A Troublesome Man by Stella Bagot

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Front Cover - A Troublesome Man by Stella Bagot

Front Cover of A Troublesome Man by Stella Bagot

 

In her authorized biography, A Troublesome Man: About the life of Dr. Ptolemy Reid, Prime Minister of Guyana, 1980-1984, Stella Bagot records Dr. Reid’s account of his journey from childhood to his entrance into political life. It’s an engaging and inspiring story of a poor village boy who, with determination and persistence, overcame the obstacles along each step of his journey.

Ptolemy was born on May 8, 1918, the youngest of five siblings, in Dartmouth Village on the Essequibo Coast of then British Guiana. He lost his father to pneumonia when he was ten years old. To contribute to the family’s income, he worked on their farm plot, in the sugarcane fields, and with local fishermen. His school attendance suffered.

On completing primary school at sixteen, Ptolemy pursued employment as a pupil teacher. Five years later, he took two years off to earn his teacher’s certificate at the Government Training Center in Georgetown, the capital. Over the following eight years, he gained the reputation as a strict and proficient teacher at the Dartmouth Anglican village school. Continue reading

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“Hothouse Earth”

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Mendocino Complex Fire August 2018 - Northern California - USA

Mendocino Complex Fire now largest fire in California history – August 2018 – California/USA
Photo Credit: ABC News (Noah Berger/AFP)

 

In Southern California, we’re experiencing temperatures of 88 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. At our local garden center two Saturdays ago, around ten o’clock, I had to seek shelter from the Sun. Heat stress aborted my fun-time outdoors while selecting succulent plants. Then, the following week, I suffered another episode of heat stress at the hair salon. The air-condition system in the one-story, flat-roof building wasn’t up to the task.

The danger is far greater in areas where firefighters battle to contain ferocious wildfires. The Carr and Mendocino Complex Fires in Northern California have together burned more than 486,000 acres of land and destroyed 1,828 structures. Hundreds more structures are damaged or under threat. Only 51 percent of the wildfires is contained. The California Fire Department expects to contain the Mendocino Complex Fire by September 1st. Continue reading

“International Congress of Fear” by Brazilian Poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade

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Statue of Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Copacabana - Rio de Janeiro

Bronze Statue of Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Copacabana – Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
Photo Credit: Viagens Vamos Nessa! (Alexandre Macieira/Riotur)

 

My Poetry Corner August 2018 features the poem “International Congress of Fear” (Congresso Internacional do Medo) by Brazilian poet, journalist, and literary critic Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987), born in Itabira in Minas Gerais, Southeast Brazil. Considered one of the most influential Brazilian poets of the twentieth century, Drummond remains well-loved by the people for his humility and concern with the plight of modern man and struggle for freedom and dignity. 

Home of Carlos Drummond de Andrade - Itabira - Minas Gerais - Brazil

Home of Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Itabira – Minas Gerais – Brazil
Photo Credit: Passeios.org

 

At nineteen, Drummond began his writing career as a columnist for the Diário de Minas newspaper. At his parents’ insistence, he qualified as a pharmacist in 1925 but never practiced the profession. Instead, he cofounded a literary journal and joined the Brazilian Modernist movement. After entering the public service in 1934, he was transferred to Rio de Janeiro where he worked in the Ministry of Education & Public Health, then the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Service. Continue reading

A Nation Unmade by War by Tom Engelhardt

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United States Counterterror War Locations 2015-2017

United States Counterterror War Locations 2015-2017
Photo Credit: TomDispatch

 

Embarrassing spectacle. Treasonous. National security crisis. These are some of the reactions to the Helsinki Summit between Presidents Trump and Putin on July 16, 2018. Some among us believe that Trump is responsible for all that’s wrong with America. Not so, Tom Engelhardt reminds us in his latest book, A Nation Unmade by War (Haymarket Books, May 2018).

In A Nation Unmade by War, Engelhardt focuses on “a nation increasingly unsettled and transformed by spreading wars to which most of its citizens were, at best, only half paying attention.” He views Trump’s election as “part of the costs of those wars come home” and envisages that America’s 45th president “might preside over the most precipitous decline of a truly dominant power in history, one only recently considered at the height of its glory.”

