the old joke where a recently deceased citizen arrives at the pearly
gates; Gabriel asks, Name? Sam Clemons. Um...
don't have you on the list. How would I know you? Well, I wrote Life
on the Mississippi and other books. Oh, Mark, come on in.
In Letters from the Earth,
Mark unleashes his impatience with silly belief-without-evidence
theology and convention by craftily taking on that persona himself,
arguing, in the essay The Damned Human Race,
that “the world was made for man and the universe was made for the
world – to stiddy it, you know.” That being settled then, the
astronomical argument, he moves on to the geologic evidence. This
involves a pretty sophisticated use of Darwin's origin theories to
argue that the millions of years of development of life, bacteria,
cells, etc; was all necessary to lay the ground for man. It is as if
just saying it makes it so and therein lies Twain's witty mockery of
dogma and uncritical thought, all too familiar to us lately here over
a hundred years later.
critique of fundamentalist religion and convention may account for
the 50 year delay in publication though Twain's executor, his
daughter, claimed that the material was not up to his standards. True
in some cases, especially the first part where an attempt to portray
the creator, and his entourage, discussing the mortals, is quite
funny in places but cumbersome and ultimately doesn't hold together.
It is certainly unfinished. That god rested after creating the
universe and concluded that it was good, comes in for some Twain-ism,
reminding the maker that mosquitos, rattle snakes, rats, flu, the
black plague etc; can hardly be called good. A sketch of Noah's
famous Arc is hilarious with all the glossed over problems inherent
in a literal reading. Deadly enemies, lethal serpents, lions and
lambs all co-housed in a space too tiny by far for the numbers
necessary. Feeding, cleanup and other weighty housekeeping went
unmentioned in the original tale but not in Mark's. And the maker
gets more scolding for his numerous sadistic and xenophobic commands
to believers, like those that involve slaughtering all males above
age 12 and enslaving the rest of a conquered opponent.
book is a collection of short pieces. One is on ettiquette, how to
behave at certain social functions ie, at a funeral, don't bring your
dog. Most helpful is a section on how to decide the order in which to
rescue people from burning buildings and what a proper comment might
be, depending also on class, both of the rescuer and rescuee. The
Great Dark is an exasperating tale about a
happy family purchasing a microscope and enjoying the astonishingly
enlarged, previously invisible creatures there. Later, waking during
the night the family finds themselves on a microscopically tiny ship
in the drop of water on said instrument. Only the father realizes
where they are. All others see an endless sea, sometimes turbulent,
often placid with occasional appearances by grotesque monsters.
Eventually the father begins to doubt his knowledge of where he is
and eventually accepts the idea that they are on a voyage to the
South Pole, and always have been. The transition to this belief is so
convoluted that the author himself seems not quite sure what the true
situation is. Another short piece, A Cat-Tale,
describes the nightly routine at Mark's place, inventing bedtime
stories for his children who are encouraged to interrupt with
questions which are always wittily addressed.
all of this entertainment reaches quite the level of writing and
subtlety of Huckleberry Finn
but as a look at some of the left-overs of a great writer, it does
the job. And from the man who opined, when the U.S. invaded the
Philippines in 1898, that the stars and bars
should be replaced by the skull and cross-bones,
it is great fun to encounter challenges to convention that, radical
in their day, stand still relevant to our time. One could possibly
conclude that narrow minds not only live on but pretty much dominate
across eras... so far.
Battle For Paradise applies the insights
Namoi Klein shared in her important book, Shock
Doctrine, to Puerto Rico after Hurricane
Maria. In what she calls Disaster Capitalism, state actors collude
with ideologues and business interests to enact radical, unpopular
policies and programs while the populace is preoccupied with some
crisis. The Patriot Act is an example, passed during the 911 trauma,
as is the dismantling of the New Orleans' public school system and
public housing in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
Rico was already in crisis when Maria
struck. The island is essentially a U.S. colony, the inhabitants
having no right to vote nor representation in Washington DC, although
they have U.S. citizenship. Puerto Rico provided low-wage workers for
off-shore factories, attracted also by low taxes. These tax laws
expired in 2006 creating a devastating flight of companies to even
cheaper labor and tax locales. The government's response was to
borrow money. Of course, eventually payback falls due. The next step,
as Greece can tell you, is austerity. The U.S. congress passed
PROMESA, a law that created a 7-member panel, 6 of whom did not live
on the island, to oversee island finances, holding veto power over
elected officials. This ploy is not restricted to colonies, it has
been used in Michigan by that conservative governor to aid in the
general project among the rulers to expand the third
world to the whole world. Many islanders
refer to this measure as a coup d'etat
and the panel as La Junta.
Their predictable solutions are privatization of public resources,
cuts to pensions and services, schools... the course big capital
would have us believe is inevitable and the only road back to
stability. Stability always translates into a reassuring climate for
Rico has a history also of resistence. The dictum that, “we are
many they are few”, empowering to the many, fearsome to the few,
plays out across the planet. The many
have strength in numbers, the few
have resources to obfuscate, confuse, divide since they mostly
control the discussion via ownership of the media, disproportionate
influence on government and other institutions. In Puerto Rico's case
the many are in various states of economic trauma while the few meet
in plush hotels and plan to turn the island into a gated tax haven
for the well-heeled.
not quite all are traumatized. Some of the population came through
successfully than others. While much of the island still lacks
electricity, some small areas had solar and this is up and running.
Organic farms fared better than the mono crop agriculture that was
completely wiped out. These community activists seek alternatives to
the corporate way which has rendered the island heavily dependent on
food imports and fossil fuel, centralized energy grids. The Battle of
Klein's title is here, the capitalist money-chasing, elitist greed
enthusiasts - the few – versus the people, an old old story, an
ancient struggle, nearly always won by the few... but not always.
has done a video on the subject also, of the same title.