January Bonus Links: Israel-Palestine

I have nothing to say about President Claudine Gay’s resignation except that Harvard is a terrible place and I feel sorry for anyone who works there.

Writer, AIDS activist, and historian Sarah Schulman was interviewed last month by Sally Tamarkin in the queer magazine THEM. Among other points, Schulman discussed what supporters of Palestinian human rights can learn from ACT UP about allowing differences of opinion in liberation movements. Schulman’s books include Israel/Palestine and the Queer International and Conflict Is Not Abuse.

In Israel/Palestine you talk about the “absurdities and promise” of politics of solidarity. What are your observations about solidarity politics today, in the 10-plus years since you wrote the book?

I think there’s a fake fantasy of solidarity that is like the rainbow: one of you, and one of you, and we’re all happy and we all look alike and we’re all together, and that’s really not what it is. It’s a fraught and constantly shifting series of relationships. And as much as it is a fantasy, it is also an absolute necessity because at least in the United States, change only comes from coalition, and if you’re out there on your own, you cannot transform the society…

I’m wondering if you think about this balance between being able to have plurality and connect around where we differ, but also making sure that we’re not sliding back into, “well, just some reforms would be okay,” if what we really want is liberation.

ACT UP had a radical democracy structure in which people were allowed to disagree and they could function in separate spheres as long as they adhered to the one-sentence statement of unity, which was “direct action to end the AIDS crisis.” If you were doing direct action to end the AIDS crisis, really you could do anything. And the key to ACT UP was that they did not try to force homogeneity of analysis or strategy. Instead, there was simultaneity. So it’s not about compromise, it’s about coexistence — or as the Palestinians call it, co-resistance.

Right now, there are people who want a ceasefire, and then there are people who want to end U.S. funding, and then there are people who want a one-state [solution], and then there are people who want a return to the Palestinian state. There are a lot of different wants, and you have to figure out where you are in this moment and go with what makes sense to you. It’s not about telling people who want to ceasefire that they’re wrong; that is not helpful because we do need to ceasefire. Nothing can happen as long as people continue to be murdered.

There are those of us who want to end the occupation and siege, and we do everything we can toward that goal. But it’s not about trying to take down the other positions that are on your spectrum. This is the great error of the left. And this is where a lot of people make a mistake about what they think activism is; they think that activism is about taking people down if you don’t have full agreement, and that is wrong. Activism is about opening a door that makes it possible for people to be effective where they’re at.

Lesbian-feminist playwright Carolyn Gage’s blog post “A Note To My Friends Who Are Frustrated With My Political Process” applies her expertise in trauma recovery to the heated debate about Gaza and the feelings of powerlessness it inspires. Everyone, from the richest university in America to the most obscure poetry journal, faces political pressure to make a public statement immediately, which is hardly conducive to what Buddhists call right speech–true, timely, compassionate, and beneficial.

In her concluding remarks in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe took up the question regarding abolition that was on so many white people’s lips, “What can I do?” This is what she wrote:

“But what can any individual do? Of that, every individual can judge. There is one thing that every individual can do—they can see to it that they feel right.” [her emphasis]

I find myself thinking about this challenge, and her emphasis, during the bombing and invasion of Gaza…

…the first thing that comes to me is to search out a wide range of perspectives on the situation. For me, that means to read the Arab world press and the Israeli press, and to read these publications across the right wing, moderate, and liberal spectrum. It means to seek out the opinions of the political leaders in my own country who have earned my respect for decades—and, sadly, they are a precious few.

It also means listening to my friends who are often expressing themselves with unfiltered rage, grief, and alarm and from every conceivable point of view. It means listening to friends who are triggered, who are in post-traumatic states. It means listening to friends who are absorbing and responding to horrific propaganda. It means listening to dissociation, demonization, dehumanization, projection, denial, and selective amnesia. It means maintaining compassion in the face of verbal abuse.  It means being wildly misunderstood and developing the algorithms for determining where, when, and how it might be productive to attempt to make myself understood.

Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is a social justice organizer and a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he teaches anthropology, urban education, and Middle Eastern studies. He has a very engaging YouTube channel where he gives pithy analysis of the Palestinian situation, as well as videos on current events and Black popular culture. I learned a lot from this 11-minute video on “5 Myths About Israel and Palestine”.

Karim Kattan, a Jerusalem-born French novelist, wrote about the silencing of Palestinian voices in an October 2023 essay in The Baffler, “At the Threshold of Humanity”.

Three weeks ago, in a world that was significantly different from today, I was preparing a keynote speech. I had been invited to talk about my work in Innsbruck, in Austria, at a conference on the French language across borders. Following the Hamas attack on October 7, I received a message from the organizers demanding that I share the title of my speech and that I “refrain from mentioning the current situation and leave the political dimension out of [my] talk to avoid any eruption.” I responded that I could not participate under these conditions, my whole practice and life being at stake in what is unfolding in my country. The organizer insisted on calling me so that she could explain that “the current situation”—a euphemism—seemed very confusing and complicated to her, possibly a minefield, and therefore they just wanted to make sure that what I said was appropriate. “I realize,” she added, “that you wouldn’t say anything horrific. I just want to make sure.”

I have been thinking about this conversation in the weeks since, about what it says of the way we Palestinians are considered as living, breathing, writing, political beings. That I did not go to a literary event is a minor, ridiculous consequence of what is happening. But it may suggest a frame, a shape, for that which I still struggle to name for fear it will come true—which is happening now in Gaza and in the West Bank.

“Let us,” the organizer suggested over the phone, “find a positive solution.” Yet the quandary she created was unsolvable. All possible solutions entailed my silence. The only positive solution available was for me not to exist as I am; to go to Innsbruck and pretend that my country was not being bombed, starved, and devastated. To go and pretend that my life is not defined, as it always has been, by apartheid and colonization. Even if I had wanted to comply with what she demanded, I had no idea how to do it: not only because I am personally affected, as is the very existence of my family and nation, but also because the novel I was to discuss takes place in Palestine…

…The organizer didn’t exactly reject my humanity. It was simply a very inconvenient fact for her that I was a human; she had to contend with it and was very uncomfortable. She suggested that we could talk about things such as “exile, memory, transmission, borders,” but, please, without mentioning Palestine. I wondered how I could talk about exile without mentioning the material cause of this exile, which is a history of occupation. I wondered what “memory” consisted of in this context, if not survival in spite of a concerted, century-long campaign to erase all our histories. I wondered, also, if she imagined that it was great fun for me to talk about depressing subjects. Believe me, I would rather talk about anything else if I could. But I cannot.

What she was requiring of me was to render every single complication of my political and intimate being palatable and harmless, to stop being a liability to her. These are the contradictions that we are expected, as Palestinians, to solve within ourselves: to exist without talking about why we exist. In a way, she wished, very politely, that I could, very politely, cease to exist. What was I supposed to utter, then, at Innsbruck, if not the consent of my own vanishing?

So what is happening in Gaza? According to Business Insider, summarizing a New York Times investigation, “AI discovered satellite images of craters in Gaza, evidence that Israel is bombing civilian areas it said would be safe” (Dec. 22): “The investigation found evidence that Israel bombed the area it said would be safe for civilians with devastating 2,000-pound bombs at least 200 times.”

Human Rights Watch says, “Starvation Used as Weapon of War in Gaza; Evidence Indicates Civilians Deliberately Denied Access to Food, Water”.

