Author Archives: Thomas J. Hubschman

Orwell’s Preface: The News We Never Get to Hear

In his preface to the now-classic Animal Farm, George Orwell described how censorship in the British media worked 80 years ago. There was no need for the blue pencil of the Soviet bureaucrat to make sure newspapers and radio broadcasters stayed on message. The media did that job on their own. They knew what to print and what not to put out on the airwaves. They knew it as if by instinct because they, the reporters and newsroom editors, were all part of the same establishment, had attended the same exclusive schools, subscribed to the same ruling-class values. For more than a century, those men (almost always men) and their relatives had been administering an empire based on a common set of imperialist values. The job of journalists was not to question those values but to preserve them.

Animal Farm - 1st edition.jpg

Original Cover to Animal Farm

The preface Orwell had written for his parable of how political thought is manipulated in a non-totalitarian society was omitted by the publisher of Animal Farm. It was one thing to describe in fictional form a bunch of farmyard animals wresting power from their human overseers and then using it to create a society just as oppressive. It was quite another to demonstrate, as Orwell did in that preface, how Britain accomplished the same goal without an all-powerful Ministry of Truth (as in his novel 1984). Great Britain’s educational and class systems did the job on their own without fuss or threat to the average Englishman’s faith that freedom of the press and, by extension, freedom of thought were guaranteed.

The media in the US operate in much the same way…. (Continue reading…)

Luella’s Ashes

February 2022

My wife’s ashes were ready for pickup three days ago. She died January 19th. The excuse for the delay was that winter is a busy time for the funeral business. She would not have cared. She gave no thought to what became of her after she died, didn’t consider it worth her time. I tried to see the delay at the funeral service the same way, but the idea of her lying in a cold morgue all this time bothered me. Most of her life she felt cold even though the temperature in our living room remained, summer and winter, 80 degrees Fahrenheit. I once saw a photo of her taken when she and her first husband were camping out on their way back to the east coast after a year spent at a university in Oregon. She is still in her sleeping bag. Her eyes are only half-open. She looks as if, were it up to her, she would no more come out of that bag than a cat would jump into a cold lake….. (Read more.)

Beyond Good, Evil, and the Split Infinitive

I learned moral relativity from a linguistics course I took in my junior year of college. It was one of the few interesting courses I had in that institution of higher learning, and ironically, it taught me something about the real world contradictory to everything the place, a religious college, stood for. That lesson turned out to have as profound an impact on me as did my finding out many years earlier about the way babies were made, though in this case the force of the revelation operated over the course of a couple semesters rather than in a few staggering minutes in a schoolyard.

But revelation it was nevertheless, and that one course changed my understanding of the moral world more profoundly than did the fifteen years of religious schooling preceding it. And, unlike its birds-and-bees counterpart, the revelation that there are no linguistic absolutes, no rights or wrongs about how a language is used beyond the way people do in fact use it, became a template I could and would apply to almost every other area of human experience, even if I only did so mostly in retrospect…. (Continue reading)

BEER

I invite my blog readers to sample my new novel, Beer, for free at Amazon/com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09LSQ853W/ref=sr_1_1…. It will be soon also be available in other e-versions as well as in a print edition.

Beer is a novel in the form of family memoir compressed into one hot August afternoon, each member’s narrative interwoven and framed by the youngest’s account of that ordinary, extraordinary day.

A young boy sits in a dark bar waiting for his father to finish his beer. His mother waits for them on the baking sidewalk outside. At the end of the day they will return home, the father drunk, the mother furious, the day’s outing an all-too-familiar disaster.

Other voices alternate with the boy’s own, past alternating with present and future in a timeless continuum. Mother and father ask understanding for behavior they could neither control nor understand. The eldest son still smarts years after the physical and emotional violence he endured as collateral damage of his parents’ unhappy union. A daughter still craves the maternal support she never received. A second son continues to bear the weight of being both the object and victim of his mother’s all-but-incestuous love.

The reader has a sense of eavesdropping on family secrets, drawn into a kind of complicity with the revelations of this one family but addressed to the dark heart of families generally: how is it so much love has so much power to destroy?

