Burmese Mermaid

Burmese Mermaid

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Where I Am Today

Thank you for stopping by. I would bet a wooden nickel that you think mermaids are make- believe. But here I am, a mermaid, and real enough! I am Burmese too and why not? I was born in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Rangoon.

In my long life (we can live for centuries, did you know?), I have travelled through all the oceans of the world observing the affairs of humans and animals. However, I share a special kinship with those living closest to the shore or those who seek the shore, for it is here that the magnetic tides of our mother ocean speak of the yearning to return home.

I'm so happy to meet you as I journey! You may know that mermaids travel alone for long periods of time through vast watery spaces. What life we encounter along the way holds great value for us. In fact, our solitude nurtures our capacity to love you, dear human.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clio Speaks - Party Conflict: Republicans versus Democrats, 1877-1901

Clio, History's Muse

Between 1877 and 1901, the Democrats and Republicans, while competing on fairly even terms, engaged in an intense partisan battle for political supremacy. In a public arena devoid of a mass media and professional sports entertainment, partisan politics provided the public with a spellbinding national spectacle. Party affiliation amounted to zealotry, akin to religious devotion, and the outcome of the two major parties' battle assumed enormous preeminence in public life. Campaign strategies, contemporary circumstances, and economic conditions affected the fates of the parties. Voters ousted the Democratic party during the Panic of 1893 and turned to the Republican party. When economic stability returned, Republicans took the credit.

The two major parties differed in their approach as to how much the government should intervene in matters of economic development. Republicans endorsed government activism as a means of developing the nation's wealth. Democrats insisted that the government's role should be minimal. Both parties opposed the growth of trusts, and agreed that government size and power should not be increased to regulate the economy or enforce social justice (although the Republicans believed that federal government should protect civil rights in the South). At the top of the Republican economic agenda was the protective tariff, which appealed to patriotic and nationalist sentiments, and won the support of labor groups. The protective tariff united Republicans and divided Democrats. Also, culture and religion affected party allegiance. The Protestant ethos of the Republican party won supporters in the Northeast and Midwest but alienated less evangelical religious groups, such as Roman Catholics and German Lutherans intent on protecting their cultural, as well as their religious freedom. Democrats defended white supremacy and enjoyed support primarily from the white Old South; blacks were staunch Republicans. The debate over a gold standard or free silver created divisions within the parties. In presidential elections and Congress, the parties shared equal power, and by the late nineteenth century experienced a 'gridlock.' In 1892, the People's, or Populist, party challenged the Democrats and Republicans.

The Panic of 1893, the nineteenth century's worst and most protracted economic depressions, was blamed on Democratic President Cleveland's administration, even though the causes of the depression preceded Cleveland's return to office. Labor unrest, most notably the Pullman Strike and Coxey's Army, further weakened the administration, as labor turned against the Democrats. The election of 1894 proved a political turning point, as power was transferred to the Republicans, first in the House of Representatives, the largest transfer in teh history of the United States, and then in the White House with McKinley's victory in 1896. Democratic hopeful William Jennings Bryan's single-issue free silver campaign, however appealing, could not reestablish the Democrats in the White House. After 1896, the Populist party waned. In 1897, Congress enacted the Dingley Tariff Act, which raised customs duties. The war with Spain in 1898 boosted McKinley's authority, and the Gold Standard Act of 1900 established the monetary standard. McKinley's assassination in 1900 saw the ascendancy of Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Party. The protective tariff, civil service, and the gold standard questions were replaced by more complex questions, such as the role of political parties and government regulation of business.

Clio Speaks - Book Review: From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990, by Donna Gabaccia

Feminist scholar Donna Gabaccia's From the Other Side offers a bold and provocative alternative approach to immigration history. Gabaccia proposes that we can better understand the complex process by which people leave their homes on "the other side" and reestablish new ones here in the United States through the filter of migratory women's experiences. Rather than rely exclusively on the experiences of immigrant men as many previous historians have done, Gabaccia chooses instead to focus on the behaviors and views of immigrant women past and present. Gabaccia asserts that immigration is a family process, and because women act as the emotional centers of immigrant families, they are best suited to explain the true nature of that process. To support her argument, she draws extensively from the recent works of feminist scholars (of the past two and a half decades) and from classics in the field, such as John Bodnar's The Transplanted and Portes and Rumbaut's Immigrant America: A Portrait. If we wish to understand the immigration experience, it is essential to begin with the experiences of immigrant women.