The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip, which is a war crime, Human Rights Watch said today. Israeli forces are deliberately blocking the delivery of water, food, and fuel, while willfully impeding humanitarian assistance, apparently razing agricultural areas, and depriving the civilian population of objects indispensable to their survival.

Since Hamas-led fighters attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, high-ranking Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, and Energy Minister Israel Katz have made public statements expressing their aim to deprive civilians in Gaza of food, water and fuel – statements reflecting a policy being carried out by Israeli forces. Other Israeli officials have publicly stated that humanitarian aid to Gaza would be conditioned either on the release of hostages unlawfully held by Hamas or Hamas’ destruction…

Prior to the current hostilities, 1.2 million of Gaza’s 2.2 million people were estimated to be facing acute food insecurity, and over 80 percent were reliant on humanitarian aid. Israel maintains overarching control over Gaza, including over the movement of people and goods, territorial waters, airspace, the infrastructure upon which Gaza relies, as well as the registry of the population. This leaves Gaza’s population, which Israel has subjected to an unlawful closure for 16 years, almost entirely dependent on Israel for access to fuel, electricity, medicine, food, and other essential commodities.

What are the Palestinians supposed to do?

January Links Roundup: Animal Lovers

Welcome to 2024! I’ve been storing up a lot of Palestine links, but let’s start the year off with something enjoyable. Stay tuned for cancellable political takes in a future post.

The Winter 2023 issue of Orion, the environmentalist literary journal, profiled illustrator John Megahan’s contributions to biologist Bruce Bagemihl’s groundbreaking study of same-sex relationships in the animal kingdom, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). Journalist Lulu Miller was both charmed by the sensitive drawings and angered that these many examples had never before been compiled or discussed in mainstream biology teaching.

Thumbing through the book’s pages, it’s hard not to giggle. This is the Noah’s ark you never heard about. There are male giraffes necking (literally, that’s what scientists call the courtship behavior); dolphins engaging in blowhole sex; and rams and grizzlies and hedgehogs mounting one another in such intricate detail you can almost feel their fur or fangs or spines.

But awe creeps in too. Somewhere around page 453 maybe, with the kangaroos, or page 476 with the bats, or nearing page 700 after the umpteenth species of warbler. How were we not told?

The deeper I’ve fallen down this rainbow-colored rabbit hole, the more I’ve come to understand that my shock at the breadth of queerness in nature is a symptom of a horrible miseducation, of centuries of science bullying the abundance of queerness off the record, of an internalized homophobia that sometimes still whispers in my ear that I, a queer woman, do not belong on the tree of life. Bruce Bagemihl’s book with Megahan’s illustrations accomplished a kind of feat of alchemy. They took two millennia worth of outliers, scooped them all together, and in so doing revealed that which had been labeled as “unnatural” to be natural. This book helped to shift a scientific paradigm; its width is humbling, its bibliography, muscular. It taught me how the seemingly humble act of compilation can be a kind of activism.

I’m not alone in seeing the book this way. When Biological Exuberance was published in 1999, reviewers called it “revolutionary,” “monumental,” and “a landmark in the literature of science.” It was listed as a Best Book of 1999 by Publishers Weekly and the New York Public Library. It would even go on to be cited in a brief for the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas (2003) as a scientifically rigorous refutation to the belief that homosexuality was a “crime against nature.”

Every generation thinks they’re ahead of their sexually stodgy ancestors. Well, Harry Roy and His Orchestra were singing about “My Girl’s Pussy” in 1931. Yes, it’s exactly what you think.

1984 Carnation Fancy Feast Cat Food Ad - Darlings | eBay

If pussies are too tame for you, consider xenogenders. In their June 2023 post “What it Means to be Slime,” Substack author NubileConcubine reflects on identification with imaginary and nonhuman creatures, and how this can express the mysterious and idiosyncratic aspects of gendered embodiment. They discuss the debate within the queer community about whether custom genders are “cringy, immature, and unreal.” This plays into the fraught relationship among transness, neurodivergence, and disability, a topic discussed at length in my current trans book group read, Cameron Awkward-Rich’s The Terrible We: Thinking with Trans Maladjustment (Duke University Press, 2022). Hat tip to poet [sarah] Cavar for the link.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze | Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights

This headline from The Guardian (UK) can’t be beat: “Uproar as after-school Satan club forms at Tennessee elementary school”. Those wags at The Satanic Temple are at it again, spotlighting violations of church-state separation by demanding equal access for non-Christian religions. Or, as journalist Erum Salam’s sub-header (rather disappointingly) clarifies, “Satanic clubs, whose members do not worship the devil, usually formed in response to presence of religious groups in schools.”

The After School Satan Club (ASSC) wants to establish a branch in Chimneyrock elementary school in the Memphis-Shelby county schools (MSCS) district.

The ASSC is a federally recognized non-profit organization and national after-school program with local chapters across the US. The club is associated with the Satanic Temple, though it claims it is secular and “promotes self-directed education by supporting the intellectual and creative interests of students”.

The Satanic Temple makes it clear its members do not actually worship the devil or believe in the existence of Satan or the supernatural. Instead Satan is used as a symbol of free will, humanism and anti-authoritarianism.

Satanic after-school clubs are usually established in a school district in response to the presence of religious clubs, such as the Christian evangelical Bible group the Good News Club. The temple says it “does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus”.

I’m all for anti-authoritarianism, etc., but if we don’t get to wear funny costumes and light candles, count me out.

When Satan Club went to school: What's behind the group that created  controversy in Chesapeake – The Virginian-Pilot

Apropos of nothing, I just really liked this poem by recent Pulitzer Prize winner Diane Seuss on the Green Linden Press website, “Little Fugue with Jean Seberg and Tupperware”. Older woman with zero fucks to give–not exactly bitter but definitely tired of being sweet.

…Love, that little wood tick. That tick-in-the-ass.
Say the word enough times inside your head,
it will fall out of its meaning
like a stillborn, plop, into the toilet.

In the January 2024 issue of the Catholic magazine America, Eve Tushnet profiles Awake, a laypeople’s organization that helps survivors of clergy sexual abuse. This grassroots movement is stepping in where the institutional church has failed.

The word awake signifies a change, a new awareness of one’s surroundings. Sara Larson’s awakening came in 2018, following the Pennsylvania grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the revelations of then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s long history of abuse. She says the news left her and other Catholics she knew in the Milwaukee area “concerned and hurt and frustrated, and wondering what we could do to help.” In March 2019, a group of people began meeting in Ms. Larson’s living room to discuss ways to respond. They called the group Awake, and it didn’t take them long to settle on an answer.

That August, Awake made its first, formal, public act: an apology in the form of an open letter to survivors of abuse. Ms. Larson says that the group decided to issue the letter because “many apologies that have been given by church leaders feel inadequate.” Awake, she says, “realize[d] that we as members of this church, as the body of Christ, could apologize as well, and make a public commitment to stand in solidarity with survivors and to work for transformation and healing in our church.”

Four years later, Awake has grown into a nonprofit organization, and its response to the abuse crisis has grown, too. The group’s mission is “to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, work for transformation, and foster healing for all who have been wounded.” The group now does advocacy work and offers many programs that address the needs of abuse survivors…

Awake was born out of a conviction that survivors are members of the body of Christ: that Catholic prayer, the sacraments and all that the church can offer still belong to survivors, and that they deserve to experience the church in a way that restores, nourishes and heals. Awake also recognizes that, ultimately, survivors follow many paths of healing and discovery.

