Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bush's Euston Idiots

Whoa, after reading Tony Judt's LRB article, I'm not quite sure he isn't moonlighting as one "Elijah" or "Ptochos" on various blogs (if such a thing as a "liberal" or "centrist" Ptochos were possible). This is not likely, though, not least because Judt continues to cling to the myth of a "liberal Golden Age." Still, a good critique of America's intellectual service class:

"Liberalism in the United States today is the politics that dares not speak its name. And those who style themselves ‘liberal intellectuals’ are otherwise engaged. As befits the new Gilded Age, in which the pay ratio of an American CEO to that of a skilled worker is 412:1 and a corrupted Congress is awash in lobbies and favours, the place of the liberal intellectual has been largely taken over by an admirable cohort of ‘muck-raking’ investigative journalists – Seymour Hersh, Michael Massing and Mark Danner, writing in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.

The collapse of liberal self-confidence in the contemporary US can be variously explained. In part it is a backwash from the lost illusions of the 1960s generation, a retreat from the radical nostrums of youth into the all-consuming business of material accumulation and personal security. The signatories of the New York Times advertisement were born in most cases many years earlier, their political opinions shaped by the 1930s above all. Their commitments were the product of experience and adversity and made of sterner stuff. The disappearance of the liberal centre in American politics is also a direct outcome of the deliquescence of the Democratic Party. In domestic politics liberals once believed in the provision of welfare, good government and social justice. In foreign affairs they had a longstanding commitment to international law, negotiation, and the importance of moral example. Today, a spreading me-first consensus has replaced vigorous public debate in both arenas. And like their political counterparts, the critical intelligentsia once so prominent in American cultural life has fallen silent.

This process was well underway before 11 September 2001, and in domestic affairs at least, Bill Clinton and his calculated policy ‘triangulations’ must carry some responsibility for the evisceration of liberal politics. But since then the moral and intellectual arteries of the American body politic have hardened further. Magazines and newspapers of the traditional liberal centre – the New Yorker, the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Times itself – fell over themselves in the hurry to align their editorial stance with that of a Republican president bent on exemplary war. A fearful conformism gripped the mainstream media. And America’s liberal intellectuals found at last a new cause.

Or, rather, an old cause in a new guise. For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush’s liberal supporters from that of his neo-conservative allies is that they don’t look on the ‘War on Terror’, or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance. They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation: a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents’ war against Fascism and their Cold War liberal parents’ stance against international Communism. Once again, they assert, things are clear. The world is ideologically divided; and – as before – we must take our stand on the issue of the age. Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today’s liberal intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: they are at war with ‘Islamo-fascism’.

But like Christopher Hitchens and other former left-liberal pundits now expert in ‘Islamo-fascism’, Beinart and Berman and their kind really are conversant – and comfortable – with a binary division of the world along ideological lines. In some cases they can even look back to their own youthful Trotskyism when seeking a template and thesaurus for world-historical antagonisms. In order for today’s ‘fight’ (note the recycled Leninist lexicon of conflicts, clashes, struggles and wars) to make political sense, it too must have a single universal enemy whose ideas we can study, theorise and combat; and the new confrontation must be reducible, like its 20th-century predecessor, to a familiar juxtaposition that eliminates exotic complexity and confusion: Democracy v. Totalitarianism, Freedom v. Fascism, Them v. Us.

To be sure, Bush’s liberal supporters have been disappointed by his efforts. Every newspaper I have listed and many others besides have carried editorials criticising Bush’s policy on imprisonment, his use of torture and above all the sheer ineptitude of the president’s war. But here, too, the Cold War offers a revealing analogy. Like Stalin’s Western admirers who, in the wake of Khrushchev’s revelations, resented the Soviet dictator not so much for his crimes as for discrediting their Marxism, so intellectual supporters of the Iraq War – among them Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick and other prominent figures in the North American liberal establishment – have focused their regrets not on the catastrophic invasion itself (which they all supported) but on its incompetent execution. They are irritated with Bush for giving ‘preventive war’ a bad name.