The afternoon drags on, first in that bar, then in the surrounding neighborhood where the boy-narrator and his mother seek relief from the heat and their long vigil. For the boy, these family histories have yet to take place or are buried in the deep past. For the others they are accounts that flow backward and forward, weaving what has already taken place into what has yet to happen.

As the boy-narrator puts it, “Home is where a part of you a goes on living long after you have moved elsewhere and grown old, that tugs at you and is perhaps better left unrevisited because, no matter how much bad there was, it always remains a paradise lost, the one time when your existence was complete, when all the characters that should be there were there, when happiness seemed not only possible but a daily routine that could so easily be mistaken for normalcy.”

“Reality”

In the television series Star Trek the crew of the spaceship Enterprise take their vacations on something called the “Holodeck”—a play on the words “holiday” and “holovision.” They are transported into a virtual world in every way as real-seeming as the one they live in on the Enterprise. Plus, that world can be anywhere and at any point in history, or pre-history for that matter. They can go back to the gun-slinging days of the American frontier or the time of the dinosaurs a hundred million years earlier. But whatever place and period they choose to visit, they exist there as real people vulnerable to the bullet of a six-shooter or the jaws of a tyranosaurus.

I don’t remember any members of the Enterprise explaining just how a Holodeck worked. Presumably, the virtual reality was generated algorithmically in the same way a virtual reality is produced for us today by putting on special goggles hooked up to a computer. Only, in Star Trek the “reality” is of a much more sophisticated kind. Science fiction is more about the present, in any case, than it is about the future, a matter of what-if added to what-is. Star Trek was entertainment, not epistemology. The play’s the thing, not its plausibility. The audience must believe, at least for as long as the show lasts, that the characters have been transported in space and time and exist there in as real a state as if they were still back on board the Enterprise. That’s no more a demand on an audience than to expect them to believe a spaceship can travel at “warp speed,” a catchy phrase for a phenomenon best not discussed in detail.

But that holodeck, a reality generated by machine, can be taken as a metaphor for the reality we earthbound folk actually live in, except our reality, the only one there is, is generated not by computers but by our imaginations, continuously, for as long as the organs we need to create that unimaginable imaginary are in good working order. But it is not just a reality we generate, it and we are that reality, the only reality there is….

To keep reading…:

https://www.eclectica.org/v25n4/hubschman_salon.html

“The Spider”

My latest short story at Eclectica:

“Three extensions, all usable both as telephone and intercom. Two rings mean, “I’m going to the bathroom,” so I don’t inconvenience her and am not myself interrupted. Three rings means I took my blood-thinner. Three rings from her means I should do so if I’ve forgot. One ring means, “I’m going to bed,” though neither of us bothers with that one much. If one of us is going for a walk, we say so face-to-face, usually as we’re on our way out the door.

“I have my room, she has hers. We used to share a king-size mattress before she hit menopause. Hot flashes, frequent urinations, night sweats, insomnia. I couldn’t get two hours sleep without interruption, and once I’m awake, I’m up for hours. I started sleeping in the spare room, the one Jerry grew up in. It still has the Minnesota State comforter on the bed. It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. My wife was apologetic about the menopause. Can’t be helped, I said the night I picked up my pillow and headed into the boy’s room. It will pass, I said. God, I hope so, she said….”

To read the rest:

https://www.eclectica.org/v25n2/hubschman.html

Running for the Bus: Life and Love in the Time of COVID

“People who endured ongoing aerial bombardment must have experienced something like this, though of course in a more urgent way: Live for today, love for today. If it’s really important, do it now. Or, just as essential: relax, stare out the window, watch the leaves and snow fall, enjoy the screeches of the children playing on the street and the noises of workers and machines making road repairs. You can’t waste time, you can only misuse it.”

Thoughts after a full year of lockdown….

