I’ve moved this blog to my domain at Aramink.com. Please go there to read more. Thank you!
So, yeah. I quit talking on Yahoo instant Messenger a couple of years ago. Well, longer ago than that, really. But I still have this one friend, let’s call him my Best Girlfriend Forever (because that’s what I call him), who likes to chat on it.
He doesn’t like Skype, and he insists on using Messenger even though the only time I’d see his messages were when I’d check my Yahoo mail once a month or so, since I only used it for shopping and I absolutely never checked it because so much spam comes to that account it’s impossible to find real correspondence there anymore. Actually, one other friend who moved to Baltimore several years ago, and whom I hardly ever hear from, uses Messenger, too, and I’m embarrassed to say that I miss his messages most of the time.
So just for these two friends, let’s call them my Best Girlfriend Forever and That Guy Who Moved to Baltimore, I reinstalled Yahoo Instant Messenger when I got a new laptop. Just for Kicks. And for them.
Of course, only my BGFF knows I have it installed. I’m invisible to everyone else. Tonight, though, somehow and for some reason, I was visible for awhile. Out of the blue comes a certain troll I had not chatted with for several years. Like, since I had used Messenger back in the days of the Virgin Training School. The conversation, predictably, went like this:
winteret: Hi Aramink… the last time that we chatted I had told yo that I was fascinated with bellybuttons since each one is as unique as a fingeprint. You were beginning to tell me about yours…
aramink_rust: I doubt that. Mine is uninteresting. I mostly use it for lint storage. I also use it as a focus for meditation and contemplation.
winteret: That’s great. What type do you have?
aramink_rust: Lint-filled. I already told you.
winteret: Lol… so you have an Inne?
aramink_rust: Sometimes I take the lint out when I want to contemplate it, but when I have no other place to store the lint I have to contemplate a navel orange instead. It can be a problem.
winteret: You’re such a tease…. what coin size and how deep is it?
aramink_rust: Oh, I wouldn’t take money for it. If I sold it, where would I store my lint?
winteret: Oh come on now… please stop being sarcastic…
aramink_rust: Who’s being sarcastic? Not every container is suitable for lint storage, you know.
winteret: What does your knot look lke?
aramink_rust: My knot? I’ve never examined it.
winteret: Your knot is the pattern located at the bttom of your bellyhole. What does it look like?
aramink_rust: Um… I’m thinking it looks like, well, a belly button.
winteret: Every bellybutton is as unique as a fingerprint… the outer rim, the inner walls and the pattern (knot) at the bottom of the hloe. What does yours look like?
aramink_rust: There’s a lot of lint in the way. I’d pick it out, but I think I need a crochet hook. I can knit a sweater with all the lint I have crammed in there.
winteret: do you like having it tongued?
aramink_rust: What?! You just asked if I like having it tongued! Fucking freak-ass fucktard! You want to turn my collection of belly-button lint into boiled wool! I just know you do!
winteret: Mmmmmm… do you do any bondage?
aramink_rust: You want to tie me down with my own belly button lint! Shit! You’re freaking me out, Dude! I mean, how crazy is this going to get? Next you’re, like, going to want to have belly-button buttsecks! Ew!
winteret: What’s wrong??
aramink_rust: What’s wrong? WHAT’S WRONG? You’re tying me down with boiled wool made from my own belly-button lint, you’ve threatened me with belly-button buttsecks, and you want to know what’s WRONG?
winteret: What type of gag do you prefer to be gagged with?
winteret: mmmmmmmmmmmmm… I thought so
So tell me: What do you do with your lint while having smokin’ hot belly-button buttsecks?
font=3 If you aren’t familiar with TED Talks yet, I am about to change that.
TED started in 1984, the year I graduated from college, as a conference to bring together people from the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It is a nonprofit that holds annual conferences in both Long Beach and in Palm Springs each spring, and has grown to hold the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK each summer. The TED Talks are published on the TED Talks video site, which has the capability of translating the talks into up to 27 different languages at this point. More are planned. TED does much more each year to facilitate advancement of the arts and sciences.
The video site on the web offers hundreds of 18 minute talks – not lectures – on subjects as diverse as Cassini’s discovery of the surface tectonics on Saturn’s moon Titan to Sam Harris’s explanation of how morality is hardwired into humans and other animals. The speakers are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes.
The spelunker who plans to lead the expedition to mine moon ice is absolutely riveting. Watch him. How can cave exploration and space exploration be related? How can a spelunker think that he can go into space and mine water on the moon as a propellant for space vehicles to then go to Europa? Is this science fiction? Not the way he tells it. Watch the video. If it doesn’t make your jaw drop, you aren’t paying attention.
TED isn’t just about science.A pair of beautiful dancers perform Symbiosis – and it is understandable. Isabel Allende tells true tales of passion, Natalie Merchant sings nearly forgotten children’s poems from the 19th and 20th century from her recent album Leave Your Sleep.
TED is on the edge of what is happening in the world. In July 2010. Chris Anderson of TED interviewed Julian Assange of WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks had just released the documents related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and there were rumors that it had still more documents that would set the US government on its ear.
Consider what Julian Assange says in this interview. He explains how the site operates, what it has accomplished, and what drives him. The interview includes graphic footage of a recent US airstrike in Baghdad in which a number of civilians and two Reuters reporters were killed.
Did you note that Assange specifically denies having the embassy cables? In the same breath he said assertively that if WikiLeaks had them, it has a duty to release them so that the world knows.
Assange asserted that “it’s a worry that the rest of the world’s media is doing such a bad job that a little group of activists is able to release more of that type of information than the rest of the world press combined”? Mainstream media does not release documents like these – not since the Pentagon Papers, that is. One has to wonder if our corporate media even would release such explosive news in this day and age. The news we do get is slanted in such a way as to suit the editorial desires of the publisher, and so often one publisher publishes numerous large newspapers, owns numerous television stations, and even owns radio stations. The news is the same on each one. We no longer have news. We have propaganda. The days of Walter Cronkite are gone.
