I wanted to write about magic. But I was born under capitalism & there aint much of that.

People of Paper Jan 23 2015

“I wanted to write you a story about magic. I wanted rabbits appearing from hats. I wanted balloons lifting you into the sky. It turned out to be nothing but sadness, war, heartbreak. You never saw it, but there’s a garden inside me.”

I found this magical quote on the wall of a Facebook friend who thought it might be from Rumi, the extraordinary 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, & Sufi mystic who wrote in four languages & is still the most popular poet in the US.

The quote turns out to be from “Light Boxes: A Novel” published in 2009 by Shane Jones, a writer from Albany, NY. It’s a novella & sustained metaphor about creativity where a malignant godlike figure named February punishes a town for their love of flying kites, balloons, even birds & bees by sentencing them eternally to the frigid days of February. The children begin to disappear, attempts at revolt turn disastrous, & the town is overwhelmed with despondence. (A lot like cabin fever if you’ve ever spent a winter in Minnesota.)

Now here’s where the plot sickens. According to numerous reviewers, “Light Boxes” is outright mimicry of “The People of Paper,” published in 2005 by Salvador Plascencia, an American writer who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico & moved with his family to California as migrant workers. The book, which in form is experimental fiction drawing on the magical realism of Latin American writers, is about migrant workers. According to one reviewer, “There is not one jot or tittle on the page that does not pay some unspoken, uncredited homage (or, as we in the literary & academic communities call it, “plagiarism”) to People of Paper.” The only thing that changes is the ethnicity of the townspeople.

Plascencia himself has made this accusation since Jones emailed his praise of the book before his own was published & said he was recommending it to everybody at the bookstore where he worked. Plascencia called it freeloading & piggybacking on “The People of Paper” without any formal acknowledgement. Jones is laughing all the way to the bank. He wouldn’t be the first to freeload or plagiarize from Black & Latino artists. The attorneys for Jone’s publisher have notified Plascencia that there are at least sixteen legal precedents for why “Light Boxes” does not infringe on his rights. But as Plascencia says, “this is also a serious question about originality, the problems of influence, & what it means to be a writer.”

(PS: I’ve read neither book but now intend to read both. And I still think the quote magical. I just wish Rumi had said it.)

(Photo is cover from first edition of “The People of Paper”)

Good riddance to Abdullah

Are we supposed to mourn that Saudi Arabian king who just croaked? He’s got 30 wives & 35 kids for that. What’s to say about a guy who’s heading straight to hell for the Saudi role in Iraq, the Egyptian, Bahraini, & Yemeni uprisings, Palestine; for how they treat women & immigrants; & a horrific human rights record? How about good riddance & “Rot In Peace”?

NGOs and neoliberal predation

Pranav Shetty (Mark Wilson:Getty Images) Jan 22 2015

This photo is three of Michelle Obama’s guests at the State of the Union Address. The showboater & woman are Alan & Judith Gross. He’s the USAID official jailed in Cuba & recently swapped for the Cuban Five who were imprisoned here. It’s the guy in the far left that is relevant to this post. He is Dr. Pranav Shetty, an official with the International Medical Corps who served five months in west Africa for the Ebola epidemic. Obama saluted their work in his speech. Ordinarily Shetty would drift back into NGO oblivion but he’s been making media rounds since his return in December (touted as an expert on the epidemic) & was recently interviewed on PBS news.

Our man Dr. Shetty is the epitome of the NGO bureaucrat & in interviews he speaks not so much in cliches as in formulas. He praised US agencies in west Africa to high heaven & claimed they had the Ebola epidemic under control. He sounds just like the US State Department. The US sent 3,000 troops in late September to “build treatment units, train health-care workers, operate diagnostic laboratories, & provide logistics support in the region.” They must have been real busy because now just four months later the US is reducing the number of soldiers because they claim their tasks are completed & “the pace of infections continues to slow.”

USAID has also been active in the Ebola epidemic. They had to disperse all that $5.48 billion of US Ebola aid allocated in December. They’ve been coordinating, administrating, doing operations & logistics but all they can point to is a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia, Liberia for health care workers afflicted with Ebola. What the hell did they do with all that money? Or is it another of those humanitarian aid scams where things get pledged but never delivered? Or is it like in Afghanistan where USAID uses humanitarian aid to bribe officials?

