It was twilight when I got out of the car with Maya in the parking lot of a local grocery store. There was a woman standing in the shadows, slowly rocking side to side on her feet. I couldn’t see her face clearly but I knew instantly who she was.
We were socked with two big storms over the past two weeks. On the tail end of the first storm, we celebrated Maya’s birthday for the first time in the US. We hosted the largest party we’ve ever held at our house. Some 20 odd people including kids showed up. Overall, the party was a success I’d like to think.
The next day we went for a hike. The air was crisp and fresh after the almost four days of continuous rain. Maya had been demanding that we take her to climb a hill and so we eventually did. Gray rain clouds still clung to the sky, but co-mingled with snow white clouds and great patches of blue sky. The whole thing was quite atmospheric (pun intended).
After I got the iPhone, I hardly take the regular camera any more. The iPhone does a pretty good job most of the time. It is only in really low light conditions that I have difficulty getting a good picture (the picture is too grainy). I purchased a couple of apps a few months back and that coupled with a free app enhance the photographs taken with an iPhone quite well.
The first one is called Pro HDR. It simplifies the technique of taking HDR pictures. HDR (high dynamic range) is a technique whereby you combine two photos taken with different exposures to obtain a single photo that uniformly lights all the subjects. For example, if you’re shooting against the sun, the foreground is quite dark while the background is quite well lit. If you place the focus on making the foreground bright in such a condition, the background is too bright, a complete washout. But our eye can see both the background and the foreground quite well. To affect the same illusion, a HDR image is one that is created by combining two such images, one with the foreground dark and the background correctly lit and another with the foreground properly lit and the background a complete washout, to produce a single image that has a high dynamic range of illumination.
Pro HDR is one of the several HDR programs available for the iPhone. I picked it up on sale and because it was one of the higher rated HDR apps. With it I’ve captured several gorgeous pictures. Here is one taken on the hike with Maya up Rancho San Antonio County Park. Compare it with a similar photo taken without the HDR program.
Here is another good looking picture taken with the HDR program.
Notice the ghost at the far left, caused by an object that moved between the two differently exposed pictures.
Another program that I purchased is called 360 Panorama. This allows you to shoot panoramic pictures quite easily with an iPhone. When I had gone to my sister’s graduation, I was impressed by a camera that my cousin had, the Sony Nex 5. He just pressed the shutter and fired away as he swung the camera in an arc across the auditorium. The camera automatically composed a panorama out of these pictures. Compare that to the panorama mode in most cameras that I had seen till then with the panorama stitch assist mode. A few days later I ran into the 360 Panorama app which does pretty much what the Nex did, except that it ran on my iPhone and cost $1.99 (yes, less than $2).
Here is a panoramic picture taken with this program.
As you can see, the picture is not that great because of the poor light conditions. I’ve come to realize that the more professional cameras are more forgiving of adverse light conditions and poor photographers while the cheaper ones or like the one with the iPhone produce great pictures under a limited range of lighting conditions.
Hardly had the first storm abated than the second storm hit. This one came with far greater expectations than the first. A cold front from Alaska was bringing brrrr! temperatures. Snow was expected, snow so rarely seen in this part of the world. The excitement built up so much that a website called IsItSnowingInSFYet.com sprang up. The local paper carried the headlines:
“‘Coldest storm of season’ hits Bay Area; snowball fights in San Jose
Sure enough, the temperatures dropped to record busting lows. Oakland and San Francisco Airport had their lowest temperatures recorded for the month (34 and 35 degrees Farenheit, I know nothing Arctic, but hey, this is Silicon Valley). Nearby Mountain View and San Francisco had temperatures that tied with the existing record. But no snow came. The local paper this time said: “The much-ballyhooed Great Blizzard of 2011 was more like the Great Fizzle.”
But catching a break in the rain on a slow work day, I went for a trot on Friday morning. It was quite cold, but after a mile or so, I had warmed up enough to not notice it. I wanted to see Stevens Creek in spate.
The creek was a roar compared to its usual silent flow. In places where the path descended to the level of the creek, the creek looked like it’d overflow. The creek was a rich, chocolate milkshake brown, frothing white as it tumbled over rocks and sudden changes in gradient.
The second picture above is another image shot with the HDR app.
