Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Johannesburg Unlocked by Ian Vladislavic

Occasionally, when Louise was teaching at the Twilight Children's Shelter in Esselen Street and I was working as an editor at Ravan Press in O'Reilly Road, we would meet for lunch at the Florian in Hillbrow. If the weather was good, we sat outside on the first-floor balcony. Then she would slip her arms out of her paint-stain overalls and tie the sleeves in a big bow across her chest, so that she could feel the sun on her bare shoulders. Despite the chocolate-dipped letters of its Venetian name, the Florian offered English  boardinghouse fare: chops and chips, liver and onions wit mashed potatoes, mutton stews and long-grained rice. We drank beer, although it was sure to make us sleepy, watched the traffic in the street below, and stayed away from work longer than the lunch hour we were entitled to.

The discovery of something unexpected about the world always filled her with infectious wonder. Once, she tugged me over to the balcony railings at the Florian to point out the iron covers on the water mains set into the pavement. Did I know the spaces below these covers , where the meters are housed? Well, the poor people of Joberg, the street people - we did not call them 'the homeless' in those days - the tramps, car parkers and urchins, used them as cupboards! They store their winter wardrobes  there and the rags of bedding they used at night, they preserved their scraps of food, their perishables, in the cool shade, they banked the empty bottles they collected for the deposits. It tickled her - she laughed out loud, just as if the idea had poked her in the ribs - that such utilitarian spaces should have been appropriated and domesticated, transformed into repositories of privacy for those compelled to live their lives in public. Any iron cover you passed in the street might conceal someone's personal effects. There was a maze of mysterious spaces underfoot, known only to those who could see it. And this special knowledge turned them into the privileged ones, making them party to something in which we, who lived in houses with wardrobes and chests of drawers, and ate three square meals a day, could not participate. Blind and dumb, we passed over these secret places, did not even sense them beneath the soles of our shoes. How much more might we be missing?

The food came. While we ate, I began to argue with her about the 'cupboards' and what they represented, as if it were my place to set her straight about the world.

'It's pathetic,' I said, 'that people are so poor they have to store their belongings in the hole in the ground.'

'No, it's not. It's pathetic when people don't care about themselves, when they give up. These people are resourceful, they're making a life out of nothing.'

'It's like a dog burying a bone,' I said.

'Oh, you'll never understand.'

When we'd finished our lunch and were walking down Twist Street, I wanted to lift up one of the covers to check the contents of the cavity beneath, but she wouldn't hear of it. It wasn't right to go prying into people's thing.

'What about the meter-readers?' I asked. 'Surely they're always poking their noses in?'

'That's different,' she said. 'They're professionals. Like doctors.'

'They probably swipe the good stuff,' I insisted.

'Nonsense. They have understanding.'

Then we parted, laughing. She went back to the children and I went back to the books. And this parting, called to mind, has a black edge of mourning, because she was walking in the shadow of death and I am still here to feel the sun on my face.

Ten years later, the domestic duty of a tap washer that needs replacing takes me out into Argyle Street to switch off the main. There is a storm raging in from the south, the oaks in Blenheim Street are already bowing before its lash, dropping tears as hard as acorns. I stick a screwdrivers under the rim of the iron cover and lever it up.  In the space beneath I find:  a brown, ribbed jersey, army issue; a red flannel shirt; a small checked blanket; two empty bottle - Fanta Grape and Lion Lager; a copy of Penthouse; a blue enamel plate' a clear plastic bag containing scraps of food (bread rolls, tomatoes, oranges). Everything neatly arranged. On one side, the empties have been laid down head to toe; the plate balanced across them to hold the food, the magazine rolled up between.  In the middle, behind a lens of misted glass, white numbers on black drums are revolving, measuring out a flood in standard units.

I kneel on the pavement like a man gazing down into a well, with this is  small, impoverished, inexplicably orderly world before me and the chaotic plenitude of the Highveld sky above.  .   .  .

Strolling home with the morning paper under his arm, Branko passes a salesman dragged a large briefcase. He looks like a salesman anyway, in blazer and flannel, white shirt and stripped tie, a door-to-door man lugging a set of samples. Branko feels sorry for him in this heat, trying to give the heavy case an extra little shove with his calf at each step, his free arm sticking out like a wing, pigeon-toe with effort.

At his own door, Branko nearly falls into a hole in the pavement. The iron cover that's supposed to conceal the connection to the water main is gone. It was here ten minutes, when he stepped out to buy the paper. He stands there puzzling.


He jams his paper in the letterbox and runs down the street, looking for the man with the case, unsure what he will do with this while-collar criminal when he catches him but he has already vanished.   .   .   .

Herman Wald's Leaping Impala sculpture was installed in Ernest Oppenheimer Park in 1960. Eighteen animals in full flight, a sleigh-ride arc of hoof and horn twenty meters long, a ton and a half of venison in bronze. In the sixties and seventies, fountains splashed the flanks of the stampeding buck, while office workers ate their lunch-time sandwiches on white-only benches. Although the park deteriorated along with the inner city in the following decades, until it came to be used primarily as a storage depot by hawkers, the herd of impala seemed set to survive the century unscathed. But towards the end of 1999, poachers started carving away at it, lopping heads and legs with blow-torches and hacksaws. At the end of October, a civic-minded hawker, who arrived at the park to find a man stuffing two severed heads into a bag, called the police. They arrested the thief, but he was subsequently deported as an illegal alien and the heads disappeared without a trace. A fortnight later, an entire impala was removed from the park by four men, who told security guards they were transporting it to another park, stock  thieves. A week after that, another ten heads were lopped. Police later rescued one of these heads from a Boksburg scrap-metal dealer. A leg was found in a pawn shop  in the CBD.

Johannesburg has an abundance  of wildlife, and the poachers have taken full advantage of the open season. They've bagged a bronze steenbok from Wits University; a horse from outside the library in Sandton (first docking the beast, to see if anyone would mind, and then hacking of its head like Mafiosi); a pair of eagles nesting near the Stock Exchange; and another steenbok in the Botanical Garden at Emmarentia. This little buck, which had been donated to the Gardens by the sculptor Ernest Ullmann in1975, was taken in 1998. The head turned up afterwards in a scrap-yard and was returned to the scene of the slaughter, where it was mounted on a conical pedestal like a trophy; along with a plaque explaining the circumstances of its loss and recovery. But before long the head was stolen for the second time and now the pedestal is empty.

