Robert Mugabe And Mark Twain


No tears to be shed for the death of Robert Mugabe this week.  Since 2008 the corrupt and brutal dictator has been a topic of posts over a dozen times on Caffeinated Politics.  Looking back the best thing I ever had to say about Mugabe was calling him a bastard. I am not sure what caused my restraint from adding ‘dirty.’

What frustrates me so is that the way Mugabe started his leadership was admirable.  Uplifting.  Hopeful.  There were clearly steps that had to be taken away from colonialism.  Redress had to be made for the nation, and measures enacted to bring equality to society.  But that is not what he did.

He brought corruption, thuggery, armed forces trained by North Koreans, and deep rancor which did nothing to heal a nation long in need of breaching the divide.  It would be hard to imagine a worse example that could have stayed in power for nearly 4 decades in Zimbabwe.  The lack of any real hope, given the economic situation there now, is cause for concern about further stability.

The first post about Mugabe was from May 2008.

It was a brutal reminder that the situation in Zimbabwe is a tinderbox following the elections where President Robert Mugabe was defeated.  His attempts, however,  to hold onto power, and even drag the nation into chaos and bloodshed is not a shocker for anyone who has followed his chaotic and wretched time as leader.

The party of Mugabe is threatening the nation into supporting him in a runoff election.  Many however do not see as necessary another election, given the fraud that took place a month ago when voters cast their ballots to end the monstrous regime of Mugabe.

September 2015 finds a post where I smirk at his inability to resemble leadership.

There is only bile that comes to me when typing the name Robert Mugabe.  But there is also reason to laugh at the bastard today.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has read out the wrong speech at the opening of parliament.

He gave the same one during his state-of-the-nation address on 25 August, when he was heckled by opposition MPs.

In November 2017 I found pleasure in that day’s headlines.

I am mighty pleased.  This should have happened many years ago.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe resigned on Tuesday, succumbing to a week of overwhelming pressure from the military that put him under house arrest, lawmakers from the ruling party and opposition who started impeachment proceedings and a population that surged into the streets to say 37 years in power was enough.

“Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation,” said Mnangagwa, who has a loyal support base in the military.

The announcement of his death this week was first heard by this blogger over BBC radio.  While news presenters on the network refrain from emotion and always present objectivity there was, I suspect, a bit of a wry smile behind the microphone.  There certainly was on my lips.  And the reason should be most obvious.

To see a country strangled in slow motion is a horrible thing to witness.  But that is what the world watched happen to Zimbabwe due to the loathsome actions of Robert Mugabe.  It was awful to watch his hands over the decades around the political levers that drained the nation of vitality year after year.

Mark Twain was right.  There are some obituaries we look forward to reading.

Mark Twain On America’s Racism–Take A Minute To Read This (Thanks)

If you are like me then at almost every opportunity we both take a page from the past as a refuge from the onslaught of the recent toxic news of haters, and a willfully tone-deaf leader.  While the news over the past week is a most compelling political story we need to stop and pay heed that this also is a most troubling entry into the on-going history pages of our nation.  This is happening to OUR nation, NOW.

We have all heard the vile racial words over the past days, and watched the wretched actions of those grounded in hate.  And we wonder who can bring some sanity to the  mess?  With that as a backdrop, Time offers up an article with Mark Twain as its way to convey some needed words for us to read.  “Getting Past Black and White.”   In part it reads….

In part it reads….

Twain was born in Missouri, a slave state, and fought in the Civil War, however briefly, on the Confederate side. His father occasionally owned a slave, and some members of his family owned many more. But Twain emerged as a man whose racial attitudes were not what one might expect from someone of his background. Again and again, in the postwar years, he seemed compelled to tackle the challenge of race.

Consider the most controversial, at least today, of Twain’s novels, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Only a few books, according to the American Library Association, have been kicked off the shelves as often as Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s most widely read tale. Once upon a time, people hated the book because it struck them as coarse. Twain himself wrote that the book’s banners considered the novel “trash and suitable only for the slums.” More recently the book has been attacked because of the character Jim, the escaped slave whose adventures twine with Huck’s, and its frequent use of the word nigger. (The term Nigger Jim, for which the novel is often excoriated, never appears in it.)

But the attacks were and are silly–and miss the point. The novel is profoundly antislavery. Jim’s search through the slave states for the family from whom he has been forcibly parted is heroic. As the Twain scholar Jocelyn Chadwick has pointed out, the character of Jim was a first in American fiction–a recognition that the slave had two personalities, “the voice of survival within a white slave culture and the voice of the individual: Jim, the father and the man.”

There is much more. Twain’s mystery novel Pudd’nhead Wilson–aside from being one of the earliest stories to hinge on the evidence of fingerprints–stood as a challenge to the racial convictions of even many of the liberals of his day. Written at a time when the accepted wisdom held Negroes to be inferior to whites, especially in intellect, Twain’s tale revolved in part around two babies switched at birth. A slave gave birth to her master’s baby and, concerned lest the child be sold South, switched him in the crib for the master’s baby by his wife. The slave’s light-skinned child was taken to be white and grew up with both the attitudes and the education of the slaveholding class. The master’s wife’s baby was taken for black and grew up with the attitudes and intonations of the slave.

