Cleveland rapid transit and one downtown section of highway are closed down today due to discovery of a suspicious item in a Rapid station. Our hearts are with friends and colleagues in beloved sister city Boston, which we so recently enjoyed along with over 11 thousand other AWP attendees. 26 thousand runners started the race yesterday in the city where the modern marathon was born. We are grateful to all the first responders and ordinary citizens who acted not out of fear, but the instinctive desire to be of help.
On tax day I couldn’t get the song If I Were a Rich Man out of my head. Despite the long line of last minute filers, we got a dozen packages out yesterday, and I gave thanks yet again for our postal service. Small businesses like the wompus would be skunked without them. Shipping our books by private delivery service would triple our costs, or more. (This is also what stops me thinking about moving to Hawaii, one of the most magical places I have ever visited).
What do you think about the exhumation of Pablo Neruda’s remains? The court decision permitting this reanalysis (an attempt to prove Neruda died not of cancer but by poisoning) has triggered fierce debate. In the NY Times, Ilan Stavans complains that this exercise is unlikely to yield any useful new information and that in any case, the poet’s work iself should be the focus of historical investigation. He cites all the many details we already know about the crimes of the Pinochet regime, such as the torture and murder of folksinger and activist Victor Jara at the hands of Chilean security forces not long after the violent coup which overthrew Allende and installed the military dictatorship in Chile.
If others had not escaped the mass imprisonment that led to Jara’s death we would not now have that story–and what a sobering story it is, of a man known round the world for his songs, whose fingers were delberately and viciously broken after he was rounded up, who was taunted then to keep playing his guitar in that condition and who continued instead to sing the new song he was writing about the very brutality to which he was being subjected in that stadium where he was soon to be taken apart from his fellow captives and shot. What more articulate affirmation of the power of art.
A few years ago I had some genetic testing done in order to help target my treatment for a serious illness. At that time there was exactly one laboratory anywhere in the world which could test for the particular genes in question. The cost was mind-blowing but it turned out I only required the first phase of the tests and most of it was covered by our insurance. Now the supreme court is hearing a case about Myriad Genetics’ right to patent a particular gene sequence of the human genome, which I find even more mind-blowing than the expense of testing for it in a monopoly context. The complaint is not new: Why, they ask, would a corporation invest in expensive research if it can’t profit from the results, which it can only do with patents (otherwise their result can be replicated by companies electing to price access far lower).
A republic, if we can keep it. That phrase keeps running through my mind. It’s so critical for us to embrace the humanistic and altruistic exemplars before us. The example of a city and a hospital system responding so effectively to a mass casualty event. Government, community institutions, belong to us, as we belong to each other. And substituting understandably profit-motivated corporate directives for community interest, public interest, is a sure recipe for erosion of the republic. Goverment only works for us if we make it. Nobody is talking about the gutting of tax-funded medical and scientific research over the past three decades, but Myriad Gen’s attempt to patent our genes is a direct outgrowth of our having ceded that research to corporations.
Today I keep seeing our deep need for story. Though there is little real news, I turn on the radio, the TV, pull up news on the net, needing to hear the stories from Boston, to stay attuned in the wake of this event. Story, this ancient way that we humans make meaning of our world, is the reason art, and specifically literature exist, no less essential to us than medical care for the injured and ill.