Gabaccia makes clear the importance of gender in shaping immigrant women's experiences. Working outward from the center, Gabaccia traces the immense network of inter-relationships between immigrant women and various external forces, the whole in a constant state of flux. First, what were the causes of emigration and what was the status of emigrating women "on the other side?" Did men and women react in the same way to these changes? Gabaccia's examination of the causes of emigration, or "push" factors, places emphasis on the family decision to emigrate, colored by male and female family members' perceptions of the availability of women's work options in the United States. In addition, a woman's cultural, economic, and class origins were of primary importance in determining motives for emigration and in shaping her life once in the United States.

Changing global economics on "the other side" also changed traditional gender and family patterns. For instance, in subsistence economies of the 19th century that struggled with political decentralization and developing capitalism, changing work patterns (sending young men and women family members out to work, while retaining older women in the home) often indicated the beginnings of transnational migrations. These emigrants were better prepared to adapt to new environments. In the 20th century, immigrant women were subjected to restrictive immigration laws that forced them to enter the United States as dependents, and as a result, they were often viewed negatively by the native born. Gabaccia asks how the arrival in the 21st century of highly skilled immigrant women will further transform perceptions of the immigrant experience in America.

Gabaccia painstakingly connects the experiences of transition as immigrant women moved towards the development of an ethnic, or cultural identity once in the United States. As part of this analysis, Gabaccia looks at some of the similarities among immigrant women's relationships to immigrant men, and of their views of women outside of their own communities. Immigrant women turned to their own communities for support and were cautious in dealing with the native born. For the most part they had no contacts with other American minorities. Immigrant women found comfort in relationships within their own ethnic communities. They also found support in a larger kin and neighborhood network, much broader in scope than the American understanding of kinship. Kin and neighborhood involvement eventually extended to the development of ethnic voluntary organizations. While first generation immigrant women resisted at all costs communal ties with the native born, voluntarism provided second generation immigrant women the impetus for labor activism, and increased contact with the native born.

Gabaccia devotes her study to a careful analysis of change over time. Compared to the 19th century, a much higher percentage of 20th century women immigrants are middle class, educated, and of professional status. In perhaps her boldest assertion, these women have a better chance of achieving gender equality than do native born professional women! Gabaccia's research would seem to support the idea that these professional immigrant women had/have more support for autonomy, and thus more opportunities for gender equality. If this trend towards autonomy continues, the stereotypical native born views of immigrant women as dependents will also continue to be challenged.

Gabaccia discusses the role of immigrant women as cultural gatekeepers and mediators within their own families and communities. Immigrant women were aware that migration posed both opportunities and risks; economic gains were countered with cultural losses. Thus, the process of assimilation included the preservation of customs and values from "the other side." Gabaccia seems not alone in her view of women as cultural preservationists, but she goes a step further and reveals the differences among first, second and third generation women's concepts of ethic identity. First generation mothers often wanted their daughters to behave like Americans and yet retain their ethnicity. Daughters often responded by seemingly rejecting their mothers' worlds. Gabaccia uses the example of an Italian immigrant mother who is proud of her accomplishments in raising her daughters to be "just as good" as Americans (with their different manners), yet still "good Italian girls," as defined by values from "the other side." Gabaccia supports her argument by citing the high degree of ethic identification among third and subsequent generations of European American women for whom the ethnic past nurtures individual identity.

Gabaccia's work also considers native born responses to immigrants as reflected by social institutions and immigration laws and policies. These sources lend tangible insights into native born assumptions of immigrant men and women. Gabaccia argues that the continued presence of immigrants will challenge established native attitudes. Gabaccia makes further comparisons between native born women of color and immigrant women. Unlike immigrant or ethnic women who consciously cultivate cultural links with an ethnic past, native born women of color have suffered from a greater degree of social and economic marginalization. Gabaccia questions if the United States will in the future strive to more fully incorporate its racial minorities. The arrival of more Latin American and Asian immigrants will continue to test the divisions of class, ethnicity and race. Gabaccia provides a fascinating example to illustrate how some racial boundaries changed with upward mobility: as the Catholic Irish, then Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish southern and eastern Europeans and their children became middle class, they also became white! In contrast, assimilated middle class Asians are still asked where they come from, indicating a society that continues to differentiate based on physical differences. One of Gabaccia's most intriguing ideas suggests that racial (biological) and ethnic (cultural) evolution are experienced adn perceived in myriad ways by both immigrants and native born Americans. Similar to the interpretation of Kathleen Conzen, Gabaccia's research affirms the state of constant change that exists in the interplay between native born and immigrant populations.

