Sunday, August 30, 2020

Who Really Paid for the Sun King's Versailles? A Look at Le Code Noir and France's Slave Trade

 If behind each gorgeously ornate Baroque cathedral in Mexico and throughout Latin America there is a blood-soaked history, is the same the case for Louis XIV, the self-appointed Sun King, and his stunning complex, Versailles?  

In a word, “yes.”  The sugar plantations and the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean produced the vast wealth needed to supplement the draconian taxation system in place in rural France. The French were the third largest slave traders in the world, after the British and the Portuguese. The sugar and indigo plantations in the Caribbean included those in Haiti (Saint-Domingue), with 773,000 slaves, Martinique, with 217,200, and Guadeloupe, with 73,000 (Slavery and Remembrance, 2020).  There was also a significant French slave trade to North America through New Orleans. 

There was an ongoing high demand for slaves to work in the sugar plantations where crushed sugar cane was used for fuel, molasses, sugar, and the base for rum.  Work in the fields, as well as in the sugar cane processing plants, was dangerous and harsh, with long hours and few moments to rest. The plantation owners profited from the sale of their sugar cane-based products, but often the largest profits came from the slave trade itself. The slave ships and their voyages were financed by investors who often received enormous profits, although there could be risk, such as disease, shipwreck, or slave uprising, which give some indication of the horrific conditions during the “Middle Passage” – where the deeply unfortunate Africans were chained down in the lower decks of aging, borderline-unseaworthy boats. 

Le Code Noir in the Caribbean and in Louisiana

Called the most monstrous document of modern times (Sala-Molins, 2006), the Code Noir (Black Code) was passed in 1685 by Louis XIV in Versailles. Drafted by Controller General of Finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683),  Le Code Noir contained 60 articles that specifically addressed the way that slaves were to be treated. Immediately implemented, the document was used throughout the French colonial empire. 

A later version of it, applying specifically to Louisiana, was passed in 1724 after a large number of slaves were transported to New Orleans as a part of the disastrous “Mississippi Scheme” investment bubble, described at length in Charles Mackay’s book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841).  Napoleon Bonaparte’s Code Civil (1803) incorporated it in response to the Haitian revolution that led to independence and the abolition of slavery in that country. 

The Code reflects Governor Bienville’s fear that the quickly growing population of slaves who were brought in to provide labor might overwhelm the non-slaves. He wanted to control a rapidly growing slave population. 

Le Code Noir (The Black Code)

Le Code Noir goes a long way in explaining the deeply implanted ideas, attitudes, and beliefs that still exist in the American South. After all, the Code was a Code of Law and as such, enforceable by pain of legal punishment.  It governed the way that whites and blacks must interact with each other and set out very rigid and explicit limits.  

Le Code Noir also helps us disavow ourselves of any illusions that slavery was anything but a cruel, dehumanizing practice.  It is common to hear the argument that slavery was tantamount to a paternalistic social welfare system.  If one has no contact with facts, it might be possible to believe that fairy tale.  But all one has to do is to read a few of the 60 articles to gain an appreciation of how nefariously cruel it was. Not only did it incorporate physical brutality into its law, it created and hardened toxic, inhuman ideas about fellow human beings. Those ideas persist into today’s world. 

A quick review of some of the sixty articles give us a sense of how all-encompassing they were and also how they reflected the values of the time and also set them in place for the future. 

Overview of the Articles in Le Code Noir

Articles I-VI:  This part of the Code Noir focuses on the Roman Catholic religion. The first article states that any Jews who may be living on the island must leave.  It does not say why, so we must enter into a bit of conjecture. No other religions except Roman Catholicism are allowed, and all slaves must be baptized and instructed into the faith. This edict provides insight into why and when the religious beliefs they carried from Africa would have been blended into and potentially disguised or cloaked by a veneer of Catholicism.  This seems very similar to what happened in Peru and other parts of Latin America, in a process of syncretism. 