Of course, urban poachers are not just hungry for horseflesh, any old iron will do. They are especially fond of the covers on manholes and water mains. When Kensington Electrical Suppliers took over Tile City  they painted the covers on their pavement bright yellow to deter thieves, but the logic was flawed: now thieves could spot them from a hundred meters.

Elsewhere in the city, the council has begun to replace the stolen iron covers with blue plastic ones. These bits of plastic tell scrap-metal thieves to go ahead and help themselves as the authorities have given up on protecting their resources. The council could wrest back the initiative by lifting all the remaining iron at once and selling it off. They could use the same argument the Botswana government uses for the controlled sale of ivory. Get a jump on the poachers  by selling the booty yourself.

The urban poacher is a romantic figure. In unequal cities, where those who have little must survive somehow by preying on those who have more, the poacher scavenging a meal from under the nose of the gamekeeper may be admired for his ingenuity and daring. AbdouMaliq Simone: ' There are young people in Johannesburg who spend twelve and more hours a day simply passing through different neighborhoods, different parts of the city, seeing what can be easily taken, but also running into others like themselves, sometimes teaming up to do "jobs", sometimes steering each in the wrong  direction."

The Pacific War by John Costello

It is now easy to see how the principle cause of the breakdown  in American military intelligence during the period before Pearl Harbor was that it was grossly overloaded and unable to carry out an adequate evaluation procedures. The lessons learned brought about a rapid expansion in 1942 in both service's cryptanalysis, translation, and assessment teams. Personnel training took time, but such was the proficiency achieved by naval units that within six months they had laid the groundwork for the Midway victory. The Army succeeded in cracking the Japanese army's ciphers by the following spring and both services  contributed to the establishment of units that monitored the German Enigma traffic using the British-supplied decrypting machines. The measure of the Allied victories in battles fought and won by their code breakers is the sheer volume of the material  now piling up along the shelves in London's Public Record Office and the National archives in Washington.  The highlights of the role of Ultra - as both Britain and the United States labeled their most secret intelligence- played in the war are now known , with the Battle of Britain, Midway, the Battle of the Atlantic, El Alamein, D-Day, and New Guinea perhaps the most spectacular achievements. But it will take years for historians to sift patiently through the records  that have now become available to reveal the fascinating details of just how significant a contribution intelligence actually  played in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters - and just how much the credit that has until now been given to the most successful military commanders should in fact go to Ultra. . .

[ Not all the records have been released by the British and there are critical redactions in the American records. On those occasions in which they managed to keep their plans secret the Japanese army and navy often punished American forces severely. American strategic planners were often divided and tactics used inadequate.]

Immediately after Pearl Harbor the United States declared a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Pacific. It produced limited results at first because of defective torpedoes and a lack of aggressiveness on the part of the American commanders. Misapplied use of radio intelligence was at first send to the Pacific fleet submarines chasing over the ocean after the enemy's big warships instead of concentrating on blockading Japan's main shipping routes. In the first six months the U.S. submarines sank only thirty-five Japanese merchant ships, less than ace German U-boas managed to sink in a single Atlantic patrol. Such  poor performance was reflected in the Tokyo Naval Staff's response in setting up in Formosa the "First Convoy Escort Fleet", whose over-age officers were matched by a few ancient destroyers they were assigned. Their ineffectiveness was not important, for in the whole of 1942 the Japanese lost less than 700,000 tons of shipping to all Allied submarine activity. German's were sinking that much nearly every month in the Atlantic. That year Japan's shipyards turned out over 1 million tons of new capacity, more than enough to keep pace with the attrition.

Not until the end of that disastrous first year was the American submarine campaign shaken up. Rear Admiral Charles A. Lockwood was promoted from leading the flotillas stationed at Brisbane to become Commander Submarines Pacific Fleet. After studying the reports of the U-Boat assault on British shipping lifelines in London, Lockwood soon became convinced that the poor performance of his boats, which time and again failed to sink warships or disrupt poorly protected transport convoys during the invasion of the Dutch East Indies, must be caused by a combination of defective torpedoes and lack of aggression by his captains. Experiments proved that the technical cause of the problem was the standard Mark XVII torpedoes faulty depth-keeping mechanism, which unless adjusted would causes the torpedo to pass harmlessly below the keel of the target warship. Orders were sent to compensate for the inaccurate settings, but the first months of 1943 brought no greater success.

That year Lockwood systematically replaced almost a third of the captains. When the younger, aggressive commanders' sinking rates were still not commensurate with the number of hits they claimed, it became obvious that their torpedoes were still badly defective. After Lockwood had ordered and exhaustive series of tests in Hawaii in which torpedoes were fired at cliff targets, it was found that their magnetic and contacted detonating pistols were hopelessly unreliable.

"If the Bureau of Ordinance can't provide us with torpedoes that will hit and explode, or with a gun larger than a peashooter," he blasted at a Washington conference early hat year, "then, for God's sake get the Bureau of Ships to design a boathook with which we can rip the plates off the target's sides." In spite of such caustic words and constant prodding, it was September 1943 before the first Mark XVIII torpedoes arrived for us by his Pacific submarines - and many more months before their teething troubles were finally engineered out.

Just under 1.5 million tons of Japanese merchant ships had been sunk to the bottom in 1943, but their shipyards had succeeded in providing a net gain in tankers. The beginning of 1944 saw the American submarine campaign at last begin to gain effect. Lockwood- borrowing Admiral Doenitz's U-boat tactics - organized wolf-packs of submarines directed by radio intelligence against convoys off the Luzon straits, through which many of the enemy shipping lanes funneled.  The Pearl Harbor flotillas were sent to operate from forward bases at Midway and then from the captured atolls. Success rates began to climb sharply both for the Pacific Fleet boats and those of MacArthur's naval commander, whose flotillas were reorganized at Brisbane by Rear Admiral James Fife, Jr.

The Japanese lacked the weapons, escorts, and training to provide more than token cover to the convoys, which multiplied through the spring of 1944 as troops and supplies  were rushed to the threatened island perimeter. Assembling  the merchantmen in poorly protected and ill-disciplined gaggles only made success easier for the American submarine skippers.  In January 1944  294,902 tons of Japanese shipping were sunk - the highest monthly total the war, and a clear warning to Tokyo that the assault against both their island defense and convoys was accelerating.