Gabaccia asks for further research that places the experiences of immigrant women at the locus from which, she says radiates the entire immigration experience. Gabaccia mentions Oscar Handlin's reflections on his setting out to study immigration history, only to discover that American histor was, for him, the history of immigration! If Handlin's observation is accurate, then the study of immigration history can deepen our understanding of American history and of what it means to be an American. The enormous difficulty of unraveling the immigrant experience in America requires scholars with strong multi-disciplinary backgrounds (history, psychology, sociology, economics, etc.) working both individually and collectively. Gabaccia reminds us that the story of American immigration, as told through the experiences of immigrant women, remains largely untold.

By C. Fabrizi.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clio Speaks - Dexter Gordon - Legendary Jazz Tenor Saxophonist (Career after 1945)

I was honored to meet Dexter backstage after a concert in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the late 1970s, just after he had moved back to the States permanently after living for many years in Denmark. We got to chat a little bit, with me craning my neck (you will learn why). He had a voice as melodious as his tenor. His body movements and speech patterns followed the same "other plane" tempo.

Dexter Gordon was a charismatic presence. Looming at a height of six feet five inches, a theatrical manner and warm magnetism premeated both his personality and his music. His music has been described as hot, extrovert dramatic, exciting, and according to Brian Priestly, "excruciatingly enjoyable." A musical link between Lester Young and John Coltrane, he was bebop's first major tenor player. Heavily influenced by Lester Young, he also incorporated some of the stylistic elements of Charlie Parker, in a style characterized by a huge tone, spare melodic lines, and relaxed, behind-the-beat phrasing.

Gordon became a major influence in the 1950s on John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Clifford Jordan, Jimmy Heath, and many others. After a brief period playing and recording with Louis Armstrong, Gordon worked from 1944-1945 with the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, the first big band to play bebop. He also made recordings with Dizzy Gillespie ("Blue 'N Boogie") and Fats Navarro. When he left Eckstine, he freelanced briefly with Bird at the Spotlite in New York, led his own combo at the Three Deuces, and made a series of recordings for Savoy under his own name ("Long Tall Dexter", "Dexter's Minor Mad"). All of these activities established Gordon as a major bebop figure.

In the late 1940s, Gordon worked as a freelance artist and traveled extensively, first to Hawaii, then alternately between the East and West coasts. In New York he played with Tadd Dameron. His notoriety also increased during this time as a result of "saxophone duels" with Wardell Gray. The two musicians tried to outplay each other in live performances recorded between 1947 and 1952, of which "The Chase" is the most vivid example, becoming a model for his later saxophone duels.

Like many other musicians of the 1940s and 1950s, Gordon maintained a vicious heroin habit. He spent a total of six years in prison for drug use, from 1952-1954, at Chino Penitentiary in California, made a brief and successful comeback but was jailed again in 1956. Gordon made his acting debut in prison when Hollywood made a movie about Chino Penitentiary called Unchained, and Gordon was included in the cast. Released from the prison in 1960, Gordon joined a theatre production of The Connection, a play about heroin addicts. Besides writing the musical score for the play (some of which was later recorded in an album on Blue Note called Dexter Calling) and directing the onstage quartet, he had an important speaking part that required ad libbing. Though the play received mixed reviews, Gordon became a symbol of the black artist struggling to survive the ravages of drugs and racism.

In 1962, he returned to New York, but his parole conditions and lack of a cabaret card prevented him from performing. In the same year, he performed throughout Europe, and settled in Denmark where he lived till 1977, with brief trips back to the States. He performed widely at jazz festivals, toured Japan, made many recordings with European musicians, married for a second time (nothing is known of his first marriage), and remained active as a teacher and performer in Denmark. In a Down Beat interview, he said that he felt respected as an artist in Europe. In 1977, he returned to the States permanently. Voted Down Beat's Musician of the Year in 1978 and 1980, he also entered the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980.

In 1986 he starred in the film Round Midnight for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best actor. Loosely based on the life of Bud Powell, the film also contained autobiographical elements. As a result of the film's success, Gordon began to play again, after a period of infrequent performances. He died in Philadelphia while touring and is survived by his wife and five children. Still....Dexter lives!

