Politics and Potlatch

Campaign Anthro 101

December 30, 2019 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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By LARRY CALLOWAY (C)

The Wine Cave War that livened up the Democrat presidential debate a week before Christmas 2019 was timely because it was the season of giving, and the issue was gifts by wealthy people to political campaigns. 

News photos of the cool underground tasting room with its stone arches, crystal chandelier and long banquet table illustrated Elizabeth Warren’s claim that Pete Buttigieg had bonded with the billionaire cave dwellers while she by contrast was out among ordinary people doing “100,000 selfies” for free. 

In my career as a journalist there were many locked doors. I waited with guards or police for candidates — and once for the Dalai Lama in Santa Fe — to emerge from these money rituals. And I had seen enough fund-raising events to know that the strategy was to get people competing like bidders at an art auction, showing their wealth by conspicuous generosity. It’s as if people have a deep instinctive yearning for community and voluntary giving. Call it potlatch. 

Anthropologists have popularized this First Nation word for massive giveaways among the original people of the northwest Pacific coast. It was first reported by Franz Boas, the founder of American anthropology. In an 1888 article he quoted a Kwakiutl leader in these words:  “It is the great desire of every chief and even of every man to collect a large amount of property, and then to give a great potlatch, a feast in which all is distributed among his friends and, if possible, among neighboring tribes.” It was serious business and brought whole tribes together for feasting, song and dance. (more…)


The Word Power of Samantha

A Review of “The Education of an Idealist”

October 30, 2019 in U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

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By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY (C)

Samantha Power’s new book, “The Education of an Idealist,” is an engaging personal memoir telling how she was formed by Ireland, acculturated by America and educated by a dangerous world. It begins with her love of her pub-dwelling father in Dublin and ends with her professional friendship with Barack Obama in Chicago and Washington. 

There are entertaining anecdotes along the way about everything from jogging under fire in Sarajevo to breast feeding while UN ambassador. But this true testament, in her own un-ghosted words, is shadowed by the same dark theme as her first book, “A Problem From Hell,” which won a Pulitzer prize in 2003 when she was just 32. 

“We have been bystanders to genocide. The crucial problem is why,” she wrote then. Sixteen years later, informed by a remarkable career as an “upstander,” (her coined word), her question is refined: “How do the moral and religious traditions of nonviolence coexist with the moral imperative not to stand idly by in the face of suffering?” 

But wait. Samantha Power is. . .who? 

Born in 1970 of Irish parents, who separated when she was eight. Mother and her new partner, both medical doctors, immigrated with her to the United States. Schooled in Georgia, graduate of Yale. Became an American citizen in 1993. Freelance war correspondent, Bosnia, 1993-96. Joined Obama’s Senate staff in Chicago, 2005. Married Cass Sunstein, a former Chicago law school colleague of Obama. Two children with Sunstein, a boy and a girl. Served with the National Security Council, 2009-13. United Nations ambassador, 2013-2017. 

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A Tale Of Two Stairways

Past, Present, Faulkner

May 24, 2019 in El Turista,SOUTHERN JOURNAL,Southwest,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

By LARRY CALLOWAY (C)

“My fellow citizens,” Abraham Lincoln said, addressing Congress in December 1863. “We cannot escape history.” The sentiment and, “The past never dies. It is not even past,”  a line from William Faulkner that has been elevated by quote pickers to the status of an aphorism about the South, hummed like a soundtrack in my mind as we (my daughter and I) discovered the state of Mississippi. Don’t forget slavery, the bluesy background kept repeating. Don’t forget the violence of the 1960’s. 

She was not even born then, but I did not have to tell her about Mississippi Burning: the KKK at night, the exonerated murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Chaney-Goodman-Schwerner. The endless anniversaries attract the media. They become news, affordable to produce from the archives. Not even the past.

We went to Natchez because I wanted to drive some of the Natchez Trace Parkway that goes 444 miles to Nashville and look for signs of the original wagon road. I like historic trails. Old spirits follow them, and you can find things. In arid northern New Mexico I have seen 150-year-old wagon tracks from the Old Santa Fe Trail and found a rusty spur.

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The Unheard Hearing

Regarding the separation of church and science

October 8, 2018 in THE KITCHEN SINK | Comments (0)

By Larry Joseph Calloway

Christine Blasey Ford, a research psychologist, was a stranger in that strange land, the United States Senate, and so her impromptu response to the two most definitive questions by the Democrats was strange. 

When Sen. Feinstein asked how she was sure her sexual assailant was Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Ford responded: 

“In the same way that I’m sure I know I am talking to you right now. It’s just basic memory functions. And also just the level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain that sort of encodes — that transmitter encodes — memories in the hippocampus.  And so trauma-related experience, then, is kind of locked there, whereas other details kind of drift.”

And when Sen. Leahy followed up with the question, “What is the strongest memory of the incident, something that you cannot forget?” Ford responded:

“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, the laughter, the uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” (more…)


On Natural Education

Review of “Educated” by Tara Westover

April 18, 2018 in The Rockies,U. S. Politics | Comments (0)

By LARRY JOSEPH CALLOWAY (c)

“Educated” is an ironic title for a memoir by a young woman, Tara Westover, who showed up at Brigham Young University from rural Idaho at age 17 without any education at all, not even home schooling. All she knew was the mountain where she lived and the personalities of her extended family and the beauty of the seasons and animals and junk cars and how to ride and tame horses and how to cook and identify herbs and their healing properties, and how to sing before an audience and how to trust her own instincts. The meaning of “educated,” then,  must lie in her flyleaf quote from John Dewey that “education is a reconstruction of experience.” 

At 27 Tara Westover received a PhD in history from Cambridge University in England. Her story, published in March, is sure to provoke public schoolers and believers in Jeffersonian democracy. They will have explanations and investigations. All I have is the suggestion that you read this book.

If it were simply about “another young person who left home for an education. . . and isn’t going back,” as the New York Times review concluded, then her memoir would not be a best seller, despite her skillful story telling. The success is in the setting, the surrounding, which is a mystery to most Americans. Most of the book takes place in what is being called The American Redoubt, by fringe writers and their followers. This is the mountainous spread of the interior northwest (Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and parts of eastern Oregon and Washington).

The survivalist culture of the Redoubt (a fortified refuge) involves severing dependance on government, its schools, its police powers its health care requirements, its systems of water, power, and transportation, and its distribution of goods. The culture involves preparing for the political-economical system’s collapse by stockpiling guns, food and fuel and other necessities. Culture is the business of anthropology and this memoir, along with its literary virtues, is anthropological.

Her father is a tyrant, a doomsday prepper who has dozens of guns and a thousand gallons of fuel wrapped and buried. He draws his absolute family authority from random biblical passages. He supports the family with his junkyard salvaging and barn building, in which the seven children as they grow are expected to help. He ignores safety as a matter of crazy religious faith — the angels of the Lord will protect them — and Tara is slashed, impaled and twice nearly crushed to death by his frenzied junkyard sorting. “Dad lived in fear of time. He felt it stalking him. I could see it in the worried glances he gave the sun as it moved across the sky, in the anxious way he appraised every length of pipe or cut of steel,” she writes. (more…)