In a similar vein, those centrist voices that bayed most insistently for blood in the prelude to the Iraq War – the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman demanded that France be voted ‘Off the Island’ (i.e. out of the Security Council) for its presumption in opposing America’s drive to war – are today the most confident when asserting their monopoly of insight into world affairs. The same Friedman now sneers at ‘anti-war activists who haven’t thought a whit about the larger struggle we’re in’ (New York Times, 16 August). To be sure, Friedman’s Pulitzer-winning pieties are always road-tested for middlebrow political acceptability. But for just that reason they are a sure guide to the mood of the American intellectual mainstream.

Friedman is seconded by Beinart, who concedes that he ‘didn’t realise’(!) how detrimental American actions would be to ‘the struggle’ but insists even so that anyone who won’t stand up to ‘Global Jihad’ just isn’t a consistent defender of liberal values. Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, writing in the Financial Times, accuses Democratic critics of the Iraq War of failing ‘to take the wider, global battle against Islamic fanaticism seriously’. The only people qualified to speak on this matter, it would seem, are those who got it wrong initially. Such insouciance in spite of – indeed because of – your past misjudgments recalls a remark by the French ex-Stalinist Pierre Courtade to Edgar Morin, a dissenting Communist vindicated by events: ‘You and your kind were wrong to be right; we were right to be wrong.’

It is particularly ironic that the ‘Clinton generation’ of American liberal intellectuals take special pride in their ‘tough-mindedness’, in their success in casting aside the illusions and myths of the old left, for these same ‘tough’ new liberals reproduce some of that old left’s worst characteristics. They may see themselves as having migrated to the opposite shore; but they display precisely the same mixture of dogmatic faith and cultural provincialism, not to mention the exuberant enthusiasm for violent political transformation at other people’s expense, that marked their fellow-travelling predecessors across the Cold War ideological divide. The use value of such persons to ambitious, radical regimes is an old story. Indeed, intellectual camp followers of this kind were first identified by Lenin himself, who coined the term that still describes them best. Today, America’s liberal armchair warriors are the ‘useful idiots’ of the War on Terror.

But back home, America’s liberal intellectuals are fast becoming a service class, their opinions determined by their allegiance and calibrated to justify a political end. In itself this is hardly a new departure: we are all familiar with intellectuals who speak only on behalf of their country, class, religion, race, gender or sexual orientation, and who shape their opinions according to what they take to be the interest of their affinity of birth or predilection. But the distinctive feature of the liberal intellectual in past times was precisely the striving for universality; not the unworldly or disingenuous denial of sectional interest but the sustained effort to transcend that interest.

It is thus depressing to read some of the better known and more avowedly ‘liberal’ intellectuals in the contemporary USA exploiting their professional credibility to advance a partisan case. Jean Bethke Elshtain and Michael Walzer, two senior figures in the country’s philosophical establishment (she at the University of Chicago Divinity School, he at the Princeton Institute), both wrote portentous essays purporting to demonstrate the justness of necessary wars – she in Just War against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, a pre-emptive defence of the Iraq War; he only a few weeks ago in a shameless justification of Israel’s bombardments of Lebanese civilians (‘War Fair’, New Republic, 31 July). In today’s America, neo-conservatives generate brutish policies for which liberals provide the ethical fig-leaf. There really is no other difference between them.

One of the particularly depressing ways in which liberal intellectuals have abdicated personal and ethical responsibility for the actions they now endorse can be seen in their failure to think independently about the Middle East. Not every liberal cheerleader for the Global War against Islamo-fascism, or against Terror, or against Global Jihad, is an unreconstructed supporter of Likud: Christopher Hitchens, for one, is critical of Israel. But the willingness of so many American pundits and commentators and essayists to roll over for Bush’s doctrine of preventive war; to abstain from criticising the disproportionate use of air power on civilian targets in both Iraq and Lebanon; and to stay coyly silent in the face of Condoleezza Rice’s enthusiasm for the bloody ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’, makes more sense when one recalls their backing for Israel: a country which for fifty years has rested its entire national strategy on preventive wars, disproportionate retaliation, and efforts to redesign the map of the whole Middle East.