Awake welcomes members from a variety of faith backgrounds, and with various relationships to the Catholic Church. Some of Awake’s members have always been practicing Catholics. Others no longer have an interest in Catholic practices. But many have an ambivalent relationship to Catholic prayer, sacraments and worship settings. Awake strives to respect each of these perspectives because, for people against whom Catholic spiritual practices were weaponized for grooming and abuse, it can feel as though only a thin veil separates one’s present safety and healing from the trauma of the past.

Eve’s novel Punishment: A Love Story is a triumph of Wildean wit. Go get it–for the love of God, Montessori!

In the Massachusetts Review, Koa Beck’s essay “Nanny of the State” describes how becoming an authorized foster parent forced her into uneasy complicity with a carceral system.

Parents are presented with a highly individualized plan by the court to help establish a “safe” home to which their children can return without state intervention. The tonality of the courts underscores this approach: if they can get and stay sober, if they can establish a clean, secure place to live, if they can maintain a job, if they attend therapy, they can reclaim custody of their children. Everything is on them.

his isolated framework to dissect why parent and child should be separated is further reflected in the infrastructure of the courtroom: parenthood is literally evaluated on a case-by-case basis, like there are no deeply rooted, long-standing factors as to why this has happened. The siloing presents the story as if it’s isolated to this parent and this child. No two cases are identical, but many grow from identical circumstances. Homelessness overlaps with substance abuse in a poverty spiral where little to no access to mental health resources or food security or affordable housing inevitably means ricocheting into addiction or violence or both.

Blame is singular where it should be structural: Why are these parents struggling with basic needs? What about their life and their challenges render them incapable of parenting on a fundamental level? What about their inability to secure mental health services or economic security at critical stages has yielded this reality?

Reiter’s Block Year in Review: 2023

I finally feel cuter than my cat. Photo by Ezra Autumn Wilde; shirt by Robert Graham; body by Pioneer Valley Plastic Surgery.

2023 was another year of huge spiritual and material shifts. I am now a certified Priest of Witchcraft, having completed Year Two of the Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School in September. I manifested the three big things I’ve been working towards for years: top surgery, adopting my own cat, and a publisher for my second novel, Origin Story, which will be out from Saddle Road Press this summer. In case you missed it, my essay “Double Incision Diary” in Solstice Lit Mag describes how my witchcraft practice made my surgery a sacred experience.

Theodore “Big Pussy” Cavalieri DiMeow lives for snacks.

Our family visited Los Angeles, Cape Cod, Boston, and New York City this year. Shane has become the star pupil at Hilltown Sled Dogs, a camp where young people learn to train Alaskan Huskies. I wish they operated a junior high school! Shane’s other happy place is Home Depot. He is teaching me how to use a leaf blower and a power drill.

Adam and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with tickets to Barns Courtney‘s rock concert at Irving Plaza in Manhattan. It was a Dionysian experience, with the energy of a pagan religious revival. We didn’t go in the mosh pit, though.

I did not publish many poems this year, but I wrote a lot of weird new ones about butts. There’s still time to sponsor me for 30 Poems in November. We raised over $75,000 for immigrant literacy and job-training programs at the Center for New Americans! I achieved my personal goals of raising $500, writing 30 poems, and avoiding my novel.

Some books that made an impact on me this year:

Psychoanalyst Avgi Saketopoulou’s provocative book Sexuality Beyond Consent: Risk, Race, Traumatophilia (New York University Press, 2023) restores mystery and risk to our encounters with one another through limit-pushing sex or controversial art. Saketopoulou proposes that we should not pathologize trauma survivors for seeking out states of “overwhelm”. Wounds have an erotic charge, and going towards this taboo experience can free up our energy for new ways of processing what cannot be cured. It’s liberating to acknowledge that there’s no undamaged state to get back to, because then we can move forward without so much fear of contamination–what she calls “traumatophobia,” or the goal of avoiding triggers at all costs. Therapists are not immune from pushing a patient toward a tidy but illusory closure because of their own discomfort with witnessing trauma.

In fiction, I’m currently enjoying The Best Mystery Stories of the Year: 2021, guest-edited by Lee Child. This series curated by Otto Penzler and The Mysterious Bookshop has been hit-or-miss for me, with some years’ entries stuffed with sad literary stories with a crime in them, rather than real whodunits. This edition will satisfy fans of old-school detection, and also has a good gender balance of protagonists and writers. If you’re feeling more literary, check out King of the Armadillos (Macmillan, 2023) by my fellow St. Ann’s School alum Wendy Chin-Tanner. Based on her father’s life story, this bittersweet novel follows a Chinese immigrant teen in the 1950s who’s sent to a leprosy hospital in Louisiana, and his father and brother left behind in Brooklyn, who must balance traditional family duties with the forbidden loves offered by the freedom and anonymity of America.

2023 was an encouraging year to be an old guy. Henry Kissinger died at 100, bringing joy to the world. Charles III was finally crowned at 75, with Camilla by his side. The guy paid his dues. But “The Crown” is still boring since Princess Di is gone.

“And now, at last, I shall be King of Engl–“

Israel-Palestine: Further Thoughts, Links, and a Prayer

In this season of Hanukkah, which, like many Jewish holidays, commemorates resistance to eradication by a more powerful empire, it’s difficult but necessary to recognize the paradox that one can be an oppressed minority in the wider world and simultaneously an oppressor in a local context. It’s agonizing to imagine the sexual violence and other atrocities Hamas committed against the Oct. 7 hostages. It equally pains me to read the Twitter reports about innocent Palestinian writers, journalists, and doctors who have recently died in Israel’s punitive bombing of Gaza. The current iteration of Zionism doesn’t make me feel safer as a person of Jewish background. The most hard-line government in my adult lifetime doesn’t seem to be keeping Israelis safe either.

I am dialoguing by email with readers who have different views from mine, and may share some of our conversations here in the future. Meanwhile, here are some readings that helped me this week.

A friend shared this poetic prayer with me, “Hanukkah 2023: We Light These Lights for Gaza,” by Rabbi Brant Rosen. The rabbi’s blog says he leads a Reconstructionist congregation in Chicago and is an activist for Israel/Palestine justice work. The last stanza especially moved me:

These lights we light tonight
will never be used for any other purpose
but to proclaim the miracle
of this truth:
it is not by might nor by cruelty
but by a love that burns relentlessly
that this broken world
will be redeemed.

Journalist Noah Berlatsky has helped me reconsider how we talk about “diaspora” as a temporary or less-than-ideal condition for world Jewry. He revisits this critique in his Dec. 7 Sojourners article “They Said Only Israel Could Keep Me Safe”.

There is no magic guarantee for safety. The Jewish diaspora has responded to this truth of insecurity by putting roots down in many places. We’ve done so with the recognition that no one place is perfect or safe, but with a faith that we can work to make wherever we are better, more welcoming, and freer for Jewish people — and ideally not just for Jewish people. The vision of diaspora is a vision not of Jewish control or Jewish dominance but of cosmopolitanism, of sharing, of allowing your neighbors to transform you as you transform them. Safety can reside not in controlling land and borders, but in an openness that sees belonging as portable and communal.

…That’s not to say that the diaspora is a utopia. But it is to say that in privileging Israel as the site of safety and hope, Jewish people forget that the diaspora is an important resource, a major influence on Jewish culture, and a critical aspect of Jewish history. Fascists like Hitler hated and tried to destroy the diaspora because it rejected purity and ethnonationalism in favor of heterogeneity and cosmopolitanism. For that and the other reasons I mention, we need to recognize the diaspora not as a weakness or failure, but as a hope, a refuge, and a site for antifascist defiance.

