Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.
Chemical Valley by David Huebert (Biblioasis). These 11 short stories are unusual both in the choice of characters and in the use of language. They include workers who depend on the local petrochemical industry even as it ruins their future, a long-term care nurse, a dishwasher, a hockey team brawler, high school students overwhelmed by climate change and looking for hope, and parents dealing with the stresses of raising little ones and sustaining their marriages.
The Reindeer Hunters by Lars Mytting (Overlook). This is the engrossing sequel to the spectacular novel “The Bell in the Lake” which should be read first before this one. Both follow families and communities in a remote part of Norway more than a hundred years ago.
Brooklyn Supreme by Robert Reuland (Overlook). This controversial crime novel was written by a white lawyer who worked as a prosecutor early in his career and now is a defense attorney for people wrongly accused of serious offenses. The main character is a white police union staffer whose job is to represent officers accused of wrongdoing. When a Black female officer shoots and kills a Black robbery suspect, the union staffer grapples with questions about truth and justice.
Funeral Train by Laurie Loewenstein (Akashic). In a small Dust Bowl town in Oklahoma in the 1930s, a train derails, killing 15 passengers, and the next night a local resident is strangled to death. Against a backdrop of Depression-era desperation, the sheriff investigates a long list of suspects who have something to hide.
Daughters of Smoke and Fire by Ava Homa (Overlook). Through the story of one family this novel is an introduction to obstacles and injustices faced by Kurds in Iran (and by Kurdish women even more so). There are about 40 million Kurds whose home region was divided after World War I among Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, leaving a legacy of conflict that continues today.
Your Kingdom by Eleni Sikelianos (Coffee House). An unusually inventive poetry collection explores the close biological relationship humans share with other living beings.
The Holy Vote by Sarah Diefendorf (University of California). A sociologist spent two years immersed in a mostly white evangelical mega-church in a relatively well-off suburb of Seattle, studying how the church as an institution and its individual members are dealing with an ongoing dilemma. She found that they want to attract wayward young people who associate the church with racism, sexism, and homophobia, but they also want to continue to identify the traditional white family as the norm and avoid action on inequality of wealth and power. One device they use is the concept that they “hate the sin” (including gayness, for example) but “love the sinner” (meaning they are open to everyone else learning to be like them). To avoid looking at structural inequality, Diefendorf says, they teach that if you aren’t succeeding, it’s because of your own personal failings. They stress each individual’s personal relationship with Jesus, she says, in contrast to an emphasis on the well being of the whole community and larger society that is the focus of many Black churches and other kinds of religious institutions.
Our Lives in Their Portfolios by Brett Christophers (Verso). The fate of housing, transportation, water, food, energy, health care, education, and other essential components of society increasingly is decided by asset manager speculators like Blackstone and BlackRock that are concerned only with short-term profiteering and not with social outcomes. At least 40 percent of global wealth is now controlled by these firms that look to temporarily buy housing or other assets at low prices, drain away whatever they can, and sell at a profit. These speculators now have far more influence on our future than public officials do.
Waiting for an Echo by Christine Montross (Penguin). A psychiatrist who works with incarcerated people with mental illness describes how the U.S. prison system actually makes many inmates less likely to be able to function outside. She also takes a detailed look at Norway’s system that achieves far better results by emphasizing rehabilitation and treatment rather than retribution.
After Black Lives Matter by Cedric Johnson (Verso). A professor of Black Studies argues that Black Lives Matter protests would make more progress by putting more emphasis on the underlying problem of social and economic inequality. Police are deployed to address the symptoms of that inequality, he says, and therefore focusing only on police behavior will not lead to necessary change.
Our Team by Luke Epplin (FlatIron). In 1936, the best Black baseball pitcher, Satchell Paige, and a team of Black players faced off in the first of many exhibition games against one of the best white pitchers, Bob Feller, and an all-white team. Twelve years later, Paige and Feller would be teammates on the first American League team to hire a Black player. This account of baseball’s very reluctant and slow process of integration is centered on those two, another groundbreaking Black player named Larry Doby, and an eccentric white team owner named Bill Veeck.
Elderflora by Jared Farmer (Basic Books). An environmental historian looks at modern civilization through the lens of how ancient trees have been treated. His writing is Thoreau-like in the way it goes far afield to make edifying connections.
Birds and Us by Tim Birkhead (Princeton). With help from interesting illustrations, a biologist looks at humans’ changing relationship with birds from the days of cave dwellers to today, including periods when birds have been worshipped, hunted, driven to extinction, and now (sometimes) protected.