As I ran down the trail, my mind raced over some news that I had been browsing in the past few days. The East Coast of the US had been hit with one of the worst storms in its recorded history, Australia had suffered devastating floods. I remembered that my friend at the non-profit that I work with had titled an essay on how weather is affected by global warming as: “How the 100 Year Flood Became An Annual Event”. If that sounds too dramatic, NYT blogged back in 2007 that:
“Floods that happen every 100 years could come as often as every 10 years by the end of this century, Long Island lobsters will disappear and New York apples will be just a memory if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists.“
2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest year in recorded history (since record keeping began in 1887). The weather all of last year was quite irregular. So what, you say ? Here is a chart put out by the BBC on world food prices:
According to the article, titled “Q&A: Why food prices and fuel costs are going up“:
“… in 2010, severe weather in some of the world’s biggest food exporting countries damaged supplies.
That has helped to push food prices almost 20% higher than a year earlier, according to the FAO. (The 2010 figure was slightly below the annual measure for 2008 as a whole.)
Flooding hit the planting season in Canada, and destroyed crops of wheat and sugar cane in Australia.
In addition, drought and fires devastated harvests of wheat and other grains in Russia and the surrounding region during the summer, prompting Russia to ban exports.
As a result, wheat production is expected to be lower this year than in the last two years, according to US government estimates.”
Meanwhile, in the US, we voted Tea Party led Republicans to power and what have they started ? Attacking EPA and climate change regulations that they claim hurts business. Yahoo had an article titled “Congress Begins Assault on EPA’s Climate Change Regulations“. In Montana, there’s talk of passing a bill that would declare that global warming is good for business! Discover, the popular US-based science magazine, said that the number 4 science story of 2010 was: “Climate Science Wins a Round, But the Campaign Goes Poorly“. This was after the so-called climategate scandal, in which some conservative hackers hacked into University of East Anglia and retrieved more than 1000 emails that they said showed how scientists were distorting the evidence and that there was no scientific consensus on global warming. There was no evidence of distorting evidence, of course, but that didn’t help the cause, especially in the US. Pew Research found that the percentage of Americans who believe that human activity is causing global warming fell sharply to 34% in 2010 from 50% in 2006. Only 13% of conservatives believe human activity as the cause for global warming.
As I ran, I wondered how we would come together on such a divisive issue. The US especially is so deeply anti-science and anti-global warming that I find it alarming. Even friends who seem to accept the problem, do little to change their lives to act in a way that reduces their carbon footprint. Of course, I’m no saint when it comes to reacting to global warming either. I may do a little, but there is not as much integrity or depth to my responses.
Last year, Time magazine carried an article titled: “Climate-Change Strategy: Be Afraid — but Only a Little”. The article said that research by two Berkeley psychologists showed that: “when people are shown scientific evidence or news stories on climate change that emphasize the most negative aspects of warming — extinguished species, melting ice caps, serial natural disasters — they are actually more likely to dismiss or deny what they’re seeing. Far from scaring people into taking action on climate change, such messages seem to scare them straight into denial. … The results, Willer and Feinberg wrote, “demonstrate how dire messages warning of the severity of global warming and its presumed dangers can backfire … by contradicting individuals’ deeply held beliefs that the world is fundamentally just.” (WEIRD warning alert, of course).
I think like recycling and driving less, some minimal actions that can help the cause is how we shop for food. Buy local produce. Avoid purchasing goods that have been produced and shipped from across the country or worse, from across the world. If you have farmers’ markets, shop there, especially if you can afford it. Run the heater a little less in the house. Do these really help or are they only feel good actions ? I think that once we decide to factor carbon footprint and sustainability into our decisions, even just a little, there is a potential to affect a larger change. I also hear Gandhi’s quotes, “Be the change you want to see in the world” and “My life is my message”.
I finished my run in good time and my legs felt good. I was glad for the lull in the work schedule and the rain that I could go for a run. My mind harked back to the Derrick Jensen quote that I have written about: “We are really fucked. Life is still really good.”
I have a lot more in common with the Tea Partiers than I think.
This is according to Jonathan Haidt, a prominent professor of Pyschology at the University of Virginia, who has written such pieces such as “What Makes People Vote Republican” and “What Is Wrong With Those Tea Partiers ?”.
