in that remote past as to be completely free of any political implications today. It’s a bit like the gambit, folks often play with the history of Indian-white relations – all the horrors of the past can be acknowledged, at least in the abstract, so long as you can contain their significance within the history books (and preferably kept well away from any of the more recent chapters). At other times, folks seem to come up with more elaborate schemes to pare down the topic of slavery until it fits into their personal comfort zones.

When I was in college, this kind of pop-racism generally took the form of an argument that Africans started slavery. They did it too, maybe even first, so the argument would go, and of course there was (and is) an element of truth to these claims, but it’s a truth poorly served by its rhetorical packaging. It would be fair to say that slavery existed in Africa (as it did Europe, and indeed most of the world) prior to the founding of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Just how much those prior-forms of slavery explain the booming industry that would come is another question. All too often I used to hear people pushing this narrative and think they wanted far too much from the point than it would bear. What they wanted was a kind of absolution, a story that diminished the responsibility of Euro-American peoples for the tragedy of the slave trade. At the very least, they wanted to share the blame with some other groups.

And I always wondered why some of these people seemed to feel personally implicated in the matter? What do you get out of this, I would find myself asking? How does it help you if this story goes to the discredit of someone else’s ancestors? The answer, I think, is (predictably enough) racism. For those who see the world through the lens of race, the disgrace of their ancestors is a disgrace to them personally, and a case against the moral character of their own kind is a direct personal attack. I think this is also the key to common refrains about ‘white guilt’ and ‘liberal guilt’. I’ve never seen liberal politics as an expression of personal shame, but I do think some of our critics are incapable of seeing liberal politics in any other terms.  Such people cannot right the wrongs of the past or work to overcome inequalities in the present; they must instead demolish their own consciousness of those wrongs and rationalize any inequalities they see in the present. It’s the just world hypothesis at work in a racist mind.

In recent years, the pop-racist response to the history of American slavery seems to have evolved a bit. The latest trend seems to be countering stories about the enslavement of Africans with those about the enslavement of Irish men and women, but I should say the trend isn’t even that focused. Time and again you can see people show up with stories about Irish slavery in response to contemporary concerns about African-Americans. Write a blog post or tweet a quick message about police abuse of African-Americans in the present-day and somebody may well just show up to tell you about the history of Irish slavery. It’s as if the prospect of Irish slavery isn’t just a stock answer to any questions about the enslavement of Africans; some folks find it useful as an answer to questions about literally any injustice experienced by African-Americans today. Once again, there is a grain of truth to the narrative, and once again, those producing it clearly want more from the story than the facts of the matter will furnish them.

What proponents of the Irish slavery narratives are talking about is the practice of sending Irish men and women to the Americas under terms imposing temporary servitude upon them. Most of these were indentured servants who agreed to a term of service in exchange for passage, but at least some were prisoners whose terms of service were imposed upon them as a means of punishment.

Okay, so we know all this.

There was a time when perfectly liberal college professors were happy to spell out the horrible conditions of indentured servitude, along with the abuse of Irish in this and other contexts. I used to work with a professor who made quite a point to ensure students learned just how terribly indentured servants could be treated. None of this was part of a racist agenda, and none of it was leveraged against the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Far from fielding a rationale for minimizing the horrors of that slave trade, this was like the opening chapter of a long sequence on the horrors of the full slave trade that would come. Acknowledging both horrors (and many others) used to work just fine.

But that was then, this is now.

What is new? On the surface, what is new here is the use of the word ‘slavery’ to describe what was done to the Irish, but here as always the devil resides in the details. No, I am not linking to any of this literature, but proponents of the Irish slave narrative have worked hard to embellish every embelishible point; inflating numbers, adding stories about the defilement of white women forced to breed with African men, and of course complaining that liberals have hidden the trials of the Irish while pushing the trans-Atlantic narrative in order to keep African-Americans at the forefront of identity politics. With support from racist corners of the internet, some maintain the Irish story is greater in all respects. Who would deny it? Only a liberal, right?