The complete essay:

https://www.eclectica.org/v25n2/hubschman_salon.html

The Subversive from Hannibal

My latest at Eclectica:

Mark Twain by Abdullah Frères, 1867

.”..This is moral sedition on Twain’s part. If you are of the book-banning type, you should ban and/or burn this one for portraying Huck as a hero not because of what he does but for how he arrives at his decision to do it. We can agree (most of us, at least, with the luxury of hindsight and a different morality) that slavery was a terrible evil and anyone who opposed it was virtuous, whatever the law said. But how many of us feel comfortable with the author’s undermining the dependability of the human conscience to determine right from wrong? Is it possible conscience can be mistaken? How can we tell when the “little voice inside our head” is telling us the will of God and when it is just parroting the fickle morality of the society we happen to be born into? That’s a can of worms we don’t want to open in or outside a classroom….” Read the essay.

Memo to My Fellow Americans

Better police, protest marches and T-shirts with militant slogans on them is not going to cure racism. Nor will passionate condemnations of White Supremacy, the Legacy of Slavery and Jim Crow. Ditto for the defacing and pulling down statues of Confederate generals and American presidents who owned slaves and genocided Indians. Instant history and quick fixes won’t result in meaningful change. As long as we Americans remain pig-ignorant of the more recent and more important causes for how we ended up in this situation, the future will look pretty much like the present. And those causes occurred not in the nineteenth or even early twentieth centuries but during the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents.

America is more segregated today than it was fifty years ago. We live in separate neighborhoods and attend separate and unequal schools despite the civil-rights legislation of the 1960s. Our prisons are disproportionately filled with young black men. The rest mostly live in urban and suburban ghettos. Black net worth per capita is less than 10% of white wealth, its income about half of White. This is not because of slavery and Jim Crow and color prejudice. Those were necessary but insufficient reasons. African American poverty and segregation are the consequence of mandated federal policy from the 1930s on by successive Democratic and Republican administrations, not by racist banks and individual prejudice. That government policy deliberately excluded “Negroes” from American society as surely as the Dalit, India’s so-called Untouchables, were deliberately relegated to lives as collectors of human waste whose shadow must not fall upon that of any of the higher castes. What we call Race is not a biological or even matter of personal prejudice or even of “systemic” discrimination in this country. It is a social caste, and only one group of people belong to it: Blacks. It existed before the administration of FDR, but it was only then that the death blow to African American inclusion occurred, the wilful and public exclusion by law that condemned Americans of African descent to an economic and social status beyond the pale.

Home Owners’ Loan Corporation Redlining Map, 1936

The decision not to afford home ownership to people of African descent under FDR’s Federal Housing Act of 1935 and its broad implementation for tens of millions of new, White home owners after the second world war, divided the nation into two groups: White and Black. And so it remains. The euphemism “people of color” is not just inaccurate, it’s misleading and dangerous. No other group, not Mexicans, not Japanese, not East Indians, were denied the right to home ownership under the auspices of the FHA and VA without whose underwriting virtually no mortgages for new or refinanced housing were granted. Only Negroes were denied. It was a requirement laid down not by men in white hoods but by acts of Congress signed into law by presidents whose political base lay in the segregated South and the segregated North. It remained the law of the land for several decades. The stipulation not to sell or rent to Negroes was written into the deeds of those homes, built by the millions for working- and middle-class people, especially after the second world war for those who had themselves been considered less than White until then, though their status had little or nothing to do with skin color. By making Negroes foreigners in their own country, our parents and grandparents were transformed overnight into honorary Whites. What made them so was just one thing they all shared in common: they were not Black.

Had there never been slavery or Jim Crow, if African Americans had been allowed to buy into residential neighborhoods like other Americans, that period of history would be just that: history, not a living reality. But if we keep focusing on Black slavery and Jim Crow, we will never overcome their true legacies: the economic and social exclusion that occurred by laws enacted in the 1930s and beyond, laws that established today’s segregated nation more effectively than slavery or Jim Crow were able to do.