.   .   .   .   .  .

Capturing the island of  Peleliu  cost the live of two thousand American soldiers and Marines and many times that number of wounded. It had taken 1,589 rounds of heavy and light ammunition to kill each of  the 10,000 enemy soldiers. Such grisly statistics were attributed by the field commanders as much to the terrain as to the well-drilled defenders. It was one of the tragedies of the war that the slaughter was unnecessary. Peleliu had ceased to be a vital objective to the Americans long before the first Marine died on the Island. However, as the naval bombardment force commander Admiral J.B. Olfdendorf observed: "If military leaders were gifted with the same accuracy of foresight that they are with hindsight, undoubtedly, the assault and capture of the Palaus would never have been attempted."

Never-the-less, Douglas MacArthur openly criticized the 'awful way" in which Admiral Nimitz sacrificed thousands of American lives to capture the whole of an island when he only needed its airfields.

[ The prospect of such wasteful expenditure of American lives in capturing the Japanese homeland, securing 'unconditional surrender' and hastening a conclusion to the war led, in part, to the decision drop the A-Bomb. There were extrinsic considerations- intimidating the Russians, for one, though they had already obtained the means to build their own bomb by 1945.  The complete destruction  the Japanese Navy and blockade of its ports, continued firebombing of cities and more vigorous diplomatic initiatives would, in my and others' estimation would have been sufficient without an invasion.]

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

How Little Chief Escaped by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

We always die of dejection, that is, when our souls fail us - then we die. That was Little Chief's theory. In support of this, the businessman described what happened to him the second time he was arrested. He faced terrible prison conditions, the ill treatment, the torture, with courage that surprised not only his companions in misfortune, but the prison guards and the agents of the political police.

It wasn't courage, he admits: "I was experiencing serious rebelliousness. My soul was rebelling against the injustices. Fear, yes, the fear came to hurt me more than the blows, but the rebellion was growing over the fear and that was when I confronted the police.  I was never quiet. When they shouted at me, I shouted louder. From a certain point, I realized those guys were more scared of me than I was of them."

One time when they were punishing him, and they put him in a tiny cell, which they called Kifangondo after the site of a great battle, Little Chief found a rat and adopted it. He called it Splendor, a name that was perhaps a little optimistic for a common rat, brown and shifty, with a gnawed on ear and fur in pretty poor shape. When Little Chief reappeared in the regular cell, with Splendor nestled on his right shoulder, some of his companions teased him. Most ignored him.  At that time, at the end of the seventies, the Sao Paulo Prison brought together an extraordinary collection of personalities. American and English mercenaries, taken in combat, lived alongside dissident exiles from the ANC who had fallen into misfortune. Young intellectuals from the far left exchanged ideas with old Portuguese Salazarists. There were guys locked up for diamond trafficking, and others for not having stood at attention during the raising of the flag. some of the prisoners had been important leaders in the party. They took pride in their friendship with the President.

"Only yesterday the Old Man and I went fishing together," one of them boasted to Little Chief. "When he finds out what's happened, he'll get me out of here and have the moons who did this arrested."

He was shot the following week.

Many didn't even know what they had been accused of. Some went crazy. The interrogations often seemed erratic, preposterous, as though the aim was not to extract information from the detainees, merely torture and confuse them.

In this context, a man with a trained rat wasn't enough to surprise anyone.  Little Chief took care of Splendor. He taught him tricks. He'd say "Sit!" - and the animal sat. "Around! he'd order, and the rat started walking in circles.  Monte heard of this and went to the cell to visit the prisoner.

"They tell me you've made a new friend."

Little Chief didn't answer. He's created a rule for himself never to reply to an agent from the political police, unless the agent was shouting. In such cases he would scream an attack at him, accusing him of being in the service of the socio-fascist dictatorship, etc. Monte found the prisoner's behavior exasperating.

"I'm talking to you, for fuck's sake! Don't act like I'm invisible."

Little Chief turned his back on him. Monte lost  it. He tugged on his shirt. That was the moment he saw Splendor. He grabbed hold of the animal, threw it on the floor and stamped on it. In the midst of all those crimes, such vast crimes that were being committed in those days, right there, within the prison walls, the tiny death of Splendor affected nobody, apart from Little Chief. The young man fell into a deep dejection. He would spend his days lying on a mat, unspeaking, unmoving, indifferent to his cellmates. He became so thin that his ribs stuck out beneath his skin like the keys of a kisanji. Finally, they took him to the infirmary.

When he was arrested, Nasser Evangelista was working at the Maria Pia Hospital as an orderly. He took no interest in politics.  All his attention was trained on a young nurse called Sueli Mirela, well known for the length of her legs, which she displayed generously in daring miniskirts, and for her round hairdo, in the style of Angela Davis. The girl, who was going out with a state security agent, allowed herself to be seduced by the orderly's sweet words. Her boyfriend, in a rage, accused his rival of being linked to factionalists. When he was locked up, Nasser started to work in the infirmary. He was moved when he saw Little Chief's condition. He conceived and organized the plan himself, a plan that was brave and happy, which made it possible to return the frail young man to freedom. Well, to relative freedom, since, as Little Chief himself likes to repeat, no man is free as long as one other man is in prison.

Nasser Evangelista registered the death of Little Chief, alias Arnaldo Cruz, aged nineteen, student of law, and he himself put the body in  the coffin.  A distant cousin, who was in reality a comrade from the same small party  in which he was himself an activist, received the casket. He buried it, in a discrete ceremony, at the Alto das Cruzes cemetery. This after removing the passenger in question. Little Chief got into the habit of visiting the grave on the anniversary of his supposed death, taking flowers to himself.  "To me, it's a reflection on the fragility of life and a small exercise in otherness," he explains to his friends.. "I go out there, and try and think of myself as a close relative. I am, really, my own closest relative. I think about his defects, about his qualities, and whether or not he deserves my tears. I almost always cry a little."

It was months before the police discovered the fraud. Then they arrested him again. .  . 

Magno Moreira Monte was killed by a satellite dish. He fell off the roof while he was trying to fix the aerial. Then the thing fell on his head. Some people saw the events as an ironic allegory for the recent times. The former state security agent, the final representative of a past which few in Angola wished to recall, was felled by the future: the triumph of free communication over obscurantism, silence, and censorship; cosmopolitanism had crushed provincialism.