I first became acquainted with Haidt in 2008. It was the year of Obama and Palin, two figures with ideas as opposite of each other as can be. I couldn’t understand the enamor Palin seemed to have on the conservative voters. Was it because the progressive base was as excited as it had ever been by Obama’s campaign and the conservatives had no charmismatic figure to look to or was it something else ? More specifically, why do whites from lower socio-economic rungs so overwhelmingly support Republicans, given how detrimental to their own well being the Republican policies typically are ? For example, a recent AP-GfK poll shows that 58% of whites without four-year college degrees prefer Republican candidates while only 36% prefer Democratic candidates. I sought answers in books like Thomas Frank’s “What’s The Matter With Kansas ?” and in George Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant” and Haidt’s essay on the online magazine, Edge, titled “What Makes People Vote Republican”.
The Kansas View Of Things
Thomas Frank writes:
“That our politics have been shifting rightward for more than thirty years is a generally acknowledged fact of American life. That this rightward movement has largely been accomplished by working-class voters whose lives have been materially worsened by the conservative policies they have supported is a less comfortable fact, one we have trouble talking about in a straightforward manner. ”
According to Thomas Frank, the Democratic Party has in recent times made itself out to be the “other pro-business party”, courting the rich campaign contributions from the corporations while thinking that the working class poor and minorities have nowhere else to go, that they, the Democrats, would always be marginally be more attractive to these sections.
Further, Frank writes that the liberals assume that the working class has enough common sense and logic to see how Republican policies will work against them and not vote Republican. Truth and logic wins. Therefore, they refuse to engage in any discourse on the subject. For example, Obama frequently says “I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to–to civility and rational argument.” Liberals also spend less and less time building a grass roots movement or maintaining one (he writes that labor unions are only 9% of the private work force today compared to 38% in the 50s) while the right wing has been building an effective grass roots movement with a well defined, succinct message that is consistently echoed by their intellectuals (interestingly, Obama’s win in 2008 was credited to a successful grass roots movement that he helped mobilize).
The Family Model Metaphor
George Lakoff approached the problem from a linguist and cognitive scientist’s perspective. He writes that his interest in the problem started in 1994, a year not unlike this one. That year, the conservatives regained control of the House and Senate with a strongly conservative agenda in the wake of the wreck of Bill Clinton’s health care reform. Lakoff writes:
“I was watching election speeches and reading the Republicans’ “Contract with America.” The question I asked myself was this: What do the conservatives’ positions on issues have to do with each other? If you are a conservative, what does your position on abortion have to do with your position on taxation? What does that have to do with your position on the environment? Or foreign policy? How do these positions fit together? What does being against gun control have to do with being for tort reform? What makes sense of the linkage? I could not figure it out. I said to myself, These are strange people. Their collection of positions makes no sense. But then an embarrassing thought occurred to me. I have exactly the opposite position on every issue. What do my positions have to do with one another? And I could not figure that out either.”
As a linguist, Lakoff found his answer in the language that the conservatives used, especially in their refrain: “family values”. He says that the family as a metaphor for nation is a common one (for example, we use terms such as Founding Fathers). And the reason for the difference in perspective between the liberals and conservatives comes from their differing ideas on what an ideal family should be like. Progressives prefer the nurturant parent family model while the conservatives prefer the strict father model. Lakoff writes of the assumptions underlying the strict father model:
“The world is a dangerous place, and it always will be, because there is evil out there in the world. The world is also difficult because it is competitive. There will always be winners and losers. There is an absolute right and an absolute wrong. Children are born bad, in the sense that they just want to do what feels good, not what is right. Therefore, they have to be made good.
What is required of the child is obedience, because the strict father is a moral authority who knows right from wrong. It is further assumed that the only way to teach kids obedience—that is, right from wrong— is through punishment, painful punishment, when they do wrong.”
And the nurturant parent model, according to Lakoff, is one that emphasizes empathy and responsibility, that assumes that the world is a good place and can be made better by working at it.
Lakoff constructs several examples of making sense of the position of conservatives and liberals using these two models of families. For instance, he says that because conservatives believe in the unquestioning moral authority of the father, then the US (as the father) has no interest in asking anyone else in attacking Iraq. He says that this was Bush’s (and his aides) thinking when they said that they didn’t have to ask the UN for a “permission slip”.
Lakoff also credits the Powell memo, written by Lewis Powell in 1970, two months before he became a Supreme Court Justice, with creating bodies within universities that ensured that the students did not come out of universities with an anti-business mindset, that the conservative viewpoint be developed and encouraged.