The Moor’s Baptism.  Ludwig Emil Grimm (1841)

Articles VII – XIII: These articles rigidly control the relationships between slaves and non-slaves, and they set out complex rules and punishments for having relationships, attempting to marry, having children, and more.  These articles are profoundly dehumanizing and invasive of something that would ordinarily be considered to be very private and personal. 

Articles XIV – XXVII:  Slaves are not allowed to carry anything that could be used as a weapon. These articles describe the kinds of punishment to be meted out in response to different behaviors. They are incredibly cruel. Slaves are not allowed to engage in commerce or to have money. 

There are numerous articles that describe how and when a slave can be punishable by death.  Slaves could be put to death for something as harmless as slapping one in the face. It was also perfectly legal to beat slaves with straps whenever the master thought it was warranted. 

These are just a few of the sixty separate articles. Reading them makes the 21st century reader feel a sense of horrified astonishment, and it’s extremely hard to imagine how and why such behavior was justified. 

Louisiana’s Code Noir (1724) was based on Louis XIV’s law, and it made it illegal for blacks and whites to marry. Centuries of institutionalized racism, and the reinforcement through the judicial system, probably make people unaware of their own deep biases. 

The Person behind Le Code Noir

Jean-Baptiste Colbert is credited for designing and carrying out a program of economic reconstruction that made France the dominant power in Europe.  That economic reconstruction included increased tribute and taxation in the countryside, expanded slave trade, expanded commerce with the colonies, and an expansion into the Caribbean. The provisions in Le Code Noir are law, but they are also crimes against humanity. It is important to note that although Jean-Baptiste Colbert drafted the Code, he was by no means an outlier.  His views were widely held by individuals who owned the plantations, mills, and equipment. There is a sculpted bust of Jean-Baptiste Colbert in the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

Portrait of Jean-Baptist Colbert

Le Code Noir and Literature

The laws surrounding the treatment, conditions, and interactions of slaves permeated all aspects of southern life.  Many works of literature incorporated the code and depicted the impact on individuals who were living their lives. 

One contemporary example written in Louisiana while the impact of the Code.  Louisiana resident Kate Chopin’s “Desiree’s Baby,” a short story published in 1893, depicts the anguish of a woman of uncertain origin who has married one of the most prominent members of the parish. In the story, Armand Aubigny, the owner of L’Abri plantation, marries Desiree, who was foundling of unknown origin, who was raised by the compassionate Madame Valmont. In this story, the baby that Desiree has with her husband, is absolutely adored by both. 

However, one day, doubt is cast into the race of the baby.  Desiree is accused of being of mixed parentage.  Grief stricken, she leaves with her baby, possibly to never return.  Her husband watches her leave. Then he assembles all the old letters and other correspondence he can find. As he goes through the documents, he happens upon a letter from his mother to his father.  In it, she expresses gratitude to her husband and to the fact that their son will never know the fact that he has African blood.


Grimm, Ludwig Emil. Die Mohnrentaufe (The Moor’s baptism)

Mackay, C. (1841). Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Project Gutenberg.

Sala-Molins, Louis. (2006). Dark Side of the Light: Slavery and the French Enlightenment, translated by John Conteh-Morgan, University of Minnesota Press.

Slavery and Remembrance. (2020). The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Listen to the recording here (podcast)

This vast grey white slab was once an outlet mall before the May 3rd, 1999 tornado outbreak sucked it into its vortex of change and dismay.

It was your birthday and we were dining at On the Border, watching the monitors as electric lines and transformers flashed abeyance to the tornado’s raucous sojourn.

Now, the slab is there, a perfect congregating point for 10 or so flashy cars seeking new owners; an impromptu car lot replete with hopes and dreams and the ghost’s footsteps over the vestigial trace of walls now long gone more than 20 years.

My mind's eye reconstructs that once-proud outlet mall, an important employer for a small town halfway between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

It purveyed its quirky treasures and extraordinary values for Turnpike travelers on an Oklahoma New Silk Road.

It was my lovely prairie caravanserai; I loved to sip on a cappuccino and watch the ebb and flow of human interaction shaped around the buying and selling and selecting of those consumables we now consider our life.