Maria Clara liked watching the soaps. Her husband, meanwhile, took little interest in television. The pointlessness of the programs infuriated him. The news bulletins made him even angrier. He watched football matches, supporting Primeiro de Agosto and Benfica. From time to time he's sit down, in pajamas and slippers , to re-watch some old black-and-white movie or other. He preferred books. He had collected hundreds of titles. He planned to spend his final years rereading Jorge Amado, Machado de Assis, Clarice Lispector, Luandino Viera, Ruy Duarte de Carvalho, Julio Cortazar, Gabrriel Grcia Marquez.

When they moved house, leaving the dirty, noisy air of the capital behind them, Monte tried to persuade his wife to do without the television. Maria Clara agreed. She'd got into the habit of agreeing with him. For the first weeks, they read together. Everything seemed to be going well. But Maria Clara was getting sad. She'd spend hours on the phone with her friends. Monte then decided to buy and install a satellite dish.

Strictly speaking, he died for love. . . .

God weighs souls on a pair of scales. In one of the dishes is the soul, and in the other, the tears of those who weep for it. If nobody cries, the soul goes down to hell. If there are enough tears, and they are sufficiently heartfelt, it rises up to heaven. Ludo believed this. Or wanted to believe this. This is what she told Sabalu:

"People who are missed by other people, those who are the ones that go to Paradise. Paradise is the place we occupy in other people's hearts. That's what my grandmother used to tell m. I don't believe it. I'd like to believe in anything that's so simple - but I lack faith.

Monte had people to cry for him. I find it hard to imagine him in Paradise. Perhaps, however he's being purged in some obscure nook of immensity, between the splendor of Heaven and the twisted darkness of Hell, playing chess with the angels who are guarding him. If the angels know how to play, if they play well, this would be almost Paradise to him.

A General Theory of Oblivion by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Daniel Hahn transl.; Archipelago Books, Brooklyn, 2013

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Heather's Story by Shamrock McShane

[McShane writes about his last year (after 30) teaching Language Arts in Middle School, which is shocking if you've never experienced or read about such things before. His wife's story as an employee at a supermarket, however, ain't that much different, same deal, and easier to tell.]

Gainsville, Florida

The sky was faint blue and cloudless, the temperature in the 70s with a slight breeze. I had traded Chicago winters or this along time ago. I could have stayed and kept plugging away at sports writing, or played the cards I was dealt in the theatre, which weren't bad, since I was rubbing shoulders with Mamet and Macy and getting gigs at Wisdom Bridge and the Goodman. Then I bolted for Key West and that changed everything. I went there to write and become a writer and when that didn't workout I went into teaching. I never stopped writing, and for a long time I never stopped believing I was going to make it big as a writer and I could quit teaching, but it never happened, and by the time I hit 50, I knew it was over for good. I could keep on writing , but I would have to serve my time as a teacher. That was when my wife of 20 years  bailed out on me, and I couldn't blame her. Things didn't pan out the way we thought they would when I was dining with Tennessee Williams in his conch house on Duncan Street and when my wife and I dined together sumptuously in New York City with an ex-girlfriend of mine who had risen to the height of being head writer for All My Children. With connections like that and talent to boot, how could I miss?

Somehow I did. Nancy left me with our two boys, Mike and Bill, then age 12 and 7 respectively, and I went through most of the next ten years as a single dad, until I met Heather or, rather, Heather met me. She was looking for me, and when she found me it didn't matter that I was 28 years older than she was because that was he point - an older man, hale and hardy, with a brain, an intellectual who had grown up with the Beatles and Bob Dylan, whom she loved, and none of the young men her age even knew what she was talking about, and she wanted to have my children, and if I wasn't going to be around to see them get old, so be it.

A four-day weekend, coupling UF Homecoming with Veterans Day. The school board had outdone itself with days off this year, my last after 30 years. Three and four-day weekends were downright common, and this year there was a whole week of for Thanksgiving, which was now being called the Fall Holidays.

Over the weekend Heather was hard at work at Sweetbay. She had just gotten a new job there, after nearly a decade, as the Receiver, It was going to pay her $11 and hour, which would amount to about a $10k a year raise. We were hoping that would keep us going, the four of us including Oliver and Homer, for the foreseeable, after I retired.

Someone put in an order for the weekly truck to deliver to Sweetbay, Heather sipped a beer on the back porch with me and smoked a cigarette. "If you are going to order cheese, that's one thing, but that Cracker Barrel cheese? You know what I am talking about - in a block? A big block of cheese? They go for like eight bucks, eight-something. People aren't going to buy that. People who come in our store. They're not going to buy that. It's going to sit there. They come twelve in a case, and you order three cases of it? That's just going to sit in the back. People who come in our store aren't gonna buy the first one. They can't afford that. Why would you order it?"
                                 .         .        .         .         .         .

I lay down on the floor behind my desk and tried to regain enough energy during my planning period to be able to teach the last class of the day. I had the shakes and I had a fever. It hadn't exactly come out of nowhere. Everyone at home in the cave was sick. Ollie and Homer were subdued and submissive to their caregivers at the Church of God. Heather had gone  morning to have a cortisone shot in her foot so she could keep trekking miles around Sweetbay full-time despite the injury heaped on top of her illness.

Heather had back-breaking work to do at Sweetbay, where the clock was also ticking towards the end. All the Sweetbay stores in the country had been bought by Winn-Dixie, which would be taking over later in the spring. In the meantime the management had taken heather off her Receiver duties and put her to work cleaning shelves in all the coolers, so she was wet and freezing and bone tired for two weeks.

Heather was the Shining Star of Sweetbay. She  devised a means of cleaning all the shelves in all the freezers by means of a hose and hot water and even though her superiors were loath to tell her lest it swell her head how dynamic a solutions hers had been  the word had quickly spread to all the extant Sweetbays  and none other than the Regional Manager himself sent out a directive to all Sweetbays in the region to do what Heather had done

From all appearances, they were going to let Heather keep her job. She had worked there ten years, from the time it had been Kash N' Karry and transformed into Sweetbay. The grocery stores were battling it out in the market place. Survival of the fittest.

It would take a massive effort to close the place out. But it would happen fast. First, stop ordering. No more groceries coming in, just what's on the shelves at prices designed to jettison out the store. But some people would not understand.