“A Dangerous Conflation” is an open letter in the arts and culture journal n+1, signed by hundreds of Jewish writers, artists, and activists “who wish to disavow the widespread narrative that any criticism of Israel is inherently antisemitic.” Notable signatories include Nan Goldin, Tony Kushner, Sarah Schulman, Judith Butler, poet Chase Berggrun, political historian Jeff Sharlet, and actress Hari Nef. The letter proclaims, “We find this rhetorical tactic antithetical to Jewish values, which teach us to repair the world, question authority, and champion the oppressed over the oppressor.”

Two stories that make me concerned about our foreign policy priorities: “US vetoes UN resolution backed by many nations demanding immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza” (AP News, Dec. 9); “US skips congressional review to approve emergency sale of tank shells to Israel” (Reuters, Dec. 9).

According to that same AP story:

Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 17,400 people in Gaza — 70% of them women and children — and wounded more than 46,000, according to the Palestinian territory’s Health Ministry, which says many others are trapped under rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths…

…[U.N. Secretary-General Antonio] Guterres said Hamas’ brutality against Israelis on Oct. 7 “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

“While indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations,” he stressed.

The U.N. chief detailed the “humanitarian nightmare” Gaza is facing, citing intense, widespread and ongoing Israeli attacks from air, land and sea that reportedly have hit 339 education facilities, 26 hospitals, 56 health care facilities, 88 mosques and three churches.

Over 60% of Gaza’s housing has reportedly been destroyed or damaged, some 85% of the population has been forced from their homes, the health system is collapsing, and “nowhere in Gaza is safe,” Guterres said.

…Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard criticized the U.S. for continuing to transfer munitions to the Israeli government “that contribute to the decimation of entire families.”

And Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said that by providing weapons and diplomatic cover to Israel “as it commits atrocities, including collectively punishing the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, the U.S. risks complicity in war crimes.”

 

 

December Links Roundup: Season of Outrage

It’s December, and you know what that means–the War on Christmas has begun. As opposed to, you know, actual war, which is A-OK. Fox News’s latest outrage cycle brings us this spectacular headline from the Green Bay Press-Gazette: “U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher aims his ire at The Satanic Temple tree at National Railroad Museum”. Poet and journalist Natalie Eilbert reports:

As part of its Festival of Trees this year, the nonprofit museum included a tree from The Satanic Temple of Wisconsin, decorated in red lights, pentacles and ornaments extolling LGBTQ+ pride, bodily autonomy and the power of reading.

Gallagher, R-Green Bay, said it’s “impossible to overstate how offensive this is to Christians,” and equated the temple’s participation at the Festival of Trees with “waving a Hamas flag in a synagogue.”

The temple’s mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense, oppose injustice, and undertake noble pursuits,” according to its website. The National Railroad Museum is a non-religious, private organization focused on the history of locomotives…

…The exhibition at the National Railroad Museum is an exercise in optics. Take, for example, the event name itself: It is called The Festival of Trees. Nowhere in its description does it explicitly refer to the trees as Christmas trees, which invites all sorts of creative interpretations.

Speaking of that Hamas flag, I’m getting pretty fed up with right-wing Israel supporters waving the bloody shirt of anti-Semitism, when the biggest threat to Jews in America comes from white supremacists in the Republican Party. The memory of the Holocaust gets literally weaponized to justify ethnic cleansing of our Palestinian siblings.

According to a damning new report from +972 Magazine, the high civilian death toll in the current war was avoidable and arguably intentional. If you’re not familiar with this publication, their “About” page explains:

+972 Magazine is an independent, online, nonprofit magazine run by a group of Palestinian and Israeli journalists. Founded in 2010, our mission is to provide in-depth reporting, analysis, and opinions from the ground in Israel-Palestine. The name of the site is derived from the telephone country code that can be used to dial throughout Israel-Palestine.

Yuval Abraham’s feature story, “‘A mass assassination factory’: Inside Israel’s calculated bombing of Gaza”, was released yesterday.

The Israeli army’s expanded authorization for bombing non-military targets, the loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties, and the use of an artificial intelligence system to generate more potential targets than ever before, appear to have contributed to the destructive nature of the initial stages of Israel’s current war on the Gaza Strip, an investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call reveals. These factors, as described by current and former Israeli intelligence members, have likely played a role in producing what has been one of the deadliest military campaigns against Palestinians since the Nakba of 1948.

The investigation by +972 and Local Call is based on conversations with seven current and former members of Israel’s intelligence community — including military intelligence and air force personnel who were involved in Israeli operations in the besieged Strip — in addition to Palestinian testimonies, data, and documentation from the Gaza Strip, and official statements by the IDF Spokesperson and other Israeli state institutions.

Inside sources told +972 that Israel’s new artificial intelligence system identifies precisely how many civilians will be killed by bombing a target. The current campaign intentionally hits high-rise apartment buildings and other heavily populated areas with low military value, on the pretext that a Hamas member is inside or has lived in the building recently. These sites, called “power targets” by the Israeli military, are hit without warning the residents to evacuate, a change from previous policy.

The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to “create a shock” that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and “lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,” as one source put it…

In one case discussed by the sources, the Israeli military command knowingly approved the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to assassinate a single top Hamas military commander. “The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,” said one source.

“Nothing happens by accident,” said another source. “When a 3-year-old girl is killed in a home in Gaza, it’s because someone in the army decided it wasn’t a big deal for her to be killed — that it was a price worth paying in order to hit [another] target. We are not Hamas. These are not random rockets. Everything is intentional. We know exactly how much collateral damage there is in every home.”

This is absolutely grotesque. If this is the price of a “Jewish state,” I don’t want it.

You know who would be fine with it? Henry Kissinger, who went to his eternal reward (good luck with that) this week at age 100. May we all live in such a way that our obituary is less salty than historian Erik Loomis’ headline at Lawyers, Guns & Money: “Kissinger is Dead, Finally Something Good Has Happened in 2023”.

One of the most vile individuals to ever befoul the United States, Henry Kissinger is dead. A man responsible for the deaths of millions of people around the world and yet the most respected man within the American foreign policy community for decades, Kissinger’s sheer existence exposed the moral vacuity of Cold War foreign policy and the empty platitudes and chummy gladhandling of the Beltway elite class that deserves our utter contempt.

Where to begin? The unnecessary prolongation of the Vietnam War to get Nixon elected, the bombing of Cambodia, replacing Allende with the dictator Pinochet in Chile, or backing Pakistan’s massacre of civilians during Bangladesh’s bid for independence? The only good thing I can say about Kissinger is that his longevity gives me hope that I’m not over the hill. I was feeling kind of down this week because I received an AARP magazine with Ringo Starr on the cover.

Let’s close on a hopeful note with Major Jackson’s poem “Let Me Begin Again” on the Academy of American Poets website. Oracular and colloquial by turns, this poem urges us to keep choosing wonder and joy, because our disintegrating world may depend on it.

This time, let me circle
the island of my fears only once then
live like a raging waterfall and grow
a magnificent mustache. Let me not ever be
the birdcage or the serrated blade or
the empty season.

Hat tip to Sarah Sullivan, our 30 Poems in November fundraising coordinator, who sent this poem as one of her daily prompts for the writers raising money for the Center for New Americans. It’s not too late to donate to my page. I’m at $446 as of December 1–help me reach my $500 goal!