It would be great news to hear the Ebola epidemic has actually been reversed but that scenario is not substantiated by statistics. In the last year till today there have been nearly 22,000 cases of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone with total deaths of 8,668. That’s a 40% fatality rate. In October 2014, there were 4,000 deaths. That means for the past four months there have been 1,168 deaths a month which is more than double the deaths in the first ten months of 2014. There were 42 new deaths just in the past 24 hours.

So why is our Dr. Shetty talking rubbish? The International Medical Corps, where he’s the global emergency health coordinator, is connected to the highest levels of power including the White House, US Congress, USAID, several agencies of the UN including WHO, the European Union, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Gates Foundation, & the Clinton Bush Haiti fund. They’re endowed with big bucks from the big players in world politics. They are also one of the founders of Bono’s group ONE where they collaborate with Oxfam, CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps.

In one interview given in December 2014, Dr. Shetty quite frankly acknowledged the complete lack of a public health system in Liberia. There were no primary care facilities to begin with. That explains why deathly ill Ebola victims were dumped on the floors of abandoned schoolhouses or people died in the streets. Now what makes our man’s admission so interesting is that in 2009 the Liberian president & Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf wrote in the Washington Post that in the previous three years the Liberian government had doubled primary school enrollment nationwide & refurbished hundreds of health facilities with foreign aid. So why do they have abandoned schoolhouses & no clinics?

In 2009, Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist & banker, published “Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working & How There is a Better Way For Africa.” Moyo is hardly a radical critic of capitalism. She’s been honored at Davos; feted by Oprah; serves on corporate boards including Barclays Bank, was an economist at Goldman Sachs & a consultant to the World Bank; speaks at the World Bank, IMF, Council on Foreign Relations, the American Enterprise Institute; writes for the Wall Street Journal & Financial Times; & appears as a guest on BBC, CNN, Fox, & Bloomberg. You don’t get those kind of gigs if you are a critic of neoliberalism in Africa.

Moyo is a conservative critic of foreign aid to Africa because it is not used to build schools & clinics but to distort economies & corrupt public officials (like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf). But Moyo thinks capitalism can solve the problems it creates, that private financial markets would make governments accountable to lenders. There’s some simple-minded economics here & some serious cognitive dissonance, of the kind caused by privilege. She has a masters from Harvard & a doctorate from Oxford but it’s as if she came late to the party.

What’s significant is not her book but the reaction such a conservative critique of foreign aid got from NGOs–with Bono & his ONE group leading the charge. They produced dozens of outraged reviews & articles from people like Jeffrey Sachs & Johnson-Sirleaf damning Moyo’s theses even though her book did not challenge NGO aid, only direct government aid. If you consider the nexus between NGOs & government agencies that overreaction makes sense.

There is a necessary discussion that needs to be held on the role of NGOs & so-called humanitarian aid within the neoliberal system, the barbaric phase of capitalism. What exactly are they up to? The ruling elite are meeting in Davos this week to coordinate strategies & to try to work out their differences. Capitalism is a competitive system after all & they are presently in a currency war. Their system is spiraling out of control & resistance is erupting across the globe. Most of the ONE crowd will be in Davos & we need to come to grips with why? With what function they serve? Anyone who thinks the NGO elite give a rat’s ass about human suffering & poverty haven’t been following them very closely.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The majesty of Islamic art

Afghan mosque Jan 22 2015

Look at this magnificent structure; consider the mathematics, engineering, architecture, craft, artistry, sheer brilliance of it’s conception, design, construction. The building, most likely a mosque, is from Afghanistan–though after 14 years of US-NATO bombing we don’t know if it’s still standing since mosques were so often targeted.

US-NATO war propaganda is so at odds with this image. Do you think the Pentagon & its European stooges might be lying to us? That Afghanistan really never needed emancipation US-style? Because in the US, there is nothing to compare unless one considers the White House an architectural masterpiece & not an eyesore.

(“Afghanistan” photo by Roland Michaud. Collection “Rêves et réalités”, Hachette. 1970.)