Okay, I deny it.

More importantly, so do vast majority of historians doing work on the subject. Scholars have questioned many of the details put forward in the Irish slave narrative, but the central theme seems to be this, that at its heart, the Irish story really is a story about indentured servitude. Indentured servitude was by no means a benign institution, but it simply isn’t comparable to the chattel slavery associated with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Most simply would not use the term ‘slavery’ at all to describe indentured servitude, even when it is imposed as a criminal sanction. And of course a good deal of the push-back of these narratives consists of efforts to unmask the clearly racist agendas of key proponents. This isn’t just a mistake, it’s a mistake a lot of committed white racists want people to make.

…which leaves me feeling all somehow.

I’m happy as Hell to see the comparison between indentured servitude and the trans-Atlantic slave trade shredded, and then shredded again. What does somewhat concern me is the equation of ‘slavery’ with the specific form of chattel slavery that took place in the trans-Atlantic trade. Simply put, we do commonly use the word ‘slavery’ in contexts that do not compare in the numbers or the horrors of that specific history. History books often speak of slaves in ancient civilizations many of which fell into that status through financial ruin, or debt. The literature on Indian-white relations is full of stories of ‘slaves’ captured and trade about through raiding practices, and of course the Spanish systems of the encomienda were never described as slavery. When in 1850 California passed a law enabling others to press California Natives into forced labor, that law was actually written up as if it were meant to protect those very Natives. And of course the system of debt peonage found in the post-war south (among many other places) could in practice pass for slavery.

Hell, that was often the point!

…to say nothing of the use of prison systems for purposes of reducing free blacks to forced laborers under the pretext of punishment for crimes, real or imagined.

The subject of slavery has always been broader than the specific history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We should not allow malicious people to equate every instance of forced labor with the scale of atrocity behind that trade, but neither should we restrict our own use of the word ‘slavery’ to that very trade. Abusive labor practices shade easily into forced labor, and once that threshold is crossed, real atrocities become much easier.

What specifically doesn’t work about Irish slave narratives is the direct comparison with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It doesn’t match the scale of atrocity in that trade, either in numbers, or in the quality of treatment for the majority of those involved. This doesn’t mean that indentured servants, Irish or otherwise, were treated well, and it certainly doesn’t mean that people captures or pressed into forced labor in other times and places shouldn’t be a concern. What it does mean is that we shouldn’t let people use the suffering of their own ancestors as a means of diverting attention from that of others.

 

Damned Levees; They Breaks!

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I grew up listening to blues.

…sort of.

Like most any white kid in the suburbs of the 70s and 80s, I listened to hard rock. As I got older, I came to understand there was some kind of relationship between the blaring guitars and thundering drums making their way into my ears and the old blues artists of what then seemed to me like ancient times. In college, I learned a bit more about it from a History of Rock&Roll class, and from a friend with a good stash of old blues albums, but it wasn’t until I started buying those albums myself that I realized just how much my favorite bands owed to the old blues artists. In time, I came to see just how much of what I loved about Rock&Roll was already there in blues.

Needless to say, this meant I had a whole new range of music to explore.

One of my favorite songs, then and now, would have to be Zeppelin’s When the Levee Breaks.

I’m sorry, I meant to say that one of my favorite songs has always been the Led Zeppelin version of When the Levee Breaks.

Zeppelin absolutely nailed this recording, but listening to four British guys play the song, I always had the sense that the lyrics didn’t quite fit. Sure, it was Robert Plant’s vocals on the albums, but it wasn’t his voice (in the literary sense) that animated the story. No. The voice that shaped the lyrics belonged to Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, the original artists to record the song. Realizing this, puts the tune in a whole new perspective. Minnie and Joe were singing about the great Mississippi flood of 1927, an event far closer to their own lives than those of the Mighty Zep. Zeppelin may have carried their story forward a bit, but not without taking a few ghosts along with it.

