Tucumcari Revisited [March 15]

Six hundred and twenty miles straight across from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to New Mexico.  I’ve done the long flat dry southwestern crossing several times before.  But never like this.  Of course it was a different world then.  In 1971 in rural eastern Colorado gas went for 18-cents a gallon. The drylands and deserts were lands of amazement amped by anxiety of crossing them in a mere motor vehicle, at least as I had at the time.  My first trip across – driving a big U-Haul truck towing my car – left the latter with all four tires disintegrating to molten rubber and steel-belted shrapnel in the middle of nowhere Nevada at 3am.  My return trip had a stronger car trailer, but the bolts unloosened and my Buick swung behind the truck on the thread of a single safety chain.  My third trip across yielded a bulging tire on the trailer in Yuccamucca that threatened to explode and flip the car at high speed.  On the fourth my air conditioner condenser blew out in the middle of Oklahoma, its heat and dust enveloping me for the rest of trip.

But each time I had felt the scope, the depth, the awe of the landscape – and the self-conscious dignity of those who struggled to stay in it. This time was different.  The road was so smooth and the car as well; it wasn’t a trial at all to get across, just like driving anywhere – but minus the traffic.  This time through the hotels.com app we easily booked a nice BW in Tucumcari NM en route. We arrived so easily, piped in on a bubble of self-seclusion.  I remembered my pathos from before. I wondered what had become of the lives I had crossed them so fleetingly then, in need and travail myself at the time.  This time we sang “Oklahoma” from Roger’s and Hammerstein as we rolled: “We know we belong to the land!  And the land we belong to is GRAND!!” Even as I remembered Roxanne Dunbar’s Red Dirt, about what it was really like to be a poor white Okie hick with an alcoholic mother in the post-dustbowl Oklahoma of the 1950s.

We pull into the palatial Love’s gas to get the same foot-long deluxe turkey and ham double-meat subs that we do in Atlanta, with Italian Herbs & Cheese bread and provolone cheese and toasted with everything on it including chipotle and sweet onion sauce.  The woman at the counter is so pleasant.  I think of the lives of those who live or used to live in the country away from the highway.  I suspect they aren’t driving a 2015 Lexus SUV, even if bought used, like I am.  Wherever they were, it is now galaxies away from my present experience.

We’ll come back to New Mexico later, its crannies and byways awaiting. The present crossing seems barely a down-payment.  But this is itself, perhaps, a testament to the ease-of-passing occlusions of capitalist ‘development’ in the current rural Southwest.  Of moving through while barely stopping to consider.

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Trump Beleaguered

Trump Beleaguered

March 1

For two-and-a-half years, Trump has torn apart not just the U.S., but the American nation. It was a nation that had some vestige of shared collective identity, no less palpable or real for being imaginary. Though one’s background identity, one’s race, sex or gender, class, and so on, have always mattered — how could they not? – there was this other part of collective identity that was being American, part of the American nation. This sense was always probably most pronounced for those who were not at the very bottom nor perhaps at the very top of the economic and racial pyramid. And it has ebbed and flowed over time.

Since the late 1800s and recovery from the Civil War, shared American national identity was probably strongest during World War Two, including for Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans (though certainly not for Japanese-Americans). Since then and until Trump, albeit with hiccups and confrontations, especially during the late 60s and 70s, at least some sense of this has remained — evening if waning more recently. That is, that thing that Benedict Anderson called a collectively felt national community. Not that this superseded other identities — gender and sex, race, class, religion, age, region of the country, and so on. But rather that being American provided a complement to these. This included a potential way, at least in part, to counterbalance if not counteract these identity differences and polarization.

Born in 1954 in Connecticut, I grew up in that world. I felt it since a child during the 1960s and onward, including overland across all the states of the U.S., excepting Alaska, from the 1970s through the early 90s. I felt it while living in a New Haven black ghetto, and in working-class encounters in a number of places and guises. There was something about the U.S. – the nation of Americans if not the government of the United States — that made it seem, at least potentially, a decent and good and even wholesome collectivity – notwithstanding all its awful invasions both abroad and militarily at home. I both hoped for and was very skeptical of this claim to nationalism, to the idea that America was in some sense “good.”

My white class status at the time was highly liberal and progressive for its day, but I was also highly dissatisfied with this and wanted to live with and among people who were as different from my critique of privilege that I could then imagine. Hence my intensified interest in anthropology. I criticized the great ills of the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s, became a Marxist and a feminist and anti-racist wanted to work with and among people of color or otherwise as diverse and different from my background as possible. A few years ago I documented and very critically analyzed American imperialism historically through the early 21st century (see the target article in CA : Home page (under the photo banner) à Books & publications à Selected articles and reports à “Provincializing America”).

