Review: River of Traps: A Village Trap by William deBuys & Alex Harris Print E-mail

river_of_traps(San Diego Union-Tribune November 23, 1990)

The Old Man and the Land of Enchantment

Perhaps no other region in the United States has captivated the soul of artists and common people as fervently as northern New Mexico. The high desert first lured the Anasazi, whose glyphs and ruins can still be found in stark, sacred settings.

As norteno, the northern extreme of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the area attracted the heartiest families to its mountains, where Spanish Catholicism has been imbued with Native American legend and myth.

Today northern New Mexico is the heart of the U.S. Southwest, represented best by the Indian markets of Santa Fe and the desert-and-bone paintings of Georgia O'Keefe. River of Traps further deepens this love affair between artist and place, lingering on the region's Hispanic life and one of its partriarchs, 80-year-old Jacobo Romero.

Review: Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget by Tim Weiner Print E-mail

29a(San Diego Union-Tribune October 5, 1990)

Agency & Author Overkill

It's all here, every sordid nickel and filthy dime.

Money for murder, millions spent in search of enemies, foreign policy bought and sold in the White House basement. The abusers?

Who else but the CIA, destabilizing governments worldwide: Vietnam, Panama, Cambodia, Guatemala, Chile.

Or making seismic blunders in the name of National Security: the Bay of Pigs; Watergate, Cuban exiles and dirty tricks; the secretly funded wars in Laos, Angola and Afghanistan; Ollie North, the Enterprise and Iran-contra. Tim Weiner's spin on CIA evil says that the Pentagon, to keep such low-intensity warfare alive, has acquired nearly one-fourth of its present budget, a black budget totaling $36 billion, in ways that defy any public accounting as to how those funds are received and used. (For unearthing this information at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Weiner won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.)

Review: The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape by Andrei Codrescu Print E-mail

codrescu(San Diego Union-Tribune July 27, 1990)

A Romanian in the Works

To be exiled—whether by the state or by personal choice—begins a lifelong struggle.

It is perhaps deepest when the exile's mind remains divided between memory and the New World, one mind firmly in the past and one assimilating hesitantly into the present. The mind of memory tells the exile to hold onto his loss.

He may return, if not in fact then in imagination.

The New World mind tells him that his life, which stands out in ways magical and strange from the natives around him, is hardly what he expected living to be. Hence Andrei Codrescu—Romanian exile, surrealist poet, U.S. citizen, man of two minds.

Review: Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow by Brian Fawcett Print E-mail

Fawcett-Brian-lg(Another Chicago Magazine Number 21, 1990)

A Moon Without a Bicycle

Brian Fawcett's Cambodia is a collection of thirteen deftly humorous and deadly serious essays. He covers popular culture, the psychological character of the media, and the meaning of genocide, most of it American-style. He hunts and bags engimas, finding new ways to dramatize the failings of American consumerism, be it products or ideology, ridiculing its claims as he goies. Chief on his (s)hit list is the claim that consumer choice is amoung our most cherished liberties.

What are his credentials? For one, he's Canadian. When a foreign writer satirizes another country and its traditions, it's not wisdom exactly that he or she possesses. It's proximity. Fawcett can, as well as any Canadian, be highly critical of America because their people are nearly all (except the Quebecois) "descendants of British colonialists." The Canadians' critical stance results from their experience with our folly. Whatever the United States does in business or the environment, it surely involves the Canadians, with or without their approval.

Review: The Mind of South Africa by Allister Sparks Print E-mail

SparksTheMindofSouthAfrica(San Diego Union-Tribune June 29, 1990)

The Psychology of Oppression

The history of South Africa fascinates Americans for good reason.

We see our own checkered past in theirs: colonization, slavery, a civil war fought over who should govern the "savages," and a capitalist-industrial revolution bringing mass immigration and exploitation. Black Americans need no reminders of the legacy of racial division: educational opportunities far below the national average and disproportionate rates for crime, drug addiction, homicide and infant death. But with apartheid, the 1948 law enforcing total racial segregation, modern similarities between the U.S. and South Africa end.

Articulating apartheid's uniqueness, Steve Biko, a leader in the Black Consciousness movement, said it best in one of his rallying cries: "I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people." That "settler minority," of course, is the Dutch—the Afrikaners.

Review: Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class by Barbara Ehrenrich Print E-mail

FF(Minnesota Review. N.S. 34/35, Spring/Fall 1990)

A Movable Beast

Nothing perhaps is as cumbersome for the sociologist to analyze as the middle class. It resists any easy reading because people constantly enter and move around inside it, as often as they become entrapped or leave. With such liquidity, its most conspicuous trait is a mercurial identity which no other class possesses. The more we question this identity the more divergent our thinking becomes. Do middle-class people share the same values? Do their cultural values outweigh economic ones? Can a person having middle-class career values have another class's artistic tastes or political agenda? Add then the saccharine images with which the media makes a middle-class lifestyle seem desirable, and those with middle-class aspirations leap out of the woodwork. George Bush is one. He works hard at being middle class by pitching horseshoes, holding barbecues, and hugging grandkids, and never once loses his upper-class status. Oddly, he can mix with us but we aren't invited to his parties. Anyone with some education and a few correct possessions can appear middle class. Even the middle class. So, with appearances intrinsic to analyzing this class's identity, only the intrepid sociologist would wrestle with such a subject. Answering the bell is Barbara Ehrenreich, searching for the middle-class's inner life.

Review: Dogeaters by Jessica Hagedorn Print E-mail

dogeaters-cover-668x1024(Hungry Mind Review Number 14 May-June, 1990)

The Predestination of It All

In every society—ruled by tyrants or popularly elected leaders—there is often a corporate elite whose corruption and mean-spiritedness defy all justification for their influence, including the privilege of wealth. Such despotic rich people seem endemic to the Philippines, whether we recall the Marcos's recent reign or view the upper-class slime that oozes foully within Jessica Hagedorn's novel, Dogeaters. Here, the Filipino mafia is headed by the Gonzaga and Alacran families, who are "related by money," as the cynical Uncle Agustin Gonzaga says. At the top is Severo Alacran, owner of the conglomerate, "International Coconut Investments. Intercoco, for short." His brother and Freddie Gonzaga are titular Vice-Presidents, the best yes-men around, and everyone is friends with the President of the country and the First Lady. Since this is 1950s Philippines, we are a few years from Ferdinand and Imelda. But to make sure we know what's coming, the novel's First Lady, interviewed by a Western reporter, defends her extravagant shoe collection as okay on grounds that they're locally made.

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