Monthly Archives: August 2008

Say You’re One of Them.

I don’t pretend to be schooled in African literature, but “Say You’re One of Them,” by Uwem Akpan, a Nigerian-born Jesuit priest who now teaches in Harare, reminds me of the stories I’ve read by other authors from impossibly poor and torn apart places. Like Jhumpa Lahiri or Edwidge Danticant, Akpan doesn’t try to dazzle you with descriptions or exoticize the places about which he writes. Instead, he relies on a solid form, using the sparest of prose and only enough detail to bare dreadful emotion.

The title is not what I first thought it was, coming from my comfy Western background; a sort of plea to a future lover or compatriot, “Say You’re One of Them, one of those people I really like.” It’s not even delivered as plaintively as you might guess. It’s the direct, stern advice of a Tutsi mother who knows she is going to die to her 9-year-old half Tutsi/half Hutu daughter during the Rwandan genocide.

Maman never shouts at me. She’s strange today. Tears shine in her eyes. I pick up a bottle of Amour Bruxelles, the perfume Papa gives her because he loves her. . . . I beg Maman to put some on me, but she refuses.

“When they ask you,” she says sternly, without looking at me, “say you’re one of them, OK?”


“Anybody. You have to learn to take care of Jean, Monique. You just have to, huh?”

It’s not a surprise that there is at least one major death in every story in this collection, it’s telegraphed from the start. That might be its only fault. Nearly every story ends the same, with the same image. But the other images with which Akpan provides us are more familiar, and used to varying degrees of effectiveness. Like the 12-year-old girl forced into prostitution to support her family, counting out bills in the headlights of a taxi with her long, fake nails. At least two children in two stories play with lights in the dark in some proximity to their stomachs, one of the lights is a glowing crucifix Monique and Jean lay on top of as they’re hiding so that the glow doesn’t give them away to the passing mobs. The other one is another cheery story, about two children about to be sold into slavery.

I looked away, to hide my excitement. Even Yewa seemed to feel the extra friendliness that morning. She picked up the flashlight and aimed it around the room, playfully, drawing and painting intricate designs with the beam, shining it into all the crannies. It was her toy, and she behaved in that brief time like one who had the power to bathe the world in light or darkness. Sometimes she tried to use her hands to cover the face of the flashlight. Her fingers got red, but light still poured into the room. She aimed the flashlight at her belly and pushed it into her skin until there was very little light, just an eclipse on her stomach.


Have You Voted Yet?

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The Wisdom of Crowds?

I’ve been trying to decide if the speeches at th Democratic National Convention even matter. Sure, the all-star lineup hit it out of the park. They were bad for me, because I kept listening to them at work and tearing up uncontrollably.

But does anyone really listen? I’m starting to think they do not. Look how long it’s taken Obama to counter the Muslim lie, even though it shouldn’t matter. He hasn’t really totally gotten rid of it, even though the simple truth should win out. Some of the people who don’t trust him because he’s a Muslim also don’t trust him because of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright “controversy.” (He’s a Muslim, but the remarks of the Christian pastor who baptized his children bother them, too? Come on people: you have to pick one.) More…

‘McCain Chose His Campaign Over His Presidency.’

Ezra writes a thoughtful, non-histrionic, non-mocking post about McCain’s choice of Palin:

The choices were all bad. Tim Pawlenty was a lightweight. Joe Lieberman was a liberal. Mitt Romney was a Mormon. Over the past few weeks, it became clear that John McCain couldn’t pick anybody for vice-president. And so he didn’t. Instead, he picked Sarah Palin.

There’s nothing wrong with Sarah Palin. Indeed, she’s a perfectly normal politician. A hardline conservative with a good government streak who’s proven a skillful political comer in a tiny, remote state. It’s just a bit…odd.


This was, for McCain, a major decision. And we can learn from it. And here’s what even his supporters must admit: Country did not come first. Polls did. The calculations are fully transparent. Understanding that he needed to broaden his electoral coalition, he picked a woman. Understanding he needed youth, he picked a young politician. Understanding he needed to emphasize his reformist credentials, he picked a onetime whistleblower. What he didn’t pick was anyone able to help him govern, or capable of stepping forward in a moment of crisis. Palin is not an experienced foreign policy hand like Lieberman or a successful and experienced governor like Tommy Thompson. Today, McCain chose his campaign over his presidency. Over our presidency. Palin seems like a promising young politician, but McCain increasingly seems like a desperate one.

What remains to be seen is whether independent white women will think another white woman on the ticket is enough.

McCain ’08 (feat. Sarah Palin).

This is a little late, but the BBC is reporting that John McCain has chosen Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate:

At 44, she is younger than Barack Obama and is credited with reforms during her first term, but she is relatively unknown in US politics.

Mr McCain is due to present her on stage at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, to celebrate his 72nd birthday.

Analysts say the Republican is keen to wrest back headlines from Mr Obama.

Sarah Palin is an interesting choice, but that’s in part because she’s fairly interesting, as far as Republicans go.  Early on in her career Palin earned a reputation for being something of a reformer.  When running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, she promised to reduce her salary and cut wasteful spending by reducing property taxes, and once elected, she promptly followed through on both promises.  In 2003 she was appointed to serve as the ethics commissioner for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the following year however, she resigned in protest over her fellow Republican’s “lack of ethics.” More…

Sarah Palin.

If the reports suggesting Sarah Palin is McCain’s VP pick are true, I don’t ever want to hear about Barack Obama’s “inexperience” again.

The rising Republican star was elected governor of Alaska in 2006. She is thirty years younger than McCain, and still supports the party’s bread-and-butter social issues (anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage).

Mmm, panderlicious. More…

A Note On MLK and Politics.

Note to the New York Times:

Not only would King not have been elected president – sizeable number of Americans saw him as little more than a troublemaker – but King had no interest in elected office.  He saw himself as speaking truth to a fundamentally flawed system; it would have been the height of hypocrisy for him to pursue any elected office.

That’s all.