A Burmese Folk Tale - The Raven and The Wren

On this chilly September night, gentle readers old and young, I want to tell you a story about a raven and a wren.

One day the Raven caught Mama Wren and said to her, "Now I will eat you."

Mama Wren looked down at her baby daughter and cried to herself, "Oh, my child, my child, who will take care of you when I am dead?"

Then the Raven thought, "This wren is old and tough, but her daughter is young and tender." So he made Mama Wren an offer, saying "I will let you go if you promise to let me eat your daughter, seven days from today."

Mama Wren promised and the Raven let her go.

On the seventh day, the Raven went to ask Mama Wren for her daughter, but she replied, "You eat all kinds of filthy things and you have a dirty beak. My daughter is sweet and clean, and unless you wash your mouth in my presence, don't even think about me giving you my daughter!"

"Okay," replied the Raven, "I'll be right back with some water." And he flew away.

So the Raven went to Water and begged her. "Water, Water, come here, so I can wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I will come willingly," replied Water, "but how will you carry me without a pitcher? Go and get a pitcher first."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

Next, he went to Pitcher and begged him: "Pitcher, Pitcher, come here, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"Sure, I'll come with you," replied Pitcher, "but I have a hole in my side. So please, go first and get some clay to close the hole."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

He went to Clay and begged her: "Clay, Clay, come here, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I would love to come with you," replied Clay, "but I am too dry to be able to repair the pitcher. Please go ask a buffalo to come and remix me."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

He went to Buffalo and begged him: "Buffalo, Buffalo, come here, to remix the clay, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I really would come," replied the Buffalo, "if it weren't for the fact that I am too hungry and weak to go and mix the clay. Please get me some grass to eat."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

He went to grass and begged her: "Grass, Grass, come here, to nourish the buffalo, to remix the clay, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I would do as you ask," replied Grass, "but the buffalo is a big eater and I will not be enough for him. Go and get some fresh earth so I can grow more of myself to satisfy the buffalo."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

He went to Earth and begged her: "Earth, Earth, come here, to grow more grass, to nourish the buffalo, to remix the clay, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I would come if I could," replied Earth, "but as you can see, I am covered by the forest. How can grass grow on me if the forest isn't first cut down?"

"Okay," replied Raven, and flew away.

He went to forest and begged her: "Forst, Forest, go away, to free the earth, to grow more grass, to nourish the buffalo, to remix the clay, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"I'd go away, except that I can't move," explained Forest. "The roots of my trees are tangled in the land. If you would be kind enough to find some fire you could burn me down until the earth is free."

"Okay," said the Raven, and flew away.

He went to Fire and begged: "Fire, Fire, come here, to burn the forest, to free the earth, to grow more grass, to nourish the buffalo, to remix the clay, to repair the pitcher, to carry water, to wash my beak, to eat the little wren."

"Sure, I'll come," replied Fire.

Very pleased with himself, the Raven flew back towards the forest with Fire in his beak.

But before he could get there, his beak got so badly burned he had to let go of Fire.

Disgusted, the Raven flew home and thought no more of eating the little wren.

Mother Wren and Baby Wren lived happily everafter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clio Speaks - Industrialization and the Rise of Big Business

Porter, Glenn. "Industrialization and the Rise of Big Business." The Gilded Age: Essays on the Origins of Modern America. Edited by Charles Calhoun. Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, 1996, pp. 1-17.

The years between the end of the Civil War and the early twentieth century mark a period of profound economic transition. The antebellum economy, based on small economic units and 'republican' virtues, was replaced by a powerful new institution, the multinational corporation. The transition elicited anxiety in some Americans, who questioned the morality of corporate values. The greed and avarice commonly associated with the rise of big business and industrialization in the Gilded Age do not adequately explain the enormous success of corporations. A closer examination reveals that corporations utilized science and technology to provide modern America, defined as a consumer culture, with material goods. Americans, despite anxieties about corporate society, accepted the new industrial and corporate structures as the inevitable price of material prosperity.

