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George Orwell, Filters & March in Latin America

The March 2017 Letter

— the bedlam in macondo —

around this part of the world in March, 2017

Power in Venezuela In one of the latest moves to consolidate power, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ruled to neuter the country’s legislature on March 29th. The democratically-elected legislature is led by the anti-Chavista opposition coalition MUD, the one branch of Venezuela’s government that balances Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian executive branch and the judicial branch — filled with Chavista loyalists. Julio Borges, MUD’s leader, ripped up a copy of the ruling in front of journalists, saying “they’ve kidnapped our constitution.” Since the opposition in December 2015 gained a majority of seats in the country’s National Assembly, Venezuela’s courts have repeatedly ruled against MUD legislation — acts to free political prisoners, a stimulus package for Venezuela’s decaying economy — as unconstitutional.

Bribes and Tributes Brazilian construction and engineering firm Odebrecht has been at the center of a corruption scandal involving top politicians and the country’s state oil company Petrobras. In December 2016, testimony on the company’s activity around Latin America revealed bribery in Colombia, Peru and elsewhere. Now it appears the firm was also wound up with Colombia’s main Marxist revolutionary group FARC, reportedly paying the group between $50,000 and $100,000 per month in tribute to build in rebel-controlled territory.

Medical Marijuana The government’s attitude toward drugs appears to be changing in Colombia. A license to legally develop the country’s medical marijuana potential, a traditionally illicit business for years controlled by the FARC, was granted to Canadian company PharmaCielo. Top government officials seem to have a change of viewing the war on drugs, suggesting that substitution programs that replace illicit crops — like marijuana and coca — with alternatives have largely failed. The caveat? Small medical marijuana startups, like the ones profiled in this story published in OZY Magazine, will now have to compete with big capital-rich pharmaceutical firms.

— straitjackets —

Filters I’d rather not smell like onions, but it seems too late to do anything about it. So today, I will smell that way and take no action. What if I’m wrong about that smell, anyway? What if it’s actually old soap or the odor of hairspray? I could be wrong about the onions.

Delirium I met Blanco on a bench in the empty end of a park around 9pm. We sat facing the mountains. He told me he was obsessed with Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives, especially the beautiful weirdness of how people can suddenly flash into your life, and then disappear.

Putumayo, Colombia

— longform—

Escape from the matrix by Jacob Burak in Aeon

High Tech Cowboys of the High Seas by Joshua Davis in Wired

My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum in The New Yorker

— reactions—

Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays by George Orwell

1984. Animal Farm. These are the titles that usually come to mind when Eric Arthur Blair — better known by his pen name George Orwell — comes up. But the British writer spent most of his time carving out essays and laying out cultural critiques. The Clink, which was never published during Orwell’s lifetime, reads like a story, with no politics. In A Hanging, he starts to make comment, evaluating the brutal symptoms of British imperialism by saying, “I had never realized what it meant to destroy a healthy, conscious man.” George Packer, who writes the foreword to Facing Unpleasant Facts, Orwell’s collection of non-fiction, observes that these moments of realization and how he manages them are what turn Orwell’s reportage into thoughtful essays. “He moves from observation to thought,” writes Packer. “From a painful detail to some broader, redemptive understanding. It’s the most important journey an essay can make, and the hardest. It requires the essayist to be equally good at rendering experience and interpreting it — to be a character and a narrator, a sensitive consciousness and a dispassionate philosopher.” You could also say that it is these moments when Orwell injects his politics into his reporting. Like in Shooting An Elephant, when Orwell “perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys.” This is how Orwell questions Britain — at home in the bed he wets and abroad in the empire’s colonies. This is the literary tool uses to battle perceptions of the West, and what eventually leads him to his ironic, fictional portrayals. The creator of Big Brother and The Thought Police, in a reflection on his fighting in the Spanish Civil War, seems to be dreaming, imagining the places history intentionally ‘forgot’ to fill in: “When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names.”

Dave McKean
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