November Links Roundup: Angels and Dirtbags

The monthly link-o-rama is on the late side because I’ve been busy writing 30 Poems in November as a fundraiser for the Center for New Americans, an immigrant literacy and job training nonprofit in Northampton. I’ve got another $134 to go towards my target amount. Chip in today and receive a cute picture of my cat Theodore in your inbox, plus a handmade thank-you note (USA addresses only).

In this month’s issue of The Baffler, Joshua Craze examines the pitfalls of foreign humanitarian aid in “The Angel’s Dilemma”. Why have conditions not improved in war-torn, impoverished South Sudan despite billions of dollars in aid since 2011? The NGO industry creates a permanent underclass of refugees who are not allowed to migrate where the work is, let alone have a say in how donors’ money is spent. Craze challenges the aid community’s assertion that their work is apolitical, noting that American disaster relief was a major instrument of foreign policy to create client states during the Cold War. Later, during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, NGOs became a shadow government in destabilized countries, answerable to the US or the EU rather than the locals.

While helping my son research a history project on Henry Ford, I discovered historical novelist Allison Epstein’s hilarious Substack, Dirtbags Through the Ages. In the irreverent style of Daniel Lavery’s Texts from Jane Eyre or Dr. Eleanor Janega’s Going Medieval, Epstein adopts a gossipy modern voice to talk trash about notable figures from the past. “The Dearborn Ultimatum”, Her post on the spiritual forbear of Elon Musk is subtitled “The Top 10 Reasons I Would Punch Henry Ford in the Teeth if I Saw Him in the Street and Nobody Would Blame Me”. Besides his notorious anti-Semitism, Ford is “why work sucks so bad”:

Henry Ford’s auto factories were pioneers of the assembly line, which took us from an artisan-based economy where skilled workers could perform fulfilling labor to a dehumanized system where you do the same repetitive task over and over until you want to drown yourself in the sea…

The assembly line is also to blame for mass production and by extension consumer culture. What I’m saying is, it’s Henry Ford’s fault that companies are hounding your every breath trying to make you buy things you don’t need, and that there’s an island of garbage in the ocean three times the size of France.

And don’t get her started on his square-dancing fetish!

Electric Literature recently shared an excerpt of editor Zeke Caligiuri’s intro to the prison writers’ anthology American Precariat: Parables of Exclusion (Coffee House Press, 2023). A former inmate at Minnesota’s Stillwater Prison, Caligiuri describes how a writers’ group thrived and revived itself behind bars, despite opposition from the authorities

It was exhilarating, until decision-makers in the facility realized the threat that artists and poets pose to the ideas of the captivity business. After only a year and a half, the group was disbanded. It was my first lesson in how easily good things in prison get discarded. Watching art and culture go away can create a bleak and hopeless landscape that will jade and obscure a person’s faith in creative community. It was a pattern shown to us repeatedly…

[The Stillwater Writers’ Collective was] created because our small cohort agreed that, at some point, someone or something was going to come along with opportunities that we had been waiting for throughout the long stretches of our collective incarcerations. There was agreement that as a community we would need to be ready so that the blessing we felt was supposed to be ours wouldn’t get passed along to somebody else. We believed it would be a crime for the story of writing in the Minnesota state prison system to be told, or written, without us. Just as the foundations of these old structures had been laid by the hands of the imprisoned, we were trying to lay a new literary and intellectual foundation.

…Time in the life of a writer, or a prisoner, is an emergency. Incarcerated writing communities provide for us what we can only assume they offer to non-incarcerated writing communities: peer support, friend- ship, competition, rivalry, and shared stakes in the success of their members. These communities offer reminders of time and the emergencies time represents. Classes get canceled and cut. In 2005, our whole education department shut down for months and every computer in the joint was wiped and scoured. Stories, essays, poetry, and even an anthology of our work disappeared from the universe. There are lockdowns, seizures of materials, intentionally, and sometimes collaterally. There are surprise transfers that leave us without computer access, and we must figure out how to keep the things we need most. We, who are working hard to mend some of the wounds in the social and familial fabric of our lives, live with a stopwatch to create evidence that will show something redemptive within us.

Nigerian-Canadian writer Vincent Anioke’s flash fiction “At World’s End” in Fractured Lit fulfills the promise of its unbeatable first line: “I’m giving Kayode Last-Name-Pending a pretty accomplished blowjob in the back of my rented Subaru when Jesus Christ returns.” That’s all I’m going to say.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, so get inspired by OutHistory’s “Introduction to Transmasculine People in the U.S. Press, 1876-1939”, provided by Emily Skidmore, author of True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (NYU Press, 2017).

The Trauma of Israel-Palestine

I had a bunch of links for the monthly roundup, but nothing seems as important as babies dying in incubators at bombed hospitals in Gaza. So I’m going to add my two shekels to a topic that is provoking volleys of cancellations and counter-cancellations in our current discourse. I used to commend my Jewish heritage of Talmudic polyphonic debate as a superior alternative to Christians’ winner-take-all orthodoxy wars. It seems like those days are over, for the time being.

I am culturally and ethnically Jewish, though my current spiritual path is witchcraft. I had a serious Jewish phase in my 20s when I kept a moderate form of kosher (no bacon cheeseburgers) and attended a spectrum of synagogues from Modern Orthodox to Reform. (Full disclosure, the Orthodox stint was entirely about meeting single guys under 40.) Ever since my Episcopal years have come to a close, I’ve circled back to appreciating the ways that Jewish folklore and values shaped my upbringing. I was brought up to believe in education, truth-telling, and fighting for the underdog. I didn’t take it for granted that the American empire fully included me.

Secularized, assimilated Jews of my generation, and possibly my parents’ generation too, coalesced around Zionism as a substitute for the ritual observances that used to define Jewish identity. I didn’t know anything about what Palestinians’ lives were actually like. I didn’t think about the legalized segregation and discrimination that are required to maintain any country as being “for” one group of people. Israel’s “right to exist,” and its right to enforce a two-tier system of civil rights, were–and still are–conflated.

Following the horrifying attacks and hostage-taking by Hamas on October 7, everything that liberal and moderate Jews have criticized about Netanyahu’s repressive right-wing government has gone out the window. Now it’s taboo to talk about why some Palestinians were desperate enough to commit war crimes. Or, on the lefty side of the debate, it becomes even more difficult to hold space for the simultaneous observations that Jews are beneficiaries of apartheid in Israel and an oppressed minority elsewhere in the world. Anti-semitic violence in America is real–though it is largely perpetrated by right-wing Christian white supremacists, not Arabs or Muslims.

Sure, some kind of military response to a terrorist attack makes sense, but it defies credibility that the world-class Israeli intelligence service has no better way to “find” Hamas leaders than by flattening the entire Gaza Strip. One has to be deliberately obtuse to deny that Israel is taking advantage of the situation to force Palestinians en masse out of Gaza, and even the West Bank, which is not connected to the Hamas attack.

I haven’t signed any of the pro-Palestinian open letters circulating in the literary community because they didn’t seem nuanced enough for me. I have no gripe with the people who did sign them. It’s clear to me that they’re motivated by compassion for the Palestinian victims of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing, not by Jew-hatred. (More about this in a moment.)

A document I would feel comfortable endorsing is this eloquent letter by students at Brown University. “An open letter from Jewish students” was signed by “a collective of anti-occupation Jews” and published in the Brown Daily Herald on Nov. 7.