What does WikiLeaks seek to publish? According to Assange, anything that an organization wants to keep secret. If there is an economic reason for keeping a secret, then it is in the best interest of the world to expose that secret in order to level the playing field. That, he says, is what journalism is.
That is what investigative journalism should be.
Assange pointed out that releasing the video of the Apache helicopter firing on the group of civilians that included the Reuters reporters was not done to inform the Afghans or the Iraqis. They see it every day,” he claimed. “But it will change the perception and opinion of the people who are paying for it all. And that is our hope.” Knowing in advance that innocents were killed in that incident may color our perception of what happened. We hear the soldiers in the helicopter talking and laughing, but to know that the firing was indiscriminate changed how we feel about their demeanor. Is this incident isolated? Or is it typical? We do not know We know this incident happened. We saw it; We do not know if more, similar incidents have happened. We hope not; we fear so.
WikiLeaks’s activities around the globe have resulted in major changes for the better, and for human rights and freedom. The Kenyan election was one example, and recently the Iceland legislature’s passage of a law allowing freedom of speech for journalists that is perhaps the broadest in the world is another.
Americans are divided on the issue of the Embassy documents, and on the war documents. WikiLeaks released them to show abuses. Our country is committing those abuses. It is natural to defend our country, but at the same time, we should not be committing the abuses. We have been caught, Our misdeeds have been exposed by our own words. Yes, it is embarrassing. Yes, we have lost face on the world stage.
Perhaps had we not committed those abuses, our faces would not be so red right now.
Thank you, WikiLeaks, for showing us; the truth.
My mom wanted me on the board of an historical cemetery. I thought it would be awesome – it’s a great old place with lots of ghost stories and locally famous – and infamous – people buried there. Including a truckload of my ancestors.
“I need your resume,” she told me.
“Mom, I hardly think that my work history has anything to do with why I might be qualified to serve on that board.”
“So dress it up. Emphasize your genealogy research and your history research. Talk about your volunteer work.”
In other words, she wanted me to re-craft my resume entirely. Therefore, I did exactly what I always do when given an irritating assignment: I procrastinated.
A week later: “I really need your resume.”
Two weeks later: “If you don’t get me that resume I can’t nominate you.”
Three weeks later: “I need it today.”
Crap. And I was having so much fun putting it off.
“Just write something. I’ll rewrite it to suit our nomination style.”
Had she said this in the first place, I could have whipped off a few relevant paragraphs and been done with this a month ago. But she said she wanted a freaking resume. So after lunch, I sat down and wrote:
Anne has a keen interest in genealogy and history, and has done research on both in this particular cemetery, once regrettably denting the side of her car as she took a turn too sharply around a certain walled plot in the northeast corner of the place. Her interest in these disciplines began in high school, when in 1976 she won the esteemed and coveted Annual Ninth Grade History Award at All Saints Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Mississippi, mostly to prove to a certain boy that she was smarter than he was. It must have worked, because that intimidated lad has refused to this day (over 30 years later!) to come to class reunions.
Her interest was fed her freshman year at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, when given the task of charting the genealogy of Zeus’s progeny she instead charted the genealogy of the entire Greek pantheon. While mostly accurate, her work earned her a C for failing to follow directions. Her professor was not interested in reading that much. Anne didn’t really care, since being right was all that mattered. When she graduated from Colgate in 1984, her major was English, not Greek.
With no immediate better use to put an English major, Anne returned to her Arkansas roots the following year to go to law school. Anne clerked for Justice David Newbern at the Arkansas Supreme Court, then worked for a state agency or two until her secretary, one Gennifer Flowers, decided to hit the front page of the papers and not return to work. Anne opened her own law practice in 1993 and has remained in private practice ever since. Today, after 16 years in the trenches of litigation, Anne is a managing member of the law firm Almand, Orsi & Campbell, PLLC, which handles civil litigation. Both she and her cousin and law partner, Donald K. Campbell, III, have generations of ancestors buried at this cemetery, stories about whom they occasionally pull out, dust off, and tell to their children and other passers-by, whether or not such innocents are especially interested.
Anne has maintained a moderately noticeable profile among local bar and statewide bar associations. She joined a whole slew of them in 1988 immediately after getting her J.D. from UALR Law School and passing the bar. In 1993 she was made Parliamentarian of the Arkansas Association of Woman Lawyers, then served as Vice President in 1994-1995, and as President in 1995-1996. She remains a member of the group today. She has been a member of the Pulaski County Bar Association since 1988, and served as co-chair of the Hospitality Committee in 1995-1996. Likewise she retains her membership in the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, for which she chaired the Domestic Relations Division in 1997-1998. She was a member of the American Bar Association from 1988-1996, when membership became prohibitively expensive. Most of her bar activities have been through the Arkansas Bar Association, for which she has served on numerous committees, including the Real Estate Committee, Probate Law Committee, Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Committee, Women and Minorities in the Law Committee, Mock Trial Committee, Online Legal Research Committee, Civil Litigation Committee, and Access to Justice Committee.
Very conscious of the fact that not everyone has access to the legal system in a meaningful way, Anne donates her time and expertise through two of Arkansas’ legal services organizations. The Center for Arkansas Legal Services helps clients in the central Arkansas area, and Anne is one of the attorneys who accepts legal representation of clients in need who meet low income guidelines. Anne volunteers in rural areas of the state for Arkansas Volunteer Lawyers for the Elderly, another legal aid program that ensures that senior citizens with limited assets and income can access the legal system.
She has served on the boards of other historical societies, including Scott Connections in Scott, Arkansas (Director, 2007-2008), and the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Arkansas (Director, 2006-09; and Board of Managers 2009-present). This spring Anne was selected to be the state’s Regent of Gunston Hall, the Northern Virginia home of founding father George Mason, a position she will hold for the next four years.
Anne is active in several of her family’s businesses. She is on the board of directors of ARNO, Inc. and Pioneer Farms, and has served as Chairman of the Board of Three Rivers Title Services, Inc. since 1999.
For pleasure, Anne loves to grow herbs, read, and write short stories. She maintains two blogs: one is purely for pleasure and the other is purely for work. She is also working on three novels, none of which she ever expects to finish unless the Fountain of Youth is found and she drinks copiously from its non-Stygian depths.