March 7, 2020
Norman, Oklahoma

Monday, June 22, 2020


Listen to the recording here: Podcast.

Footsteps clatter
fairy tales crossing
a wooden bridge
or the slow ascent
metal wheels, the rackety thrill

Flags fly high
over the original immersive idea
a theme park
a triggered memory
what a Boardwalk ought to be
sands slipping away with the offshore currents

You know what friendship is
tides, currents, water sliding by
and suddenly you have a point bar or a barrier island

a towering rollercoaster on shore
a soft smile in your mirror

March 6, 2020

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Strategy for Analyzing Joseph Wright of Derby's "Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump" (1768).

Joseph Wright of Derby is one of my favorite artists, and his explorations of science / natural philosophy tell us a great deal about life in the 18th century, and underlying beliefs.
Please watch my guide for analyzing Joseph Wright's "Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump" (1768).

Monday, June 01, 2020


Listen to the podcast. 

The sharp snap
of the sacred
the sugar, the will

bent, persuaded
by slow syrup drizzling
down from on high
your words whispered

A delicate demitasse
in a tiny tangle
napkins, ribbons

The crackle of the wrapper
a sense of a new beginning
words lying on their sides
on my outstretched palm

the structure of belief

March 6, 2020

Sunday, May 24, 2020


Listen to the podcast / poetry reading. 

Harsh buzz whine whir scream
blind illumination
You’re the perfect cicada
17 years of anticipation
a short sweet hot
moment of life
for life’s sake

I’m only here to breed
let’s get that straight
That’s why my hallmark sound is
of whip-sawed metal
and the concrete
you stroll down as though
summer would never die

If the night is sweet
the air damp and warm
the dog watering fountain splashy
with the sound of a collar and fur shaking
I may take a moment to stare into the stars
Imagine stardust under my incessantly vibrating wings

I saw you as you took that final fall
my pine needles will say nothing
As your wings turn to weeping
the night deepens
leaves not a mark

August 24, 2019

Monday, April 27, 2020

Prevailing during the Pandemic: New Revenue Sources and New Diversification Strategies

If you operate oil and gas wells, own a basketball team, work for an airline, provide catering for large conferences, or provide science or engineering for the energy industry, COVID-19 has hit you like an F5 tornado. Your business will be hit hard over the next 18 - 24 months.  What do you do during that time?

Here is a 7-step strategy for diversifying yourself and your business to weather the storm, and emerge with new potential revenue streams that can work now, and continue in the future.

That strategy will include the following, and more:
  •    Redeploying: Repurposing your human capital and existing resources to meet current and emerging needs
  •    Investments 2020 - 2022: New investments in manufacturing and capacity building in response to COVID-19
  •    Selective import substitution: global supply chain resilience with local results
  •    Economies of scale revisited, this time with smart technology
  •    Comparative advantage revisited: this time with smart technology and local markets
  •    7-Step Plan: Identifying new revenue sources and diversification opportunities 
  •    Aligning your assets (human and physical capital) with emerging needs

Background and Contexts
In the span of a mere few months, the much of the world went from a state of exuberant self-actualization to the most primal level of survival (health, food, shelter) insecurity.  Import-dependent island economies were perhaps the first to run out of food, water, medicine, and other necessities. Even even the largest economies faced and will continue to face tremendous supply chain ruptures that are of such a scale that they could usher in severe shortages of basic necessities of food, medicine, medical equipment, transportation and warehousing that could result in widespread hunger, disease, and structural unemployment.

Link to the PowerPoint presentation (pdf format):

Link to a video recording / podcast of the PPT presentation. :)

Virtually every country in the world has been plunged into the same situation, resulting in a common outcry, “Never again will we be reliant on sole source supplies!” and the desire to establish multiple sources of food, medicine, and essential products, as well as re-engineer production so that shuttered businesses can pivot and provide needed services. Countries and communities are recognizing that they must have blended and balanced economies in order to weather pandemics, massive natural disasters, and conflicts.