When the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the United States became the sole superpower. Dreams of creating a planetary Pax Americana led to the build-up of this country’s military might. The realization of that dream came on September 11, 2001, with al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center, and the subsequent launch of America’s Global War on Terror. This never-ending war has now consumed an estimated $5.6 trillion from September 2001 through fiscal year 2018 (Costs of War Project, Brown University, November 2017). Continue reading

Renewable Energy Soundscapes

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Primal Sonic Visions by Bill Fontana

Primal Sonic Visions by Bill Fontana
Photo Credit: Venice Science Gallery, Italy

 

Joan Sullivan – a Canadian-based renewable energy photographer, blogging at Artists and Climate Change – has opened my senses to diverse artists working to help us embrace our transition to a 100 percent renewable energy economy. In her post, “Renewable Energy Soundscapes,” published on July 12, 2018, Sullivan introduces us to Bill Fontana’s Primal Sonic Visions, now on exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018.

Seventy-one-year-old Bill Fontana, an American composer and sound art pioneer, told Sullivan that the project, commissioned by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), transformed him as an artist through his experimentation with moving images and invention of a new visual language.

Primal Sonic Visions prompts deep reflection on the power and effectiveness of energy capable of ensuring the future of our planet and triggers an emotional response to the environment, now under violent attack from the effects of climate change and atmospheric agents,” Fontana said at the opening of the exhibition in May 2018. “As people enter the space, they are met with an emotional experience that at first instills a sense of wonder, and later transforms into a deep reflection of the potential and power of these energy sources to be used in securing a future for our planet.” Continue reading

America escalates trade war with China

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China Shipping Line at the Port of Los Angeles - California

China Shipping Line at the Port of Los Angeles – California – USA
Photo Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

 

America’s trade war with China is now official. On July 6th, the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced that an additional 818 Chinese goods, amounting to approximately $34 billion, now face a 25 percent import tax on arrival at US ports. Goods affected include Chinese-made vehicles, aircraft, boats, engines, and heavy equipment. Check the USTR website for the complete list.

“We must take strong defensive actions to protect America’s leadership in technology and innovation against the unprecedented threat posed by China’s theft of our intellectual property, the forced transfer of American technology, and its cyber-attacks on our computer networks,” said US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on June 15th.  “China’s government is aggressively working to undermine America’s high-tech industries and our economic leadership through unfair trade practices and industrial policies…”

In retaliation, China has imposed a 25 percent tariff on 545 American products of equivalent value. American soybeans, corn, wine, fresh and dried fruits, nuts, pork, and poultry are among the targeted items.

“[Beijing was] forced to strike back to defend the core interests of the nation and its people,” declared China’s Commerce Ministry on July 6th. China will also file a complaint against the USA with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

In a PBS presentation with Amna Nawaz on July 6th, Yasheng Huang of MIT’s Sloan School of Management said that negotiations between American and Chinese commerce officials failed to reach an agreement because “the strategy pursued by the Trump administration is kind of a take it or leave it. That doesn’t really leave the Chinese with much room to maneuver.”

More tariffs are yet to come. President Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One: “And then you have another 16 [billion dollars] in two weeks, and then, as you know, we have $200 billion in abeyance and then after the $200 billion, we have $300 billion in abeyance. OK? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300.”

I doubt that our president’s bully tactics will curb China’s trade abuses. Meanwhile, import tariffs put in place earlier this year on washing machines, solar panels, steel, and aluminum are already impacting American jobs. In his July 6th article in The Week, Jeff Spross concludes that our president is recklessly rushing into a trade war without any clear objectives or endgame.

“It’s worth remembering that the president was a reality TV star,” Spross writes. “And in that profession, the point is ratings. There’s little differentiation between putting on a show and getting results; the show is the result. And it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this trade war is just another show Trump’s putting on.”

Unlike America’s endless wars in the Middle East, upon which our military-industrial complex gorges itself, America’s trade war with China has an expiry date. As the global market adjusts, more American manufacturers will relocate their factories overseas to remain competitive and secure their markets.

“Broken System” – Spoken Word Poem by Guyanese Poet Renata Burnette

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houston-home-50

Victim of domestic violence with her mother – Guyana

 

My Poetry Corner July 2018 features the spoken word poem, “Broken System,” by young Guyanese poet Renata Burnette. Residing in the capital, Georgetown, she is a second-year undergraduate at the University of Guyana, pursuing a degree in Communications.