“Very amusing, my dear. I will extract the pertinent information to send out to the rest of the Board, omitting the humor, sad though that makes me.”
She will extract the pertinent information? That means most of what I wrote will end up in the trash.
And I worked so hard to get it to her!
I’m riding my white horse today.
As a lawyer, I know that people get harmed through no fault of their own by other’s people’s negligence and failure to pay attention to what is important. Whether it’s a car accident, a doctor who ignores symptoms, or a vicious dog who attacks a child, the person who is hurt should not have to pay the price for the injury. The court system cannot give back the things these people have lost: time away from work which leads to the loss of their careers, the pretty face that existed before the dog mauled the four year old girl, the mother who was killed by a drunk driver, living without constant pain caused by the injuries in the accident, the cheerful contributions to her family that the coma patient used to make before the doctor ignored the pulmonary thrombosis that led to her vegetative state.
When lawyers screw up a case, clients want to sue them and recover their losses. And they should. They should also be able to sue doctors, negligent drivers, and other people whose failure to pay attention has hurt them.
Unfortunately, “tort reform” usually means “medical malpractice lawsuit reform.” People think that lawyers are mean to doctors, who are just doing their best to heal people who probably can’t be healed in the first place.
That is not the case.
Look at the statistics in a recent Huffington Post article. Only 2-3% of ALL medical malpractice results in a lawsuit. That’s not 2-3% of medical care cases; that’s 2-3% of actual malpractice situations. Is such a number of lawsuits really excessive?
Caps on punitive damages is the issue Obama is expected to embrace, though. Punitive damages don’t reimburse someone for money they are out. Compensatory damages cover that. Punitive damages are intended as punishment – hence, the name “punitive.”
Why would someone require punishment for a screw-up? Think about how we decide how and whether to punish our children for negligence. Let’s say that Susie and Jenny are at a birthday party for one of their classmates and it’s cake and ice cream time. Susie gets excited explaining something and throws her arms wide, knocking over Jenny’s glass of punch, spilling it on her and ruining her party dress. Of course, Susie has to apologize to Jenny, and she has to get Jenny another glass of punch. She has to help clean up the mess, and if Jenny’s party dress is expensive Susie’s mom might offer to pay for it to be cleaned. These actions are compensatory in nature. They compensate Jenny for the loss of her glass of punch, her clean and dry dress, and her hurt feelings.
If Susie knocks the punch over because she was dancing on the table, though, Susie will be punished. Punitive action will be taken to ensure she doesn’t dance on the table and spill someone’s punch again.
Maybe we put Susie in time-out. Maybe Susie gets a spanking. Maybe Susie is grounded from her Barbies, or she is not allowed to go to any parties for the next month.
The point is not that Susie is being punished for doing something intentionally. She did not. She did spill the punch while being grossly negligent, though. She should have known that if she danced on the table where Jenny’s punch sat, the punch would spill.
Punitive damages in these cases are intended to stop gross negligence. They are not appropriate where there is no gross negligence – where the punch spills accidentally due to something unforeseen or where the negligence was minor. Punitive damages are for those egregious cases where the doctor ignored clear warning signs of his patient’s impending doom and did nothing.
Punitive damages are not awarded lightly by any jury. If a jury awards an amount in the millions, it is because the defendant in those medical malpractice actions has the resources to pay such an amount, even if it hurts. Punishment is not intended to kill, and punitive damages that bankrupt a company or a doctor aren’t appropriate. Punitive damages are supposed to hurt, though – just like being grounded from birthday parties hurts. And just like Susie, the idea is that punitive damages will hurt for a little while, but the defendant will get over it – hopefully to go forth more carefully in the future.
Did you hear? I had a softball-sized tumor removed from my neck three weeks ago.
I first noticed it about a year ago and shrugged it off, thinking it was a little lipoma that wasn’t any big deal. Then I began having trouble turning my head. The lump was getting bigger – about the size of a golf ball – and I couldn’t comfortably wear turtlenecks or even mock neck shirts. I named my lump Esmeralda, and patiently waited for her to gain sentience.
When Esmeralda started aching, I decided to go to the doctor. I hate going to the doctor, especially when I think I’m going to get bad news. I’ve already had cancer twice, so having a tumor made me think that number three was here and if I pretended it didn’t exist, it would go away. I’m a very bright girl in these matters, so I knew exactly what I was doing when I ignored the wretched thing for so long. Really.
My doctor looked at it and said that there was no question that it needed to come out. Clearly it was causing me trouble, and even if it was probably just a lipoma and not something devastating, it was in a bad place. And, he said, even for a lipoma it was, well, kind of big. There was definitely an asymmetry to my non-gazelle-like neck. A bump about the size of half a golf ball hung off the side it.
I knew all this before he told me. I knew he’d have to refer me to a surgeon. That’s why I was there, right? So, deep breath, I got the referral and made the appointment and went the next week to see when I could divorce myself from dear Esmeralda, who I was beginning to think of as my dicephalic parapagus conjoined twin.
Me ‘n’ Esmeralda before we started misspending our youth
He sent me to an otolaryngology clinic. Apparently, otolaryngologists are the guys who cut on people’s necks when the spine isn’t involved. I was glad my spine wasn’t involved, although I did wonder if that was because I simply didn’t have one. What kind of person, being possessed of a spine, was afraid of what was probably just a harmless little lipoma?
At the otolaryngology clinic, I got a CT scan of my neck. Back in the examination room, the surgeon pulled up the scan on the computer screen. “Wow, it’s really big!” he exclaimed. He showed me what to look at. The difference in the two sides of my neck were obvious. One side of the screen looked like what you’d think a neck should look like on a CT scan. By that I mean it had not much flesh and a big amount of bone. At least, that one side did. The other side? Well, it was different. Waaaay different.
There was a vast blackness that took up a lot of space on the right half of my neck. It looked as though Darth Vader himself had taken up residence there and his helmet was pushing things around. The doctor pointed out how my muscle was stretched over this dark growth, how my nerves and blood vessels were pushed out of place, and how much space the thing took up. “It’s sooo biiiig,” he said again. And again. And yet another time, just in case I hadn’t heard him before.