From 2020 through 2022, the old supply chains will move from disarray to reconfiguration due to factory closures, raw materials shortages, insufficient quantities of the correct type and size of transportation and storage, labor shortages, protectionist walls of tariffs that seek to block exports of food, medicine, and strategic goods, critical shortages of spare parts, and asymmetrical collapses of demand.

So, while some industries will essentially cease operations, while others will be unable to achieve needed capacity to satisfy demand. Industries that will cease or at least greatly reduce operations will include oil and gas drilling and exploration, refining, air travel, hospitality, tourism, large-scale manufacturing.

Investment: 2020-2022
The vulnerabilities will be addressed by investing in local manufacturing to bolster local or regional food, medicine, transportation needs in order to avoid supply chain issues.  Instead of a heavy reliance on Just-In-Time, there will be a new emphasis in the following:
  • Small manufacturing, food processing, and storage
  • Water processing and storage
  • Flexible manufacturing (3D printing, etc.)
  • Pharmaceuticals precursors
  • Intermediary warehouses (can be repurposed Big Box stores and mall spaces)
  • Medical equipment and supplies
  • Equipment for work / live / study at home (computers, video cameras, productivity apps,  arts and crafts supplies, dumbells & kettle bells & yoga mats)
  • Equipment for home and small acreage farming: equipment, seeds, hoop houses, green houses, etc.

Temporarily Repurposing to Prevent Hunger, Help Nations Recover
Pandemic-devastated industries may survive by generating cash flow by pivoting into other operations. Industries that will cease or at least greatly reduce operations will include oil and gas drilling and exploration, refining, air travel, hospitality, tourism, large-scale manufacturing.
  • Oil and gas exploration, production, transportation: Reuse equipment and capabilities; switch to generating electricity for on-site manufacturing / server farms
  • Pipe and valves? Now home gym equipment and gardening tools? 
  • Refining: Switch to the grades where there are still needs in long-haul transportation and generators
  • Manufactured homes / structures for supervision?  Pivot to greenhouses and gardening storage buildings
  • Tourism:  Transform for safety? 
  • Air Travel: Convert to cargo? 
  • Hospitality: Convert for flexible labor needs? Traveling workers? 
Selective Import Substitution and Avoiding Sole Source Suppliers
In the past, import substitution was negatively viewed. Now selective import substitution offers a number of benefits:

Safety net for the supply chain
Strategic reserve for critical food, energy, medical, equipment supplies

As a form of protectionism, import substitution was perceived as inefficient and ultimately too expensive for the consumers, and it also encouraged bloated, inefficient, and outdated local manufacturing. However, during and after a destructive and disruptive pandemic when the sole sources are no longer available, having at least 3 potential suppliers is vital. Having multiple sources of supply helps weather ongoing flare-ups of the pandemic, regional lockdowns, shortages of container ships or port facilities, lack of storage.  Seeing the economic devastation caused by the pandemic, it becomes clear that without exception, all nations of the world are vulnerable.

Using Technology to Improve Economies of Scale 
When some of the massive poultry and pork processing plants in the U.S. were forced to shut down due to a COVID-19 stricken workforce, a large percentage of the country’s meat / protein supply was placed in jeopardy. Compounding the problem was the fact that pork farmers had no place to send their mature animals and faced the possibility of having to slaughter them. Not only was this absolutely horrifying from a humane perspective, the fact that doing so would trigger shortages for late 2020 and early 2021 is a real possibility.  What is the solution?  Using distributed applications to transport the pigs, plus process them in alternative locations the key.

Economics of scale apply to marketing / distribution as well. For example, if you've recently pivoted and how market storage sheds instead of wellsite trailers, you can partner with larger distributor to get the word out. If you are now selling kettlebells and dumbbells for home gyms, you can market through Amazon as well as directly. You'll also need to work with someone for a social media blitz -- keep in mind that in today's global pandemic, social media presence is a "must."