The Peanut Butter Falcon. In this feel-good feature film, a young man with Down Syndrome (played by Zack Gottsagen, who himself has Down Syndrome) escapes from an institution where he is housed and by chance connects with two people (played by Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson) who appreciate his strengths and are searching for a new life themselves.
The Last Suit. An 88-year-old Argentinian man defies his grown daughters and travels to Poland to search for the man who saved him from the Holocaust.
Australian Rules. A white Australian teenager whose best friend and soccer teammate is aboriginal has to decide where his loyalties lie when racism in his family and his community rears its ugly head.
Utama. As climate-fueled drought makes their isolated community unlivable, an old Bolivian couple who herd llamas have to decide whether to cling to the only home they have ever known.
Nudo Mixteco. Ways that women are impacted by poverty, homophobia, and out-migration to the U.S. are the focus of this feature film in which three women return to their remote Mixtec village in Oaxaca.
Workin’ on a World by Iris Dement. In her first album of original songs in many years, Dement holds nothing back as she searches for hope:
I don't have all the answers
to the troubles of the day
but neither did all our ancestors
and they persevered anyway
When I see a little baby
reaching out its arms to me
I remember why I'm workin' on a world
I may never see
Love and Rage by Carsie Blanton. Blanton’s cutesy voice makes a surprising combination with her straight talk about the state of the world.
Boomerang Town by Jaimee Harris. Harris has a way with words that make her music and lyrics fresh, whether she is mining familiar themes like “Love is Gonna Come Again” or more challenging subjects related to addiction, suicide, or rejection of “others” by supposed Christians:
“Are you free, or are you hiding. from the things you don’t agree with or believe in?
Skim the text, find the lines that feed your purpose,
It’s so easy to love your brother on the surface”
Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.
The Swimmers. This feature film is based on the true story of two Syrian sisters, both competitive swimmers, who fled their war-torn country by sea and courageously helped save other refugees in the process. One of the sisters, along with dozens of others, is facing trial in Greece for refugee assistance work they undertook in recent years.
Extraordinary Attorney Woo. In this 16-part series from South Korea, a woman with autism is in her first year as an attorney at a big law firm. Each episode introduces a new case, while following interpersonal dynamics involving the attorney, her coworkers, and her family.
Causeway. Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry star in this skillful feature film. She is recovering from brain injuries suffered while deployed in Afghanistan. He is still dealing with the trauma of a car accident. They get to know each other in a way that avoids a predictable romance storyline or Hollywood ending.
Glass Onion. The makers of the film “Knives Out” this time skewer the tech billionaire class who think that because they are rich they are smarter than everyone else and have no obligation to respect or protect the public interest. It becomes the job of detective Benoit Blanc to disrupt the disrupters.
Carmen. Inspired by true events, this feel-good feature film is about a woman who was essentially a servant for 16 years for her brother, the local priest in a small community in Malta. When he dies, will the village overlook her gender and take advantage of the skills and knowledge she gained during her long years at her brother’s side?
The Sign Painter. A young Catholic man in Latvia in the 1930s makes his living as a sign painter while violating local taboos by wooing a young woman who is Jewish. As a series of authoritarian regimes take over the area, from a homegrown dictator to the Soviets to the German Nazis, the situation for local residents like him goes from absurd to tragic.
Fixing Food. Five documentary segments, each 8 to 12 minutes, profile small-scale, innovative projects to make quality, affordable food more accessible and sustainable. One shows a couple who are producing high-protein crickets. Another features a Native American restaurant that grows and uses foods in traditional ways, without dairy, wheat, or sugar. A third focuses on a multi-story vertical greenhouse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Another describes a community in Maine that is farming kelp as lobstering and other fishing work declines due to climate change. The final segment shows a project in Pittsburgh that is turning food waste into quality meals.
Moroni for President. A gay man who runs for president of the Navajo Nation is the subject of this documentary that sheds a light on the nation’s internal politics and its cultural attitudes.
Diary of a Misfit by Casey Parks (Knopf). A Washington Post reporter bares her soul in this autobiography that focuses on growing up gay in a poor, church-loving family in small-town Louisiana; her complex relationship with her mother; and her life since she moved to Portland, Oregon.
The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter (Harper). These creative and entertaining short stories have a broad range. Climate scientists’ personal lives take a wacky turn as they wonder how to cope with how much they know about humans’ impending doom. An old couple discovers an aspiring writing student taking notes on their conversation in a restaurant. A gay man repeatedly has to come out to his father who suffers from dementia. And more.
The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner (Flatiron). A Jewish woman in German-occupied Poland during World War II hides with her daughter for months in a sympathizer’s barn. They eventually separate for security’s sake and then face a series of obstacles trying to reunite.