That’s right. Only I could have a freakishly large tumor in a place with as little flesh as my neck and not notice it for years on end. Evidently, I can’t see a damn thing with my eyes full of sand.
Lipomas usually grow just right under the skin and are fairly simple to remove. In fact, unless they become bothersome, it’s not necessary to remove them at all. Mine was different. It was under the muscle, which, the doctor graciously postulated, was probably the reason I had never realized it had been growing there for so long. It was also pressing on important nerves and blood vessels. There just isn’t a lot of room in a neck, and there’s a lot of important stuff there. Like, say, the carotid artery, which feeds blood to the brain. Which my lipoma had shoved out of place.
In fact, it had shoved things so far out of place that I was in danger of soon looking like the Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick.
Fetus in Fetu: Sanju Bhagat
The problem was, the size and location of the tumor meant that a different doctor needed to do the surgery. Someone who specialized in cancers of the head and neck. Swell. The”C” word again. Fortunately, I liked the new surgeon. I liked the old one, too, but the new one was quick-witted, funny, and personable. And probably married. (sigh)
My family rallied around me. My sister went with me to the pre-surgery appointment, my mom took me to her house after the surgery so I could be pampered. Jack came to see me that night. I felt pretty raw, and my throat, complete with drainage tube, wasn’t pretty either.
Three weeks later, I’m still a little tired, but I’m fine. Some mornings it’s harder to shake off the latent effects of the anesthesia than others. Of course, staying up til 1 a.m. to finish a novel I can’t put down sort of contributes to the problem, but I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do.
Brent Weeks is a new, young author and he has time to grow. I can’t wait for his next offering.
*My son, Jack, has demanded credit for cajoling me into reading this series. Here you go, son.
So now I have an awe-inspiring scar on my throat, and I can come up with plenty of tales to explain its presence.
I’ve told the story of Jack the Ripper to my wide-eyed nieces and youngest nephew (they’re 11, 8, and 6). I have the scar to prove that I narrowly escaped him.
Next I plan to work up a tale of the Bride of Frankenstein for their entertainment. I’ve already got the white hair at the temples going on, so between that and the scar, I’m not going to have to spend a lot on costuming.
The surgeon said that the tumor had to have been there for a very, very long time to be as large as it was. What I want to know is how the hell a softball manages to hide in a neck for years and only show up, finally, as a golf-ball sized bulge.
The size of the thing was apparently really impressive. Every time I call his office his nurse exclaims, “Oh, you’re the one with that really huge lipoma!” Every time. Every stinkin’ time. I’m beginning to wonder if I ought not to have saved the damn thing and taken it on the road. I could have made a living in the sideshow as the girl with the softball in her neck.
“It’s soooo big!” the statement is made in the context of, well, first of all, a man. And it’s said by an admiring woman, or at least one that is either thrilled or terrified at the prospect of something that huge… you know. I’m a woman and male doctors have been saying “It’s soooo big!” to me. It’s unsettling.
Maybe I should have had the thing cut in two and used it for a boob job.Next time, if there is a next time, I’m going to think that through carefully.
Aboard a Portuguese Caravel
In the North Atlantic, Somewhere
Between Bermuda and Hispaniola
No light entered the hold except when four of the white men brought wooden buckets of thin, mealy mush. Three of them carried two buckets apiece; the fourth carried a whip and a pistol. The shaft of light stabbed the eyes of the frightened men and women of the Yoruba huddled below. Only if the door was left open a crack, enough for the white men to see, and only if it were left open long enough, did Abeni’s eyes adjust enough to make out the shapes of the others around her.
By the second week aboard, the manacle on the left ankle of the young teenage girl next to Abeni had cut into her flesh, and within three more days it had become infected. Monifa’s complaints of terrible itching told Abeni that the wound was festering. After the first week, Monifa cried that her leg throbbed constantly. She begged Abeni to heal her. In the dim light at feeding time, Abeni saw that the maggots were at work. If they could keep the wound clear of the dead tissue, gangrene might not set in. But soon Abeni knew that the infection had entered the girl’s blood before the maggots had done their work. The child shivered with her fever, moaning as the manacle moved against tender, grossly swollen flesh.
Abeni did not have her fetishes, but she chanted almost constantly, beseeching the gods to return them home. She also chanted and prayed for the child’s ankle to heal. She could tell that the girl was not convinced that Abeni had been initiated as a Queen Mother; she knew she appeared much too young for the rites. The elders chose her because she knew the lore and had found frequent favor with the gods. Nevertheless, she wondered if the child’s increasing infection was due to the honor being given her prematurely.
When the sailors came into the hold with their buckets of slop, Abeni leaned over to the girl, her large body already much smaller than three weeks earlier when they had been herded into the hold of the caravel. “Wake, child. Food.”
Abeni helped the girl into a sitting position, moving her left leg carefully, stopping when Monifa gasped in pain. The men gave each person a bowl of the watery mush, waited for them to consume it, the took back the bowl for the next serving for the next person. Monifa collapsed woozily against Abeni when the reek of the foreign men came close. The sailor offered the bowl and Monifa took it weakly and brought it to her lips. Abeni silently urged the girl had to swallow this meal. Nothing else would be given until the next day. She saw the child take the vile mush into her mouth, but she only held it there. Swallow, Abeni willed the girl silently. Swallow!
With an impatient snarl, the man holding the bucket struck the side of the child’s face. Mush went up her nose and the edges of the wooden bowl bit painfully into her cheeks. Helpless to control it any longer, the girl vomited yellow bile, spewing into the bowl, onto the legs of the man, and onto her own naked skin.
“Bah!” Disgusted, the crewman slapped the bowl away from her and dipped it into the bucket. He offered it to Abeni. Abeni did not reach for it. The sailor thrust the bowl at the woman again, but again Abeni ignored it. She turned instead to the sick girl next to her and resumed chanting in a soft sing-song.