In this case, we're looking at pork processing.  However, it is just one example that could be modified and used for other industries:

An intervention to help the pork processing plants that are having to shut down due to lack of a healthy labor force and safe conditions.
Identify the beleaguered pork processing facilities
Needs assessment: what do they need? Are substitute slaughterhouses needed?
Alternative processing (will let people know when they have space for the pork)
On-demand transportation (Pork Lift)
Warehousing (repurposed restaurants?)
Alternative retail? (Insta Cart for Operation Pork Lift?)

Rethinking Comparative Advantage
We import from countries because they have comparative advantage and can produce goods so that the cost to import them, even with transportation and storage, costs less than to import the product.

For example, pineapples can be grown in Hawaii and shipped to stores in the continental U.S. for much less than it would cost to grow pineapples in a greenhouse. But, what happens if the ports are closed and there are no container ships to transport the pineapple? Then, comparative advantage falls apart.

For some foods and essential products that are in high demand, it is worthwhile to produce them at home, even though it is not always the lowest possible price.  It is at that time, too, that countries that have gamed the system by manipulating their currencies or by subsidizing their exporting countries will begin to show their vulnerabilities.

Why have they played such an expensive game?  Usually the short-run response is that they want to keep their labor force fully employed (and out of mischief), and the long-run end-game is to destroy the competition to result in being an oligopoly and being the sole-source vendor for which there is no substitute.

 But, in a pandemic, the vulnerability makes countries very unwilling to rely on a sole source, particularly when it is a foreign country that could easily become extortionate.  Perhaps this would not be the case for pineapples, but it certainly could be for important precursors to important / vital medicines such as antibiotics.

Countries that do not have balanced economies and rely on exports (primary products, manufactured goods), imports for intermediary goods (re-export), services (tourism, financial services, hospitality) are particularly negatively affected, and their unemployment numbers are staggeringly high. Without a blended and balanced economy, the unemployment can quickly become structural. 

Operation Rescue:  Repurpose Existing Capacity, Rescue Economies from Sole Source and Sole Client Dependency

Step 1:  Needs Assessment: Identify “Pain Points” 
What are the most urgent needs that have the highest level of negative consequences?
  • Food Supply
  • Cleaning supplies 
  • Medical supplies / oxygen equipment, etc. 
  • Labor supply // workers at the right skill level
  • Clothing / shoes (especially for growing children)
  • Car parts / truck parts / spare parts 
  • Farm and industrial equipment, etc – spare parts
  • Construction equipment / building materials
  • Home work and study tools (computers, cameras, arts and crafts kits)
  • Home and small acreage gardening (tools, storage buildings, greenhouses, irrigation systems)
  • Industrial / commercial-scale disinfectants and sprays for grocery stores, essential services, and later for night-time disinfecting for all shared spaces
  • Home gyms (exercise equipment, dumbbells, kettle bells, yoga mats, balance balls)
Step 2:  Capacity Assessment (internal and external – starting with very proximal)
a)  inventory of what you have on hand
b)  inventory of what you can get
c)  inventory of what we would like to have
d)  storage capacity  (for storing other things?)
e)  informal new warehouses?  What can we use?  Goodwill, empty Family Dollar, empty restaurants, mall stores, Tulsa Promenade, OKC Crossroads

Step 3:  Where are the most urgent needs, and what are the steps to get there?  
Identify the need and propose local alternatives
What’s keeping it from happening?
What are people lacking?

Step 4:  Proposing solutions
Identify and place in warehouses / identify substitutes and warehouse them / distribution. This is the stage for proposing solutions in general terms, to start envisioning where and how the solutions can be implemented.

Challenge conventional wisdom!
Challenge the “eternal verities” of economics, finance, human relations.  Here are main categories:
  • Labor Solutions
  • Transportation Solutions
  • Food supply solutions
  • Medical / pharmaceutical solutions
  • Home productivity solutions (work, study, gardening)
  • Home and small acreage gardening (home and urban gardens / coops)
  • Small scale food preservation (canning, drying, freezing solutions)
  • Storage solutions (freezers, refrigerators, small sheds for supplies)