The thrust was difficult to miss: nurture, not nature, was the key to social status. The features of the black man that provided the stuff of prejudice–manner of speech, for example–were, to Twain, indicative of nothing other than the conditioning that slavery imposed on its victims. At the same time, he was well aware of the possibility that the oppressed might eke out moments of joy amid their sorrows. This was the subject matter of a sprightly little tale titled A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It, published in the 1870s. The narrator asks his 60-ish black servant, Aunt Rachel–who spent most of her life as a slave–why she is so happy all the time. The story is her answer, and I will not spoil it other than to suggest that Twain manages, in just a few pages, to lead us through the complexities of seeking happiness when your life is literally not your own.

Mark Twain’s Take On Donald Trump

Simply a brilliant column.  Read it all here.

It’s a classic chapter in one of America’s iconic novels, the pages in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in which the two Mississippi River rascals dupe a one-horse Arkansas town into ponying up admission for their brief and bawdy comedy. “The Royal Nonesuch” consists of nothing but an overdrawn introduction from one grifter, followed by the other scampering around in naught but body paint, and an abrupt curtain drop.

The flimflam farce stands as apt allegory for the age of Trump — except that Mark Twain’s townsmen soon catch on to the con, whereas the Trumpkins haven’t been quite as quick on the uptake.

After watching as the Mississippi River grifters “fairly laughed their bones loose over the way they’d served them people,” Huck counsels a fed-up Jim that “we’ve got them on our hands, and we got to remember what they are, and make allowances.”

We’ve certainly got Trump on our hands for a few more years. But in this case, voters need to remember not just who he is, but also how he’s deceived them — and stop making allowances.

It Is A Huckleberry Finn Weekend

Going back to Mark Twain’s original classic this weekend after starting a book about the famed work of Mark Twain days ago.  (This all is so much more interesting than Donald Trump.)

This week I selected Huck Finn’s America by Andrew Levy from my shelves.  It was published last year and its idea is that contemporary readers have been misunderstanding Huckleberry Finn for decades.  We think of Mark Twain’s grand work as a boyhood adventure book–that is the way I viewed it when first reading it about age twelve in Hancock, Wisconsin.  There were also clearly tough issues about race that made me aware that book was also talking about a very long sad chapter in our national story.    But in his book Levy argues Huck Finn was written at a time when Americans were nervous about youth violence and “uncivilized” bad boys, and a debate was raging about education, popular culture, and responsible parenting — casting Huck’s now-celebrated “freedom” in a very different and very modern light. On issues of race, on the other hand, Twain’s lifelong fascination with minstrel shows and black culture inspired him to write a book not about civil rights, but about race’s role in entertainment and commerce, the same features upon which much of our own modern consumer culture is also grounded. In Levy’s vision, Huck Finn has more to say about contemporary children and race that we have ever imagined—if we are willing to hear it.

So when I got to chapter four of Levy’s truly engaging read I thought perhaps I should also read the classic again by Twain.   James pulled a copy from his collection and now I plan to relax this weekend outside with Huckleberry Finn and a modern way to evaluate him.

Now to make a pot of coffee—will be back to blogging on Monday.



Best Paragraphs In Sunday Newspaper Not About Protests, Death, Or Taxes

I am in one of those coffee drinking, grab a sweatshirt as I am chilly, feet up, protest weary, sad over Japan, chocolate eating moods.   As such I am reading all sorts of newspapers today and found the following in the Wisconsin State Journal that alerts me that life is about more than stressful topics.

Right off the bat, I love Mark Twain.  At Christmas one of the presents under the tree for James was volume one of the autobiography series from the famed writer.  James also loves Twain, but let me say I really did not buy the book  just so I could read it too. 


Today a follow-up news story about the success of the edition just made me glad that this project is gaining the respect it deserves.  It speaks volumes (no pun intended) about readers in America.

The first volume of the planned trilogy has remained a national bestseller since its release in November, 100 years after Twain’s death at the age of 74. There are nearly half a million copies in print, putting it as high as No. 4 on the Los Angeles Times’ hardback nonfiction list and No. 2 on the New York Times’ list.

“It’s not often that you get these events where the scholarly world and the popular sphere collide,” Benjamin Griffin, the memoir’s associate editor, said recently. He spoke in the small office he and Smith share in UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, near the repository of the world’s largest collection of Twain manuscripts and letters. Most of the 20,000 items came to the university in 1949 with permission of Twain’s daughter Clara, who later donated them.

The project’s staff worked for 43 years in relative obscurity, producing volume after volume of what are considered the most accurate and complete editions of Twain’s large body of work, including such classics as the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Prince and the Pauper,” along with letters, travelogues and essays.

Robert H. Hirst, the Twain center’s general editor, said he expected the memoir’s first volume to sell perhaps 10,000 copies, still much higher than his previous releases. “You’d have to be a fool to expect something like this to be a bestseller,” Hirst said of the often rambling reminiscences and many scholarly notes.

