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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Yearning to Fly

Tom Petty's passing had some impact on me lately.

I know that, being the younger generation in this blog, I have not many rights to nostalgia, but that's how I have been feeling. Every music I hear from the 80's makes me go back to my infancy, and I have been feeling older than I actually am.

Petty was inspired by the first Iraq war when composing this piece. I still remember the night shots from the cockpit of the US fighters, the green letters from those old screens they had, the missiles being shot. To think Hey Skipper was actually one of those guys up there...

I once wished to learn to fly, but I ain't got wings. I feel soon I won't have the age too. I am 36 years old, and I know part of my blues comes not from missing the past, but anticipating the future. Soon the 40's will come, and any claim to youthfulness I once had will be gone. You guys who have been through that road, pray tell me, how hard is it? Petty was 40 in the video above, and now he is gone.

Tomorrow I borrow a couple of wings, I am going to America again. Taking the kids to Disney the first time, will do lots of pictures and videos, so they can look at them 40 years from now and feel, too, how time goes by.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

"A Likely Young Negro Wench, who is a good Cook, and can 
Wash well is to be disposed of. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely young Negroe Wench, about 18 
Years of Age, speaks good English, and is fit for either Town 
or Country. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Likely Molatto Girl, aged about 16 Years, 
has had the Small Pox, is fit for either Town or Country, to 
be disposed of very reasonable, enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold, A Likely young Negroe Fellow, about Twenty- 
six Years of Age, suitable for any Farming or Plantation 
Business, having been long accustomed to it and has had the 
Small- Pox. Enquire of the Printer hereof." 

"To be Sold. A Negro Man Twenty-two Years of Age, of 
uncommon Strength and Activity, very fit for a Farmer, or a 
laborious Trade, he understands the best methods of managing 
Horses, and is very faithful in the Employment : Any Person 
that wants such a one may see him by enquiring of the Printer 

"To be Sold. A Likely Negro woman, with a man-child, fit 
for town or country business. Enquire of the Printer hereof."

"To Be Sold, A Lusty, young, Negroe Woman, fit for 
Country Business, she has had the Smallpox, and Meazles. 
Enquire of the Printers hereof.”

"To be Sold. A Prime able young Negro man, fit for labori- 
ous work, in town or country, that has had the smallpox : As 
also a middle aged Negro man, that has likewise had the 
smallpox. Enquire of the printer hereof: Or otherwise they 
will be exposed to sale by publick venue, on Saturday the 
tenth of April next, at 12 o'clock, at the Indian-king, in Mar- 

The Printer of the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, and also the salesman of the ‘Negroes’ above advertised, is none other than Benjamin Franklin, the eldest and wisest among the Founding Fathers of the USA.

Being a printer and publisher for most of his life, Franklin was also a jack of all trades, buying and selling whatever could land him a profit, like the slaves above (the ads probably run circa 1740s).

P. Leicester Ford, one of his biographers of a century ago, tells us that:
Some of these slaves he procured from New England, where, as population grew in density, the need for them passed, leading to their sale in the colonies to the southward; and there was not always a profit, for Franklin, of one purchase of husband and wife, wrote to his mother : "We conclude to sell them both the first good opportunity, for we do not like negro ser- vants," with a result that " We got again about half what we lost." In spite of this prejudice, Franklin took with him two negro servants to England on his second visit, with slight benefit, for one, who "was of little use, and often in mischief," ran off within a year, and the other behaved only" as well as I could expect, in a country where there are many occasions of spoiling servants, if they are ever so good." "He has as few faults as most of them," the philosopher observed, “and I see with only one eye and hear only with one ear; so we rub on pretty comfortably." 

Franklin, as he grew in years, came to disapprove  heartily of the whole slave system, and he expressed  satisfaction " that a disposition to abolish slavery prevails in North America, that many Pennsylvanians have set their slaves at liberty, and that even the Virginia Assembly have petitioned the king for permission to make a law for preventing the importation of more  into the colony." When the initial abolition society in 
America was formed, he became its president, and his  name was signed to the first petition for the abolition  of the slave-trade ever sent to Congress, an act which 
resulted in his being personally vituperated on the floor  of that body, less than a month before his death. The  debate on this petition drew from him the last public 
paper he ever penned, in which, with his usual "Socratic " cleverness, he took all the arguments advanced by the favorers of slavery, and by putting them into the mouth of an Algerine, as reasons for continuing the holding of Europeans in bondage, made each one become a reason for ending the system. 