A Cowardly Woman No More by Ellen Cooney (Coffee House). Trisha has done her best to fit into her roles as an employee in a bureaucratic corporation, a wife, and a mother. But when she is denied a promotion she has earned, it’s time to rebel.
Fighting in a World on Fire by Andrea Malm (Verso). A thoughtful activist argues that the global climate movement must adopt more militant strategies. Current tactics have proven to be inadequate to force corporations and governments to change course significantly enough and fast enough to prevent rapidly escalating disasters. He discusses what those new strategies might be and responds to likely objections.
Feels Like Home by Linda Ronstadt and Lawrence Downes (Heyday). The famous singer shares stories about her family heritage and growing up in the U.S.-Mexico border region. She also includes recipes and beautiful photos by photographer Bill Steen.
Most Dangerous, Most Unmerciful by J. Malcolm Garcia (Seven Stories). A reporter who spent time in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2015 shares unadorned nonfiction stories about the people he knew there, from U.S. soldiers eager to kill to a woman who set up a detox center for destitute drug addicts to a nine-year-old who hustled on the street to help support his siblings.
Not for Sale edited by Romero, Zuniga, Hernandez, and Torres (Routledge). Many cities provide subsidies and tax breaks for wealthy developers to “redevelop” or “revitalize” areas of “blight,” often with disastrous consequences for low- and middle-income residents and communities of color. In this collection of case studies, analysts look at examples both of harmful projects and community resistance.
The Future We Need by Erica Smiley and Sarita Gupta (ILR Press). Two organizers provide a brief overview of recent efforts in the labor movement to become more inclusive and to challenge the real powers in the economy on issues that affect not only the workplace but also family and community life.
Pandemic, Inc. by J. David McSwane (One Signal). While vaccines and masks saved many lives and kept many cases of illness from becoming more serious, the impact of the Covid pandemic could have been greatly reduced if it weren’t for the greed of corporate profiteers and their political allies.
How to Become an American by Daniel Wolff (University of South Carolina). An historian follows several generations of a Jewish family from the time of the Civil War to World War II as they migrate from Bohemia to the American South and then to Minneapolis. A diary and family letters are supplemented with anecdotes and context about economic, social, and political developments around them. All in all, it becomes a story about a family and a society pursuing an ultimately empty American dream.
Insectpedia by Eric R. Eaton (Princeton). A collection of fascinating stories describes insects all over the world, including their habits and their role in human culture.
The Unforgettables edited by Charles C. Eldredge (University of California). An anthology shines a light on the work of 70 American artists from the past three centuries who deserve greater attention in the opinion of the academics and curators who wrote short essays to go along with samples of the artists’ work.
Dancing on the Moon. Eight peaceful lullabies sung by Sage Meadows.
Old Californio Country Tuneful, easy listening covers of songs by John Prine, Neil Young, Guy Clark, Jason Isbell, Merle Haggard, and more.
My syndicated newspaper column talks about the human impact in my town and others as working people and farmers essentially have given heirs to the Walmart fortune and the chair of Starbucks a $4.6 billion "grant" to buy the Denver Broncos football team. What can we do about the fact that a few people have more wealth than they could ever use at the expense of so many people who are struggling without affordable housing, health care, education, child care or other basics?
"They Say the War Is Over" by Matt Witt is a nonfiction short story published in the literary and arts journal Cirque, Edition #24, Summer 2022. This "timely and dramatic personal account about race, class, and war" can be read free in PDF form at this link, or on pages 46-50 free in Cirque online.
This article appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:
Going On a Lion Hunt
By Matt Witt
“Going on a lion hunt! But I’m not afraid! Cause I got my guns! And my bullets at my side!” – Scoutorama.com
“Going on a Lion Hunt” is a children’s activity used by Scout troops, summer camps, and others. I remember it from when I was a kid. Children get in a circle. The adult leader starts a call-and-response chant about going to hunt a lion. The kids call out that they are not afraid since they are bringing their guns on the hunt, and then they act out overcoming obstacles like muddy terrain, a river, a cave, and more.
“For those who long for rugged beauty unspoiled and untamed by man, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is one of the few places in the Southwest that can lay claim to such a lack of man's accomplishments. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.” – U.S. Forest Service
One morning in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness south of Flagstaff, Arizona, my brother, his son, and I encountered an older man in hunting clothes talking to someone by two-way radio.
Soon, we realized that the side of the hill ahead of us was crawling with hound dogs – running, sniffing, and baying.