  • Selective import substitution
  • 2 or 3 contingency sources (adequate substitutes) for each product
  • Blended economy with imports, exports, manufacturing, and service
  • Improving economics of scale so that small factories are profitable
  • Rethinking comparative advantage:  Small, local, flexible – now economic
  • Small-scale manufacturing that is flexible and near markets 
  • Using machine learning / analytics to work with economies of scale
  • Flexible factories with 3D printing, adaptable manufacturing
  • Rethinking comparative advantage:  Small, local, flexible to meet local needs quickly
  • Simple, easy-to-modify, accommodates multiple raw materials and substitutes
Step 5:   Selective import substitution and economies of scale
Which imports wreak the most havoc when they are unavailable?
Where can we use technology to make small scale operations more flexible and economic
Where can we “export” our production ?? 
Repurposing uneconomic / dormant capacity: if you have an oil industry processing / transportation, etc.  – can you use these for other industries? The “survival industries”?
Agility-Maker:  Proactively develop contracts and agreements and MOUs for the “new” business arrangements; help be a facilitator and also negotiator … insurance, permits … what kind of package will this require?

Selective import Substitution in the Informal Economy: The Mexican Drug Cartel Shakes its Dependence on Imported Precursors
This is an intriguing example of how agile criminal networks can be. It is useful to study because if amoral (I would argue "immoral") organizations can innovate, so can positive, moral ones!
  • Pharmaceutical precursors (now manufactured in India and China and exports are blocked) – setting up new pharmaceutical labs.  
  • According to Ben Westhoff, author of Fentanyl, Inc.  (2019), most precursors for cartel-traded methamphetamine and fentanyl comes from a now-shuttered state-supported chemical plant in Wuhan, China.  
Drug cartels essentially ordered online and the chemicals were shipped to Mexico where they were processed into the kinds of street drugs (methamphetamine, fentanyl, “bath salts”) that plague the U.S. and Canada. Now, the cartels are hiring local chemists and setting up local labs to replace Wuhan supplies. They believe it is well worth the investment since, according to Logan Pauley, analyst at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, the prices for the precursors have risen from 25% to 400% since late February 2020.

o Question:  if the informal economy can be so agile, why can’t the legitimate formal economy follow suit, but do so for good, and not evil ???

Recycling / reusing containers:  While blow-molding low density polyethylene facilities are expanded, and 3D printing centers expand, in the short run it is a good

Step 6:  Re-opening Recently Closed Larger-scale Manufacturing: 
Which ones are most necessary, and where are their components coming from? Which plants can be reactivated? Are there any “old school” shuttered plants that can be opened back up—even though they may be circa 2012 or later? 2019?

Let’s look at every plant shut down in 2019 and see which ones we can open back up quickly. Granted, some will be obsolete, and the products may not be competitive in the world market, but if there is a local need, it is possible that the initial investment could be recovered in 18 or 24 months.

This is particularly true if supply chains continue to broken and there is worldwide protection of strategic or key products required for the survival of the people of a country.
Manufacturing:  tires, parts, HVAC, water processing, refrigeration units, gardening supplies, home fitness, etc.
Food processing:  packaging, desiccators, drying, etc.
Hospitals, motels, etc.: Multi-purpose for telemedicine centers, etc.
Pharmaceuticals:  precursors for key medicines; delivery systems
* Converting small buildings and manufacturing into storage sheds, greenhouses, home and small-acreage gardening supplies, home-based gyms

Step 7:  Temp-Army for Tyson’s (and other “make or break with labor” industries)
With high unemployment, but still undetermined labor mobility (is housing available for temporary workers?), there is no need for crops to go unharvested, meat packing plants to be empty, or for key industries to shut down due to lack of healthy workers.

It must be pointed out as well that many unions and other groups use the pandemic as an opportunity to pressure management into capitulating and agreeing to increased pay, benefits, and work conditions.