"I'm cleaning on aisle six," Heather told me,, "and I can hear this black woman on aisle five and she's talking to herself and she is pissed off: 'What the hell is this? There ain't no food up here, where the motherfucken food be at? I'm not even believing this shit. Where the food!' And I know she's goin to come charging around the corner at me and ask me where the motherfucken food be at. And I hear her getting to the end of the aisle. She's probably looking for sugar, and there is no sugar.  And she says: 'Y'all need to restock this bitch up in here.' And I'm thinking: Now there's one for you compo, and here she comes singing out "Y'all need to restock this bitch up in here!"  She looked surprised to see me, so she probably didn't mean for me to hear her, but as soon as she saw me she launched into: ' What the hell kind of store this is?' And I told her, 'A closing store, mam.' And she just looked at me. "A store that is closing,' I said."

Everybody was pissed off until they got to the sale items. Then they switched. They got happy. Some of them got downright apologetic. They were sorry they had been rude and said nasty things to the people who were just working here, doing their job and who were poor people just like them, who didn't decide to sell Sweetbay to Winn-Dixie, and they scooped up the bargains by the case and carted them out the store.

And for the rest of the day Heather and her comrades greeted each other with their new motto: "y'all need to re-stock this bitch up in here."

At Sweetbay Oswald, the manager, was citing the Bottom Line as his reason for not shelling out for two saws that needed to be replaced in the bakery-deli and meat department. One was to replace the crooked blades in the slicer in the deli. The thing sliced automatically but with the blade bent you had to force feed meat into it and if you didn't know what you were  doing you could automatically  slice your hand off. The kid who was working with it in the deli now was 19 and not particularly bright, but so far he still had two hands.

The other saw was actually riskier. It was in the meat department, a circular saw, and it was used to cut really big hard pieces of meat and it could cut right through bone -  but it would jump  at you if you hit something and it didn't go through, and if you didn't  jump the hell out of the way when it jumped the damn thing could cut you in half. Oswald didn't want to buy a new one of those either.

To close out the store everybody had to work overtime. That was good new for us. We could use the extra hours and extra pay. But some of the college kids who worked at Sweetbay were upset by this. If you didn't want to work a twelve hour shift. you would be fired.

"They make you work a twelve-hour shift. That's not right."

"Thirteen hours. Thirteen hours plus. Be there at 5:45. Get off at seven."

"That's a long day."

"Thirty minutes for lunch."

"You get a break?"

"No breaks."

"No breaks?"

"I figured you'd get a ten-minute break every four hours, so I'm standing outside in front smoking a cigarette and Gladys from the North Main Street Winn-Dixie comes out and says to me, "Heather, what are you doing?" I said, 'I'm taking a break.' And she said, 'We don't take breaks.'

'They can't do that."

"Well, they are."

"That's why people have unions."

"Thirteen hour days, and I have to work every day. I looked at the calendar and its going to be 19 days straight before I get a day off - if they give a day off then."

.      .      .      .      .      .     .      .

Heather had to be at work at 4:45 in the morning for Opening Day, so we set the alarm for 3:45.  Homer was up before the alarm went off. We appeased him with a dry diaper and a bottle and some Mickey Mouse on Netflix, but before its was five o'clock he was rousting Ollie out of bed and by six he was clamoring for another bottle and we were out of milk, so off we went to the Grand Opening of Winn-Dixie where Sweetbay used to be, winding our way through the same traffic we would have encountered had we been going to school as usual.  It was raining to befit Good Friday, and by the time I started fucking wit the strap to buckle Homer into the shopping cart I was good and pissed off.  I grabbed a gallon of milk, some soda, Ollie tossed in some Little Debbie and Homer snatched a bag of pizza-flavored Goldfish. Heather was nowhere to be seen.

The Winn-Dixie conversion team was having its way with Sweetbay.

'They act  they're saving a dying store," Heather had fumed, "but we're not a dying store, they just bought us - it's not like we're losing money, we're making money."

The conversion team was calling all the shots.

"Hi, McShane," Heather's boss, the store manager, Oswald, called to me, looking up from his clipboard where he was checking his inventory.

"Store looks beautiful," I said. What else should you say? They'd spent the last month beautifying it at the clip of 13 hour workdays. Damn well better look beautiful.

He shrugged. "Heather's in back."


"Go ahead. You can go back there. Go on."

There weren't many people in the store. It had just opened at seven. Really. Just opened, after having been closed completely for nearly two weeks. Today was the Grand Opening of the new Winn-Dixie. Sweetbay was gone forever, consumed by corporate America. It wasn't even eight o'clock yet. Homer kept trying to climb out of the cart. I could never get the damn straps that held him in to work. Oliver was running free.

"Walk, Ollie, walk!"

The last time Heather had taken the two of them shopping Ollie had commandeered the shopping cart and the shoppers in front of the cart couldn't see Ollie behind it, so when Heather yelled "Watch where you're going!" they though she was yelling at them.

I didn't know about this. First, I never knew if I was going to get Heather into trouble just by showing up at the store, let alone with the two kids. I had gotten her into trouble before just by showing up.

I wasn't like I wanted to go there, to inflict myself and the kids on the Opening Day patrons, but there was no way I could survive the next twelve hours in the cave without some milk.

Second, I remembered that Oswald was a lame duck and wasn't really running things anymore. The conversion team was running the show and they were all arrogant Winn-Dixie assholes. There was a group of three of them acting all officious as hell at the end of the aisle, conferring among themselves while the Opening Day shoppers and the people who actually worked there went about their business.

The conversion team stopped me just as I had run the shopping cart into the black rubber bumpers and through the double doors to the back of the store.

"Can we help you, sir?"

"Are you looking for the restroom, sir?"

"You can't go back there, sir."

All three of them pounced on me at once.

"Sorry," I said, backing away. "I was just looking for Heather."

"We'll tell her you're here," said the female. It looked like she was in charge.

"That's ok," I said, still moving. Now I had done it. I was no longer a shopper, not even a shopper who had wandered from the right path, now I was kin to the reviled Sweetbay staff that they were here to convert. I could be an object lesson. The conversion team would now go in the back where Heather was working and interrupt her work to tell her that I had broken security.  Best to just keep moving.

"You can wait right there, sir," the officious female hectored, but I was having none of it.  I wanted out of there. I has my groceries, I had my kids, I headed for the check-out line. "I said you could wait right there, sir," she kept it up, even following me a step or two, and this was too much.