Haidt starts his essay with:
“What makes people vote Republican? Why in particular do working class and rural Americans usually vote for pro-business Republicans when their economic interests would seem better served by Democratic policies?”
Haidt’s conclusion is that the differing ideologies of conservatism and liberalism comes from their differing views on morality. His quest began with disgust. Consider these two examples. Do you consider it morally wrong to cut up your country’s flag for use as a toilet rag because you were out of toilet rags ? How about cooking and eating your family dog that had become road-kill ? Haidt asked questions like these and others to 180 adults and 180 eleven year old children, one half of each in lower and upper socio-economic strata, in USA and Brazil. Most people, he said, found the actions to be morally wrong (the one exception being college students, more support for the WEIRD diagnosis), even when the actions hurt no one. He puzzled over the reasons for this.
His research led him to India. He went to Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the state of Orissa, a renowned Hindu temple town. As a Western liberal atheist, he was horrified by the stratified, religious and male dominated society that he saw there. The shock soon waned and he writes:
“Rather than automatically rejecting the men as sexist oppressors and pitying the women, children, and servants as helpless victims, I was able to see a moral world in which families, not individuals, are the basic unit of society, and the members of each extended family (including its servants) are intensely interdependent. In this world, equality and personal autonomy were not sacred values. Honoring elders, gods, and guests, and fulfilling one’s role-based duties, were more important.”
From all this, Haidt concludes that morality is not just about how we treat each other (the maxim: “free to do what I want as long as it harms no one else”), but also about building a shared group identity and leading a noble life. He mentions the five foundations of morality: reciprocity/fairness, harm/care, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. Haidt says that liberals are governed only by the first two foundations, while the conservatives pay attention to all of them. As he writes:
“We think of the moral mind as being like an audio equalizer, with five slider switches for different parts of the moral spectrum. Democrats generally use a much smaller part of the spectrum than do Republicans. The resulting music may sound beautiful to other Democrats, but it sounds thin and incomplete to many of the swing voters that left the party in the 1980s, and whom the Democrats must recapture if they want to produce a lasting political realignment.”
He says that this dependence on group loyalty and purity are what lead the conservatives to rail against multi-culturalism, diversity, Chomsky and gays.
And So The Link Between Me and The Tea Party
In a more recent essay, published in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, titled “What the Tea Partiers Really Want”, Haidt writes that what unites conservatives and libertarians alike is their belief in an American version of karma. They both think that the government has gone too far in protecting people from the consequences of their choices: be it from risky financial dealings (for libertarians, read bank bailouts) or from premarital sex and crime (for conservatives, read abortion, sex education, Miranda Rights).
But he notes that libertarians are closer to liberals compared to conservatives in their moral outlook. He writes that in a recent survey conducted on 3600 Americans where they stated their political preference and answered the question: “Everyone should be free to do as they choose, so long as they don’t infringe upon the equal freedom of others.”, he found that self-described libertarians most agreed with this statement, followed closely by liberals. He writes that self-described social conservatives were the most lukewarm in their agreement to the statement. Similarly, self-described conservatives were most enthusiastic about the statement: “Employees who work the hardest should be paid the most.” while the liberals and libertarians were similar and less enthusiastic, and in response to the question: “Whenever possible, a criminal should be made to suffer in the same way that his victim suffered.”, liberals strongly rejected this sentiment, libertarians mildly rejected it while conservatives were slightly in favor of it.
Building on his five foundations of a morality (fairness, care from harm, ingroup loyalty, respect for authority and purity/sanctity), he writes that libertarians and liberals are strikingly close as shown by the responses to questions that address loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity (see figure) but diverge in the first two foundations.
Interestingly, the blog on Haidt’s research website, yourmorals.org, concludes instead that tea partiers are more like social conservatives with a libertarian-like emphasis on the economy.
And To Conclude
While there is some truth to each of the stories, they are also simplistic in some cases and quite a stretch of imagination in others. Missing in this discussion, I think, is inclusion of other aspects of the environment we function in. For example, people have no time to calmly reflect on issues and in an urge to to blame somebody for their ills, focus on the incumbents, never mind doing some root cause analysis. The role of money is not discussed much, money that is being poured into the anti-Obama campaign is stunning (look at the money poured in by the libertarian Koch brothers or the conservative group led by a resurgent Karl Rove). Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow corporations to anonymously finance ads directly in support or in opposition to political candidates, Wall Street and other businesses, angry with Obama’s policies, are pouring money into the election to influence voters away from the Democrats.