At first, I was hesitant to approach the man. I live in Oregon, where armed men not long ago took over a national wildlife refuge for more than a month, trashed it, and threatened its employees, yet the leaders walked away scot free. The rural part of the state where I reside is increasingly plagued by armed groups that espouse a mixture of white male supremacy and hostility to public lands. Asking even innocent questions of strangers with guns could be a mistake.
But then again, the old man could be like a former neighbor of mine in rural Virginia. That neighbor hunted because he didn’t have a lot of extra money and counted on five deer per year as part of his household’s food supply. Although we didn’t hunt ourselves, we were willing to let that neighbor cross onto our land when he needed to fill his freezer.
So after a few minutes my brother and I asked this man what he was doing.
“Nothing gets the blood pumping more than coming up on hounds that have bayed or treed a mountain lion!” – Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters
He said he was serving as the base for a group of men who were following ten hounds he had provided to them.
When he didn’t reveal more, I asked, “Are they tracking a mountain lion?”
“Correct,” he said.
When I asked how he knew the cougar was in the area, he said he had found a deer it had killed and eaten, and the dogs had followed the big cat’s scent from there.
We saw that he was closely monitoring a GPS device that received signals from transmitters attached to each dog so he could tell the men the hounds’ locations.
“Is the idea that the hounds will tree the cougar?” I asked.
“Correct,” he said.
If the hounds got close enough to the lion, ancient instinct would kick in from the time, long ago, when cougars had to fear packs of wolves. The terrified lion would climb a tree, knowing the hounds couldn’t do the same. Eventually, the men would arrive where the baying hounds were gathered and shoot the motionless cat at close range.
“I don’t know if we’ll get this one,” he said. “It’s a runner.”
“5 day Guided Mountain Lion Hunts are $5,000.00 per person. Weapon types can be archery, muzzleloader, centerfire rifle or centerfire handguns. Weapon choice is not as critical as other big game hunts.” – Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters
“5 Days Any Legal Lion $5000. These hunts are conducted on side-by-side's or 4wheelers.” – Killer Lion Hunts Guides
It seemed the man wasn’t eager to share much more information, so we didn’t ask about the financial arrangement between him and the men who were following his dogs. But when I got home I searched online for the going rate. At $5,000 per person, this apparently is not a hobby for the Walmart worker who makes $11 an hour, or for teachers or health care workers or Uber drivers or anyone else who lives on a budget.
“Mountain lion hunting is meeting the Department’s management objective of… providing recreational opportunities for 6,000 hunters per year.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department
“As long as the mountain lion hunters are walking into the wilderness and are not using any mechanized form of transportation and no motorized equipment, they are legal under the Wilderness Act.” – U.S. Forest Service
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “About 850 livestock operators presently graze 56,000 cattle on public lands in Arizona.” But protecting ranchers’ profits isn’t a significant reason for killing mountain lions. Only an average of 27 of the big cats are killed in Arizona each year because a rancher claimed a case of “cattle depredation” – less than one-thirteenth of the average annual “harvest” of lions in that state by “hunters” seeking “recreational opportunities.”
“Trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 lions in the U.S. in the last decade.” – Humane Society Report, “Cecil 2,” 2016
“Since 1890, there have been 29 fatal attacks by mountain lions on humans in North America.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department
My brother, his son, and I left the old man and continued hiking. We could still hear the hounds’ baying and see their movements. I wondered if this might be my long-awaited chance to see a mountain lion. A few years ago, I came across fresh prints in newly fallen snow not far from my Oregon home. And my son and daughter-in-law saw one calmly walking through the woods only a couple hundred yards from our house. But I never have had that good fortune.
I found myself imagining the big cat racing across this Arizona trail in front of us, and wondered if we would try to use our hiking poles to fend off the dogs long enough for the cougar to escape, and what sort of confrontation that might create with the gunmen. That didn’t happen, of course, as the lion seemed to be getting away without our help.
During our time in the area, we climbed to the top of massive red rock formations caused by powerful natural forces over millions of years.
We walked on an iced-over stream that reflected reds and yellows coming from steep and narrow canyon walls.
We trekked for miles through clumps of giant old trees – pinyon, alligator bark juniper, oak, sycamore, and more – and wondered what will happen to them and other living things there as the climate continues to get hotter and drier.
“The southwestern United States is expected to become more prone to droughts with climate change. The resulting loss of vegetation will not only impact herbivores like mule deer; their main predator, mountain lions, might take an even larger hit.” – NASA
In our visit to red-rock wilderness we had gone on our own kind of hunt. But contrary to the old kids’ game, we were afraid – not of the lion, but for our common future.
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