Friday, June 5, 2009

Hispañiola; Atlantic crystal

Here, here and here are three pieces from three perspectives on the contentious issues in the Dominican community around race, color, and Haitian migration. The overall picture I get from the three is that of an upcoming generation of Dominicans, raised in the US and exposed to a different value set around race and ethnicity than their grandparents and uncles on the island. As the views and comments shared show these remain sensitive topics for Dominicans, and one where there are clear generational and perhaps geographic divides. There are also real problems of semantics; what exactly do the words you choose mean to an older Dominican? How are your claims colored by what he or she knows concerning attitudes of white Americans, representations of blackness in American media, etc.? The confusion can be compounded in the case of Dominican Diasporans as even when Spanish was our first language it is not likely to have been the language of our schooling and our academic and intellectual development. This semantic issue is one that needs to be kept in mind as this conversation grows if those of us reared stateside hope to influence those on the island grappling with these issues.

About a year ago I began going onto the forums of an English language Dominican news site. I'll leave my rant on the value of internet forums for another day. In any case I haven't had much choice in the matter regarding this forum. My intellectual curiosity over this period has run to DR and DR history, and this was the only English language forum with participants among whom numbered a few with solid historical knowledge and developed opinions about DR. Unfortunately, my experience there has been largely negative. Instead of celebrating the Dominican there is considerable ferocity on display at this forum regarding the issues of illegal Haitian immigration and Dominican racial complexes. And though many, especially Diasporans, aim to inject a more humanistic perspective to Haitian immigration issue, it runs into a lot of walls. One quickly learns it isn't as simple as increasing the peace; there are not only the usual legitimate economic factors that pit one group against another, not only the layer of colorism which is present throughout the Americas, but there is also the matter of actual Dominican history. If history matters, it does matter that these nations repeatedly battled militarily since their respective births in the age of Atlantic revolutions. These wars are events that our homegrown Dominican cousins will bring up in discussions on the topic. They are not entirely without merit. These events occurred at the foundations of the national psyche, and the fires they started were re-awakened and strengthened by DR's infamous benefactor Trujillo. It may not always be evident how, but the point is these histories are relevant. One problem of the more universal, human-rights based level of values that we Diasporans bring to the table in these conversations is that this level of thought can create blindspots to the positive value of nationalism. Having a more globalist outlook on the world is admirable, and it is on the whole my own viewpoint. Still I have observed that many who operate from this worldview seem to have missed a step on the ladder. They affect to have transcended nation and tribe, but often not in an organic way that would require us to respect, value and embrace the healthy aspects of the older worldview. And it has not been my experience that we Diasporans know, much less embrace, the history of our parents' homeland as well as we could; or if we do, we know it more from a regional paradigm, and might consider DR as just one more example of many in 'post-colonial' history. As with semantics this is another obstacle to understanding between the home-grown and foreign branches of this family that could undermine any positive influence we can have on this discourse. It begs of those in our island Patria the question, who are you to discuss how we identify who do not even know our story?

For now those are my two offerings to the discussion; cautions about potential pitfalls. My feeling is that the kind of violent headlines and uninformed criticism sparking increased discussion of this matter across borders will go on. I think we Dominican-Americans can offer something to this discourse, just as I think the native Dominicans have something to offer us if we really study our story. It is a story that bears the marks of all the hurricanes and vicissitudes that came with the whole of the Atlantic transaction from the age of colonization, through the Industrial Revolution, to the Cold War, through today. Working through these issues together I hope we can one day offer new paradigms to our region, our hemisphere, and maybe even our world.

Monday, June 1, 2009

LED TVs: hyper-real simulacra

Last six weeks have been a whirlwind. Along with the arrival of my baby boy there has been all the effort that goes into outfitting a new cave. Couches, cribs, cutting utensils ... the entire range of modern equipment. Maybe I didn't get my hairy paws on the very the best in each case but the best I could do for my burgeoning family. After all that I decided to reward myself with a shiny new flatscreen TV. I'm very late to this game, as for years I've gotten by on my old 27" tube set. I don't watch a ton besides fights and an occasional film or HBO series. Still now that I finally had a place of my own I wanted a proper TV to invite the gang over for UFCs and boxing.

