Jun. 19, 2010

Compulsively Allergic to the Truth

by Jeffrey McDaniel

I'm sorry I was late.
I was pulled over by a cop
for driving blindfolded
with a raspberry-scented candle
flickering in my mouth.
I'm sorry I was late.
I was on my way
when I felt a plot
thickening in my arm.
I have a fear of heights.
Luckily the Earth
is on the second floor
of the universe.
I am not the egg man.
I am the owl
who just witnessed
another tree fall over
in the forest of your life.
I am your father
shaking his head
at the thought of you.
I am his words dissolving
in your mind like footprints
in a rainstorm.
I am a long-legged martini.
I am feeding olives
to the bull inside you.
I am decorating
your labyrinth,
tacking up snapshots
of all the people
who've gotten lost
in your corridors.

"Compulsively Allergic to the Truth" by Jeffrey McDaniel, from The Endarkenment. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Greil Marcus, (books by this author) who was born in San Francisco (1945) and after graduating from Berkeley got a job writing reviews for Rolling Stone magazine. In the decades since, he's written numerous volumes of rock music criticism and other criticism. Last year, he published A New Literary History of America (2009) a collection of essays — nearly 1,100 pages long — which he co-edited with Werner Sollors. The book covers Colonial days to the election of Barack Obama.

It's the birthday of mathematician and mystic Blaise Pascal, born in Clermont, France (1623). He wrote a lot about religion and attempted to convert skeptics to Christianity. But he also said, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

It's the birthday of Salman Rushdie, (books by this author) born in 1947 in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, the second most populated city in the world after Shanghai, China. He's the author of Midnight's Children (1981), which won a Booker Prize, and of The Satanic Verses (1988), which was banned in many countries and led to death threats. He was forced to go into hiding for safety. He's always wanted to be an actor. He's currently at work on the screenplay for a movie adaptation of his book Midnight's Children.

On this day in 1862, the U.S. Congress outlawed slavery in all United States territories. This congressional act nullified the Supreme Court decision known as the Dred Scott case, decided five years prior, which prohibited blacks from ever becoming U.S. citizens.

But few were actually freed on this day. At the time, the country was about a year deep into the Civil War, and most states that allowed slavery had already seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy — and were not taking orders from the United States Congress. Abraham Lincoln was still working on drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation, the final version of which wouldn't be delivered until the following January, about six months later. And even that would have little immediate effect on freedom in many states, since the South had a separate government with different laws.

The state of Texas was the last state to continue to allow slavery after it had been abolished in all other states. Then, on this day in 1865, exactly three years after Congress officially outlawed slavery, a Union general and 2,000 troops arrived by ship into Galveston, Texas, to announce to that the North had won the war, that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect, and he would be there to enforce it by military means. With this, the last remaining slaves in the nation were finally freed. And it's because of this event that today is an official holiday in about three dozen states, called "Juneteenth" day. Some of the biggest Juneteenth celebrations in the nation are in Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Chandler, Arizona; and San Francisco, California. They're traditionally jubilant festivals, which revolve around big picnics.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed on this day after an 83-day filibuster in the Senate. It banned segregation in schools and workplaces and places of "interstate commerce." It was very specific, listing places of public accommodation where segregation was forbidden, including any restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, gasoline station, hotel, motel, inn, motion picture house, theater, concert hall, sports arena, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment. Also, it included a provision prohibiting federal employment discrimination on the basis of gender. And it gave the attorney general the power to sue states that were not complying. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress.

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