Amid all of its badness, there was still, even though I was in important ways staunchly anti-American, something potentially positive about America, or at least something that in comparative terms, compared with many other countries, to be aspired to. Some could-be-progressive sense that most Americans were or at least could mostly be good-at-heart people, not because but in spite of their collective capitalist power as a nation and as a country. This including at least ultimately or potentially across lines of race and class. In hindsight, I’m sure my perception was influenced by my race and class position at the time – but much less so when I was off in the field in one or another country, or engaged in serious critical reading and thinking.

That sense of loosely coherent and positive American-ness was shredded by Trump – and was presaged, in retrospect, by those who hated Obama. I remember a lecture I attended in early fall well before the November 2016 election. A conservative gay Republican, very smart, warned forcefully that if by some wild chance that nobody then expected Trump DID become POTUS, it would be a true disaster. A disaster for America of a magnitude that would be hard (and was hard, at that time) to imagine. An awkward shudder went through the audience. As if they contemplated for the first time that this ridiculous unthinkable possibility — might actually happen. I remembered being politically scared in the U.S. — in a certain kind new way — for the first time. for the first time.)

Up until election night, I assumed along with Nate Silver and everyone else that Hillary was a shoo-in for election – the first woman President. Obama’s legacy would kind of be vouchsafed, as rocky and jagged as it was. Against this was the worry that Clinton had her own potential lean — albeit much softer – toward autocracy. All this changed with the returns. The nation I had been living in suddenly felt like a foreign land. It was very much an owl-of-minerva sensation: I had never had felt very American and had often done fieldwork or fantasized living elsewhere. But now that I knew that an importantly potential good part of Americanness was lost, gone, I viscerally felt for the first time as if by negative definition what is had meant to have better ideals and ethics put forward by the government and in the nation, compromised though they be.

I continued to sense for the next half-year after the election that some inchoate part of potentially good America was lost. Then I left for a full summer off the grid in the rainforest of Papua New Guinea. When I left in late spring 2017, Trump’s post-election lock-step with the Republicans was not at all firm. The Republicans themselves had a lot of ambivalence. Waves of deep structural opposition against Trump’s Presidency still seemed viable. During my weeks away and cut off during that first summer he was President, I seriously thought I would return to find impeachment hearings or other signs of Trumpian meltdown. But while I was gone, things only got worse.

A lot worse. Following his inauguration through 2017 and most of 2018, Trump’s grip of fear and bludgeondry simply increased. I was flabbergasted and sickened by the falsehoods and maliciousness and total support of Trump pumped out by FOX News, One America, and Breitbart News. Sean Hannity had the most popular cable news program in the country, as well as talk radio. He was all but very seriously inciting actual violent revolution – from the Right. Trump, in the mix, had completely conquered the Republican Party — and was making further inroads across the country. He gained simply more and more strength.

By fall 2018, I seriously started reading books about fascism, especially Italian fascism. Except that Mussolini was an imperial expansionist, the glory of Italian conquest abroad. Against this, Trump is an arch nationo-isolationist. He tolerates the military but has no love of it.

Leading up to the November 2018 mid-term elections, I perceived a see-saw of progressive hope and fear. Hope among us that the Democrats could actually take both houses of Congress. And fear of a backlash of the kind that’s Trump election had so unexpectedly brought in the ’16 election – fear of another election night surprise catastrophe, leaving Trumpist Republicans in charge of the whole government. I felt sickened by Kavanaugh’s bludgeoning of Blasey-Ford – what a heroic woman, not to mention the Senate then approving him for life on the Supreme Court.

In the mix between hope and fear, the 2018 mid-term elections seemed half-a-loaf. The Democrats still stood for that shredded imagined collective America, America as a nation across class and race, at least potentially and in principle. But they seemed just an upstart force against Trump’s Leviathan Thugs.

More practically, Pelosi outmaneuvered DJ decisively on key issues, including the government shut-down and the State of the Union. For the first time, he has had to kowtow, a primal moment of primate subordination. Pelosi had gotten the House of Opposition in order. Now the Democrats are both united and running rampant: the early days of the Democrat Hats-in-the-Ring testing and zesting ground. But it somehow seems quite interesting in the mix that Bezos, the richest man in America and the world, is practically at legal war with Trump.

Looking back, against all progressive odds, Trump’s bullying mushroomed pretty consistently for two-and-a-half years, from late spring 2016 through November 2018. Even the mid-term elections did not by themselves ensure that Dems could really assert themselves against executive plus senatorial plus judicial power. But the way Pelosi played it did effect a structural check on his power. And at least for a spell, the country’s political fulcrum tilted an alternate direction.

Perhaps predictably, Republicans now continue to centralize while the Democrats ramify out. Media is changing, too. FOX news no longer simply echoes apologies for Trump. But CNN just hired an apparent hatchet woman for Trump to be director of CNN 2020 election reporting. This on the ideology of creating better media balance at CNN between Red and Blue.