Since its inception the state of Israel has fought a number of wars of choice (the only exception was the Yom Kippur War of 1973). To be sure, these have been presented to the world as wars of necessity or self-defence; but Israel’s statesmen and generals have never been under any such illusion. Whether this approach has done Israel much good is debatable (for a clear-headed recent account that describes as a resounding failure his country’s strategy of using wars of choice to ‘redraw’ the map of its neighbourhood, see Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben-Ami,[2] a historian and former Israeli foreign minister). But the idea of a super-power behaving in a similar way – responding to terrorist threats or guerrilla incursions by flattening another country just to preserve its own deterrent credibility – is odd in the extreme. It is one thing for the US unconditionally to underwrite Israel’s behaviour (though in neither country’s interest, as some Israeli commentators at least have remarked). But for the US to imitate Israel wholesale, to import that tiny country’s self-destructive, intemperate response to any hostility or opposition and to make it the leitmotif of American foreign policy: that is simply bizarre.

Bush’s Middle Eastern policy now tracks so closely to the Israeli precedent that it is very difficult to see daylight between the two. It is this surreal turn of events that helps explain the confusion and silence of American liberal thinking on the subject (as well, perhaps, as Tony Blair’s syntactically sympathetic me-tooism). Historically, liberals have been unsympathetic to ‘wars of choice’ when undertaken or proposed by their own government. War, in the liberal imagination (and not only the liberal one), is a last resort, not a first option. But the United States now has an Israeli-style foreign policy and America’s liberal intellectuals overwhelmingly support it.

The contradictions to which this can lead are striking. There is, for example, a blatant discrepancy between Bush’s proclaimed desire to bring democracy to the Muslim world and his refusal to intervene when the only working instances of fragile democracy in action in the whole Muslim world – in Palestine and Lebanon – were systematically ignored and then shattered by America’s Israeli ally. This discrepancy, and the bad faith and hypocrisy which it seems to suggest, have become a staple of editorial pages and internet blogs the world over, to America’s lasting discredit. But America’s leading liberal intellectuals have kept silent. To speak would be to choose between the tactical logic of America’s new ‘war of movement’ against Islamic fascism – democracy as the sweetener for American involvement – and the strategic tradition of Israeli statecraft, for which democratic neighbours are no better and most likely worse than authoritarian ones. This is not a choice that most American liberal commentators are even willing to acknowledge, much less make. And so they say nothing.

This blind spot obscures and risks polluting and obliterating every traditional liberal concern and inhibition. How else can one explain the appalling illustration on the cover of the New Republic of 7 August: a lurid depiction of Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah in the style of Der Stürmer crossed with more than a touch of the ‘Dirty Jap’ cartoons of World War Two? How else is one to account for the convoluted, sophistic defence by Leon Wieseltier in the same journal of the killing of Arab children in Qana (‘These are not tender times’)? But the blind spot is not just ethical, it is also political: if American liberals ‘didn’t realise’ why their war in Iraq would have the predictable effect of promoting terrorism, benefiting the Iranian ayatollahs and turning Iraq into Lebanon, then we should not expect them to understand (or care) that Israel’s brutal over-reaction risks turning Lebanon into Iraq.

In Five Germanys I Have Known, Fritz Stern – a coauthor of the 1988 New York Times text defending liberalism – writes of his concern about the condition of the liberal spirit in America today.[3] It is with the extinction of that spirit, he notes, that the death of a republic begins. Stern, a historian and a refugee from Nazi Germany, speaks with authority on this matter. And he is surely correct. We don’t expect right-wingers to care very much about the health of a republic, particularly when they are assiduously engaged in the unilateral promotion of empire. And the ideological left, while occasionally adept at analysing the shortcomings of a liberal republic, is typically not much interested in defending it.