"Actually," I said over my shoulder, "I can go wherever I want," and I kept ongoing, Ollie trotting in front, Homer squirming against my chest, to the checkout line where I started putting our stuff near the belt for the register when Heather came rushing up from the back of the store.

"I am so sorry, honey, " she said in a whisper. "That fucking witch, Do you know what she said to me?"


"There's some grampa out there with his grandkids looking for you.' I said "That's my husband and those are his kids.' And she says,  'I thought they were yours.' 'They are," I said. 'They're ours.' And she just looked at me.

"Ah fuck her," I said.

At least we has the milk, and soda a snacks, so we could make it through Heather's shift, and rest up and be ready to start the next day at 3:45  in the morning.

      .      .      .      .      .      .      .

The final fury of FCAT consumed the last week of April, proving it beyond a doubt to be the cruelest month. I would be spending two days in the READ 180 Lab with Brad Penny, where we would be administering jointly the computer-based FCAT Reading test all day on both Monday and Tuesday to three consecutive groups of 20 eighth graders each, the same readers  had observed not reading for the past 30 weeks.  Meanwhile Heather was in Winn-Dixie hell.

"I knew it when they made us go visit their store on Main Street. As soon as I went in the back I told the girl who was  showing me around, 'I've never seen  this much back-up stock in my life,' and she just looked at me like she didn't know what I was talking about."

The people at the Main Street store didn't seem to get the subtext: We're never going to sell all this shit - it's going to go bad - we'll have to throw it all away.

"Now it's just like that at our store. The back of the store is piled to the ceiling with back-stock. As soon as we get anything half-way put away another truck pulls up with three times as much as we already have, and it's just impossible, there's no way. It's just going to sit there until we have to throw it all away in the dumpster. Half the stuff - no, not half the stuff but a lot of the stuff - it's already past the expiration date when it gets here and we have to take it off the truck and throw it away, right then. How much sense does that make?"

"See how much better they do things in the private sector?"

At Winn-Dixie on south 34th Street the former Sweetbay had undergone a sea change. The message had come down loud and clear from the new brass that all subordinates were to be treated harshly and the managerial approach should be that of the hard-ass, the slave master cracking the whip. The entire workforce was branded as lazy.

"I couldn't believe she said that."


"Heaven. She called Jimmy lazy. She called the rest of us lazy too. And she knows us. She's Sweetbay. But that's the way they're going to talk to people now. I said I don't know if I can work in a place where they're going  to talk to people that way."

Lazy. Shiftless. You could see where this was trending. Heather was a tad bit offended. She put in for a transfer to the Winn-Dixie on North Main Street. She told Oswald: "I always did everything I was asked to do and more. There was nothing you could ask me to do that I wouldn't do. I expected to work here forever. I thought when I walked out that door for the last time I'd be and old lady.:"  And she cried, and gave her letter requesting a transfer to Oswald, the manager for whom she'd been working for the past five yeas and was the most dependable employee in the store, and he put it in his pocket and there was never any sign thereafter that he had ever even looked at it.

[ Shamrock and Heather, on top of  plumbing and computer repair expenses, are slapped with an unexpected, pass due IRS bill on account of a previous mortgage default. They lose all the extra money Heather  made working overtime. Shane has to raise the cash from his 403-B , which will also cost. Shane describes caring for their two young children: .  .  . 'suddenly it was twelve hours later and you had never once gotten away from it. Being a plaything of the gods is one thing, but being the plaything of children just sucked.']

[Shane is trying to maneuver to retain access to the school's basketball court and well -appointed  weight-room after he retires, in exchange for hosting the annual Writing Awards.]

 "You think it would be worth it?" Heather asked.

"Oh yeah, Full court. Nice surface. Perfect lighting. Protection from the elements, enclosed to prevent the kids from escaping. Plus, the powerhouse, all of those state of the art machines, and Homer and Ollie fucking around with them.

"Ok, so go for it. It just means you have to put up with all the shit at school with a smile for a couple of more weeks."

"Three more weeks."


"Then we'll be good," I said. "At least until my book comes out."

"Why? What happens then"

"Then? Then they are never going to let me set foot on that campus again."

"You mean when they read it?"


"Honey, they're never going to read you book."

I laughed. "That's true."

"Nobody's going to read your book."

Nobody could hurt me like Heather could, and she wasn't even trying.

.     .     .     .     .     .     .
"It's like stepping on a Lego - permanently."

Heather  needed another cortisone shot to live with the bone spur in her foot while governing the traffic caused by the overlapping trucks arriving to unload mountains of overstock at the back of Winn-Dixie giant tractor-trailers battling for space and yielding to Heather's stern governance like the triremes of Ulysses before Athena's gaze.

When they pulled the chains to lower the ramp onto the truck at the back of Winn-Dixie to unload what would become mountains of overstock, Oswald, the lame-duck manager who to his credit was always willing to lend a hand, was helping out and go his middle finger stuck in the chain and snap just like that it was broken. He couldn't bend it and it was all purple-blue-black.

Heater took a third cortisone shot in her foot and the doctor said, "That's enough."

"No more shots?"

"You need to have surgery."

"Really? It's not going to get better? I just want the pain to go away once in a while."

"Isn't there some other job you could do, where you're not on your feet so much?"

"Not in a grocery store."

"Somewhere else then."

"I don't want to work somewhere else. I want to work in a grocery store. I like working in a grocery store. I love working in a grocery store. Is there anything wrong with that?"

"Just your foot."

Winn-Dixie's sales were up sixty percent over Sweetbay's, so what difference did it make how they did things, how much overstock went to rot?

Suicide Bombers by James Jones

The Battle of Midway has been almost universally acclaimed as the turning point of the Pacific War against the Japanese. In four days from June 3 to 6, the outnumbered torpedo-bomber and dive-bomber squadrons from the three U.S. carriers accounted for four of Japan's fleet carriers, sinking the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and the Soryu, over half of the Japanese elite carrier strike force.  It was a crippling loss, which would force Japan back from a highly successful offensive strategy onto a defensive strategy for the rest of the war.

Most of this near ruinous damage was done in a single flaming five-minute attack begun at 10:22 A.M. on June 4, by the dive-bomber squadron from the Enterprise and Yorktown, after the torpedo squadrons from the three carriers had tried, and failed, and been shot down. Coming on high overhead, unnoticed by the Japanese, who were occupied with the U.S. torpedo-bombers making their runs, the dive-bombers were able to swoop down like avenging hellions and deliver their loads on the Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu, without losing a single plane.

