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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.


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January 15, 2010


This is a tragic and shameful event. As you state many question have and will be asked...........Why here?.....Why now?......Why so many people in one city? and on and on.
The people go to the media, TV, Radio, the Web to try and find the answers.
On a whole the media fails because they spend all night repeating what they just said. And what they do say only goes up to a point.
Haiti is, as we have been told, one of the poorest country in the world. But never why?
What isn't and can't be said, especially in the United States, is the history of this great people. These people of Haiti were the first and only slave society to overturn a vicious system of slavery transforming it from a European colony to the world's first Black republic.
But that was never forgotten by the powers to be and they have made hell on earth for them ever since. I know that many will and are helping in what every way then can as individuals always do. But I do believe that these tragic times demand knowledge and if I may I would like to suggest four books to anyone who cares to expand their knowledge of these people. I'm sure this knowledge will deepen our feeling and sadness that is now occuring.
Madison Smartt Bell wrote a powerful trilogy on the rebellion in Haiti. They are three novels: "All Soul's Rising," "Master of the Crossroads" and "The Stone that the Builder Refused." Harold Bloom stated, "these books must be considered amoung the most important artistic accomplishments of our century." A more current book on Haiti is Randell Robinson's "Unbroken Agony." How the US overthrew the democratic govement of Haiti a few years ago. In this helter skelter world it hard for people to truly understand the why? But if we try, I believe we will, as in the case of Haiti, comprehend the why. These books go a long way in telling us why and with that knowledge gives a clearer picture of our world today.

A beautifully written and thoughtfull post. Certainly there is a scientific answer to why it happened. The question of why people suffer is so much more complex, as you say. They suffer from the actions of other people, something we can change if we have the will. But suffering is part of nature, and the suffering that nature causes we cannot prevent, but we can help each other to bear it, and ease it with our love.

I suppose the most important thing we can do, really, is not feel separate from so much suffering. And of course that's the hardest thing to do - believing that Haiti, or wherever the suffering is greatest today, is somehow different from where we are is an obvious kind of psychic self-protection. That's why, although I hate the 'nowhereness' of globalisation, I guess I think it's also positive. What's happened in Haiti is more real to you because you know those Haitian families in Montreal, isn't it? More real to me because of the Haitians I used to work with at international meetings and because although I've never been to Haiti myself I have friends who have, who returned much affected by that country and shared their historical and current knowledge with me.

I've been most moved, in the ocean of media coverage, by the readers' comments on the BBC world news website, where some ordinary individuals have written - educated Haitians in the least destroyed areas of Port-au-Prince who read the bbc website, Haitians living in the UK and desperately worried about their families back home; British and other foreigners already working there; members of emergency aid teams stuck in snowy airports on their way to Haiti...

I think I'm commenting at such length because my blogpost yesterday 'all about me' might make you think I hadn't beeen thinking about Haiti yesterday too... It's all very strange and difficult, isn't it, being firmly anchored in own lives and concerns, but seeing this in the media - all rather unnatural, perhaps, but it's how things are now and worth trying not to be desentisized by it.

After the Lisbon earthquake the King of Portugal had such a horror of buildings that he spent the rest of his life in a tented pavilion. That event changed the course of intellectual history. I wonder whether we will be really shaken, or just stirred. (oops). I write this having vowed to turn off the news and internet for the rest of the day. But here I am, with you and your other readers, grateful for your taking the time to articulate so many of the strands.

Hal, thank you for this thoughtful comment and the history it contains. I also really appreciate that you've recommended these books. Typically, perhaps, I've never read a single book about Haiti, or one authored by a Haitian living elsewhere, and that needs to change. My friend Vivian also sent an email pointing to a book list by acclaimed Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat, published in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:

Anne, you're right, I think; the very nature of suffering's unfairness and cruelty calls on our best qualities too, to try to help each other bear the unbearable. I'm going to try to talk more about this is a subsequent post and maybe we can discuss it in the comments.

Jean, I hear you. Watching the discussion on Twitter yesterday made me hyper-aware of how our attention flits from one subject (me!) to another (the world) and how people are grappling with the difficulty of comprehending a disaster on this scale when our own lives are basically continuing unscathed. For those of us who remember a world where this kind of instantaneous, minutely-detailed news wasn't possible, there's something particularly disturbing about the juxtaposition of two realities, but like you say, this is the way the world is now. I agree that the words of real people who are connected to this tragedy touch me more directly, though I'm also very affected by the still photographs that have been published.

Last night I read something I thought was somewhat profound, a note of comfort to a family whose lost their 2 year old to a rare childhood disease 6 weeks ago, and almost immediately found themselves in the hospital with their 4 year old in critical condition. They haven't even been able to bury their younger son. The supporter commented that they couldn't see how any answer was big enough to respond to the degree of suffering behind the question, why?

Regarding Haiti, I intellectually understand the scale of suffering is exponentially higher, understand how others and myself are called to contribute and help, but I wonder at the way the human mind copes with the fact that the suffering there prior to the earthquake was also incomprehensibly great. Question whether the human mind COULD cope if we knew and understood the degree of suffering that happens across the globe daily. Wonder if "globalization" really improves conditions, or simply increases guilt and avoidance? Would we be paralyzed in fear? Motivated to true cultural change? Or simply become addicted to the depiction, just as we seem drawn into the media's hype of other horrors?

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