It is the liberals, then, who count. They are, as it might be, the canaries in the sulphurous mineshaft of modern democracy. The alacrity with which many of America’s most prominent liberals have censored themselves in the name of the War on Terror, the enthusiasm with which they have invented ideological and moral cover for war and war crimes and proffered that cover to their political enemies: all this is a bad sign. Liberal intellectuals used to be distinguished precisely by their efforts to think for themselves, rather than in the service of others. Intellectuals should not be smugly theorising endless war, much less confidently promoting and excusing it. They should be engaged in disturbing the peace – their own above all." (Tony Judt, Bush's Useful Idiots, LRB, 25, Sep. 2006).

How To Do (Unspeakable) Things Without Words

"Zionist focus only on what is said is disingenuous -- that is, "this is what X (Palestinian terrorist said) about Israel = these people are evil!" Using this rhetorical sleight of hand, Zionists have continued to claim that what Palestinians say reveals their "evil intentions" and conveniently do not engage with Zionist practices (dispossessing Palestinians of their land). Conversely, Zionist murder of Palestinians is explained away in the name of: "But X Zionist military commander said we were not targetting civilians!" while dropping two ton bombs on Palestinians houses." (Ptochos, Blogora, 9/10/2006).

From Haaretz:

"The government is planning to build 164 new homes in three settlements in the West Bank, despite an obligation under a U.S.-backed peace road map to halt such construction on land Palestinians seek for a state.The Israel Lands Administration, a government agency, issued a tender inviting bids on 88 plots in the Ariel settlement, 56 in Alfei Menashe and 20 in Karnei Shomron." (Government issues tenders for 164 new homes in the West Bank,, Sat., September 23, 2006).

Friday, September 22, 2006

"Never Again"; Or the Righteousness of Evil

Marx reminds us: "The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language." (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1852).

Ilan Pappe on on our new nightmare:

09/04/06 "PC" -- - 09/02/04 - -A genocide is taking place in Gaza. This morning, 2 September, another three citizens of Gaza were killed and a whole family wounded in Beit Hanoun. This is the morning reap, before the end of day many more will be massacred. An average of eight Palestinian die daily in the Israeli attacks on the Strip. Most of them are children. Hundreds are maimed, wounded and paralyzed.

The Israeli leadership is at lost of what to do with the Gaza Strip. It has vague ideas about the West Bank. The current government assumes that the West Bank, unlike the Strip, is an open space, at least on its eastern side. Hence if Israel, under the ingathering program of the government, annexes the parts it covets - half of the West Bank - and cleanses it of its native population, the other half would naturally lean towards Jordan, at least for a while and would not concern Israel. This is a fallacy, but nonetheless it won the enthusiastic vote of most of the Jews in the country. Such an arrangement cannot work in the Gaza enclave - Egypt unlike Jordan has succeeded in persuading the Israelis, already in 1948, that the Gaza Strip for them is a liability and will never form part of Egypt. So a million and half Palestinians are stuck inside Israel - although geographically the Strip is located on the margins of the state, psychologically it lies in its midst.

The inhuman living conditions in the most dense area in the world, and one of the poorest human spaces in the northern hemisphere, disables the people who live it to reconcile with the imprisonment Israel had imposed on them ever since 1967. There were relative better periods where movement to the West Bank and into Israel for work was allowed, but these better times are gone. Harsher realities are in place ever since 1987. Some access to the outside world was allowed as long as there were Jewish settlers in the Strip, but once they were removed the Strip was hermetically closed. Ironically, most Israelis, according to recent polls, look at Gaza as an independent Palestinian state that Israel has graciously allowed to emerge. The leadership, and particularly the army, see it as a prison with the most dangerous community of inmates, which has to be eliminated one way or another.