The phenomenon of economic changes generally called industrialization has, in fact, numerous and complex meanings. Industrialization was not new to American life, but in the late nineteenth century, accelerated economic, social, and techological changes quickened the debate over the costs and benefits of progress, as defined by material prosperity, rising incomes, and improved transportation and communications. Prosperity was unevenly distributed and many groups, such as African Americans, Native Americans, and women, remained marginalized. Some rural Americans worried that industrialization would destroy American agricultural life. Agrarian political and reform organizations, such as the Grange, Populist party, and Greenbackers, grew as a result of worries that industrialization would destroy American agricultural life. Despite concerns, confidence in economic growth assured the advance of industrialization. Industrial firms that were not big businesss instituted the "American System" of manufacturers, a highly influential system of technological and organizational innovations, and which included mechanization and the factory system. Most of these industrial firms engaged in custom and batch production, the 'gentler fact of industrialization,' that preserved the artisanal tradition; reliance on skilled workers, catering to shifting fashion, and marketing flexibility. Custom and batch production embodied the American ideals of individualism, and American distrust of uniformity and standardization.

'Big business' was industrialization's harsher face. The fearsome "pools," "trusts," or "conglomerates," were industries led by powerful individuals such as John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie. The power of big businesses was due to their enormous size and capital, and more important, their structure and management. The railroad industry exemplified the economic and symbolic power of a national market, in which improved transportation and communication systems made big business expansion possible. The railroads provided new product manufacturers, such as Singer sewing machines, with strategies such as vertical integration, which combined two or more functions within a single firm. The expansion of the railroads created new forms of competition and hastened the interventionist role of government. The vague Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 addressed the public's concern over the rise of big business, but by the beginning of the twentieth century, the economic culture of the United States was clear. Americans accepted the corporation as an acceptable, if not thoroughly admirable, part of the American economic and social landscape.

Clio Has a Problem

In the New York Times Magazine article entitled, "Clio Has a Problem, History's Muse has been muffled, a historian argues, her poetic voices stilled", Simon Schama argues that there is not only room, but indeed urgent need in the field of history for poetic, inspiring, spell-binding, and captivating story-telling. History should incorporate, not banish, the qualities that distinguish great literary works in their ability to animate past events and personages in all their subtleties and complexities. The past, rendered mobile and living by the imaginative historian, may serve to illuminate the darker corners of contemporary minds.

To support his argument, Schama first takes us on a literary tour through the dusty halls of academia, where the teaching of history is lost in a maze of specialization, political correctness, and commercialism. Dominating this scenario is a sort of assembly-line of bare historical facts masquerading as objectivity. Where in this production, asks Schama, is the drama of history for which young minds hunger? Clio, the Muse of History, is silenced by the semantic battles of historians gauging the correctness of Western versus "multicultural" perspectives, "Eurocentric" as opposed to "Afrocentric", and the differentiation of terms such as "slave" and "enslaved persons". Such quibblings, according to Schama, amount to little more than self-righteous name-calling, distracting the historian even further from his/her capacity to illuminate the human imagination. Furthermore, historians are reprimanded for subjective excursions beyond the revered walls of objectivity built with bricks of hard empirical data. Yet, enduring historical texts and the works of historical scholars such as Denis Brogan and Richard Cobb, make no pretense of objectivity in their shared ability to give nuance, color, and texture to remote worlds, just as the true artist gives life to his/her subject by faithfully conveying an intensely subjective perception of that subject.

Schama doubts that the analytical powers of a great historian such as Walter Ullman, of Trinity College, Cambridge, are weakened by his active imaginative faculty. History needs to liberate itself from the solemn constraints of academic propriety. School curriculums should therefore abandon the bland order of "social studies" and declare themselves free to revel in a complex and often messy past. History must also avoid the culture of disposable information recycled as historical facts. The less history caters to such a culture, the greater its power to capture imaginations, and to make humankind think. Schama refers to G.M. Trevelyan who talked about the "poetry of history" as the "quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, ...walked other men and women,...thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions but now all gone, vanishing after another, gone utterly as we ourselves shall be gone like ghosts at cockcrow."

Where do we come from? Where are we now? Where are we going? What is man? Study of the past can reveal insights into the nature of being human. Lastly, Schama concludes by imploring historians to reunite with its splintered sister literature. History and literature, once interwoven into a splendid whole, unravelled when history became an academic discipline in the third quarter of the last century. History lost much of its evocative power, argues Schama, when it embraced empiricism and banished "unscientific" storytellers. Will we, askes Schama, find a new history in the next millenium? Can we hope for some great narrative that will reinvigorate the historical imagination?