I searched high and low (meaning in upper and lower Manhattan) and saw some wondrously clear screens. Bear in mind as a caveman I don't have the weakened, over-assaulted city dweller eyesight most of you suffer from, and am blessed with the very acute vision. Well what my vision discerned astonished and frightened me; these new gigantic, LED TVs are so clear they kill the illusion of movies! In other words movies no longer look or feel like movies; the movie looks like a bunch of actors in costume performing on a digitally enhanced set. The small details and imperfections are too perceptible . It becomes more like watching a play on Broadway than a Hollywood production, except without the same warmth that proximity to the players gives on the stage. This doesn't matter for dramas or comedies, but it ruins any movie that relies on visuals or action. What was previously fantastic to my eyes becomes in a way fraudulent.

In the end I went with something reasonably priced and reasonably sharp for it's intended purpose of watching grown men bash each other in rings or cages. Super resolutions can't make combat any less real, however I value being swept up in the latest popcorn flick or sci-fi thriller. These crystal clear LED sets just make our fantasies look so real they feel fake!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Ozzie is happy to report he has returned from the depths of Inwood to the heart of WaHi. Despite reports in the press regarding this being a renter's market I can't say I was pleased about the options and pricing available to me. Being a caveman didn't help, and neither did youthful indiscretions from which my FICO scores have not fully recovered. Still I've landed in a good spot on Ft. Wash right by J. Hood Wright park. I feel good about starting a family in familiar environs, but I'm also pleased the neighborhood will have a very different flavor as my kid grows up from my childhood days in the wild eighties.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Combat is a guy thing

Shouldn't respectable newspapers have a policy against journalists writing on topics they've had only one shallow experience with? And if you are going to condemn from atop a respected soapbox isn't balance and factuality still expected? I came across an article from the latest NY Times magazine giving a female spouse's perspective on a UFC pay-per-view. Characterizations in the article were so off base I couldn't tell if it was due to naivety or self-righteous hypocrisy. I understand the Times doesn't exactly cater to the Neanderthal demo but the goal of making their readers feel cultured doesn't absolve them from accuracy. Alongside inexplicable allusions to 'biting and eye gouging' which DO NOT go on at these events, there are unfavorable comparisons to boxing which serve only to show the depth of the writer's ignorance on that sport as well. There is no mention of injuries and violence in all other sports, and only a line on NFL football which on balance is much more gruesome if we measure by injury rates. She claims her aficionado husband prompted the article, but I have to presume the poor guy got no wind of this piece because this Mrs. Virginia Heffernan is in sore need of a clue about martial arts, combat, and competition.

Being so offensive (to your nose and eyes) I'm not easily offended, but I find I'm offended by how offended some people are by the notion of a punch or a kick. It's as if they think that witnessing such a thing is on the level of watching rape. This journalist seems to be entirely alienated from physicality and violence, regular aspects of reality even within city limits. At least they are regular on the side of the city us morlocks wander, though maybe not in her sanitized quarter. I'm no chest-thumping warrior myself, but in my time here on this rock I've at least made an effort to learn about the martial heritage we all share as homo sapiens. Not everyone has the time or resources to train continuously but many sensitive people would benefit from just a few weeks in a boxing or MMA gym, or any martial art where the instructor sees to it you are subjected to some real force and roughness. Controlled fighting contests aren't equivalent to a murderous mortal sin, as much as it may offend weaker sensibilities of the over-civilized. You don't ave to like, in fact many advanced martial artists have issues with these events. Still if you are a critic of culture, especially popular culture, there is an obligation to give the plebes the benefit of the doubt instead of spewing your knee-jerk, squeamish reactions onto the page. Luckily it seems readers of NY Times on the whole aren't quite as soft as this writer, as they tear into the piece in the comments. Most make the effort to offer wordy contribution but the craptastic quality of the article is summed up tersely by #44...
44. "Yes, Virginia, there is a masculine mystique. Combat is a guy thing; you wouldn’t understand."
More commentary on the topic from a saint and an immoralist...