The three Jap carriers, turning into the wind with their flight decks crowed with rearmed and refueling torpedo planes and bombers ready for a second take-off were reduced to blazing shambles in seconds, setting of the same dread series of internal fires and explosions  that had done in the Lexington. So the suicidal attacks of the U.S. torpedo-bomber squadrons were not in vain.

There is no doubt that the three torpedo-bomber attacks were suicidal. The first two, by the  Hornet's planes and by those of the Enterprise, were delivered singly, unaided and totally alone, without expectation of help.  Of the fifteen TBDs off the Hornet, only one pilot survived, by clinging to a rubber cushion from his crashed plane. Of the fourteen from the Enterprise, the commander and nine others in his force were shot down. It was sheer luck that dive-bombers of the Enterprise and the dive-bombers and torpedo bombers of the Yorktown, these last already veterans of the Coral Sea, arrived just minutes later. Of the Yorktown's twelve TBDs two survived. The few torpedoes that got launched at all were easily  avoided by the Japanese carriers. No Japanese kamikaze pilot later in the war ever went to his death more open-eyed or with more certain foreknowledge than these men.

It is hard to know what was in the depths of these men's minds.  It is plain, though, that the suicidal nature of their mission was clear to them. We can only speculate about the rest.  Certainly professionalism was a factor. Many were regular navy men, and the rest had the benefit of the semi-professionalism of the U.S. Naval Reserve. A certain sense of sacrifice would help. But they could not be sure their sacrifice would aid anything; and indeed, those who died in the attacks almost certainly did not know whether their deaths had helped their cause. Esprit de corps? Surely; they were America's elite: the flyboys, and naval carrier pilots in addition. Then too, personal vanity and pride are always important factors in situations of this kind, band the sheer excitement of battle can often lead a man to death willingly, where without it he might have balked. But in the absolute, ultimate end, when your own final extinction is right there only a few yards farther on staring back at you, there may be a sort of penultimate national, and social, and even racial, masochism - a sort of hotly joyous, almost-sexual enjoyment and acceptance - which keeps you going the last few steps. The ultimate luxury of just not giving a damn anymore.

Of course, patriotism has to be taken into account, too. Despite the over-milking of that word to death. And perhaps some of them had wives they didn't care about anymore, and were glad to get rid of. Though probably they were too gentlemanly to say so openly. But whatever it was, these men went on in and died, and they were relatively healthy young Americans with no tradition of medieval warrior Bushido, and with good fortune their sacrifice was a big factor in the Midway victory. They were probably not the first, and certainly they were not the last, to carry out a deliberately suicidal mission, but they were the first  large group whose suicides were blessed with success. Much was made over them in the press and in the national propaganda services. They were given about the fullest coverage the media of the time allowed. At least one movie was written about them. And in its secret heart America heaved a sigh of relief to know that its humping parents could still produce men like them. None of this detracted from what they did. Or from what they gained for themselves, in their own private satisfactions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Apostles by Tom Bissell

The scholar  John Painter proposes a complicated, nuanced view of the likely scenario faced by Paul and the Jerusalem church. He identifies no fewer than six factions within the Jerusalem church and Gentile Christian movement.

The first faction, comprising men like the Christian Pharisees mentioned in Acts and referred to by Paul in Galatians as "false brothers", were Law absolutists fiercely opposed  to Paul's missions to the Gentiles.

 The second faction was made up of those  who "recognized the validity of the two missions but were themselves committed to the mission of and to the circumcision"; the leader of this faction, Painter proposes, was James the brother of Jesus.

 The third faction, led by Peter, also accepted the two missions  but with a greater conceptual openness to Gentiles; from Paul's letter to the Galatians, it seems clear Peter accepted that the two missions  had different ground rules, even if the lines between them sometimes blurred and that Gentiles were theoretically free from aspects of Judaic ritual but Jews were not.

 The fourth faction, which counted among its leaders Paul's friend Barnabas, had a more open-minded philosophy on the Law; "Their policy  was that home rules applied when missions intersected."

 The fifth faction, led by Paul, believed in a gospel that obliterated the distinction between Jew and Gentile.

The sixth faction, which comes glimpsingly into view within some of  Paul's letters, "advocated and absolutely law-free mission recognizing no constraints whatsoever, ritual or moral"; Paul's problems with the first three factions might have stemmed from his being unfairly linked to this last and most radical Gentile Christian faction.

 Painter's vision of early Christianity coheres not only with internal New Testament evidence but with the laws of human nature. In any elaborate human undertaking- and here  the  early Christian mission qualifies marvelously -factionalism of this kind is the rule. There is an argument to be made that the gospels themselves are products of similar factionalism.

.  .  .

Throughout Jewish religious history - throughout the history of all religions - there is an abiding tension between traditionalists and modernizers. Modernizers were probably the first monotheists, because the earliest forms of Jewish worship were demonstrably polytheistic, strains of which remain embedded in the Hebrew Bible. Traditionalists such as the Macabees overthrew the Seleucid modernizers seeking to bring Judaism into a place of accommodation with Hellenism, and traditionalists like the Zealots drove a dagger into the corrupted heart of a collaborationist and thus modernizing Temple aristocracy. When Christianity began to win more pagan converts in the second century, staunch traditionalists such as Tacitus and Celsus were horrified [Tacitus believed the Roman Empire had become too inclusive for its own moral good, a place where "all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular"]. The argument between  traditionalism and modernization lives on today within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is and will always been argument about the past and the future, about the pressures of inheritance and the desire for constancy. Although this ageless argument might twist and turn to unlikely effect (with great modernizers such as Paul being adored by the traditionalists of today),the argument itself will never resolve. It will never fade away. It will emerge over and over again, with different parties wearing similar masks,  for every spiritually engaged community is forced to confront the inevitability of newly arisen beliefs and the drifting tectonic plates of assumed morality.  .  .

I do not regard the stories about James son of Zebedee, or any stories about any apostle, as merely stories. All beliefs have moral insinuation, and all representations have political repercussions. James the infidel slayer was adapted for propagandistic by the Franco regime, after all. I do not believe a discernable form of "good" or acceptable or authentic Christianity stands behind these stories. Christianity, like Judaism before it and Islam after it, has always been and will always  be a less than ideal way to understand the world and our place within it.  At the same time, I know there is no purely rational way of understanding the world. A thousand irrational spasms daily derange us all. God is part of the same formless reality as thought, as real as all bits of data that float invisibly through this world. In this sense, all that moves through us is real. To explain the realness of that which we cannot see, we turn to stories left behind by evangelist writers, working behind their complicated veils of anonymity. The footprints they left behind lead us to places we long to be led.  .  .