Work Alert! app or repository for listing urgent, short-term labor needs
Optimize labor mobility, and build redundancy in our system
Reward the temp agencies for filling the vacancies
Bonuses for free agents
Resolve labor disputes and unreasonableness on both sides
Evaluate the workplace and modify it to make it safe
Give the workers the equipment they need to be safe; and provide training (for example, installing a sneeze guard?  Be sure to wipe it down with bleach at least 3 times a day!)
* Obtain industrial-scale disinfectants

General Suggestions for Co-Existing with COVID-19: 
Dealing with painful messages – maintain a solution-centered approach
Communication skills – conflict resolution, accepting messages, listening, spacing out the information intake (step away & think about what  you want to say)
David Burns – the “Feeling Good” book and the “Feeling Good Handbook” …
Evaluations and “look back” studies – learn from our challenges

General Needs / products
Mask Dispensers for places of business
 Electrostatic cleaning for quick, effective disinfecting
Don’t have a mask? Buy one here for one little dollar bill! (or credit card or Apple Pay or Venmo or CashApp)
Selective use of cobots for the most high-risk part

Food Supply Chain:
Crops: Planting & harvesting
Food processing:
Transportation: Getting the pigs to the processing plant? Getting milk to the cheese factory?
Food-Move (match the specialized transport with the need & look at what can be adapted from other industries) …

Sunday, March 08, 2020

Brief Poems: Cattle on a Hill

Podcast: click here.


They cling to their dry crackly hopes and misplaced modesty:
Leaves that will not fall.

They endeavor to create an illusion of solidity and sempiternal life
Yet they simply transmit a message of never letting go.

Whether that is good or bad
I will never know.

Norman, Oklahoma
March 7, 2020


They are eating the tough dry grass of winter.
It fills their mouths but perhaps not their minds
except to remind them what it does not have:
stick-to-the-ribs grains and blossoming flowers.

And on a beige carpet
Jackson Pollock working with weeds, not paint:
dribbles of cocklebur, butterfly milkweed, hoary alyssum
and a poke sallet banner bending in the wind --
Hail, Spring!

The greening of the fields
makes my heart beat fast with joy
but I must remember –
the first greens are always the most deadly.

March 6, 2020
Norman, OK


The first few days of March
     come and go
         in a whirlwind of the mind
         when nothing seems to stick
               to the bare trees of memory
         until overnight white and curiously odorous
                                    flower clouds fly up

      punctuate the wordless
          timidly deciduous trees
          so that the idea of a message
                with its contradictions of beauty
                        and a noxious scent

      sends a message of reality
                rather than idealizing gazes

March 7, 2020
Norman, OK

Bradford Pear Trees in Oklahoma



Cedars burned by a prairie fire
two or three years now gone by now

half-naked skeletons
draped in scorched rags

their ash quaffed by the wind

somewhere between
desire and fear

march 7, 2020
norman, oklahoma


A field of sheep
A field of sleep

Those odd, square-shaped ponds
Storing oil pumped from shallow wells

The oil field below rumbling into a gusher
Men covered in mud and sweat

    Those were the days
    Oh yes, they were

Joy and infinite potential
Long before we knew –

    a lake of oil
    a lake of pain

From the highway, I see
   nubbins of wool

   knobs of cedars
          and a field

               drifting off to sleep

March 7, 2020
Norman, Oklahoma

I Will Keep You Safe

Podcast. Link to recording.

In 1887, a small woman with delicate features sailed with 14 families to Paraguay to establish the “Nueva Germania,” something that began as a grand utopian experiment, but in the end had fewer than 100 settlers. The doll-like charismatic leader was Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, the sister of Friedrich Nietzsche. Friedrich had already written The Birth of Tragedy, On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Untimely Meditations, Human, All Too Human, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, and On the Genealogy of Morality. But, almost no one had read the work. Two years later, Friedrich was to collapse, foaming language no one cared to hear. He was deemed mentally diseased due to tertiary syphilus (never actually confirmed) and treated with mercury, which did, in fact negatively affect his mind and his body.  Friedrich was essentially incarcerated in a mental hospital. He lived until the year 1900, the birth of the 20th century, which his ideas (mediated by Elisabeth, who edited, organized, and promoted) so deeply shaped.  When Friedrich collapsed, Elisabeth was still in Paraguay in her doomed utopian experiment.