Renata’s poetry calls attention to the daily struggles and issues of young Guyanese, especially those in their late teens and twenties. She gained national attention in August 2016 with her poem, “Dear Mr. President,” expressing her challenges in finding a job as an undergraduate.

In “Broken System,” published on Guyana’s Independence Day, May 26, 2018, the poet portrays a system that offers little to no protection to the country’s vulnerable youth.

We have 15-year-old girls being gang raped; boys being caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just children running away from their homes because the ones that are supposed to be protecting them, they’re now physically and sexually abusing them… These children, they have no faith in us because we have failed them…

Renata observes that the justice system fails these abused children by either condemning them to the juvenile penitentiary or returning them to their abusers. Further on, she raises the issue of drug dealing and the difficulty of finding work, even for someone with higher education.

So how do we fix the system, the same system that’s putting away our young men for selling or smoking weed, but we’re yet to curb the increase of lung cancer disease that’s mainly caused by tobacco smoking, also known as cigarette smoking. So what do we do? We put a warning label on the pack and just hope that it stops… And even when I graduate from one of the highest institutions in the land, they cannot guarantee me a job…with or without this degree. And you want to know why our young people are out here selling weed. Food for thought. Stay woke. See, plugs make more money than teachers make on their government salaries.

Without a pause, Renata addresses sexual harassment. No subject is taboo for our young poet.

And if you’re a woman in today’s society then sexual harassment is something that you’re almost guaranteed. It’s like a rite of passage, so be careful. Don’t wear anything loose, don’t appear to be too revealing, because when the man across the street shouts for you, calling you every single thing except your name, you better look… But really and truly all our tongues burn to say is just stay away from me. But we’re too scared because our system is broken; it’s backwards…

The system also fails victims of domestic violence. The police, the poet notes, not only show up until after the attack, but there’s also no justice for the woman.

And even though she’s the victim, there would be no justice for he [the abuser] knows people in high positions. You know, that can make a police report disappear regardless of how he acts. Those kind-a people in authority that have a knack for sweeping every single thing under the mat…

Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, the young poet controls the rising and falling rhythm with expressive hands. Without a script. Giving voice to the voiceless.

On America’s Independence Day, I offer these closing words of insight from our young Guyanese spoken word poet (emphasis mine):

If history has proven anything, it’s that the truth would always survive and, if needs be, it would bleed through crooked lines.

You can watch Renata Burnette’s performance on YouTube. For my complete transcript of “Broken System” and to learn more about the poet, go to my Poetry Corner July 2018.

CAPTIONED PHOTO
Victim of domestic violence with her mother, Guyana
In 2013, Natasha Houston’s husband killed their two children, slashed her arm and hand, then killed himself.
Photo Credit: WGVU News

Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships Edited by Dr. K E Garland

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Book Cover - Daddy Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships Edited by Dr K E Garland

 

So much noise scrambling my thoughts as I read Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships edited by Dr. K E Garland. On arrival at our southern border with Mexico, refugee children – referred to as illegal migrants – are separated from their parents. A two-year-old girl screams while a U.S. Border Patrol agent questions her mother. Where is her father, I wonder?

Back to my reading of Daddy.

In her account, “Abandoned at Breakfast,” BB – a writer, wife, and mother whose parents had divorced when she was a kid – recalls her emptiness when her father didn’t show up for her baby shower.

“Behind the makeup and flashing cameras, I was still the little girl who longed for her father’s embrace,” BB recalls. “I wanted [my father] to accept me and tell me that I was beautiful, even fifty pounds heavier.” Continue reading

Happy National Caribbean American Heritage Month

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Celebrate National Caribbean American Heritage Month

 

June is National Caribbean American Heritage Month – a time for celebrating the legacy of Caribbean immigrants and their descendants in American history and culture. Given the silence in the mainstream media, no one seems to care.

In her June 7th article, “It’s a Month to Celebrate Caribbean Immigrants but Who Really Cares?” Felicia J. Persaud – a New York-based, Guyana-born journalist and media entrepreneur – observes that the silence on NCAHM goes beyond media outlets. Not a word, she says, from the many Caribbean-American federal and state officials from across the country. Not even from celebrities like Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Jason Derulo, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Shaggy, and others. Persaud’s list goes on.