"Suddenly we noticed barnyard cocks beginning a bitter fight just in front of the door. We chose to watch......the lowered heads stretched forward, neck-plumage distended, the lusty thrusts, and such wary parryings; and in every motion of the irrational animals, nothing unseemly- precisely because another Reason from on high rules over all things. Finally, the very law of the victor: the proud crowing, the almost perfectly orbed arrangement of the members, as if in haughtiness of supremacy. But the sign of the vanquished: hackles plucked from the neck; in carriage and in cry, all bedraggled - and for that very reason, somehow or other, beautiful and in harmony with nature's laws.We asked many questions: Why do all cocks behave this way? Why do they fight for the sake of supremacy of the hens subject to them?
Why did the very beauty of the fight draw us aside from higher study for a while, and onto the pleasure of the spectacle?

-St.Augustine, De Ordine (About Order) A.D.386
"...let us not doubt that we moderns, with our thickly padded humanity, which at all costs wants to avoid bumping into a stone, would have provided {our ancestors} with a comedy at which they could have laughed themselves to death."

- F. Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Thursday, March 5, 2009

rolex time is over, welcome to hard times

I've heard it said and agree that 'to practice philosophy is a form of atavism of the highest order'. That's why I've grunted before about its overlap with another high order throwback, professional wrestling. One Mr. Chauncey DeVega comments on the same here. Hate to chuckle at the poor guy's job troubles but in framing them with `80s wrestling interviews ("Dusty Rhodes Declares Hard Times" & "Ric Flair Flossy") he hit the nail on the head regarding this economy. Go watch them fellow brutes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dominicans & Trujillo

Another week another title, once again on the old goat Generalissimo Trujillo. I was completely sucked in by Trujillo: Causas De Una Tiranía Sin Ejemplo (Trujillo: Causes of a Tyranny without Equal) by Juan Bosch. Juan Bosch was one of Dominican Republic's most prolific intellectuals, a former President, and a monumental figure in the politics of DR. He wrote this in exile in 1961, before coming to power, and in fact before the ultimate downfall of Trujillo. The book is a must read for those of us American Dominicans who grew up stateside and don't have the best narrative sense of Dominican history. Although the subject of this title is Trujillo, Prof. Bosch in the process outlines in fast moving, incisive chapters the historical eras of the island from the times of Columbus, through Spanish and Haitian rule and into the first of two 20th C. US invasions. I've known for a long time the pieces that come along to us from parents on national holidays, like the upcoming DR Independence Day however this was precisely what I lacked for my assorted jumble of DR historical facts: a set of discrete periods of DR and some corresponding themes, the canvases on which the historical facts become a story. Unfortunately in this particular case it is told with a tragic bent as a decoding of the causes of the rise of dictatorship. As Bosch guides us through these eras he touches on the cultural and social legacies they left, and constructs a genealogy of the causes of both Trujillo the unique man/monster and also his unmatched tyrannical regime. Bosch convincingly argues that Trujillo was the consummation and culmination of the full array of historical forces at work in the colonization of the Caribbean and of DR in particular.

Dr. Bosch's analyses and his prognosis is frighteningly accurate. Ironically the book itself also serves as an example of the prime character flaw Dr. Bosch diagnosed in Dominicans of 1960s (and today?): destructive gossip, el bochinche maligno. Dr. Bosch stresses repeatedly the role of classism and social position in DR. He points to Trujillo's insecurities around his lower class heritage, and to instances of explicit rejection by the Dominican social elites of the highest ranks, as the roots of Trujillo's unquenchable ambition for wealth and power. As I mentioned the book was written just months before the assassination of Trujillo, and the subsequent short Presidency of the author Dr. Bosch himself, aborted by a military coup and an invading US Army. Despite all this ensuing historical drama, in a post-scriptum written in 1991 the only further insights Bosch saw fit to add to the text were more gossip to confirm Trujillo's low class origins.

Unlike the last book this one grabs you and reads quickly and to the point. Unfortunately it is in Spanish and I'm not sure there are translations available. If you are trying to learn Spanish this may not be a bad one to tackle. You will get some useful cultural history of Dominicans and a glimpse into a dark and bizarre dictatorship that nonetheless directly shaped the people who today largely populate Washington Heights & Inwood. Locals can pick it up @ Calliope bookstore on Dyckman Avenue.