Shrugging, the sailor offered the bowl to Bambidele, the man chained next to Abeni. Bambidele also refused the vomit-tainted mush. The sailor thrust it toward him again, but the man turned his head.
With a roar of Portuguese fury, the sailor stomped back to the ladder and out of the hold. His companions laughed, and continued serving the other captives. No other bowls were offered to the sick girl, Abeni, or Bambidele.
In the dark again, Abeni continued chanting until Monifa fell into a restless, fevered sleep. The Yoruba shaman rocked in place, murmuring under her breath.
“Curse them, and I will see that they cannot deliver us,” Bambidele murmured.
At first, Abeni was not certain what she had heard. “Curse them?”
“You are Queen Mother. You are familiar with Voudon?”
“It is forbidden. Voudon is not Yoruba.”
“But you know how to use it.” He said it quietly, firmly. He did not ask; he stated it as a fact.
“Yes,” said Abeni after a few moments.
“I shall take them. Give me three days.”
He could not have seen her nod in the pitch blackness, but she knew he understood her silent assent.
The next day Monifa’s fever was worse. She lay shivering, incoherent. Abeni could tell that the girl’s infection had poisoned her system; without healing herbs and a healing ritual, she would be lost, if she were not too far gone already. Abeni also knew that Bambidele had worked at his manacle all night, and that he was almost free of it. He, too, had lost flesh and no small amount of blood in his effort to free himself.
When the Portugese sailors came to distribute the daily meal, Bambidele hid his manacled foot. The light was dim enough to prevent the sailors from seeing the bloodstains on the wooden planking of the hold, but he did not risk them seeing that he was working to free himself.
They did not bother to feed Monifa. Instead, they called for another of their companions, who examined her. They conferred in their strange language, shrugged, and left.
“She needs healing!” Abeni hissed in frustration to Bambidele.
“She will not need healing for long,” he murmured back.
It took Bambidele four days. He freed himself the second day, but spent the rest of that day and the next freeing the other captives, whispering to them his plan. Abeni was relieved when the distribution of food on the third day went without incident. Bambidele refused to release the fevered teenage girl from her manacle, though. “She lies where they can see her, and they will know if she is freed,” he explained.
The fourth day’s distribution of mush also went without incident. Monifa was unconscious, and Abeni could tell from her breathing that she would die soon. The girl’s entire leg was swollen and blistered, and the swelling had begun to move into her groin and hips. From experience, Abeni knew that once it reached her torso, the girl’s suffering would end.
Hours passed. The noises above them stilled except for occasional footsteps and even less frequent calls among the sailors. It was time.
Bambidele rose, and in the darkness whispered for the others to take the irons that had held them. Some of the captives had rubbed the edges of the irons against other irons, sharpening them for better use as weapons. Bambidele gathered them around him. First he listened silently at the door for several moments, then he opened it.
Moonlight had never shone so brightly.
Abeni remained in the hold with Monifa and with the other ill captives while the healthiest of the Yoruba men and women did their work. Bambidele returned for her in less time than she expected. He freed Monifa at last, and carrying her small body in his arms he led Abeni out onto the deck.
The night was impossibly bright. The ship’s crew, about 40 men, had been stripped as naked as the Yoruba captives. Several had obvious broken bones; even more had bleeding gashes. Abeni stared at them coldly, seeing the stark fear that had replaced their cruelty.
None of the captives spoke the language of the sailors. Bambidele placed the dying girl gently on the deck. Behind Abeni the other ill and injured captives straggled from the hold to stand in a ring behind her and Bambidele.
Bambidele turned to Abeni. “Curse them,” he said.
Abeni had prepared herself for this moment. She raised her arms skyward and began a singsong chant. The Yoruba around her murmured uncertainly as they realized the words she sang were not Yoruban, but from the darker Voudon practice. Bambidele stood by silently as Abeni’s voice rose and fell in the night. Several of the Portuguese began moaning. Good, thought Abeni as she continued the ritual chant. They should be afraid.
Her first chant ended and Abeni turned to Bambidele. He handed her a wickedly curved long knife. Ritually, she cut herself on both wrists, the blood flowing freely down to cover the hilt. She approached the captain of the Portuguese. She cut his face on either cheek, then once across the width of his forehead. Several of the sailors sobbed aloud now.
Abeni caught the captain’s blood on the blade of the knife, then allowed it to drip into the mouth of the dying girl lying on the deck.
Several of the men propelled the four who had fed them every day to the front of the huddled group of sailors. Abeni had them face their companions across the body of the dying child, and she ritually carved each of their faces the same as the captain’s, again allowing their blood to feed the unconscious girl.
She began chanting again, this time swaying to her own music, her own blood dripping over the length of Monifa’s body. She whirled, and the captain’s throat bloomed red, his eyes wide, as he pitched forward. A Yoruban man caught his lifeless body before it fell onto Monifa, then tossed the corpse aside. One of the remaining four men lost control of his bowels and a second fell senseless to the deck. Contemptuously, Abeni slit their throats with two deft twists of her bloody wrists. She turned her attention to the two who remained.
One fell to his knees, apparently praying to whatever ineffectual gods he might have worshipped. Still chanting, Abeni dispatched him and moved to the fourth man. Her chanting increased in tempo and her pitch rose. She danced in front of him, not caring whether he could see her through the flood of blood washing into his eyes from his forehead.
A wind rose. Had she looked up, Abeni would have seen clouds obscuring the stars at a speed that defied nature. She was focused on her task and spared no time for the effects of the evil she called to this sea with the forbidden rite of Voudon. She felt the crackle of electricity in the air and knew that the gods answered her call. Her curse would be sanctioned by them.
At her direction, Bembidele again lifted the dying child into his arms. He followed Abeni among the mass of terrified sailors as she forced each to touch the girl’s eyes and mouth, and as she slashed each face in triple cuts, feeding their blood to the unconscious child. Those who resisted her received a fourth slash, across their throats, and were tossed aside. So did those who fainted or befouled themselves. Half the sailors remained.