I think there is a lot of truth in Frank’s opinion that neither party addresses the real concerns of the working class any more. With that playing field levelled, voters focus on wedge social issues.
Michael Shermer, in his critique of Haidt’s essay on Edge, says that the framing of the question shows their bias. Why is Haidt’s essay titled “Why People Vote For Republicans” ? Why is something not wrong with the Democrats and who they chose to support ? Or if Democrats like PJ O’Rourke’s characterization of their lofty ideals: “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it”, then Republicans like the characterization: “Teenagers and Democrats are happier spending other people’s money”.
One telling point that Haidt makes is that the first rule of moral psychology is that moral judgements are quick gut reactions, not well thought, carefully considered positions. He, among others such as Tom Gilovich, say that we humans are adept at first taking a position and then seeking facts to support our position, rather than the other way around. Haidt writes: “So when passions run high, as they do among tea-partiers, their reasoning doesn’t get turned off. Rather, their reasoning is working overtime, and very elaborate belief structures (such as conspiracy theories) can be constructed out of the flimsiest materials (such as rumors about forged birth certificates). This is normal, and readers on the left should ask themselves how often they searched for counter-evidence that would have contradicted the worst things their friends said about George W. Bush.”
But, I still can’t understand what’s wrong with those tea partiers!
- YourMorals.org: Haidt’s website with a questionnaire on understanding morality and an interesting blog
- Return of the Secret Donors – NYT
Image credit: WSJ.
When history books are written, John McCain’s may be remembered most for his role in catapulting Sarah Palin to the national stage.
The midterm election season is heading for the final stretch and what has disturbed me the most are the reports that seem to herald a race to the bottom that is appalling to say the least. Sarah Palin seems to be just one of a myriad of the people spewing ignorance and hate. Mostly women, all white and all Tea Party. Their trumpets of ignorance include stating that Muslim law is taking over parts of the US, masturbation is adultery, that the healthcare bill creates government death sqauds and a twisting of facts and spewing of hate (against Latinos, Muslims, gays, almost anyone not Christian and white), dehumanizing anyone not like them. It is as if Jerry Springer‘s cast is standing for election. And reason and critical thinking are scarce in this debate.
Are we living in the US in the 21st century or some country at the edge of the dark ages ? We laugh at Ahmadinejad and Holocaust deniers and tune in to Rush Limbaugh’s denials over Obama’s religion and birth (polls in August by the Time magazine and the Pew center show anywhere from one-third to almost half of the Republicans saying that they think Obama is a Muslim). Religion is at the forefront now more than ever and every year, the power of the religious right grows ever more. And to think that I used to laugh derisively at people in rural areas of India voting almost solely based on the caste of the candidate. Obama also seems to have brought out the latent racism in the country. No one talks about it as such, of course.
I worry about the declining lack of adherence to even the most basic of facts and the almost retarded level of reason and critical thinking. In a world that is changing so rapidly, resources depleting and conflicts rising, how can address the issues if people seem incapable of even uttering a coherent sentence ? I can understand people are angry about the economy, but are these angry people incapable of understanding how the very ideas they champion have been the cause of their state ? How can more deregulation fix the problems of Wall Street or the harm caused by companies such as BP ? How can they not see the designs of the people who are pouring money that is turning their fears into something that can only make matters worse ? How can they not see the link between the people who lied about the Iraq War and how it very costs are a big reason for the mess we’re in economically ?
Enough has been written about all of this that I don’t want to spend too much time writing about it. But, I worry about what the future holds for Maya and all our children in this country that is their home. This is how atrocities like the Holocaust or slavery or Native American genocide come to pass. Bit by bit, with people like me going about their daily lives with their worries cocooned by some personal well-being and an inability to act. Am I as deluded as they are in seeing the outcome of the slippery slope we’re sliding down ? A part of me says that all this is more media hype than anything else. After all, didn’t Bill Clinton, the man liberals loved for his intellectualism and charisma, fire the Surgeon General, Jocelyn Elders, for saying that masturbation was normal human behavior ?