The conventional Israeli policies of ethnic cleansing employed successfully in 1948 against half of Palestine’s population, and against hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank are not useful here. You can slowly transfer Palestinians out of the West Bank, and particular out of the Greater Jerusalem area, but you cannot do it in the Gaza Strip - once you sealed it as a maximum-security prison camp.

As with the ethnic cleansing operations, the genocidal policy is not formulated in a vacuum. Ever since 1948, the Israeli army and government needed a pretext to commence such policies. The takeover of Palestine in 1948 produced the inevitable local resistance that in turn allowed the implementation of an ethnic cleansing policy, preplanned already in the 1930s. Twenty years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank produced eventually some sort of Palestinian resistance. This belated anti-occupation struggle unleashed a new cleansing policy that still is implemented today in the West Bank. The Gaza imprisonment in the summer of 2005, which was paraded as an Israeli generous withdrawal, produced the Hamas and Islamic Jiahd missile attack and one abduction case. Even before the abduction of Giald Shalit, the Israeli army bombarded indiscriminately the Strip. Ever since the abduction, the massive killing increased and became systematic. A daily business of slaying Palestinians, mainly children is now reported in the internal pages of the local press, quite often in microscopic fonts.

The chief culprits are the Israeli pilots who have a field day now that one of them is the General Chief of Staff. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israeli airforce issued orders to its pilots to abort missions if within 500 square meters of their target they spotted innocent civilians. Not that these orders were kept, but the pretense for internal moral consumption was there. It is called in the Israeli airforce, the “Lebanon Procedure” [Nohal Levanon]. When the pilots asked a year ago if the “Lebanon procedure” is intact for Gaza, the answer was no. The same answer was given to the pilots in the second Lebanon war.

The Lebanon war provided the fog for a while, covering the war crimes in the Gaza Strip. But the policies rage on even after the conclusion of the cease-fire up in the north. It seems that the frustrated and defeated Israeli army is even more determined to enlarge the killing fields in the Gaza Strip. There are no politicians who are able or willing to stop the generals. A daily killing of up to 10 civilians is going to leave a few thousand dead each year. This is of course different from genociding a million people in one campaign - the only inhibition Israel is willing to undertake in the name of the Holocaust memory. But if you double the killing you raise the number to horrific proportions and more importantly you may force a mass eviction in the end of the day outside the Strip - either in the name of human aid, international intervention or the people’s own desire to escape the inferno. But if the Palestinian steadfastness is going to be the response, and there is no reason to doubt that this will be the Gazan reaction then the massive killing would continue and increase.

Much depends on the international reaction. When Israel was absolved from any responsibility or accountably for the ethnic cleansing in 1948, it turned this policy into a legitimate tool for its national security agenda. If the present escalation and adaptation of genocidal policies would be tolerated by the world, it would expand and used even more drastically.

Nothing apart from pressure in the form of sanctions, boycotts and divestment will stop the murdering of innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip. There is nothing we here in Israel can do against it. Brave pilots refused to partake in the operations, two journalists - out of 150 - do not cease to write about it, but this is it. In the name of the holocaust memory let us hope the world would not allow the genocide of Gaza to continue." (Ilan Pappe,, 2006,

The Free Marketplace of Ideas; or The Third Persona (With Apologies to Phil Wander)

Aaaah, the beauty of archives.... From Atrios:

"Josh Marshall discovers that Republicans love to beat on outspoken black Democrats, particularly outspoken black female Democrats.

well, duhh.

Note to Josh(not that he is reading this, but hey): Whatever you thought of McKinney's actual comments, the real story of that whole affair was how the entire media industry was all too willing to pile hard onto an outspoken black female Democrat, and resort to misrepresenting (as you've come to realize) her comments in the process. I'm not accusing you of being motivated by this particular pathology, I just think you got played. Much ado about nothing. Red meat for the Freepers, and the liberal media aided and abetted.