I still love the Zeppelin version, but I feel just a little better knowing where it came from. No. I don’t always need that to enjoy a song, but in this case, the story itself keeps pointing back to its beginnings. The song keeps alluding to an origin that doesn’t sit well in the mega-hit from the early seventies. For me at least, the song is a little more interesting when you can grasp the traces of dialogue within it, when you can hear at least a trace of Minnie’s voice in that of Robert Plant.

Lately, my favorite version of the song comes from Buckwheat Zydeco. I didn’t expect that. Really, When I first hit play on this version, I fully expected to mumble ‘that’s interesting’ and switch half-way through the tune to something else (something louder and meaner). But no! He frickin kills it! Zydeco seems to keep a lot of the Zeppelin version in his own approach to the song, but of course he adds something new to the mix, something rather cool. Hearing Zydeco’s own vocals onto the blaring guitars and thundering drums makes for an interesting twist in the story. Without erasing the classic rock influence, Zydeco manages to bring the song back closer to its original home. It all gets a little more interesting when this version of the song turns out to be a nod to the hardships brought on by Hurricane Katrina. You can hear a lot of history in this recording, both in the lyrics and the in layers of musical style.

Mostly, it just rocks.

Killers of the Flower Moon: A Book Review

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Regarding his own documentary work, Joshua Oppenheimer once wrote of modern Indonesia; “…I felt I’d wandered into Germany 40 years after the holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power.” I thought about this line as I read Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. It’s a different time and a different place, perhaps even a different scale of atrocity (at least if you are counting bodies), but each of these stories raised for me the same haunting thought; what must it be like to live one’s life among those that have murdered your loved ones. Oppenheimer’s movies, the Act of Killing and The Look of Silence are set in Indonesia nearly half a century after genocidal policies resulted in the loss of at least half a million lives. Grann’s work is set in Oklahoma, closer to a century century after a wave of killings struck the Osage community, leaving generations to wonder about what really happened? Both stories recount the details of gruesome murder, and both raise questions about life in the wake of atrocity.

I’m also reminded of Anna Rosmus, whose work on the resistance fighters of her hometown uncovered a sordid history of Nazi collaborators well hidden in the town’s oral narratives. She asked enough questions to draw up a violent response from those still tied to that history. I wouldn’t say this was Grann’s focus, but stories like the one he tells have a particularly reflexive quality. Murder on the scale of his story doesn’t rest neatly in past; it haunts the present.

SPOILER ALERTS!

This book is the story of a series of murders carried out in the Osage community of Oklahoma during the 1920s. Grann begins the story by concentrating on a little over 20 murders which would become the focus of an investigation by the FBI. As this was one of the first big cases to be carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the book provides insights into the early years of Hoover’s budding new empire. At the same time, the book helps to shed light on one of the darker chapters of Indian-White relations, the long slow looting of Native American communities by outsiders under the policies of General Allotment.

To grasp the events unfolding in this book, you must understand two things: the Osage community had come into control of vast oil fields, and many had been declared incompetent to manage their own estates. To resolve the second of these problems, various white businessmen had been named as trustees and put in charge of the private fortunes belonging to various Osage members. As individual Osage accumulated the proceeds of oil money. It seems that some people found the notion of wealthy natives rather objectionable (a theme often echoed today by those who resent Indian casinos). More importantly, a certain quantity of non-natives found ways of doing something about it, ways of acquiring that wealth for themselves.

At first, the killings seem a bit random, a pair of shootings here, a few mysterious illnesses there. Someone seemed to be killing off a number of Osage, but why? It didn’t help that the first couple investigators to get somewhere were themselves brutally murdered. It helped even less when a bomb was used to kill an Osage couple and their white servant living in the middle of town. Most of the victims knew each other. They had plenty of connections between them. But which ones were the key to the case?

In the end, it was the mysterious ‘wasting’ illnesses that seemed to provide the most representative cases. The medical science necessary to detect poison was not yet widely available, and it certainly wasn’t standard procedure to test for poison in the event of every death. In the midst of the prohibition era, moreover, it was easy enough to attribute poisoning to bad moonshine. So, poisoning could provide a very effective means of killing someone without raising too many suspicions. It was particularly useful for relatives, trustees, and other beneficiaries of life insurance or inheritance policies eager to acquire an Osage headright. Such killings were not only difficult to detect in the day, they are difficult to detect now in the historical record, but as Grann shows, Osage died at an extraordinarily high rate in the 1920s, a rate not fully explained by any other known factors. The FBI wrapped up an investigation of a little over 20 murders. If Grann is right, the number of Osage actually killed in this era is more likely in the hundreds.

Most were killed by relatives, or at least those who’d been hired by them.

I have to admit the specter of so many white marrying into the tribe making friends with Osage for the clear purpose of killing them fills me with a sense of shame. The feeling will pass, of course, for me, but one of the most haunting features of the book is the number of people for whom such feelings clearly will not pass. The final chapters of this book are filled with personal stories those who grew up in the wake of these murders. It’s been nearly a century, yes, but in family terms these are stories about (great) grandparents, great aunts and uncles. These are stories about children who went on to live their own lives and raise their own families knowing that their own parents had been killed by loved ones or trusted neighbors. …and in some cases wondering just who might have been involved?

…or what local businessmen might have profited from these murders?

This kind of violence isn’t contained in one generation, or even two. It haunts a community long after those who participated have passed away. I can’t help thinking part of the horror might lie in the fear that the truth will never be known, that someone’s death could be forever buried in falsehood, which is why books like this are important. They are one means of countering that horror, however inadequate they may be. Grann didn’t stop at the FBI cases. He went on to study murders left unsolved and to explore the causes of deaths that never caught the attention of authorities. He couldn’t always find an explanation, but he does manage to reveal something of the  extent of these crimes.

It’s evident that some folks entrusted Grann with the hopes of finding out the truth behind their family tragedies. That must have been quite a weight to carry.

It must have been a far greater weight for those to carry such stories their whole lives.

***

Postscript: I just wanted to make a couple additional remarks here, regarding the writing style. While Grann is relating a historical narrative, he does so through the lens of a particular woman, Mollie Burkhart, who lost most of her family in ‘reign of terror’, and of the FBI agent, Tom White, who was put in charge of the case. By following the lives of these two people into the story, Grann is able to provide a historical narrative that reads like a murder mystery. Those familiar with the story may know where it’s going, and I’ve shared a portion of that here myself (minus severl significant details), but most of the time this approach leaves the reader to wonder how the pieces will fall together, and to expect that will happen when the main characters put those pieces together themselves. Again, tis is history, but it reads a bit like a murder mystery.

This is an interesting approach to historical narrative, one that should prove helpful in the rather likely event that this is made into a movie.

Grann also fills in a lot of detail as he writes the story. He relates the physical features and demeanor of his characters in this book, much as a fiction writer would. When reading such material, I often find myself wondering where that came from? Is this how someone else described the person in question? Is it the impression Grann gets from looking at their pictures? Some combination? Hard to tell!

I can never decide how I feel about that approach to historical writing. A part of me would like to keep closer to identifiable records, to have the option of checking specific claims about specific source material. Another part of me is just happy to get the story. I can file away the fluffy details and focus on the main story line if the information is worth reading.

…which is definitely the case here.

With Apologies to Oscar Brown, Jr.

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

no reason!

 

On her way to work one morning

Down the path alongside the lake

A tender-hearted woman saw a wealthy well-fed snake

His pretty colored skin had been all tanned an oddly-colored hue

“Oh well,” she cried, “you’re so fat and pretty, I will follow you.”

“Trust me oh tender woman

Trust me, for heaven’s sake

Trust me oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 

She stood in great hallways with others of her ilk

Admired his suits and loved his ties made of the finest silk

Stood in line to speak with others of long dead hopes now revived

Commended him at the polls, proclaiming; “greatness had arrived.”