Though Franklin sometimes took a loss, as described above, slaves turned out to be an excellent long term investment, as another Founding Father found out:

The critical turning point in Jefferson's thinking may well have come in 1792. As Jefferson was counting up the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation in a letter to President Washington that year, it occurred to him that there was a phenomenon he had perceived at Monticello but never actually measured. He proceeded to calculate it in a barely legible, scribbled note in the middle of a page, enclosed in brackets. What Jefferson set out clearly for the first time was that he was making a 4 percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a bonanza, a perpetual human dividend at compound interest. Jefferson wrote, "I allow nothing for losses by death, but, on the contrary, shall presently take credit four per cent. per annum, for their increase over and above keeping up their own numbers." His plantation was producing inexhaustible human assets. The percentage was predictable.   […]

Jefferson's 4 percent theorem threatens the comforting notion that he had no real awareness of what he was doing, that he was "stuck" with or "trapped" in slavery, an obsolete, unprofitable, burdensome legacy. The date of Jefferson's calculation aligns with the waning of his emancipationist fervor. Jefferson began to back away from antislavery just around the time he computed the silent profit of the "peculiar institution."

And this world was crueler than we have been led to believe. A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello's young black boys, "the small ones," age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson's nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion's grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed--deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson's Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked.

Not to mention his turning of Sally Hemings, a fair skinned slave who was also a younger half-sister of his first wife, into his sexual serf since she was a teenager. 

Taken together, the historical snippets above still resonate with present day America, a country which, notwithstanding its past, strives like no other to be a better place for minorities - the ‘Franklin side’ - versus the country that still elects someone like Donald Trump - the ‘Jefferson side’.

Friday, October 13, 2017

And The Disintegrating State of Brazil

Split as the US looks like these days, I still immerse myself into American news as a getaway from my own reality. When the nation of Trump still looks like a model of peace and union, you get some idea of what we've been through down here.

As I tried to point out in previous posts, my country is being run by a mafia whose members, like our own President - accused of multiple types of corruption schemes numbering hundreds of millions - are step by step 'evading' (notice I am being generous with the choice of words) the Justice system. After successfully delivering a few big shot (leftist) politicians to jail, the 'Lava Jato' operation hit the rocks, and it is by now clear it won't go much further.

A good deal of the actors behind the initial thrust against corruption are by now in retreat, either due to cold calculation (they already have someone in power aligned with their interests) or due to the stones getting too close to their glasshouses.

The results the 'Lava Jato' delivered are a double-edged sword. If it took a few big corrupt pols out, it also made the checks and balances system of the Republic even more unhinged than before. In a place where almost every player is compromised, the Judiciary may end up being not a filter to clean out the system, but a King Maker.

A recent anecdote illustrates the system we end up with. One of the key Federal Police (our 'FBI') deputies of the 'Lava Jato' operation was reassigned to another state, for reasons I can only guess. Lacking now the power to go after the big shots of yore, and the spotlights it rendered, she decided to go big against a Dean of the Federal University in the new state she was placed in.

A low level scheme, related to the misuse of a few federal scholarships in that University, was being investigated. The new Dean, having barely a year in the post (and no relation to the investigated misused funds), was accused (behind doors with talks to the feds) by a university clerk of trying to hinder the investigations. That Federal Police Deputy, losing no time, got the Dean in 'preventive prison', subjecting him to things like an 'anal search'- well, just because she could. She also convinced a judge to deliver an order keeping the Dean away from the University. He couldn't get back there even to talk to his graduate students.

As it turned out a few days later, the accusation that he hindered internal investigations was baseless, there were extensive records of him assigning probes to ascertain the facts. The clerk who accused him, who believed he was targeted because he lost a salary supplement, was among a hundred other workers who also lost it due to budgetary reasons.

The Dean, who was a lawyer from the Law Department no less, was freed from prison a day after his detention, but the headlines all over the country took a hit on his morale. Two weeks later he committed suicide, with a note on his pockets protesting the injustice.

Before the 'Lava Jato' operation, and the witch hunt atmosphere that came with it, a Fed Police Deputy would hardly be able to destroy a reputation so easily. But right now, we live in a place where the Justice system won't touch a President (and his aides) involved in millionaire scandals, but will easily trash the little people out there, and even the not so little people, if it renders newsworthy headlines.

Bad as it is, the election of someone like the man mentioned in my link above will only make this farcical police state worse. That's why I will keep posting about Trump, and the easy life my American friends have with politics.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Disunited State of America

I can't really understand half of what this guy says. To be fair, that's probably true for all his other works, though I won't know, for I rarely paid attention to them (not my kind of music).

But anyone of my generation, even the ones not much into Rap, will recognize his name as iconic.

I once remarked on this blog: "The last two weeks of the news cycle have been spinning ever so fast about Trump 'scandals', I wonder how are people of different opinions interacting. Or am I the only one being unfriended?"

Even though the divide seen since his election is pretty obvious, and Eminem doing a rap calling all sorts of names is unremarkable, I believe he still set a new bar, one I consider symbolic of our times:

- "Any fan of mine who's a supporter of his, You're either for or against. And if you can't decide who you like more and you're split, On who you should stand beside, I'll do it for you with this", followed by expletives.

So his main fury is directed not at Trump, but to any Trump voter who may also appreciate his own work. He unfriended them all.

OK, I get he hates Trump, but to risk setting a pile of money on fire to show for that?