The strength of the wind forced a few huge raindrops to slap against the faces of the Portuguese sailors. In the distance thunder and lightning clamored for attention. Satisfied with the attention of the gods, Abeni prepared for the last of the ritual. Her severed arteries still pumped blood over the hilt of the long knife and she felt herself weakening from her loss. Undaunted, her chanting grew stronger, but now she seated herself on the deck facing the remaining Portuguese. Bambidele lay Monifa’s body before her.
Abeni dreaded what she would have to do next. Steeling herself without losing the rhythm of her song, she raised the knife high above her head. Now arterial blood streamed the length of her arms, dripping onto her breasts, belly, and crossed legs.
With a final cry, she plunged the knife downward, striking Monifa’s thin chest almost exactly in the center. As the iron blade stopped the child’s heart, lightning struck a tall mast of the ship and thunder shook all of the people aboard to the core.
Abeni no longer chanted. The curse was in place, and the gods would decide fitting punishment.
One of the sailors cried out, pointing to the tall mast. The crow’s nest, in flames, crashed to the deck. More of the white men cried out. Three started for the flames but a gesture from Bambidele sent six Yoruba to stop them. “The gods have decreed it,” Bambidele said.
The wind grew to gale force, fanning the flames. Rain fell only in huge, hesitant drops, flung sideways. The sails on the ship would not be furled before the fury of this storm.
The deck burned through, and the flames fell into the hold where the Yoruba had been kept. With another gesture from Bambidele, the Yoruba men tossed the corpses of the dead sailors into the inferno below.
Then the Yoruba began sacrificing the living sailors as well.
The fire burned on below deck, but the rain finally came and extinguished the fire above. The ship slid lower and lower in the sea, until the seawater drowned the last spark of the fire.
Abeni looked at her fellow freed captives. She felt light-headed, but heard the gods clearly as they spoke to her. At their request, she instructed the Yoruba to enter the water with their legs together. The first to obey her cried out in surprise, then flipped over the side, swimming in delight in the newly becalmed sea.
Smiles and laughter from the sea prompted the others over the side in the same way. Soon nearly two hundred Yoruba swam, dove, and played in the waves delighting in their new abilities. Only Abeni and Bambidele remained aboard with Monifa’s body.
“We, too, shall join them.” Abeni told Bambidele.
“And the child?”
“The child was sacrificed to give us a new life.”
“Will she become like the rest?”
“No. The gods have decreed that she shall steer the ship beneath the waves.”
Abeni looked up. The sails still held the wind, despite the water sloshing gently over the deck. “The ship will continue to sail,” she said. “Its curse will not die.”
Bambidele was silent. Finally, he asked, “And who will encounter the curse? We shall live in the sea, giving birth to new generations of Yoruba with fish tails and gills. We are blessed by the gods, not cursed.”
Abeni nodded toward the charred hole in the deck, where seawater was beginning to find its way above the cinders. “They are cursed forever,” she said. “They, and their kind, and their kin.” Where they encounter this ship, steered by Monifa of the Yoruba, they will feel the wrath of the curse, and will share the fate of those men.”
Bambidele nodded. “But if the ship is sailing the bottom of the sea, how will anyone encounter it?”
“They will encounter it from above. When a ship casts its shadow on Monifa’s ship, Monifa will call it under the waves, just like this one is being called.”
Water nearly surrounded them on the deck. “It is our time,” Abeni said. “I am weak, and will need help.”
Bambidele stood, then stooped to pull her upright. She leaned heavily against him. He helped her to the edge of the water, then lowered her carefully over the side. He felt vitality return to her, and to confirm it she lifted her face and smiled.
“Now you,” she said as she swam a few feet away from the ship.
He carefully kept his legs together as he slid over the side. Then with a sudden laugh he flipped into the water, displaying his flukes to the disappearing stars and the lightening sky.
Yesterday in Little Rock, ground was broken on something amazing.
I say it’s amazing, because here in the Bible Belt, there is precious little tolerance for non-Christian points of view. If one isn’t Christian, one is unknowably alien, and to some, one is completely suspect.
Isn’t this a Christian nation? (Well, no, actually this country isn’t a theocracy at all.) Without Christian values, aren’t we likely to devolve into moral depravity? (No. Christians don’t have a monopoly on moral behavior – never have had and never will have.) But we all should accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior! (Says who? Jesus? That has all the logic of a parent whose justification is, “Because I said so!”)
“Anne, you’re an atheist.” I hear the condemnation, and I take umbrage. I prefer the term “polyatheist.” There are a lot of gods I don’t believe in. And no doubt, anyone reading this is also a polyatheist. There are lots of gods that have been worshipped over the eons of humanity, and I’d bet my money that not a single reader of this essay believes in very many of them.
Christianity adopted many pagan traditions as it evolved. Celebration of the solstices and equinoxes are among those traditions. Christmas falls within a few days of the winter solstice, as does Hanukkah. Likewise, do the celebrations called Saturnalia, Maruaroa o Takurua, Deuorius Riuri, Amaterasu, Yule, Bodhi Day (also known in Buddhism as Rohatsu), Hogmanay, Soyal, Zagmuk, Beiwe, Shabe-Yalda, Lussi Night, Meán Geimhridh, Brumalia, Lenaea (the ancient Greek Festival of Wild Women), Alban Arthuan, Choimus, Inti Raymi, Maidyarem, Karachun, Makara Sankranti, Ziemassvētki, and Perchta. This list is by no means exhaustive. We will never know the many ways the winter solstice and the days surrounding it were marked by paleo-humans, but they left unwritten records of the fact that the event was noted and celebrated. Places like Stonehenge make drawing this conclusion inescapable.
So what is so groundbreaking in Little Rock?
The fact that a group of non-Christians have been allowed to place a display on the capitol grounds explaining the significance of the winter solstice. Last year the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers asked the Arkansas Secretary of State for permission to erect a display and were refused the opportunity. This year, they again asked permission and again, were denied. So they filed suit through the ACLU.
This, in a place where the State Constitution makes discrimination against atheists legal!
You don’t believe me? See Article 19, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution:
“No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”
Last February a rational thinking legislator tried to get a resolution passed to pave the way to repealing that section of the Constitution, but, sadly, it went nowhere.