I understand Persaud’s concern that “if as Caribbean immigrants we show we don’t care about our own month, then no one else will.” Yet, I can appreciate the silence. We are not living in normal times, especially for immigrants from what our President denigrates as “shithole” countries. US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are on the prowl for undocumented immigrants deemed animals, drug dealers, murderers, rapists, and terrorists. When one is targeted for verbal and physical abuse, incarceration, and deportation, one doesn’t go about waving a flag or twerking in a celebratory street carnival.

Our white American brothers and sisters in towns and cities devastated by the flight of American manufacturers are suffering. While the hopeless are killing themselves with opiate use, others are voicing their anger. They know not that we are all victims of a capitalist system that cannibalizes human and non-human life. A system that discards the useless and worthless. They know not how the free flow of capital and production sweeps across our once secure lives, leaving us struggling for footing and air.

In a recent interview with Karl Marlin of Truthout, Henry A. Giroux, an American and Canadian scholar and cultural critic, notes:

When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices.

As a Caribbean immigrant and writer in America, I plod forward in building bridges, however narrow or rickety. We all share the same humanity. As a fellow blogger and poet, Miriam Ivarsam, expresses so eloquently in her poem “Per Universum,”

Through universe we flow
and It through us.
Ever increasing harmony.

Happy NCAHM to my fellow Caribbean immigrants and Caribbean-Americans across this land that we love and call home!

“american child” – Poem by normal

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Four-year-old American child learns to us a machine gun

Four-year-old American child – in the age of the National Rifle Association – learns to use a machine gun
Photo Credit: ABC News Video (January 2014)

 

My Poetry Corner June 2018 features an excerpt from the poem “american child” by normal. Raised in Passaic, New Jersey, normal is a poet and registered nurse now retired and living in Saugerties, New York.

As a young poet in the early 1960s, he began reading his work at the Rafio Café in Greenwich Village, frequented by Beat poets and writers. Among the poets who influenced normal’s sensibilities is the American poet, e.e. cummings (1894-1962), whose use of low-case letters and minimal punctuation he emulates.

The following excerpts come from normal’s chapbooks, Blood on the Floor (1999) and American Child (2001).

His poem “blood on the floor” brings to mind America’s powerlessness to end mass shootings, stealing the future of our children.

don’t slip
there is blood on the floor.

blood of apathy
blood of the dispassionate
the ignoring
blood of those numbed by dumb
life
blood of those who pretend it
never happens / the cheerfully
humbled who go about it all
smiling.

Meanwhile, the raindrops are loaded / with the eyes of children.

The featured poem, “american child,” portrays Americans in all our glory and shame. Penned on Labor Day 2000, the poem begins with the plight of the American worker.

i am the child of america
the sierra madres are bleeding
i am america
the mad & the magnate marry
the factory wolf howls
i am america
the mantra rumbles with the kinds & the cripples.

Trappings of American life ring through the verses: dinty moore stew, soup kitchens, porno talkshows, paparazzi, honkytonk queen, sams club, home depot, tickertape parade, flophouse, and more.

Four stanzas speak of “death to” individuals, special groups, historical events, and man-made systems. Among the targets are lewis & clark, manifest destiny, trail of tears & of schemes, and the american dream. The poet also boots the capitalist, communist, anarchist, antichrist, and atheist. (I would like to add racist and misogynist.)

Apart from lewis & clark, normal mentions several other personalities that make up the American character: joe dimaggio, thomas jefferson, geronimo, benedict arnold, einstein, and chief joseph. (No shout out to Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King?)   

In the following stanza, the poet captures the schizoid character of the American child and his impact on the world:

i am beauty
i am invention
i am wonder
i am the united fruit company
i am promontory point pikes peak & mai lie
i am the glory
i am the savior
i am the black tide of the acid sky

(mai lie instead of My Lai reframes the massacre in Vietnam.)

[…]

fool / genius // the kind of heaven & hell // the arithmetic eyes of the bureaucrat robot

Yet, for all his flaws, the American child is a fighter and survivor in a crazy world, as normal concludes in his final verses.

i am the feral infant dancing on the freakstage / of the final sunset // i am the child of america.

Much has changed over the past seventeen plus years since normal’s portrayal of the American child. How could he have foreseen Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump? I live in hope that an American child – rising from a bloody school floor; less feral and more inclusive – has now embarked on the path to the presidency.

To read the excerpt from the featured poem and learn more about the work of normal, go to my Poetry Corner June 2018.