Her face, tender and sweet like a model in a Northern Renaissance genre painting depicting life in the home, gazed imploringly to the knot of true believers gathered in the building sturdily constructed of red quebracho, its tannins permeating the humid air with a pleasant, woody cologne.  They sat on benches made of the bottle-shaped samuú, and many held small cups carved from cow horns, from which they sipped through a metal bombilla a cool infusion of tereré, a mildly stimulating tea made from yerba mate.

Elisabeth was unrepentant. Nueva Germania was not thriving, but it had, at any rate, allowed the true believers to escape the foul miasma of Europe that was infecting most of the tiny German principalities with endless, internecine war.

“When the sickness has passed, we will go back,” said Elisabeth.  She had not intended the sojourn to be a temporary quarantine. She and her husband, Bernhard Forster, intended it to be a model for the world of racial purity and the supremacy of German culture. But, potatoes rotted in the soil and their innocence about sand flies resulted in terrible infections.

“Last year, before dear Bernhard, passed away,” said Elisabeth, solemnly euphemizing the death by suicide by her partner and fellow ideologue, “He told me that we must go back to Germany with the truth, and I made a sacred promise to share our truths with the world.”

Elisabeth had in her possession the few published copies of Friedrich’s work. Word had reached her that he was ill, and her heart ached to go back and make all his, her brother’s, and her true believers’ pain and sacrifice meaningful in the world.

Above all, her own.

Heinrich Raus took a long cooling sip of tereré, and as he did so, the afternoon rain began, with thunderclaps.

“I don’t think we’ll go back. Once we switched from potatoes to mandioca, and we learned to take a siesta during the heat of the day, and also to raise the floors up from the ground, things were good,” he said.

What he did not say is that his soul resonated with the ghost of the soldiers killed in the Triple Alliance War, and he, too, had felt the presence of the luisón, the werewolf creature who feasted on the dead, and he saw all around him the impact of the Pombero, the trickster creature, who loved nothing more than to sneak in during the siesta and have his way with young women.

Sex and Death. Eros and Thanatos.

The ideas were boiling in the zeitgeist even before Freud, and Elisabeth’s dear brother’s passionate writings about the Dionysian in literature. In Paraguay, in Nueva Germania, they were living, breathing, sweating, and streaming with the rain of an afternoon.

“The outside world has suffered from diseases.  The outside world IS a disease,” she said softly.  Her true believers paid more attention when she spoke in tones between a whisper and a lullaby.

Her eyes slowly filled with tears.  Was it her fault that dear Bernhard took his own life? She suspected it was so. Was it her fault that Friedrich had collapsed and was being considered mentally ill?  She suspected it was so.  She was altogether too weak, too undisciplined, and her ideas about a better world only ricocheted from side to side inside the skulls of those she loved.

“Come with me, or not. It is up to you. But you know how I kept you safe while the whole world around us roiled and twisted with a murderous disease. And so, I will keep you safe.”

Elisabeth sailed alone back to Germany.  Her true believers stayed behind in Nueva Germania, clinging to the safety of Bernhard’s beliefs in the superiority of the German race and culture, even as they planted mandioca and yerba mate, and slowly changed their language to a blend of Guaraní. Each succeeding “pure” generation was increasingly deformed and mentally impaired.

“Oh, Friedrich!” cried Elisabeth when she saw her brother unable to get out of bed for days on end. “I will help you with your books, and we will make sure that you live on.”

Friedrich closed his eyes and imagined a self-designed modern Leviathan, many steps removed from the self-limiting monarch described by Hobbes. Elisabeth closed her eyes and imagined a Superman constructed from the building blocks of hate and fear, each block a chunk of a terrified citizen’s heart.

“Keep them afraid,” she said to herself.  She turned quietly to Friedrich and laid a soft, doll-like hand on his arm. Her other hand rested on a pile of his books and manuscripts.  What failed in Paraguay could prevail here in Europe, she vowed.

“I will keep you safe,” she said.

Somewhere in Paraguay in the light of the full moon, the pure evil of the luisón, the werewolf devourer of souls, glowed cool blue eyes.