Zionist institutions purport to be representative of all Jews, often using us as a rhetorical shield to support the unconscionable actions of the state of Israel… We stand in solidarity with Brown Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus in the pursuit of the liberation of Palestinian peoples. We know intimately that Jewish struggles are necessarily bound up in global struggles for freedom.

…Every single author of this piece has lost ancestors to state-sanctioned anti-Jewish violence. We have all grown up grappling with the intergenerational ripples of such atrocities. There is no question that antisemitism exists.

But we do not accept a Jewish ethnostate as the solution to our struggle. By using the Shoah and our collective traumas to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the Israeli military project insults the memory of our ancestors. We will not allow history to repeat itself; “never again” calls for the protection of everyone — Jews and non-Jews alike — from genocide.

If we cannot acknowledge and reject Israel’s indiscriminate killing of thousands and forced displacement of over 1.5 million Palestinians, then we have failed to learn from our history.

We want to illustrate a distinction that many Zionists attempt to obfuscate: First, there is the spiritual entity of Israel — as Jacob’s alias, as the Jewish people, as a word that features in many of our prayers. Then, there is the state of Israel, which was founded in 1948. Even the nomenclature of the state of “Israel” serves to confuse political Zionism with Judaism and Jewishness. This conflation is dangerous and ignores a long and ongoing history of Jewish opposition to Zionist nation-state ideology. We hold our opposition to the state simultaneously with our connection to the amorphous spiritual entity. 

One impetus for this letter was an Oct. 25 missive from the Anti-Defamation League and Brandeis Center to some 200 American universities, urging them to “investigate the activities of your campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine…for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization” (i.e., Hamas).

Seriously…the leftist Jews who were blacklisted by McCarthy are turning in their graves!

Meanwhile, another casualty of the schism in American Judaism may be the venerable Unterberg Poetry Center at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Jewish Currents reports that the Poetry Center’s programming is on hold since it tried to impose a Zionist litmus test on the writers who spoke there:

That legacy now appears to be in jeopardy following the Y’s abrupt postponement of a planned October 20th Poetry Center talk by the professor and novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, who had signed an open letter in the London Review of Books two days earlier calling for an end to “the unprecedented and indiscriminate violence that is still escalating against the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza.” The Y, which released a statement pledging support for Israel the day after Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7th, has long been an officially Zionist organization—sometimes to the frustration of employees who disagree with this stance—but has generally left subsidiaries like the Poetry Center alone to book whatever speakers they choose. However, in a comment to The New York Times, the Y acknowledged that the decision had been made due to Nguyen’s “public comments on Israel.”

The postponement soon led to a cascade of Poetry Center event cancellations and staff resignations. On October 21st, the writers Dionne Brand, Saidiya Hartman, and Christina Sharpe announced on X (formally known as Twitter) that as “anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-colonial thinkers,” they had pulled out of their upcoming talk; the critic Andrea Long Chu, poet Paisley Rekdal, and writers Chris Kraus and Hannah Gold also canceled their respective events. The next day, Chihaya and senior program coordinator Sophie Herron—two of the Poetry Center’s three employees—resigned from their positions. By October 23rd, the Y confirmed to the Times that the Poetry Center had postponed its reading series. The future of the literary institution is now uncertain.

…In late October, the Y added a new policy to its website stating that it will continue “welcoming people who are critical of Israel, as long as they have not and do not actively call for the destruction of the State of Israel or question its legitimacy,” a move that could exclude a broad swath of potential speakers, both Jewish and not, who identify as anti-Zionist or support a political vision for future coexistence in the region that does not include Jewish statehood.

The article notes that similar conflicts are playing out within other American Jewish institutions, such as the campus ministry network Hillel International. The younger generation is no longer willing to abide by its elders’ taboos.

It’s encouraging, meanwhile, to read about the rabbis and Jewish leaders who are joining protests against Israel’s assault on civilian targets. This CNN story from Oct. 25 describes one such sit-in for a ceasefire on Capitol Hill. Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow are leading the charge to redefine Jewish identity around supporting human rights for everyone in Israel.

“As Jewish people whose ancestors went through the Holocaust, when we hear Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant use words like ‘the children of darkness’ and ‘human animals’ to describe Palestinians, we feel the resonances of that in our bones,” said IfNotNow political director Eva Borgwardt, referring to recent comments made by the Israeli officials.

“We know exactly where that language leads, and we are here to stop what they clearly intend to be a genocide. We will come to the doors of our lawmakers, we will be at the doors of our lawmakers for as long as it takes.”

Readers may recall that the U.S. House censured Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich) last week for using the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a Palestinian liberation slogan that critics interpret as calling for the eradication of Israel. Tlaib is the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress.

Following the vote to advance the censure resolution, Tlaib delivered an emotional speech on the House floor and argued that her criticism of the Israeli government should not be conflated with antisemitism.

“It is important to separate people and governments. No government is beyond criticism. The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent, and it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation,” she said.

She grew emotional and had trouble speaking after she said, “I can’t believe I have to say this, but Palestinian people are not disposable.”

…A censure resolution is one of the most severe forms of punishment in the House, which has historically been saved for the most egregious offenses such as a criminal conviction. A censure does not remove a member from the House and carries no explicit penalties beyond a public admonition.

I find this treatment of Rep. Tlaib to be pretty offensive and hypocritical considering how many election deniers and fake-news-spreaders there are in Congress. For background, I recommend this Jewish Currents article from 2021, “What Does ‘From the River to the Sea’ Really Mean?” Palestinian-American historian Yousef Munayyer explains:

“From the river to the sea” is a rejoinder to the fragmentation of Palestinian land and people by Israeli occupation and discrimination. Palestinians have been divided in a myriad of ways by Israeli policy. There are Palestinian refugees denied repatriation because of discriminatory Israeli laws. There are Palestinians denied equal rights living within Israel’s internationally recognized territory as second-class citizens. There are Palestinians living with no citizenship rights under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. There are Palestinians in legal limbo in occupied Jerusalem and facing expulsion. There are Palestinians in Gaza living under an Israeli siege. All of them suffer from a range of policies in a singular system of discrimination and apartheid—a system that can only be challenged by their unified opposition. All of them have a right to live freely in the land from the river to the sea.

But it is precisely because Zionist settler colonialism has benefitted from and pursued Palestinian fragmentation that it seeks to mischaracterize and destroy inclusive and unifying rhetorical frameworks. For example, journalist Marc Lamont Hill was attacked and ultimately removed from his position at CNN for calling for Palestinian freedom “from the river to the sea.” After all, it is far easier to dominate a divided people fighting different battles on different fronts than it is to dominate one people united in a single battle for the same universal rights.

Since Zionists struggle to make a persuasive argument against freedom, justice, and equality for all people throughout the land, they seek instead to attack the message and messenger. When Palestinians proclaim “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” many Zionists argue that this is a Palestinian call for genocide. But as historian Maha Nassar has noted, there has never been an “official Palestinian position calling for the forced removal of Jews from Palestine.”

What Munayyer is getting at, I believe, is the misconception that everything is fine and democratic in Israel outside the “occupied territories” of Gaza and the West Bank. This is what I and many American Jews were taught about Zionism. In this context, “from the river to the sea” means that the second-class citizenship of Palestinians exists everywhere and shouldn’t be acceptable anywhere.

Being a trauma survivor makes you paranoid. Because you’ve had so little power globally, you don’t recognize when you do have power locally, and therefore you don’t use it in a responsible way. My people need some collective therapy so we don’t keep punching down.