As sales took off, however, editors realized that Twain’s sly humor and skepticism about wealthy elites, U.S. militarism, politicians and organized religion hold a seemingly timeless appeal. “It’s a time when his particular sort of tone and attitude is very welcome,” said Hirst, who has headed the center for 30 years.

The strong sales mean a welcome windfall for the Twain project, perhaps $800,000 this year, which its editors said would be used to create an endowment to increase its seven-member staff and for costs that funding from UC, federal and private sources may not cover.

But even with the extra money, getting the entire autobiography to print will not be easy, Hirst said.

The book’s publisher, the University of California Press, had pushed for all three volumes to be published together last year, a task the Twain project said was impossible. The publisher now wants the second volume in stores next year and the third by 2014. Hirst says he will not meet those deadlines if it means diluting the quality of editing, historical annotation and Web presentation.

“We are going as fast as we can. Maybe it’s not fast enough for this commercial pressure. But I don’t consider it my job to give in to that,” the white-haired Hirst, 69, said in his office, cluttered with stacks of Twain books and files.

He escorted a visitor into the center’s climate-controlled storeroom, where metal cabinets are filled with Twain’s handwritten manuscripts and a trove of letters to and from him. On top of the cabinets are enlarged photographs of Twain in his signature white suit and the battered travel trunk in which his daughter Clara, a singer, carried her sheet music.

Hirst showed off one of his favorite items, a tiny purple velvet case containing a photograph of a 34-year-old, handsomely mustachioed Twain from 1869, which he inscribed with a love note (“I XXX you, Livy! Don’t tell!”) to his future wife Olivia Langdon.

The archive room also holds the documents that form the basis of the autobiography, a freewheeling, non-chronological melange of the writer’s memories, opinions and diatribes.

It’s not as if Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, left behind a well-organized memoir. After several false starts, he started dictating his thoughts and memories in 1906 in a manner he called “a complete and purposed jumble.” That continued over four years. 

Within a few pages, he details the whereabouts of childhood friends from Hannibal, Mo.; recalls trips with his late daughter, Susy; and denounces President Theodore Roosevelt for a 1906 U.S. military action in the Philippines that resulted, Twain said, in the “slaughter” of 600 tribal people.

Working from the sometimes conflicting typescripts of the dictation sessions, the project’s scholars painstakingly decipher the writer’s – and previous editors’ – handwritten corrections and deletions. They keep lists of every change, even shifts from commas to semicolons.

They also research accompanying explanations about many of the people, events and places Twain mentions. About 200 of the first volume’s 736 pages are devoted to such notes.

On a recent day Smith, 64, was puzzling over a June 12, 1906, transcript, in which Twain discussed acquaintances who had lost their property in that year’s San Francisco earthquake. The couple split up to find work, the woman heading to New York and the man to what the original typescript said was Oregon until Clemens crossed that out and wrote Montana, possibly to hide his identity. Smith is trying to determine if “Oregon” should be restored.

Sitting at a computer nearby, Griffin, 42, was researching a July 30, 1906, session in which Twain, a former Mississippi riverboat pilot, recalled a brief, youthful romance with a passenger. Nearly 50 years later, Twain said he had received a letter from the woman, Laura Wright, that “shook me to the foundations.” Wright was appealing for help for a disabled son and Twain sent her $1,000, asking himself: “What had that girl done, what crime had she committed, that she must be punished with poverty and drudgery in her old age?”

Griffin is preparing a biographical note about Wright, including an allegation, based on a friend’s letter in the archive, that she was a Confederate spy. Other project editors will decide whether the evidence is strong enough to mention her possible espionage. 

Twain had instructed that no one publish the entire memoir until a century after his death and no one seemed to want to. Dating to the 1920s, several abridged versions were produced, all of which took liberties with the writer’s format. Previous editors and Twain heirs also cut much of his earthy humor and more virulent attacks on former business partners, politicians and others; UC Berkeley’s scholars put it all back in.

Mark Twain: American Troops Referred To As “Our Uniformed Assassins”

I have always loved Mark Twain both as an author, and a person.  His life was filled, to say the least, with adventure.  With a keen analytical eye and a talented style of  putting words on paper there is no doubt that Mark Twain’s soon to be released autobiography will be  a must read.  I am also certain that it will lead some conservatives  in the nation to undertake removing his books from reading lists as they will disagree with his opinions.  That would be just as ridiculous as those on the other side who want Tom Sawyer  and Huck Finn removed for racial reasons.  There is no doubt that Mark Twain is about to be read and talked about more in the coming months than he has for many a year.  For us Twain fans that is fantastic news.

Twain’s opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, for example, were well known even in his own time. But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.

In a passage removed by Paine, Twain excoriates “the iniquitous Cuban-Spanish War” and Gen. Leonard Wood’s “mephitic record” as governor general in Havana. In writing about an attack on a tribal group in the Philippines, Twain refers to American troops as “our uniformed assassins” and describes their killing of “six hundred helpless and weaponless savages” as “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”

He is similarly unsparing about the plutocrats and Wall Street luminaries of his day, who he argued had destroyed the innate generosity of Americans and replaced it with greed and selfishness. “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars,” Twain observes. “He pays taxes on two million and a half.”