“Trust me oh tender woman

Trust me, for heaven’s sake

Trust me oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 

The Apple Times and the Capital Post, she turned aside

On distant bears, odd schools, and crying girls, twas always others, she said, who must have lied

Now in his coils, she gave herself to her scaly hero, craving that he hold her tight

But instead of tender care, that snake gave her a vicious bite

“Trust me oh tender woman

Trust me, for heaven’s sake

Trust me oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 

“I loved you,” cried that woman

“And you’ve bit me even, why?

You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die”

“Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile in her final hour

“You knew damn well I was a snake before you put me in power

“Trust me oh tender woman

Trust me, for heaven’s sake

Trust me oh tender woman,” sighed the snake

 

A Trip to Central America, and to 1950!

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I never met my grandparents on my mother’s side. Hardly a day went by that Mom didn’t mention them, but of course I have more questions about them than answers. So, it was a very pleasant surprise to find out that grandpa left behind a few travel journals. One relates the story of a trip to central America in 1950.

What caught my attention?

This.

Passenger list

Okay, so it might not be all that obvious why this should be interesting to me or anyone else for that matter. I probably won’t be traveling on the Great White Fleet any time soon, and who has even heard of United Fruit? They probably don’t even exist anymore, right? Well, they don’t. That’s true. If you’ve eaten a Chiquita Banana, then you’ve some familiarity with their progeny, but United Fruit itself doesn’t exist anymore. In the 1950s, though, they were going good and strong.

United Fruit was more than a business. It controlled much of central America and helped give birth to the phrase ‘banana republic,’ which I suppose means it has yet another descendant of sorts in the business world. In just four years, United Fruit and the Central Intelligence Agency would engineer a military coup in Guatemala, one of the nations my grandparents visited on this trip. Two of the ships in United Fruit’s Great White Fleet would later be used in the Bay of Pigs operation. Clearly, United Fruit did a lot more than grow and sell bananas. They would eventually be forced to sell off their monopoly interests in Guatemala, and then merged with another company to become Chiquita. In the meantime, Grandma and grandpa were free to enjoy the hospitality of the company on the Great White Fleet.

It’s just a travel journal, to be sure, but a travel journal into the heart of American imperialism. Suffice to say, this was enough to peak my curiosity.

***

I can’t say the journal was overflowing with details of military juntas and revolutionary conspirators. That’s not what Grandpa and Grandma went down there to see, and this isn’t exactly my area, anyway, so I may have missed a thing or three. Most of the journal seems like pretty normal stuff for travelers. Its pages are filled with tales of mundane trips about the countryside, meals enjoyed (or simply ensured), beautiful architecture, run-down hovels, archeological sites, and countless random travel companions, most of which slide onto stage and back off without too much fuss.

Yet there are a few notable passages.

I no longer have the actual journal in my possession, but I took pictures of every page. I reproduced a number of the these below, numbering them for ease of reference. I intend to give the thing a closer reading sometime down the road, but for now, these are a few things that caught my notice for one reason or another…

***

Apparently, my grandparents hit a cow somewhere near Chichen Itza (pic 70). Grandpa also mentions meeting a young man in that area who had been to Peoria, IL during the war (pic 76). I can’t tell enough from the narrative, whether the man is even local, or perhaps an ex patriot, but I wonder if this wasn’t someone who had come up on the Bracero program (workers brought into the U.S. to replace Americans gone to war). Either way, I expect there would be an interesting story there.

They encountered the President of Honduras (Juan Lindo?) whom they were evidently told had been too democratic to live in the President’s Palace. He tipped his hat to someone in their party. (You can read Grandpa’s account of this on pic 55).