Consider the rather muted response to Dick Armey's recent suggestion that Israel should forcibly relocate the Palestinians. Or the rather muted response to Jesse Helms' suggestion that Clinton "watch his back" if he comes to North Carolina military bases. Or the continued support by the liberal media for a series of investigations that were basically designed to accuse (if not always in so many words) Hillary Clinton of having Vince Foster killed.

Frankly, McKinney's actual comments were pretty benign compared to those gems.

So, next time an outspoken black Democrat has her words from a 3 week old interview on a radio station with a relatively small number of listeners blast-FAXed throughout the land and then subsequently twisted by the Washington Post, please resist the urge to pile on." (Atrios, Monday, May 20, 2002).

The Ideology of the Anti-Aesthetic

David Levi Strauss:

"The anti-aesthetic tendency can easily become an anaesthetic one, an artificially induced unconsciousness to protect oneself from pain, and to protect the 'hypocritical frontiers' of propriety and privilege. It is unseemly to look right into the face of hunger, and then to represent it in a way that compels others to look right into it as well. It is an abomination, an obscenity, an ideological crime.


To represent is to aestheticize; that is, to transform. It presents a vast field of choices but it does not include the choice not to transform, not to change or alter whatever is being represented. It cannot be a pure process, in practice. This goes for photography as much as for any other means of representation. But this is no reason to back away from the process. The aesthetic is not objective and is not reducible to quantitative scientific terms. Quantity can only measure physical phenomena, and is misapplied in aesthetics, which often deals with what is not there, imagining things into existence. To become legible to others, these imagininings must be socially and culturally encoded. That is aestheticization." (David Levi Strauss, Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics).

Monday, September 11, 2006

What Is It Like to Be A (Zionist) Bat?

In a debate in the RSA's blogora, I argued that the reason an interlocutor thought it self-evident that the hatred of Arabs in Israel is not as pervasive as anti-Semitism in Arab countries was because he (the interlocutor) was not reading Israeli newspapers. So I clicked on Haaretz and this was the lead story:

"MK Effi Eitam of the rightist National Union - National Religious Party said in remarks broadcast on Monday that the great majority of Palestinians in the West Bank should be expelled, and that Arabs should be ousted from Israeli politics as a fifth column and "a league of traitors." Eitam made the statements during a Sunday speech at a memorial service for a soldier killed in Lebanon in the recent war. "We will have to expel the great majority of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria," Eitam urged, referring to the whole of the West Bank.

According to Eitam, experience showed that Israel cannot give up the area ofthe West Bank. "It is impossible with all of these Arabs, and it is impossible to give up the territory. We've already seen what they're doing there."Turning to Israeli Arabs, Eitam said "We will have to take another decision, and that is to sweep the Israeli Arabs from the political system. Here, too, the issues are clear and simple. "We've raised a fifth column, a league of traitors of the first rank. Therefore, we cannot continue to enable so large and so hostile a presense within the political system of Israel."

(Haaretz Service, "Eitam: Expel Arabs from West Bank, Israeli politics," 11/09/2006).

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Civility and Its Discontents

Via Mark Scroggins, an excerpt from Richard Davenport-Hines review of Michael Mello's Legalizing Gay Marriage (Temple UP) in the 20 May Times Literary Supplement:

Davenport-Hines writes of the "entrenched animus against homosexuality that has characterized US state legislation":

"Horrible examples of this prejudice, taken from the ranting of neo-con commentators and gleaned from the local newspapers of Vermont, bespatter every chapter. The cumulative effect of this outpouring of hatred – often supposedly legitimated by primitive interpretations of the Christian faith – is battering for the reader. Many Europeans will feel sullied by reading these foul ebullitions, will be shocked by their violence, and dismayed by the mass-psychology and ethical backwardness of a country where such violent, vehement and vindictive language is an acceptable part of daily political discourse." (Mark Scroggins, "Reality Check," Culture Industry, Sunday, May 29, 2005).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The God of Small Potatoes

Adah in Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible:

"So much depends on a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain water standing beside the white chickens. That is one whole poem written by a doctor named William C. Williams. Chickens white beside standing water rain, with glazed wheelbarrow. Red on! Depends much. So?