 

The Poet Spiel: “Glut”

Friend of the blog Tom W. Taylor a/k/a The Poet Spiel may be in his 80s, but his appetite for life remains strong, as the comic-horror poem below demonstrates. Have a tasty spooky season.

glut

six plate-size blueberry pancakes,
a half dozen eggs sunny side up
and a pound of bacon and sausage
serve as little more than a prompt
for a couple of fresh baked apples
drenched in cinnamon and butter
to start your day.
four fun-size baby ruth candy bars,
six butterfingers and one snickers bar
plus another baked apple
are only a prelude to
one whole bag of potato chips and
one cup of salty peanuts bathed in sugar —
not enough to pacify

your need to bite
into something that will satisfy
the rip and tear with teeth
your dentist has sharpened twice
in the past six months
because your penchant
for chewing has worn them down.

so you thaw a slab of pork loin
then slather it with honey sauce
and bake it in the same pan
you’ve used to bake the dozen apples
and turkey breasts you finished off
yesterday before the sun went down,
then topped that with your usual bedtime snack
of a bag of popcorn with catsup.

at noon you choke on soy free gluten free no wheat
angel hair noodles twisted round your uvula.
soon as your gagging fit ceases
you gulp a twelve ounce glass of milk
then shove down two large meatballs —
make that three or four, five or six
if you’ve got extras

all day every day and night
each bite of anything
persuades your saliva to bathe
the next bite of whatever
you’ve got ready-to-eat
in your pantry, fridge
and nuts and candy jars.

so look out
mister 300 pound footballer
with thighs like a side of beef,
if you wander into view,
be advised a fork and butcher knife
are in hand.

Spooktober Reading Roundup

I love horror. Not gore, so much, but the creepy stuff. Give me dark family psychology (gee I wonder why), cursed objects from dusty archives, the uncanny blankness of our modern built environment and the soulless things lurking beneath its plastic surfaces. Lately I’m especially drawn to historical atrocities with a supernatural twist, a sub-genre where a lot of writers of color are currently making their mark.

I read every horror anthology I could get my hands on in the 80s and 90s, mostly from school and public libraries because our family was broke. I knew I was “movin’ on up…,” as The Jeffersons theme song went, when I could afford to buy the annual Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror trade paperback for $25.

Nowadays I get most of my literary scares from NetGalley or thrift stores, a nice mix of old and new. Honestly sometimes the most chilling aspect of these pulp paperbacks is how much sexism and homophobia you could get away with in the 1990s.

Certain flavors of horror don’t appeal to me, but this is my personal taste rather than an aesthetic pronouncement. I don’t usually pick up zombie stories because (I assume) they will be gross and violent. Same for serial killers, whose psychology is not as interesting as they themselves think it is. I can’t picture myself as a character in a post-apocalyptic survival novel, because it’s drearily obvious that I would immediately die from falling into a hole, just like I do in Minecraft every time my son demands that I play. Or else I’d be the person killed and eaten by my starving companions in the first week for complaining too much about the lack of flush toilets.

With respect to horror fiction based on real-life historical injustices, I find these books uniquely satisfying because they have a purpose beyond momentary thrills. I learned about the Negro Travelers’ Green Book from Lovecraft Country. Victor LaValle’s cosmic horror Western Lone Women, one of the best books I read this year, taught me about the diversity of 19th-century frontier homesteaders. Often, the terror and suspense in these books arise from oppressive forces that persist in the present day. The ghosts and monsters, on the other hand, may be a powerless group’s unlikely allies. If cosmic justice isn’t forthcoming, at least coding these stories as horror is refreshing in its honesty, compared to the whitewashed narratives of progress in our “realistic” history books.

A standout in this category is Tananarive Due’s The Reformatory, coming out Oct. 31 from Gallery/Saga Press. Set in rural Florida in 1950, it’s based on a horrendous “reform school” where one of her ancestors perished as a teenager. Robbie, the 12-year-old son of a Black labor activist, is sent there on trumped-up charges to bring his father out of hiding. The sadistic warden takes a special interest in the boy because he can see the ghosts of other young inmates who were killed by beatings, rape, and hard labor. Capturing the ghosts will allow the warden to cover up his crimes. In return, maybe he’ll let Robbie go free. But the ghosts are going to make Robbie a counter-offer that he’s afraid to refuse.

This week in Jessica Dore’s Tarot newsletter, I came across a citation to Saidiya Hartman’s essay “Venus in Two Acts”, which is a meditation on the simultaneous impossibility and necessity of reconstructing the voices of sexually exploited female slaves. Hartman’s remarks about the archives’ “libidinal investment in violence” resonated with themes in The Reformatory, where the warden keeps a secret stash of photos of the boys he’s abused. Robbie and his allies hope to use this evidence against their tormentor, yet they know there’s no guarantee that the images will inspire empathy, let alone effective action from the authorities. The archive is contagious and uncontrollable as the Necronomicon, titillating the white gaze, while infecting Black viewers with further traumatic images.

Comedian and horror movie director (a combo that makes sense if you think about it) Jordan Peele is the editor of Out There Screaming: An Anthology of New Black Horror, just published last week. This one was a mixed bag, for me, with some amazing stories and others that didn’t have enough of a point, but I recommend checking it out anyhow. Tananarive Due contributes another solid tale based on Jim Crow history, this time about Freedom Riders seeking supernatural aid to fend off white supremacists. Nnedi Okorafor’s elegiac story of a Nigerian-American haunted by an Old World deity contains a wry moment when two white Karens in her neighborhood see the monstrous figure in her driveway and demand that she show them her parade permit! You may see the twist coming in Terence Taylor’s virtual-reality nightmare “Your Happy Place” but it’s no less horrifying, because you know that if the technology existed, America would happily sign onto this method of extracting prison labor.

Also out this month, Raul Palma’s A Haunting in Hialeah Gardens (Dutton) is a tragicomic ghost story about an impoverished Santeria priest in Miami who promises to exorcise his debt-collection lawyer’s McMansion in exchange for loan forgiveness. The book is both a Dickensian satire of capitalism and a poignant exploration of survivor guilt, as the priest learns that some emotional debts must be lived with, not expunged.

A pulp anthology that deserves to be rediscovered is Women of Darkness (Tor/Tom Doherty Assocs., 1988), edited by Kathryn Ptacek. Intentionally feminist without being didactic, this collection of horror stories by then-contemporary women writers holds up better than its male-dominated counterparts from this era. Lisa Tuttle’s haunting yet humorous tale “The Spirit Cabinet” reminds me of Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch” in how even a nice husband can dismiss his wife’s perceptions, with fatal consequences. Kit Reed’s “Baby” explores the darker side of the all-consuming bond between mother and child. Elizabeth Massie’s grotesque “Hooked on Buzzer” deals karmic revenge to people who exploited a disabled young woman.

From the same period (and batch of tag-sale paperbacks), I enjoyed Shadows 6 (Berkley Books, 1983), edited by Charles L. Grant, and Supernatural Sleuths (Roc, 1996), edited by Martin H. Greenberg…but with the caveat that both include some cringey sexism and ethnic stereotypes. Some of the new-to-me authors whose work I especially liked were Leslie A. Horvitz, Jack Ritchie, and Lee Killough.

The anthology Dark Fantasies (Legend, 1989), edited by Chris Morgan, evokes the gritty and despondent vibes of Thatcherite Britain, with contributions by Ramsey Campbell, Nicholas Royle, Tanith Lee, Lisa Tuttle, Ian Watson, and others. In a lot of these tales, you’re not sure if something supernatural is happening or the characters have had a psychological breakdown, but either option is suitably unsettling.

Out of Tune, Book 2 (JournalStone, 2016), edited by Jonathan Maberry, is an anthology of horror and dark fantasy stories that each take inspiration from a spooky folk song or murder ballad. Books organized around a gimmick tend to be uneven in quality but this one, in my opinion, was consistently strong. Contributors include Cherie Priest, Delilah S. Dawson, and David J. Schow. Pretty sure I got this one at the NecronomiCon Providence vendor hall in 2017. The Young Master has graduated from “Paw Patrol” to “Wednesday Addams” (and not a moment too soon) so the stars may align for a family trip to NecronomiCon next August.

Just another Sunday afternoon in Northampton.

October Links Roundup: 78 Degrees

Happy Spooktober!

Pumpkins by Shane.

My inner 12-year-old would like to remind you that October 2 is the 571st birthday of King Richard III. Follow efforts to clear his name at The Missing Princes Project.

78 degrees is how hot it’s expected to be today in Northampton. Thanks, global warming! It’s also a reference to the godmother of the modern Tarot renaissance, Rachel Pollack, whose book 78 Degrees of Wisdom blended psychology, mysticism, and and literary iconography to inspire deeper relationships with the cards. At Xtra Magazine, Jude Doyle assesses Pollack’s legacy as a pioneer of trans-inclusive feminist spirituality:

Here, from Pollack’s self-designed deck the Shining Tribe, is her description of the Emperor: “A number of modern tarot decks have taken on the issue of patriarchal culture. They have tended to see the Emperor as a kind of villain, with gentle, childlike males as an alternative. Such images both belittle men and demonize them.” Instead, Pollack offered, women who drew the Emperor card might try to see themselves in it: “It might be a strong experience to imagine ourselves as the Emperor. What might it be like to contain and express such power and determination?”

The Hierophant is changed to the gender-neutral “Tradition,” and that is that. It seems to be as close as Pollack ever got to a direct rebuke of her peers’ transmisogyny. Yet that tiny tweak—don’t look for male power, look for your power—changes everything about how people see these cards, and therefore, how they think about gender and power when reading them…

…Her biggest contribution to women’s spirituality, The Body of the Goddess, waspublished in 1997. For a trans woman to write a book on Goddess worship in the mid-’90s was gutsy. For a trans woman to call that book The Body of the Goddessis fucking bonkers. It’s mind-blowing. It gets more so when you open the book and find that Pollack’s Goddess not only likes trans women; she is one herself.

Pollack doesn’t ignore menstruation or childbirth as aspects of female embodiment, but she doesn’t stop there either. She also locates trans and gender-fluid goddesses throughout mythology. Some—like the intersex goddess Cybele and her likely transfeminine priestesses, the Galli—are canonical. Others are creative interpretations of existing myth: Pollack notes that the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is “created” when a male God named Ouranos loses his genitalia. Afterward, Ouranos essentially disappears, and a brand-new, very feminine Goddess arises to replace him.

Even trans guys get a turn. Pollack tells us that Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, madness and ecstasy, was raised as a girl and was sometimes known as “the Womanly One” for his feminine looks and unusual kindness to women. In a 1995 essay for TransSisters, she gets even more detailed: Dionysus “went mad in adolescence,” was cured by Cybele, and went on to become an androgynous he/him whose myths portrayed him liberating people of all genders from the patriarchy. At rituals, Pollack tells us, “his male followers would dress as women, [and] his female followers would strap on large phalluses,” suggesting that liberation took a highly recognizable form.

Humorist Daniel Lavery is another of my favorite theologians, capering madly along that line between farce and horror. See, for instance, his questionnaire at The Stopgap, “Do You Think the Creator God Is Doing a Good Job, or Should Be Replaced by a Big Sheep or a Demiurge?” Bring back the formless void!

Gay provocateur playwright Joe Orton (1933-67) apparently had a sideline in altering library books to add satirical and bawdy images, then sneaking them back onto the shelves. You can see samples from the collection online. Not that I’m recommending you do this…

But there’s a hole just waiting to be filled.

“It’s both mystical and humiliating how your novel can know things before you yourself know them,” says the author of the queer coming-of-age novel Idlewild in this recent article at LitHub, “James Frankie Thomas on Discovering His Trans Identity While Writing Fiction”. Yeah, I know how you feel. Thomas describes a writing workshop, pre-transition, where the teacher and classmates criticized him for being coy about a self-insert character’s gender identity:

In all seriousness, I prided myself on my well-observed portrayal of teen girlhood in the early 2000s—specifically the way teen girls back then were consumed with the desire to be gay men. That was something you just never saw in fiction about teen girls, but Idlewild was going to change that. From the very first page, on which I introduced Fay as “a gay dude trapped in a female body,” I plumbed my memories of my own adolescence for universal truths about teen girlhood…

“Why not make it explicit from the start? What’s gained by withholding such important information about the character?”

And I wasn’t allowed to speak, so I just had to sit there and take it over and over. I was so flabbergasted, I bet you could see a giant cartoon exclamation point floating over my head. How had my entire workshop read my novel so wrong? Stranger still, how had they all read it wrong in the exact same way? There was only one possible explanation, something I’d long suspected but never dared to admit out loud: Everyone was stupid except me.

For what it’s worth, I also see myself in Richard Siken’s new poem “Pornography” in DIAGRAM Issue 23.4: “I want to fuck everything but I don’t want to be touched.”

Perhaps this is related, perhaps not: In the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, researchers Kristen Bottema-Beutel et al. question the objectivity of neurotypical researchers in their paper “Anti-ableism and scientific accuracy in autism research: a false dichotomy”.

Autism research focuses almost exclusively on autistic people’s perceived deficits relative to non-autistic people, and researchers rarely acknowledge that autistic people have strengths and abilities in addition to impairments, and exist in contexts that enable or disable functioning. Autistic people are often inaccurately described as missing core human capacities, and as incapable of social reciprocity or contributing to shared culture. Deficit construals persist even when autistic people show strengths in domains that would otherwise be considered positive, such as transparency, rationality, and morality.

The researchers argue that we can move away from these negative presumptions without sacrificing accuracy. They survey some now-debunked but still influential theories of autism’s causes, such as vaccines and insecure maternal attachment, which were considered objective but were demonstrably influenced by sociopolitical forces (e.g. backlash to mothers working outside the home). They also suggest that due to neurotypical researchers’ assumptions, common autistic behaviors like hand-flapping and echolalia have been dismissed as meaningless compulsions, when truly open-minded observation would reveal their communicative functions and nuances.

Speaking of repetition, this Missouri Review essay by Caitlin Horrocks, “Lullaby Machines”, reminded me of the hallucinatory early months of parenting the Young Master. Horrocks reminisces about trying to work, sleep, and stay sane while playing the same lullaby album 20,000 times. When Adam and I were reading up on parenting, one of the sleep-training books told us to keep a consistent routine. Baby Shane seemed to respond to this Spotify album of Celtic Harp Lullabies. Well, we played that thing on the iPad in his room every night for three or four years. We took it with us when we traveled. I used to joke that someday, as an adult, Shane would be at a harp concert with his boyfriend or girlfriend, “Woman of Ireland” would start playing, and he would have a Pavlovian urge to fall asleep and/or poop his pants.

Listen at your own risk.