But hope springs eternal. Perhaps even Arkansas will someday be seen as progressive, or at least not medieval.
Do you ever wish you had known at 23 what you know now?
At 23 I was passionate, opinionated, brave, and uncertain. I was passionate in my relationships, opinionated about what was right, brave to do what terrified me, and uncertain that I could do it. At 47, of course, I’m still passionate and opinionated. I bravely embrace change, just like I always have, even though a part of me is terrified by it. But instead of being uncertain about my abilities, I am only uncertain as to how to help my own child bridge this awkward abyss between childhood and adulthood. Being even more passionately opinionated in my dotage keeps the rest of the uncertainty at bay.
Knowing what I know now, I would make my 23 year old self choose differently about some pretty substantial things. I would require my 23 year old self to make it on my own where the weather was tolerable. I definitely would not allow my 23 year old self to return to Arkansas. The summers are just too damn brutal.
Sure, I should have gone to graduate school. But I should have gone for history or literature, not law school. I should have followed my own dream, not someone else’s. It wasn’t my idea to go to law school. My dad planted that seed, and although I don’t regret having a career that I can pick up or put down at any time, I do wish it was more transportable. (How do I hate the summers in Arkansas? Let me count the ways…)
There is lots of advice I would give my younger self.
* Follow your dreams. You want to study paleoarcheology, be a writer, go on a dinosaur dig, or live in Greenwich Village? Do it. Don’t mistake the dreams other people have for you as your own dream. Be sure of whose dream you’re following.
* Travel. Everywhere. Maintain your rucksack in good condition and stash money away for no purpose other than to pay for plane tickets, cheap meals in exotic places, and museum fees. It’s okay to sleep in a train station or on the steps of a cathedral in Europe when you’re 23.
* It’s not love. At least not yet. Lust, pheromones, and heat, yes. But it is not love and you can live without that person because someone else will be along shortly to scratch the itch. For the love of Pete, don’t get married, start having babies, and acquire a mortgage yet. You’ve got too much to see and do before you’re chained down to all of that. Love doesn’t develop until the bright flush of physical desire dissipates and you’re used to each other’s most annoying habits and bodily functions, and you’ve decided not to commit either murder or seppuku over them.
* Run toward things, not away from them. I was terrified of looking for something different, but I hated – absolutely hated – my sales job just after college. It was worse than waiting tables, and I was truly horrible at that. But going back to school a year graduating from college was a cop out. I made the decision to go back to school – and back home – because I hated my job. I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. I was running away, not running toward something. There have been so many times I have wished I could take a mulligan on that one.
* If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. If you can’t move to a new place by loading everything you own in your car, you have too much crap. Get rid of it and don’t buy more. It’ll save on the interest you pay for those credit cards, and it will simplify your life. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. If you can’t pay cash for it, you don’t need it. Unless it’s prescribed medication.
* There is no reason to be bored, ever. With so much in the world to see, do, and make, boredom should not be a concept within your realm of familiarity. If you’re bored, it’s because you won’t open your eyes to the world around you. Go to a park. Visit a museum. Watch a river flow. Go to a bookstore or library.
* It’s okay to fail. Fear of failure prevents us from doing so many things, and more often than not it is a hollow fear. Robert Sculler asked, “What would you do if you knew you would not fail?” We should never assume failure. If we assume failure, we try nothing and therefore achieve nothing.
* Screwing up is okay, too. Stupid mistakes are also a way to learn. Granted, they aren’t the best way, or the least painful way, but they are effective. And the next time, we slow down and think things through more carefully.
What advice would you make your younger self heed?
I found this photo on Mondoweiss.net, a site devoted to US policy in the Middle East. Adam Horowitz and Philip Weiss, whose articles frequently appear in The Nation and Huffington Post among others, maintain the blog as a project of The Nation Institute.
The people in the photo are Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American author and champion of the rights of Palestinians in their home lands, and Haithem El-Zabri, a Palestinian-American. This isn’t the kind of photo we would expect to see in the mainstream national media.
Given the blatant horrors of Israel’s treatment and subjugation of Palestinians in Israel, the American press should be astounded at our Israeli foreign policy. Instead, Zionism reigns supreme, no matter the fact that natives of the regions are imprisoned, starved, refused work, refused permission to reunite with their families, and then attacked by Israel’s army for complaining about it. Granted, Palestinians have complained with shells and mortars, but if Americans were denied these basic human rights, would we sit complacently in our ghettos without fighting back? I think not. I saw Red Dawn, and I approved. (May Patrick Swayze’s soul rest in peace.)
Some of my friends have asked where to find independent news sources. The Nation is a good place to start, and has been around for a long time – 145 years – and its mission of unbiased, non-hysterical reporting of news should be the custom of all journalists, not just an ideal or aspiration.
The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.
– from The Nation’s founding prospectus, July 6, 1865
The Nation Institute was founded about 100 years after the weekly news magazine. Its website says that “[t]he Institute places particular importance on strengthening the independent press in the face of America’s increasingly corporate-controlled flow of information, and through its programs the Institute promotes progressive values on a variety of media platforms. The Institute sponsors conferences, investigative research, seminars, televised town-hall meetings, original web content, book publishing, film production, fellowships, internships, and awards for truth-telling and social activism.”
I cannot conceive of higher ideals in journalism.
Some of my more conservative friends may claim that The Nation is a left-leaning rag that spends its time bashing Sarah Palin and wringing its hands about mythical global warming. It isn’t. Yes, it supports logical, reasoned debate and yes, it reports scientific conclusions.
Frankly, I do not understand the logic for supporting Palin’s self-professed ignorance of current events (I can assure you, The Nation is not among the news sources she regularly reads) or for dismissing the empirical data provided by science on the issue of climate change, so I don’t have a problem with that. I blast illogical, histrionic, and patently silly pretenders to political thrones whenever I get the opportunity. I revel in exposing foolish denial of scientific proof because it presents an inconvenience to something the denier holds dear, be it the existence of dinosaurs or the depletion of fossil fuels.