I particularly like the name Williams C. William. He wrote the poem while he was waiting for a child to die. I should like to be a doctor poet, I think, if I happen to survive to adulthood. I never much imagined myself as a woman grown, anyway, and nowadays especially it seems a waste of imagination. But if I were a doctor poet, I would spend all day with people who could not run past me, and then I would go home and write whatever I liked about their insides.

We are all waiting now to see what will happen next. Waiting for a child to die is not an occasion fo writing a poem here in Kilanga: it isn't a long enough wait. Every day, nearly, one more funeral. Pascal doesn't come anymore to play because his older brother died and Pascal is needed at home. Mama Mwanza without a leg to stand on lost her smallest ones. It used to astonish us that everyone here has so many children: six or eight or nine. But now, suddenly, it seems no one has enough. They wrap up the little bodies in layers of cloth like a large goat cheese, and set it out in front of the house under a funeral arch woven from palm fronds and the howling sweet scent of frangipani flowers. All the mothers come walking on their knees. They shriek and wail a long, high song with quivering soft palates, like babies dying of hunger. Their tears run down and they stretch their hands out toward the dead child but never do they reach it. Whey they have finished trrying, the men carry the body in a hammock slung betwen sticks. The women follow, still wailing and reaching out. Down the road past our house they go, into the forest. Our father forbids us to watch. He doesn't seem to mind the corpses so much as the souls unsaved. In the grand tally Up Yonder, each one counts as a point against him.

According to my Baptist Sunday-school teachers, a child is denied entrance to heaven merely for being born in the Congo rather than, say, north Georgia, where she could attend church regularly. This was the sticking point in my own little lame march to salvation; admission to heaven is gained by the luck of the draw. At age five I raised my good left hand in Sunday school and used a month's ration of words to point out this problem to Miss Betty Nagy. Getting born within earshot of a preacher, I reasoned, is entirely up to chance. Would Our Lord be such a hit-or-miss kind of Savior as that? Would he really condemn some children to eternal suffering just for the accident of a heathen birth, and reward others for a privilege they did nothing to earn? I waited for Leah and the other pupils to seize on this very obvious point of argument and jump in with their overflowing brace of words. To my dismay, they did not. Not even my own twin, who ought to know about unearned privilege. This was before Leah and I were gifted; I was still Dumb Adah. Slowpoke poison-oak running-joke Adah., subject to frequent thimble whacks on the head. Miss Betty sent me to the corner for the rest of the hour to pray for my own soul while kneeling on grains of uncooked rice. When I finally got up with sharp grains imbedded in my knees I found, to my surprise, that I no longer believed in God. The other children still did, apparently. As I limped back to my place, they turned their eyes away from stippled sinner's knees. How could they not even question their state of grace? I lacked their confidence, alas. I had spent more time than the average child pondering unfortunate accidents of birth.

From that day I stopped parroting the words Oh, God! God's love! and began to cant in my own backward tongue: Evol's dog! Dog ho!

Now I have found a language even more cynical than my own: in Kilanga the word nzolo is used in three different ways, at least. It means "most dearly beloved." or it is a thick yellow grub highly prized for fish bait. Or it is a type of tiny potato that urns up in the market now and then, always sold in bunches that clump along the roots like knots on a string. And so we sing at the top of our lungs in church: "Tata Nzolo!" To whom are we calling?

I think it must be the god of small potatoes. The other Dearly Beloved who resides in north Georgia does not seem to be paying much attention to the babies here in Kilanga. They are all dying...."

(Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible).