This came out in 1758, written by Robert Robinson after becoming a Methodist. An autobiography of sorts. Olaudah Equiano, in his own autobiography, “Interesting Narrative” (1794), references it at least twice. It is still a popular hymn even now, sung above by Sarah Noëlle in 2013.

It is based in part on 1 Samuel 7:12 in the Bible. After defeating the Philistines:

“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”

See also:

  • songs
  • Equiano
  • Priestley – knew Robinson
  • Phillis Wheatley – the poem that made her name was about Rev. George Whitefield, the same preacher who converted Robinson.

Lyrics: The original lyrics:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Omicron variant

A computer-generated picture of the Omicron variant. Via NPR. (Uma Shankar sharma/Getty Images)

The Omicron variant (by October 2021), aka B.1.1.529, is the latest “variant of concern” of covid-19, the coronavirus disease that swept the world in 2020, causing the pandemic that is still with us. In South Africa, Omicron is spreading faster than even the Delta variant, even among young people! Most people reading this will likely encounter the new strain within the next few months. By yesterday (December 1st 2021) it had reached the US.

Symptons appear in 2 to 14 days, among them:

  • fevers or chills,
  • cough,
  • shortness of breath,
  • tiredness,
  • headache and body aches,
  • loss of taste or smell,
  • sore throat,
  • congestion or runny nose,
  • nausea or vomiting,
  • diarrhoea.

Pretty standard stuff for covid-19.

So far it seems to be no deadlier than the Delta variant. Some who have received the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines have caught the  Omicron variant, but so far only with mild symptoms. The key phrase is “so far”. While this fits what we know about the genetics (most of the changes are to the spike proteins, which would make it more contagious, but not deadlier), there is not yet enough empirical data to draw firm conclusions. But:

In the next few weeks it will become clear just how contagious and deadly the new variant is and how well the current vaccines stand up to it. Pfizer says it could whip up a new vaccine and get it to pharmacies by March. That sounds quick, but Omicron might be quicker.

Origins: Its nearest known relative is from the middle of 2020, yet it has dozens of mutations or changes in its genetic code. Where was it all that time? No one yet knows for sure, but most likely it was inside one of the millions of people in southern Africa who have HIV but are not receiving proper medical treatment. Since they have weak immune systems, their bodies cannot completely kill off covid-19, allowing it to mutate endlessly.

It was discovered by scientists in South Africa – even though it was already present in the Netherlands and Nigeria. For its pains (and un-Chinese-like transparency), South Africa was slapped with a blanket travel ban by the US, UK, EU, Canada, Australia and others.

President Ramaphosa of South Africa:

“The emergence of the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to the world that vaccine inequality cannot be allowed to continue. Until everyone is vaccinated, everyone will continue to be at risk. Instead of prohibiting travel, the rich countries of the world need to support the efforts of developing countries – economies, that is – to access and to manufacture enough vaccine doses for their people without delay.”

Africa: Only 7% of Africa’s 1.3 billion or so people have been vaccinated. As long as it has low rates of vaccination, it will continue to produce variants. Last year it was Beta, this year Omicron. And next year? The main thing standing in the way of vaccinating most of Africa is the US government’s defence of the intellectual property rights of its big drug companies. Something it did with AIDS as millions died.

See also:


Adele: Easy on Me


My favourite Adele song to date. It was the #1 song in the US and UK for most of this month, November 2021.

See also:


[Verse 1]
There ain’t no gold in this river
That I’ve been washin’ my hands in forever
I know there is hope in these waters
But I can’t bring myself to swim
When I am drowning in this silence
Baby, let me in

Go easy on me, baby
I was still a child
Didn’t get the chance to
Feel the world around me
I had no time to choose what I chose to do
So go easy on me

[Verse 2]
There ain’t no room for things to change
When we are both so deeply stuck in our ways
You can’t deny how hard I have tried
I changed who I was to put you both first
But now I give up

Go easy on mе, baby
I was still a child
Didn’t get the chance to
Feel thе world around me
Had no time to choose what I chose to do
So go easy on me

I had good intentions
And the highest hopes
But I know right now
It probably doesn’t even show

Go easy on me, baby
I was still a child
I didn’t get the chance to
Feel the world around me
I had no time to choose what I chose to do
So go easy on me

Source: Genius Lyrics.

For most books at most public libraries in the US circa 2020, it generally goes something like this:

Selection – each library (or at least head library) has a librarian or librarians who pick new books. They keep up with the new books that are coming out, read journals like Booklist and Library Journal, read reviews online, even blogs! They are supposed to pick books that are of interest to their community, which is not necessarily a book they personally like.

Purchase – they buy books from distributors, like Baker & Taylor or Brodart, who specialize in this sort of thing.

Donation – not all books are purchased. Some are donated by kind souls. If a donated book is in bad shape (falling apart, marked up, smells mouldy, etc) or if the librarian does not think it is a good fit for the library’s collection, then it goes straight to the After Life (see below). Otherwise it advances to the next step along with the purchased books:

Processing – the book is entered into the catalogue and given all the things a library adds to a book: a good dust jacket, bar code, the library’s stamp, the label on the spine showing where it will be shelved, etc. Some of this might already have been done by the distributor (see Purchase above).

Circulation – the book is checked in and ready to be taken out! Sometimes it goes on the shelf for new books. Sometimes it is held – new books often already have a waiting list of people who want to read it. All the books you see at the library are in this stage of their life cycle.

Lost – some books are lost. Or even stolen. At this point their life as a library book ends. But most books are not and proceed to the next stage:

Weeding – this is what librarians call it. From time to time they get rid of books! In general, they get rid of books that are worn out, damaged, outdated or which are not getting checked out (borrowed) enough. Sometimes librarians will check out books just to keep them alive! But sooner or later most books reach this stage. This is the stage that fascinates me because books on my to-read list are disappearing! Those books that are weeded out go on to:

The After Life – this is determined by whether the book is in good shape or not:

  • If the book is still in good shape it is given to the Friends of the Library. They either hold a book sale themselves, like at the library, or sell it to a used bookseller, or donate it, like to Better World Books. Money from the sale goes back to the library so they can buy new books.
  • If the book is in bad shape then it is either thrown out (pictured above) or sent to a recycler where it joins the paper cycle of life and has a chance of becoming part of a new book. Most likely, though, it will just become office paper.

If the book was popular enough and is still in print, it is re-ordered.

– Abagond, 2021.

Source: mainly Book Riot (2019), St Vincent Review (image).

See also:


Pilgrim Fathers

Getting married like it’s 1627, as historically re-enacted in 2012 at Plimoth Patuxet, a tourist attraction. Via boston.com.

The Pilgrim Fathers (fl. 1620s), or just Pilgrims, are the religious fanatics from England who came to North America in 1620 on board the Mayflower. According to legend, they landed at Plymouth Rock. They were settler colonialists who founded Plymouth Colony (1620-91), which later became part of Massachusetts, one of the Thirteen Colonies, now a state in the north-eastern US.

Thanksgiving: It was 400 years ago this autumn, in 1621, maybe in November, but probably October, that the Pilgrims held the First Thanksgiving: a feast with the Wampanoag Indians to mark a peace treaty that more or less held till Prince Philip’s War (1675-78). By the 1890s, the Thanksgiving holiday and the Pilgrims had become part of the origin myth of White Americans. Or, as the Wikipedia puts it:

“The Pilgrims’ story became a central theme in the history and culture of the United States.”

The name “Pilgrims” comes from Hebrews 11:13 in the Bible (bolding mine):

“These [early believers in God] all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

Beause heaven was their true homeland. William Bradford, a Pilgrim Father, did apply this imagery to them in his journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation” (1630-51), but the name did not catch on till the early 1800s.

Saints is what they called themselves.

Brownists is the name Shakespeare would have used: they were followers of Robert Browne. They refused to attend Anglican churches as required by English law. They were Calvinists who thought the Anglican Church was hopelessly corrupt, beyond reform. They wanted a separate, pure church of their own – which is why they are known as Puritan Separatists.

Netherlands: In about 1607 they fled to the Netherlands. But when they saw their children becoming Dutch they wanted a place where they were free to be both Puritan and English.

Meanwhile in America: By 1610, English fishermen were regularly fishing off the coast of New England every summer. That touched off a plague in 1616 that, in three years, killed nearly all the Indians within 65 km of the coast. Attempts to colonize New England did not succeed till after the plague, even though there were already English colonies in Virginia and Newfoundland. By 1619, Black people were already arriving in Virginia.

Plymouth Rock: On December 16th 1620 the Pilgrims land at the deserted Indian village of Patuxet, already renamed Plymouth on English maps. It is deserted because of the plague. The few survivors had fled inland. The idea of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock (at 41.958083° N, 70.662139° W) does not appear till 1741. The Pilgrims come off the Mayflower coughing and suffering from scurvy.

That first winter half die of disease.

Squanto: In March 1621, as the winter was ending, an Indian arrived speaking English: Squanto. He was visiting what was left of his old town of Patuxet. He teaches the Pilgrims how to live on the land. It was already cleared, but the Pilgrims were townspeople – carpenters, tailors, printers and such. And he made peace between them and his people, the Wampanoag Indians.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:


Travis McMichael

Travis McMichael (c. 1986- ) is one of three White men on trial for murder in the US for killing Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger. His father, Gregory McMichael, and neighbour, William “Roddie” Bryan, are on trial with him. All three took part in his murder, but:

It was Travis who pulled the trigger.

Vigilante justice: On February 23rd 2020 down in Georgia in Satilla Shores, when they saw Arbery jogging through their White neighbourhood, they got in their pickup trucks and chased him down. They said Arbery had entered a house under construction (true – but so had White people, who they had neglected to chase down). And said he looked like a burglar they had seen (no burglaries had been recently reported in that neighbourhood).

Self-defence: Once they had him “trapped like a rat” (their words), Travis faced Arbery with his 12-gauge shotgun. He says Arbery hit him and then tried to take his gun. That part of the video takes place in front of Travis’s pickup truck and is hard to see, but they do seem to be struggling over the gun. Travis feared for his life and so shot Arbery dead.

The prosecution says that according to Georgia law you cannot start a fight and then claim self-defence:

“What does the kid who’s being bullied do? He takes it and he takes it and takes it until he can’t anymore and he finally shoves the one bully, and what does that bully do? BAM. Punches the target child, right? What’s the bully always say? ‘He started it. He pushed me. I was defending myself.’ The law knows people do this. The law knows people will goad other people into defending themselves so that they can claim, ‘I was acting in self defense.’ You can’t do that.”

They got Travis to admit that he saw Arbery with no knife, no gun, that he had made no threat. Meanwhile they had threatened him:

“Stop, or I’ll blow your fucking head off.”

Heritage not hate: Right on the front of Travis’s truck, where Travis feared for his life and fired his first shot, the licence plate had the old Georgia flag of 1956-2001, the one with the Confederate flag on it:

Travis’s lawyers were themselves racist! They wanted Black pastors removed from the court room, wanted the only Black person on the jury removed, called the trial a “public lynching” because of the “woke left mob” outside the courthouse. And even said, in their closing arguments:

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”

Jury: 11 Whites and 1 Black person. Glynn County, Georgia, where the trial takes place, is one-fourth Black. During jury selection, you cannot give race as a reason to get rid of a possible juror, but clearly ways were found to get rid of all but one Black juror.

– Abagond, 2021.

Update: All three were found guilty of murder!!! They face a minimum sentence of life in prison.

See also:


This is based on the English of the King James or Authorized Version of Bible (KJV/AV) as printed since 1769, when its spelling and punctuation were last successfully updated (updates since then have failed to catch on). The translation first came out in 1611.

Pronouns: go like this:

  • 1st person singular: I, me, my, mine.
  • 2nd person singular: thou, thee, thy, thine.
  • 3rd person singular:
    • male/gender neutral: he, him, his, his.
    • female: she, her, her, hers.
    • neuter: it, it, his (or thereof or of it. Its is used only once), his.
  • 1st person plural: we, us, our, ours.
  • 2nd person plural: ye, you, your, yours.
  • 3rd person plural: they, them, their, theirs.

The main difference is to use thou instead of you for one person, and ye for more than one person (= y’all or you guys).

Imperative: When giving a command to one person, add thou, if more than one, ye:

“be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

“Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Punctuation: is mainly used to show how long to pause when reading out loud. In order of increasing length: space  (”  “), comma (“,”), semicolon (“;”), colon (“:”), and period or full stop (“.”).

Paragraphs: marked with a pilcrow or paragraph mark: ¶. Paragraphs as we know them – with a topic sentence and starting on a new line – is not how the Bible was written in the original Greek and Hebrew.

Quoted speech – is not quoted. Instead a comma is followed by a capitalized word, as here when Luke 4:4 quotes Jesus quoting Isaiah:

And Jesus answered him, saying, It is written, That man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.

Again, there were not quotation marks or inverted commas in the original Greek and Hebrew. The original Greek does not even have spaces between words.

Capitalization: for quoted speech  (see above), the beginning of a sentence, and for proper nouns. In the 1600s and 1700s it was common in English to capitalize common nouns, like in German still, but the KJV dropped that practice, probably to save on paper in printing such a long book.

No reverential capitalization, like using “Him” and “His” for God. That did not become common till the 1800s.

Italics – use to de-emphasize a word!

Dialect: use the written, educated English of Oxford, Cambridge and London of 75 years ago. For 1611 than meant the 1530s. For 2021 that means the 1940s, like Winston Churchill or C.S. Lewis.

Writing tips:

  • Write to be understood by as many people as possible. Use short clear sentences with short, plain words that everyone knows. Use traditional names for things. Being understood is better than being precise. For example, use “robe” instead of “tunic”, even if you mean “tunic”. But do not carry this so far that you mislead or leave out important stuff.
  • Write for the ear: it should sound good when read out loud. Pay attention to rhythm. Not blah blah blah blah blah, but maybe something like de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM: the LORD is MY shePHERD i SHALL not WANT (iambic pentameter).

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:


This came out in 1901. I doubt it charted, but it made his name. It is in a film I want to watch, “Brief Encounter” (1945), so I want to listen to it beforehand.

I am not a classical music fan, but one thing that jumps out at me listening to it is that about 14 minutes in, in the second movement, it sounds suspiciously like “All By Myself” (1975), a soft-rock song by Eric Carmen. It is not just me. The Rachmaninoff estate noticed that too! And so did Carmen – but he thought it was in the public domain. Maybe in the US it is, but not everywhere apparently: the Rachmaninoff wound up getting a 12% royalty on Carmen’s song. At least two other Carmen songs also rip off pieces of this concerto.

The video was filmed in Amsterdam in or before 2013.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:

Kyle Rittenhouse

Kyle Rittenhouse (2003- ), a Blue Lives Matter supporter, killed two people and injured a third at a Black Lives Matter protest. That was on August 25th 2020 in the US in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is now on trial for murder.

He was 17 at the time, from out-of-state (he is from Illinois, not Wisconsin), breaking curfew, and was armed with a Smith & Wesson M&P15, an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. Both he and his victims (the judge does not allow them to be called “victims” at the trial) were all White.

The protests, which were sometimes violent (looting, arson), came after a White police officer shot a Black man in the back, Jacob Blake. He is now paralysed. This came in the wake of the George Floyd protests, the worst civil unrest in the US in over 50 years. Right-wing Fox News said the left was out of control. It called for “law and order”. In steps vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse, which Fox News will quickly make into something of a folk hero after killing two people.

Rittenhouse, in front of a boarded-up car dealership, some 15 minutes before he shoots three people, tells the Daily Caller:

“So, people are getting injured, and our job is to protect this business. Part of my job is also to help people. If there is somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle, because I have to protect myself, obviously. I also have my med kit.”

The dealership had burned the night before, but did not ask for armed protection. That call came from the “Kenosha Guard”. White men with guns answer the call. Not illegal. In fact, the police tell them they “appreciate” them and offer them water.

The police push the protesters in the direction of the armed White men, Rittenhouse among them.

Rittenhouse kills:

  • Joseph Rosenbaum, age 36 – chases Rittenhouse after Rittenhouse raises his gun at him. Rittenhouse hears a shot being fired and turns. Then:  “I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun”. He shoots him dead. And then runs wildly, holding his gun, alarming people, then trips and falls. Then:
  • Anthony Huber, age 26, hits RIttenhouse with a skateboard. When Huber tries to disarm him, Rittenhouse shoots him dead.

and he injures:

  • Gaige Grosskreutz, age 27 – who Rittenhouse said pointed a pistol at him.

And then Rittenhouse walks right past the police. They are told he is the shooter, but do – nothing. (Compare Tamir Rice.)


“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”

“I didn’t know if it was going to kill them but I used deadly force to stop the threat that was attacking me.”

He feared for his life.

Yet, strangely, he is the only person who killed anyone at the Kenosha protests.

At trial Rittenhouse cried on the witness stand. No tears detected.

His lawyers argue self-defence. And successfully argued that it was legal for him to own a semi-automatic rifle despite being under 18 – because the barrel was over 16 inches (40.6 cm).

The prosecution:

“You cannot claim self-defence against a danger that you create.”

It is now up to the (95% White) jury.

– Abagond, 2021.

Update (November 19th): Rittenhouse has been found NOT GUILTY on all charges.

See also:


BA Robertson: Bang Bang


This came out in 1979 and went to #2 in the UK. I do not remember hearing it in the US. In fact, I never heard it before till today on YouTube. But it still has a strange nostalgic value because it sure seems like 1979, like a fly in amber, a time capsule.

Robertson is Scottish but is using an Estuary English accent. He said he was imitating Herbie Flowers of T. Rex.

Lord Nel is Lord Nelson, who had a love affair with Lady Emma Hamilton.

Sherlock Holmes’s love was cocaine. It was legal in Victorian England, but outlawed by 1979 (in 1920), so in one version of the song “toke” was replaced with “token”.

Johnny Fruin seems to be an inside joke – he was an exec at Robertson’s record label.

See also:


The straight jacket of true love’s fine ? bang, bang
If you’re Houdini in your spare time ? bang, bang
Lord Nel and Lady Hamilton they fought for love
When he come home from the war he gave her what for love
The mighty fall when love has called

Vampire friends desire to lust fang fang
They fall on necks then fall in love pang pang
The Marquis de Sade was happy with a stoke of love
Sherlock Holmes alone preferred a little toke of love

Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall

Tony and Cleo struck out for the free down Egypt’s way
But Caesar had squeezed her in Rome on his quilt for a day
Hey, hey

Now Anton got really angry
Oh oh Caesar’s hanky panky
She told em she would use em
And boy did she abuse em
Fall in love and blew em away

Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang

And Sam and Delilah they both we should file under fool
’cause when the temple start to crumble
Sammy for his comb did fumble
Life was in a ruin, she loved Johnny Fruin
Fall in love and blew em away

Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang
Bang, bang
Bang, bang
Bang, bang
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called
Bang, bang, the mighty fall
Bang, bang, when love has called

Source: Songfacts.


“Dopesick” (2021- ) is a US television show on Hulu based on the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Beth Marcy about the opioid drug epidemic. It stars Rosario Dawson (pictured) and Michael Keaton. Danny Strong is the creator and showrunner, he who co-created “Empire” (2015-18) and worked on “The Butler” (2013).

Note: This post is based on the seven episodes shown to date.

Purdue Pharma is a drug company privately owned by the Sackler family. They come up with a new drug, OxyContin, a painkiller that is two to three times more powerful than morphine. That makes it more dangerous than opium!

The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, is the US government agency charged with protecting the public from unsafe food and drugs. From stuff just like OxyContin. But Purdue Pharma somehow gets the FDA to agree that OxyContin is addicitive for only 1% of patients.

The claim is false. That leads to the opioid drug epidemic. Its scale goes way beyond the heroin epidemic of the 1970s or the crack epidemic of the 1980s, as hideous as they were. Because it is all completely legal. The FDA never signed off on heroin or crack – but it did sign off on OxyContin. Places like small-town Maine and West Virginia, where Purdue first rolled out the drug, sink into addiction, violent crime, and drug deaths.

The DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the government agency charged with enforcing drug laws. It does nothing about OxyContin because – it is legal. It is even FDA-approved! No laws broken.

Main characters: The show follows:

  • Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) – a DEA agent who remembers what crack did to Black and Brown New York. Makes it her life’s mission to stop OxyContin  – or at least get it out of pharmacies and off the streets. She sets her sights on the FDA.
  • Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg) – evil Bond villain, marketing genius, mastermind of Purdue Pharma.
  • Billy Cutler (Will Poulter) – Purdue salesman.
  • Dr Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton) – doctor in a small coal-mining town in Appalachian Virginia. An early believer in the wonders of OxyContin!
  • Betsy Mallum (Kaitlyn Dever) – is injured in a mining accident. She trusts Dr Finnix, beginning her descent into addiction hell. Presented as someone in need of help, not as someone to lock up in prison. Yes, she is White.
  • Rick Mountcastle (Peter Sarsgaard) – a US attorney general in Virginia who goes after Purdue Pharma. Wonders why no one else is.

Like “The Wire”, it is a tale of good and evil amid a landscape of a drug epidemic and institutional failure. Nothing is neatly wound up in 43 minutes. Instead, as facts are revealed and layers are peeled back, it gets worse and worse.

How true is it? Danny Strong, who created the show, and Beth Marcy, who wrote the book, tried to make it as true-to-life as possible while also making it watchable television. The truth was messier and regions of Richard Sackler’s soul had to be guessed at. Dramatic licences were taken. Most characters are a composite of real people.

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:


Passing (Netflix film)

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in “Passing” (2021).

“Passing” (2021) is a Netflix film based on the 1929 book of the same name by Nella Larsen. It is the tale of Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga), a Tragic Mulatto who passes for White in New York in the 1920s and comes to a bad end.  Irene “Reenie” Redfield (Tessa Thompson), her friend, lives in Harlem with her Black doctor husband and only occasionally passes. Or so she thinks. Rebecca Hall writes and directs.

I already did a post on the book, so this post is just about the film.

Ruth Negga passing for White!?

The Wikipedia explains:

“The title refers to African-Americans who had skin color light enough to be perceived as white, the practice of which is referred to as passing.”

Rebecca Hall (pictured above above with her mother) did not know about passing till about 2008 when she read the book. It broke her heart and opened her eyes.

Hall grew up as a White girl in England, brought up by her opera-singer mum, Maria Ewing. Her mother was from the US and looked Black but had White parents. When asked about it, her mother said stuff like, “It’s possible we’re Black. Or maybe it’s possible we’re Native American. I don’t really know.” When Hall read Larsen the scales fell from her eyes – her grandfather had been passing for White.

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson are mixed-race too. They look Black to me, even in the film, but are able to pass as White in its world.

Hall says she remained pretty faithful to the book, but saw Irene, Tessa Thompson’s character, as someone who did not know she was lesbian. Hall drops hints about that in the film. Translation: She was passing full-time too!

The book was better, of course. In the film we do get a ringside seat as Clare, well-dressed, spirals down into self-destruction, but only get glimpses of what is going on in her head. I hated that. But maybe the book was like that too. In the book her doom seemed inevitable – in the film it is an “accident”.

I expected the film to wallow in the Harlem Renaissance – but all of that is pretty much just reduced to fancy parties and ignorant remarks by a White, Gore-Vidalesque writer. At least it did not have a hip-hop soundtrack.

The film is in black-and-white even though it was harder to raise money for it in that form. Hall means it to be ironic: the world is not as black and white as it seems. Even black-and-white film itself is just all – shades of grey.

For Hall it is a story about identity:

“There is always this tension in all of us about the story that we put out in the world about ourselves versus the story that the world reflects back to us saying this is the kind of person you’re meant to be or should be.”

The moral of the story, says Hall:

“If you end up being too rigid about who you think you ought to be, you turn into a powder keg.”

– Abagond, 2021.

See also:


Queen of Sheba

The Queen of Sheba as imagined in Ethiopia in the 1600s

The Queen of Sheba as imagined in the US in 1995.

The Queen of Sheba (-1020? to -955?) is a figure of Arab, Jewish, Ethiopian, Coptic (Egypt) and even Yoruban (Nigeria) legend. She appears in the holy books of some 56% of mankind: the Bible, the Koran and the Kebra Nagast (Ethiopian/Rastafarian). Archaeologists, to date, have found no sign of her. National Geographic in 2018 termed her “elusive”.

Names: She is known as Bilqis (بِلْقِيْس) by Arabs and Persians, Makeda by Ethiopians, Nikaulis by Jewish Roman historian Josephus, Black Minerva by the Greeks, the Queen of the South by Jesus, etc.

What sources say, from oldest to newest:

  • Bible (by the -200s): She visited King Solomon, bringing spices and gold and precious stones, and tested his wisdom. She discovered that “the half was not told” about his wisdom and wealth. Solomon “gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty.” Wink, wink? See 1 Kings 10. Some see her as the woman in Song of Solomon 1:5 who says, “I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem”. In Matthew 12:42 (written by +100) Jesus says she is “The queen of the south” who “came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” and “shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it.”
  • Josephus (90s) places her in Ethiopia. That puts her just south of Ancient Egypt in Nubia, known by the Greeks and Romans and the King James Bible as Ethiopia, a name that was hijacked in the 1900s by Abyssinia, what “Ethiopia” now means in English, on Google Maps, and in this post.
  • Koran (600s): She comes from an unbelieving people seduced by Satan, worshipping the Sun. Solomon converts her to the one true God.
  • Kebra Nagast (1300s), based on an earlier oral tradition: King Solomon seduced her! Sexually and religiously. She becomes the first recorded Ethiopian Jew. When she got back home she gave birth to their son, Menelik I, the first in a long line of Ethiopian kings that goes all the way down to Haile Selassie, who ruled Ethiopia till 1974. Menelik, at age 22, visited Solomon and made off with the Ark of the Covenant, reportedly still in the ancient city of Axum in northern Ethiopia.

Western scholars place her in the ancient kingdom of Saba in southern Arabia, in what is now Yemen. Marib was its capital back then. It produced nearly all the world’s frankincense and myrrh and was on the Incense Routes. Israel was on two trade routes it would have been interested in. Saba had a huge influence on Eretria and northern Ethiopia, just on the other side of the Red Sea. It may have ruled or colonized parts of them. But a southern Arabian influence does not appear in the archaeological record till the -400s, some 500 years after the Queen of Sheba. And in the known lists of Sabean rulers, there is no word of a queen in the -900s.

Hollywood whitewashing: The Queen of  Sheba was played by White women till Halle Berry played her in 1995 (pitured above).

Yemeni artist Ahlam, circa 2019. What the Queen of Sheba might have looked like. (Via place.network)

– Abagond, 2021.

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This was an actual song on the radio in North America in the 1970s. It came out in 1976, going to #1 on the Canadian pop chart, #4 in their native US. It was part of their night club act before they became famous. They even played it at the White House for Queen Elizabeth II when she visited for the Bicentennial! Henry Kissinger sat in the front row. Tennille thinks it is a Disneyesque sort of song, though it features synthesized sounds by her husband (the Captain) of muskrat sex (which plays in an endless loop at the end of the 7-inch single version).

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Muskrat, Muskrat, candle light
Doing the town and doing it right in the evening
It’s pretty pleasing
Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam
Do the jitterbug out in Muskrat Land
And they shimmy… Sam is so skinny

And they whirl and they twirl and they tango
Singing and Jinging a Jango
Floating like the heavens above
Looks like Muskrat Love

Nibbling on bacon, chewing on cheese
Sam says to Suzie, Honey, would you please be my Mrs.
Suzie says yes with her kisses
Now he’s tickling her fancy, rubbing her toes
Muzzle to muzzle, now, anything goes as they wriggle,
Sue starts to giggle

Source: Songfacts.

“How young is too young to teach kids about race?” (November 4th 2021) is a news article put out by the US television network CBS. It tweeted it with the picture above along with this blurb:

“A culture war has erupted over critical race theory and how schools should grapple with the history of race and racism in America.”

Twitter opined:

Hambone Fakenamington (@SHABINDIGO):

Let’s see…I was 8 or 9 when my mom took my 3 or 4 year old sister and me to the pool in our apartment complex and, as soon as we got in, all the white people took their kids out. That was in the early 90s, supposedly long after America “learned it’s lesson,” but you tell me.

mr. G (and the good trouble). (@invisiblelad007):

Let’s see. The first time my parents had to teach me about race was after an adult told me to “Go back to Africa” at 8. So sometime around then seems appropriate.

Drew Comments (@sjs856):

I was 6 years old when a white classmate called me the N word.

Alissa Bouquet (@Alissa_1014):

I was called a ni**er by another student the first week of Kindergarten. I didn’t even know what it meant. I asked my teacher and she said she didn’t know either.
So while the YTs complain about teaching race, please know that little black children experience it!

Get Vaccinated Now! (@SheIsBlack7):

Watch the Kenneth Clark Doll Test and see how white kids and even black kids themselves, as young as 4 and 5 years old, were selecting white dolls as more beautiful, smart and good, while black dolls were chosen as being ugly, not intelligent, etc. If children that young know…

ok doomer (@wehpudicabok):

Do Black kids get to opt out of experiencing racism until they’re a certain age? No? Then why should white kids get to opt out of having to learn about it?

kristalisbougie (@kristal100):

The same people who don’t want children learning about race have no problem teaching them to be racist.

Maith (@jmflatham):

The white privilege of this headline. Black and brown children live the social impact of their race daily. That CBS thinks it’s a choice to protect white kids but not black and brown kids is institutionalized racism.

Background: Tennessee, the state that gave us the Klan and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, has banned teaching anything that would suggest anyone, based on their race or sex, is “inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously,” or would make them feel “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.” There is a push in about a dozen other states to pass similar laws. All this grows out of:

Republican fearmongering over critical race theory (CRT): It is only taught at grad school, but as right-wing activist Christopher Rufo explains:

“The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’ We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”

Lee Atwater would be proud!

– Abagond, 2021.

Sources: Twitter, CBS News.

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