We owe it to ourselves to educate ourselves.
In response to the blog post of a friend who is understandably bemoaning the state of the nation, I got a wee bit windy.
I know, I know – it’s hard for anyone to believe that I - moi - would spew opinions unrestrained against the drums of ears attached to mouths that were asking rhetoricals, not practicals. Nevertheless, I have the answer, and if the president would only sit down and pay attention to me, all the country’s problems – yea, even all the world’s! – would be solved.
The economy is not going to be fixed overnight, and right now Obama is listening to the experts who advise throwing more money at the economy in all the wrong places – at least IMHO. But, in response to those who are nodding sagely, saying “We told you that Obama would bring socialism and liberalism to the country, but did you listen? Nooooo,” I say that (ahem) this started on the Republican watch. Obama inherited this disaster; he did not create it. And since no one has ever dealt with such a staggering world-wide economic crisis before, that means he is inventing this wheel as he goes along. Will he get it all right? Of course not. But he won’t be likely to get it all wrong, either.
From what I hear and read, the economy isn’t going to start upward on any consistent basis until at least next year, and maybe not until 2011. Whenever in history the economy has tanked as suddenly and as severely as it did last summer and fall, the recovery has always been slow. That’s why they call them “depressions.”
Consumer confidence is badly shaken, and as more and more jobs are lost and more and more foreclosure notices are mailed, it’s not as if Dick and Jane are suddenly going to decide to splurge on that vacation home, lavish gifts for their status-conscious kids, or a pricey new automobile. Their businesses aren’t going to be hell-bent to hire new employees, either, because if sales are down, and no one is getting the services they offer, the employers simply can’t justify it.
The economy is, believe it or not, depressed. And Economic Abilify has not yet been invented.
My opinion (and one or two of you might possibly be aware that I have one or two opinions, even though I rarely mention them in polite company) is that Obama would be better off to give stimulus money to the people and entities that are best in a position to turn this thing around, i.e., all of us, but in different ways.
Money should go to the homeowners trying to stave off foreclosure as a condition of and part of the debt renegotiation with the lenders – that way the lenders get paid directly by the government on behalf of the homeowners, the homeowners and their children aren’t sleeping on the streets, and the banks don’t own homes they can’t sell.
If a home is undervalued for the debt the homeowner has against it, the government should pay the difference as soon as new terms for the remainder are worked out between the borrower and the lender. If the borrower can’t afford to continue making the original payments – not the juiced-up interest payments – then there can be a second tier of incentives for the lenders to extend the debts to a 40 year amortization as opposed to the customary 30 year schedule.
And NO MORE INTEREST-ONLY long term debt! Whose idiotic notion was that, anyway? “Here, Joe Bob and Sally Sue, take this money that you never have to pay back. Just pay us interest and we’ll all be happy.” The hell, they say! Morons.
Next, apply stimulus funds to the remaking of the American infrastructure, especially rural and smaller urban areas without reasonable public transit. Make light rail, high speed rail, and buses reach more places and serve more people on better schedules. One of the worst things we ever did was allow our railroads to be dismantled in favor of three cars in every driveway and five lanes on every freeway. Refurbishing and improving our infrastructure will employ hundreds of thousands of people in various positions throughout the country. From engineers to draftsmen to laborers to porters, we can get this country moving at a much more economical rate, and faster, if we’ll commit the funds to do it. And those jobs won’t go away when the projects are complete – they will need to be maintained, too.
Simultaneously, pour money into scientific research and development of alternative energy as well as into to cleaning up and maintain the environment. I’m not talking about just reducing greenhouse gases, although that is certainly a big concern, but (for example) about making reasonable accommodations for heavy metals that are the by-product of mining and drilling. A rocket laden with nuclear waste, arsenic, mercury and lead headed for the dark side of the moon might not be a bad use of NASA’s funding.
Put people to work cleaning up the environmental damage we’ve done to the planet, and making sure we’ve still got a planet to leave to our great-grandchildren. Clean water, clean air, and fewer chemicals artificially enhancing the soil and crops will go a long way toward making us all healthier – not to mention the possibility that our grandchildren might be able to play with frogs in their back yards some day.
And while we’re at it, quit giving chickens and cows all those damn hormones! I have yet to meet a teenage girl whose double-D’s don’t put my paltry gifts to shame. Why are their adolescent mammaries the size of a Holstein’s udders? Hormones!
Reduce the employer’s share of employment taxes. With the matching amounts that employers pay for health insurance, medicaid, unemployment, and social security, the cost of hiring an employee is a lot more than just what the employee sees in his check. This would be a real, dollar amount of savings for employers and would probably allow businesses to hire more workers across the board and at all levels.
Nationalized health care? Bring it on. Insurance companies will always provide coverage to people who choose to pay more for less care. Those of us who have survived cancer (twice, thankyouverymuch) or who are on certain costly medications can’t get health insurance without staggering pre-existing conditions clauses that make our health insurance worthless and excruciatingly expensive – if we can get it at all.
When health insurance benefits dictate whether a parent can open a business of his or her own or must stay with an employer who provides health coverage the family can’t get elsewhere, entrepreneurialism is stifled. This country is dependent on small business and entrepreneurs. We absolutely must break down the barriers that prevent people from making an attempt to achieve their dreams. I don’t know about you, but I work a lot harder for myself than I do for someone else. I don’t think failed businesses should be propped up by the government (Detroit, are you listening?), but when something like paying for childbirth determines whether a family can start a small business, there’s something desperately wrong.
Where, O Where will the money come from to do all this?
(clearing my throat)
The same place the last two trillion dollars came from. And the next trillion will actually make a difference. It will put people to work, shore up the foundation of the country, and stabilize the economy. It will also have the added benefit of making the world a better place. And if any of you out there are thinking there won’t be more stimulus money forthcoming, you just hide and watch. It’ll come, I promise, whether the president takes my incontrovertible advice or not.
Now that I have solved the problems of the environment, the economy, health care, and reliance on fossil fuels, are there any other problems you’d like me to take a look at? My rates are reasonable, and I’m in a spewing mood.