It’s a lot easier to see today’s dysfunctional Black communities, whether we call it the result of “racism” or “black-on-black” crime, as the legacy of horrors perpetrated by people who lived in the 18th, 19th or early 20th centuries rather than the responsibility of our parents and grandparents. After all, how many of us are direct descendants of slave owners? But 1935 and 1947 are too recent to be called “history.” If centuries of African American oppression could have been overcome so recently by including Blacks in the so-called American Dream instead of legally excluding them from it, that’s hitting a bit close to home when it comes to this generation’s responsibility for the present situation.

A house bought for $8,000 in 1947 ($100,000 in 2020 dollars) is now worth $400,000-$500,000. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to borrow against for a child’s education or invest in a new or existing business or to will to that child to secure and improve their own life. But, even more importantly, the value of that house is dependent on its location in a desirable neighborhood, meaning one with good schools, home-owner-friendly zoning laws, good libraries, supermarkets and medical care, all of which are necessary to a middle-class life. Force African Americans into ghettos, at first urban but now more and more suburban zoned for manufacturing, with third-rate schools and other essential amenities, and you have a country of South Sides and Fergusons on your hands, if not on your consciences.

So-called Whites and Blacks, at least working-class ones lived together in cities all across America (even in the South until after the Civil War). They attended the same schools, made friends, fell in love. They had to be forceably separated by federal, state and municipal law. Those old “mixed” neighborhoods were demolished (think “urban renewal”), with Whites moved into Whites-only public housing and then into Whites-only suburbs, and Blacks left in what rapidly deteriorated into Blacks-only public housing and neighborhoods that deteriorated into urban slums after the industry and jobs that city-dwelling folk of all backgrounds used to rely on departed, creating Black slums in their place. The idea that racism is about color prejudice is just not true. It wasn’t even true in the Old South, except as a marker, after the fact, of social status.

Let people of African and non-African descent live together with no financial disability for either and within a generation or two we wouldn’t even be using the absurd phrase “mixed race.” What grandparent thinks of their grandchild as anything other than their beloved grandchild? What parent strives less to give their child less than the best possible advantages no matter what their ancestry?

What’s to be done? Street protests brought on by the flagrant murder of yet another Black man by a policeman is only a beginning and will be all there is unless a new Civil Rights movement at the grassroots level follows. America must be integrated residentially. There is no other effective way to level the playing field.

To do that ways must be found to make homes affordable to Blacks who otherwise would not have the cash to purchase them at today’s prices. A government subsidy could be one way to do this. Also and essentially if we are to break undo the lies we have been brought up on, textbooks in our primary and secondary schools must be revised to tell the real history of African Americans, the history that explains and takes responsibility for what our parents and grandparents benefited from to the detriment of their African American fellow citizens. Today’s texts pretend that present-day segregation is the result of private prejudice. That’s a lie. American apartheid in 2020 is the consequence of law, acts of Democratic and Republican administrations through the Federal Housing and the Veterans administrations. It was our moms and dads and grandmothers and grandfathers that allowed it to happen, and now we ourselves for perpetuating it and adding to it during our own lifetimes with “prison reform” and the criminalization of Black poverty.

To remedy these evils will take more than one generation, just as the Civil Rights Movement took many generations to achieve its modest goals of ending the legal segregation of schools and public accommodations. Will we accept that responsibility or settle for the feel-good but by themselves ineffectual street protests and destruction of the images of long-dead slave-holders?

“Isometry”

My new short story in Eclectica:

Artwork and photo by Baird Stiefel

We grew up together, Mack and I. Or at least we shared the same classrooms from Sister Mary Margaret’s kindergarten through Father John Patrick Denning’s 12th-grade history class. But it was only later, after my wife and I divorced and Mack was just getting engaged, that we became friends.

Mack was the name he preferred. His real name is Judah Maccabeus O’Flaherty. It should have been “Judas” Maccabeus, of course, but his mother was afraid the other kids would tease him for having the name of the apostle who betrayed Christ—an odd scruple on her part, given the handles she actually did burden him with. But parents are like that. They rarely consider what it’ll be like for their offspring to wear a sandwich board of weird monickers for an entire lifetime. I should know. My parents called me Christopher Aloysius Lifkovitz….

Read the rest.