Today in Congressional hearings was the exposé of Trump’s presidential cesspool by Cohen. On the same day, Trump walked away failed from North Korea. In response, the Republicans merely doubled down.

It remains to be seen if Democrats will centralize enough to win the Presidency in 2020. Or whether, on a more outside chance, that they will win or try to win it by energizing a smaller but more zealous base. As seems always to have been the case for the past several decades, a small number of swing states will spell the difference on way or the other.

The stakes are both whether the next Presidency is Red or Blue, and also whether civil polarization in the U.S. gets yet more strident. Along with this is whether polarizations in America either line up or splinter across and among different axes of inequality – class, race, sex, religion. I think Marx of the 18th Brumaire and wonder where we stand. Time will tell. But at least the game is on. Not that there is some other “great America” that should be trumpeted by either assertion or negation. In that sense, Foucault was right. But Marx was also right. As if in our current digitized capitalism, I = P, where I is information, and P is power.

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Gebusi recovery from drought

I’m pleased to report, now returned from two months back in the field this past summer, that Gebusi have survived and recovered remarkably well from the catastrophic drought that impacted them earlier this year and in 2015. Below is a photo of Sayu holding the shell of a large turtle he caught at the bottom of a large river at the height of the drought.  (The hard part of the shell shown is only about 60% of its original size, which was filled out by cartilage that doesn’t last.)  Sayu and his friends caught seven of these huge turtles — and managed to transport them by boat all the way back to Gasumi Corners, so the entire village could eat their massive protein in a big feast at the height of the drought.  This reflects Gebusi ingenuity in adapting to environmental stress — and their commitment to help each other as a collective community.  Viva Gebusi! 

[Posted 9/8/16]

sayu-holding-turtle-shell

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Gebusi food shortage critical

***March 2016:  To view an updated video presentation concerning the Gebusi’s severe drought and food shortage — including in relation to our own planned attempt to return to Gebusi this coming May and June — click HERE***

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Gebusi / Nomad area drought relief

Subject: Fund for North Fly relief effort

A food relief effort for the peoples of the Nomad area, including the Gebusi, is now being organized by Dr. Emma Gilberthorpe.  See further info below!  Best, -Bruce K

.Dear friends and colleagues

As you know, PNG’s Western Province has suffered the terrible consequences of the recent drought. I have set up a crowdfunding page (link below) to try and raise some money to assist with the relief effort. Whilst the situation is improving it remains dire, and remote regions have limited access to food. There are people on the ground in Tabubil and Kiunga to disseminate the funds we raise and organise transportation to remote regions. Please, please give generously.  Do not hesitate to contact me if you either have questions or have a suggestion/request for where relief efforts should be focussed.

Many, many thanks

https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/egilberthorpe

Dr Emma Gilberthorpe

Senior Lecturer in Development Anthropology

School of International Development
University of East Anglia
Norwich, NR4 7TJ
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1603 591883

website: http://www.uea.ac.uk/international-development/People/Academic/gilberthorpe

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El Nino drought food shortage critical among Gebusi

January 27, 2016

The continuing El Nino drought in the South Pacific has hit the country of Papua New Guinea very hard — and Gebusi are located in one of two select pockets of the country where food shortage, potential starvation, and increased death rates appear to be worst. For details, view the Jan 25 PNG drought report video for details.  The first part of the video describes the general PNG situation and conditions in the worst areas such as the eastern part of the Western Province, where Gebusi live.  The second part features a missionary who has long association with the Gebusi’s neighbors, the Bedamini people. She describes food shortage that is quite severe in areas that include Gebusi.  Highest hopes are that government food relief flights can be arranged to this general area.  As the first part of the segment notes, this is very expensive given the remoteness of the area and the difficulty of local airstrips (such as the Nomad airstrip, which remains closed).  My fervent hope and wish is that government and relief organizations can get food to Gebusi and neighboring peoples — and that my Gebusi friends, with whom I now have no contact, are using their bush skills and know-how to somehow adapt and survive in the interim, during these extremely challenging conditions.  My own planned trip to visit Gebusi next month is necessarily on hold — until flights within Western Province are reestablished and Gebusi themselves have recovered enough to return to their main villages. Let us all hope the best for them, and all those who are suffering from major food shortage in PNG and other areas at the present time.

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El Nino in New Guinea

The 2015 El Nino drought in the South Pacific is having an unfortunately major impact on climate and also on subsistence in New Guinea — including the Western Province of Papua New Guinea where the Gebusi reside.  Information is hard to come by, but drought conditions are severe and most people in rainforest areas are said to be resorting to starvation foods and trying to survive on a restricted diet.  Of course we wish the best for our Melanesian friends, and hope that this drought will be over, as predicted, by late winter or early spring, 2016.

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