Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I’ve been thinking about survival a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about it because in the past few months I have read three books about survival. One was “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families” and one was “A Long Way Gone” and the last one was “Peeling the Onion”. These books are about wars that overwhelm everything around them. “Peeling the Onion” is about World War II” and seemed to have a level of sophistication about how this “modern” war was fought. Of course we all know how “modern” the Germans were. The Germans did not murder Jews with the kind of passion that the Rwandans or the Sierra Leone’s used in murdering their fellow countrymen, but they still did. Grass was 17 when he was given a gun and told to go and start killing people. He was not 12, but by the end of the war the Germans were pushing the boundaries.

There has been an argument made that Rwanda happened because of famine: that the survival mechanism that was really at play was a desire to eat. This type of war seems to be part of the history of the world. You read the story in “A Long Way Gone” and the kid talks about essentially sitting in a tree in a forest for weeks afraid to move because of the wild animals, and surviving on some type of fruit he could not identify but that he hopped would not kill him. There was nothing noble about what he was doing. He just wanted to stay alive; he wanted to stay alive because his genetic programming demanded it. I don’t believe it was even a conscious choice.

When you read books like this you become horrified by the level of brutality that people are capable of. Ishmael Beah in “A Long Way Gone” never really says what he did. He talks about kids around him but rarely directly about himself. It is hard to admit what we will do to survive. In modern day America no one is feeding cocaine and heroin to large numbers of 12 year old boys and encouraging them to kill whole villages. But we face survival questions every day. Homeless people spend every day figuring out how to survive. Homeless in NYC particularly need to work hard to avoid freezing to death in the winter. For those of us walking by them we must wonder how far we are from this life. It colors everything we do.

I am not sure you can ask yourself how far you would go to survive. I’m not sure you have as much control over the instinct to survive as you think. I would certainly never be a guard in a concentration camp. In “A Long Way Gone” the kid is put in the situation of being asked to cut the throat of a villager he knows will have his throat cut even if he refuses. The only difference is if he doesn’t do it then both he and the villager will die. He chooses to survive. That choice leads to an amazing book.

Monday, February 4, 2008


I like the fact that people have written about what is happening in my old school, even when it has nothing to do with anything I have written. Keep it up, writing is a good outlet and does keep you sane.

I do agree that there are many agendas in the DoE that we find hard to comprehend. I think the corruption that exists is the type of deep cynical corruption that existed in most Soviet countries. This is part of the structure of this type of government. It is caused by the same structural elements in the DoE and it has been exacerbated by the current administration and the UFT. It comes from very centralized power and very little accountability.

Keep up you writing.

Is the story of the bull whips really true?