Grandpa mentions a banana shaped menu once in his journal (pic 46). Pics 14 and 15 would seem to fit the bill. Oddly enough, I don’t see bananas all over the menus, which is interesting. Under the guidance of Edward Bernays, the father of modern Public Relations, United Fruit made an effort to broaden people’s ideas about when and where to eat bananas, a campaign which included (for instance) reversing ideas about whether or not parents should encourage snacking. I really did expect to see a lot more  gustatory propaganda on those menus, but mostly the fruit (which would have been the Big Mike), seems to show up in pictures and other visual motifs.

There is an interesting little history of the Banana, according to United Fruit (pics 17-19), and nice overview of the travel services aboard ships of the United Fruit Company (29-45). Oddly enough, this does not mention any of the company’s efforts to monopolize the entire national economies of several of the countries on the itinerary.

A couple of these pamphlets include references to ‘Middle America’. (I think these were menus.) I found the phrase amusing enough, wondering what folks in Oklahoma or Nebraska might make of it, but of course our North American fashions of speaking about ‘America’ can be a little odd once you shift references to include the whole hemisphere. More interesting than that, the phrasing matches a news agency developed by Bernays for the purpose of promoting the interests of United Fruit. The Middle America Information Bureau had gone dormant by 1950, but I do find myself wondering if the phrasing doesn’t reflect some conscious reference to that project.

And then of course there are just a couple cryptic references in Grandpa’s journal to a rather large layoff by United Fruit coupled with the observation that communism is coming in fast (pic 54).

That’s it!

I could easily wish for more. I could wish Grandpa had uncovered a great big smoking gun, or that he had left behind a complete account of the political history of the region, but alas, he was just a tourist along on a vacation. His politics were not mine, and he didn’t know the history of the company. He mostly wrote about the meals and the sites, and the friendly chatter with people he met here and there. It’s me that sees these documents nearly 70 years later and thinks about all the history of the company that took him down there, but perhaps there is an interesting lesson here after all. This is what the imperialism of the day looked like to people like my Grandpa, to guests of United Fruit.

It was central Americans that witnessed the violent side of United Fruit. For so many (North) Americans, it was simply slices of fruit a mother may have wanted to put on bowl of cereal. Or perhaps it was a quaint news story about a far away place, and perhaps reasons Uncle Sam needed to help fight the red menace somewhere else. Living here in the United States, the majority of Americans would never have felt the blunt force of this company’s power. Neither would they have seen it in any recognizable manner. What they saw was always this benign.

Whatever else can be learned from Grandpa’s journal, it seems we can learn the same was true for countless American tourists traveling through the region. United Fruit is all over the literature in this journal. Details that would one day matter can be found here and there, along with rumors that even reached the ears of a passing tourist. Still nothing recognizably nefarious pops up in the journal, at least not to the eyes of tourists such as my grandfather. What we can see is a range of pamphlets, dinner menus, and brief canned histories, all of which make the whole region seem so innocent, and so quaint. To so many (North) Americans, that banana shaped menu is presisely what our imperial age did look like.

I could of course rest happy thinking that we are better and wiser today. This is all behind us, right? Then again, we sometimes get a little reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.

 

This is hardly a research paper, but I thought it might be worth mentioning a couple sources here. I first Read Bitter Fruit as a teaching assistant to a professor who specialized in Latin-American studies. Somewhere along the way, I picked up a couple other books on the subject. Bananas makes a particularly nice quick read with a lit of interesting details on the history of United Fruit. Cohen’s books is also useful. Galeano’s book helps to draw connections between different regions and phases of history, all with a very pointed sense of significance.

The Bernays angle on all this stuff is particularly interesting. His book Propaganda, is still considered a classic in the history of Public relations. It’s a good peak into the kind of techniques the man used in selling United Fruit and its interests to the American public.

Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Broooklyn, New Yok: IG Publishing, 1928, 2005.

Chapman, Peter. Bananas: How the United Fruit Company shaped the world. Edinburgh, New York, Melbourne: Canongate, 2007.

Cohen, Rich. The Fish that Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York: Picador, 2012.

Galeano, Eduardo. Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973, 1997.

Schlesinger, Stephen and Stephen Kinzer. Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatelama. Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1982, 2005.