Let me end with a link on a more humorous note, to a satirical take on the current season of madness:
“Man oh man, I’m mad. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. Take what? I don’t know. And that makes me mad too.”
Related articles by Zemanta:
W.S. Merwin is the new US Poet Laureate. He will be the 17th since the post was first established in 1937.
As I read this announcement, I wondered at the possible archaicness of the position. Do poets matter anymore ? What do poet laureates do anyway ? Isn’t this an ancient custom cast down from the centuries when getting monarchy to provide you with a stipend and a title was the only way for an artist to survive ? Weren’t these people then supposed to compose works in praise of the kingdom and monarchy ? What do the modern poet laureates do ? Are they supposed to compose works in praise of the country and the president ?
In the US, the position is associated with the Library of Congress. Why does the world’s largest library appoint a poet laureate ? The Library of Congress is the research arm of the Congress, the federal bastion of cultural heritage. So, by appointing a poet laureate, the Library is actually appointing a poet of the people (the Congress being elected by the people). The US poet laureate is actually called “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” unlike the UK equivalent which is just “Poet Laureate”. Also unlike the British counterpart on which the role was originally modelled, US poet laureates are not appointed for life, but annually, though many serve for a few years.
The US poet laureates don’t have much to do when it comes to specifics. According to the job description: “The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress serves as the nation’s official lightning rod for the poetic impulse of Americans. During his or her term, the Poet Laureate seeks to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry.” The unspecified job description apparently so confused William Carlos Williams, that he never showed up. According to a fascinating article about the job, published in the LA Times back in 1991, another poet laureate, Anthony Hecht, complained that all he got were letters from the public demanding to know how they could get published. Mark Strand, the poet laureate interviewed for the LA Times article says: “… there isn’t much popular interest in poetry, or good literature. The junk people read is appalling. What’s her name . . . Danielle Steel? She couldn’t write her way out of a paper bag. Her use of language is a joke. She’s just symptomatic, though, of a lot that’s going on at the sub-literary level of the culture. Unfortunately, even with the title of poet laureate, there’s not much I can do about it.”
US poet laureates are paid $35,000 a year, a sum funded by the foundation of a philanthropist, Archer M. Huntington, rather than us taxpayers. The stipend started in 1985 and has not changed since, though the newer laureates are given an additional $5,000 for travel expenses. Most poets today earn their living from their daytime jobs teaching at a university.
US poet laureates are not required to compose any works in praise of government works or officials. Robert Penn Warren, the first to hold the title of Poet Laureate (after it was changed in 1985 from the old ‘Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress’) explicitly declared his disinclination to write “any poems to the greater glory of Ronald and Nancy Reagan.”. But Howard Nemerov volunteered odes on the 200th anniversary of the Congress and launch of the space shuttle, Atlantis. Billy Collins, the poet laureate from 2001-2003, famous for his anti-war protest during the Iraq War, was asked to compose a poem to be read in front of a special joint session of the Congress after 9/11. Poets are not even invited to read at US Presidential inaugurations. Only three US presidents – Kennedy, Clinton and Obama – have asked poets to read at their inauguration, and those poets were not even poet laureates at the time.
That said, the poem that launched my reading poetry to Maya, came from an anthology edited by Robert Hass, from his column in Washington Post during his tenure as poet laureate. The Library of Congress website says: “Each Laureate brings a different emphasis to the position. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Rita Dove brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists. She also championed children’s poetry and jazz with poetry events. Robert Hass organized the “Watershed” conference that brought together noted novelists, poets and storytellers to talk about writing, nature and community.”
According to the NYT article which announced the news of Merwin’s appointment, Merwin said that, “he wants to emphasize his ‘great sympathy with native people and the languages and literature of native peoples,’ and his ‘lifelong concern with the environment’”.
I’m glad for that emphasis. The Native Americans, the people of the First Nations (as they’re called in Canada), are people without a voice. Their names, their languages, their culture have vanished or are heading rapidly in that direction. When I was in Banff and looking at the mountains, I was struck once again, by how little of the original names the mountains remain , how so many of the mountains are named after the immigrants to the New World. One very impressive mountain is even named after an Egyptian pharoah!
The stars emerge one
by one into the names
that were last found for them
far back in other
darkness no one remembers
by watchers whose own
names were forgotten
later in the dark – from Nocturne, W.S. Merwin
Powered by ScribeFire.