High above me, on  the colonnaded veranda on the right side of the Santiago de Compostela, a police officer slowly stalks, carrying what appears to be a sniper rifle. I move closer to the church, ant-like in its presence, moving towards it in an ant time. The closer I get, the more majestically eroded it seems. The overgrown yellow moss allover its facade feels cool and lush and soft. I place my hand flush against the marble.

Nothing in this world suggests our overtures toward God are either wanted or needed. Someday this building will fall and the civilization around t. It is our stories that lay balms across out impermanence. I have long story to tell about Gideon's and my walk and suddenly wonder what would happen if I chose not to tell it, to transform it. What if a story was  enough for a thing to be?

.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

* The Catholic position on biblical inerrancy is particularly refreshing. According to the Biblical Commission Instruction of1964, readers are not to understand that the gospels report everything literally or that the events described in them necessarily took place in the manner depicted.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Populism and Conspiracy Theory by Mark Fenster

Democratic politics relies on a gap between the public between  and its elected representatives that is mediated by established political institutions; populism emerges when this gap constitutes a problem, or even a crisis, and when a movement can plausibly offer some more direct or "authentic" means of representation in the name of the people [Panizza, Populism and the Mirror of Democracy]. A populist challenge to an established political order, then, has neither a necessary content nor a necessary relationship to that order. It could be reformist or revolutionary; it could embrace a seemingly more participatory form of democracy; or it could reject democratic processes entirely.

An ever-present element of political action and a rhetorical move available to mainstream and marginal political  actors, populism challenges and subverts more institutionalized, seemingly "mature" political ideologies. Its ongoing and important role in politics demonstrates the failure of a "consensus" model of politics in which stable political parties solicit support from a rational, satisfied public, an economic free market satisfies all demands and preferences, and a technocratic state (whether in a minimal, "night watchman" form or in a social democratic form) corrects any market failures that arise. Unable to resolve all social tensions and political conflicts, and unable to respond to all of the public's passion and to sound definitely in the moral register the public demands, major political parties and mainstream political institutions face continual challenges from populisms of the left, right and independent sort [Chantel Mouffe, On the Political].  Populism offers up and then plays with what Bonnie Honig has called "remainders," unmet demands that inspire the resistance "engendered by every settlement, even by those that are relatively enabling or empowering," excesses left over from attempts to bring social and political order to human activity.  Populist discourse operates in the "perpetual contest, even within an ordered setting" of democratic politics, and in the inevitable fight over the institutional processes of democratic political and social order [Bonnie Honig, Political Theory and the Displacement of Politics].

In Hofstadter's - and, at times, the left-progressives' - conceptualization of populism, the excess or remainder of consensus, whether of the margins or of leftist activists seduced into conspiracy theory, is a pathological refusal of normalcy  and the result of economic, political and cultural crisis. Understanding populism as a democratic logic, however, re-conceptualizes it as a production of the political itself, an aspect of the "perpetual contest" of democracy, rather than as a troublingly sick exception to the democratic ideal. Movements that rely on this logic may do so to further left - or - right-wing causes.

Populism operates as " a dimension of political culture in general,  not simply as a particular kind of overall ideological system or type of organization [Peter Worsley, The Concept of Populism]. Populism  "plays the role of the awkward guest," at once functioning as an element of liberal democracy by encouraging engagement in public participation and mobilization and expressing the popular will of a segment of the population, while it also disrupts the "gentrified domain in which politics is enacted." It operates through charisma, unfettered majorities and leadership, and an absolute sense of good and right;  it eschews such institutional, republican virtues as checks and balances, representation, negotiation, counter-majoritarian rights, and deferral of the public will. It promises redemption while it threatens disruption, unsettlement and revolution [Arditi, Populism or Politics at the Edges of Democracy].  .  . .

Conspiracy theory, based on the perceived secret elite domination over and manipulation of the entirety of economic, political and social relations, has played a role of varied importance in many, but by no means all, populist movements. It remains an element with a long tradition in American politics and culture that has been appropriated for different causes at different times. Conspiracy theory is a particularly unstable element in populism based on such profound suspicion and fear that its successful and thorough-going  incorporation within a large populist movement  would most likely occur in authoritarian or fascist regimes.  .  .

As a popular discourse and rhetoric within democratic politics, populism's  understanding of state and private  power as an estrangement of the people from the power bloc can be appropriated and articulated in different ways by different political movements and social forces, for inclusive and/or exclusive purposes and to revolutionary, reformist and/or reactionary ends. As a subset of populism, conspiracy theory constitutes  an integral aspect of American political culture, one that has different effects in different historical periods. In its apocalyptic narrative vision and semiotic apparatus, conspiracy theory assumes the coming end of a moment cursed by secret power and a (never-to-arrive) new beginning where secrecy vanishes and power is transparent and utilize by good people for the good of all. It may appear in a righteous jeremiad that would claim to be acting on behalf of divine or human justice, positing a necessary end to history through dreadful but deserved events that will lead to the victory of the fellow righteous; it may appear as an ironic apocalypse, facing an unavoidable end with distance and cynicism; or it may appear as a sublime vision of an infinite power-inspiring awe, terror, and pleasure, enabling regressive authorities to promise repressive protection from the great hovering threat. Nascent in all of these appearances is a critique of the contemporary social order and a longing for a better one. Conspiracy theory ultimately fails as a universal theory of power and comprehensive approach  to historical and political research, however, because it not only fails to inform us how to move from the end of the uncovered plot to the beginning of a political movement, it is also unable to locate a position at which we can begin to organize and respect people in the complex and diverse world that it simplifies.

Conspiracy theories can help break oneself free from the quotidian humdrum of normative bourgeois subjectivity, help expose the official, dominant political ideologies as the banal covers for the  brutality of power that they truly are;  a paranoid hermeneutic may aid critical practice and yield important insights and strong theory,  but it will not necessarily lead to good theory, correct answers, or better practice.  They can lead one to obsess over the hidden and in doing so miss the phenomena and oppression that exists on the surface.