“Miraculously God has already done it. Don’t tell them She put it on Amazon instead.” ~ Cheryl Morgan*

El Paso Times, Texas, January 15, 1938

If it’s Friday, it must mean leftovers . . .

Friday afternoon, sunny (finally) and cooler, 69 degrees.

We’re trying to wean Roland from the bottle as he’ll be two months old tomorrow, but it’s hard as anytime he sees Zeke getting a bottle, he wants one. I just called Roland to try to get him away from Corey, who was feeding Zeke (a lot of names here, huh?), and Roland actually slid across the coffee table to get to me. I think that one of these goats is getting too big for the house . . .

Today’s collection is brought to you by Benadryl, what I’ve been slathering on my body for weeks now to try to calm the itch. Benadryl. It’s good for what ails you.

Seriously though, I may never venture outside again. Anyway, enjoy.


File under: Amazing but True—People have always been this way . . .

Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pennsylvania, April 5, 1850

I like to think that this was written just for me:

Celebrating the summer solstice:

I never knew this:

Didn’t know this either:

Cant tell if I’m more bothered by the pigeons or more in tune with the captions:

We take the freshness of our biscuits very seriously, indeed:

The Victoria Daily Times, British Columbia, February 21, 1931

My immediate first thought was how can he possibly afford this:

This is kind of arrogant. I mean, what if Mars already has a calendar system?

And finally . . . I shouldn’t be surprised by anything, any more:

The Miami News, Florida, March 8, 1938

*From an article in the Guardian about a Christian group petitioning the wrong company to cancel Good Omens . . .

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“Of pain you could wish only one thing: that it should stop. Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain. In the face of pain there are no heroes.” ~ George Orwell, from 1984

One of the Mule Women of Melilla by David Ramos/Getty Images (The Guardian)
“Among the personal objects inside a 2100-year-old Chinese tomb,
archaeologists found nine acupuncture needles,
four gold and five silver.
Long before knowing why,
ancient doctors knew that pain
must be fought with pain” ~ Luljeta Lleshanaku, from “Acupuncture” (Trans. Ani Gjika)

Friday evening, absolutely beautiful day and evening, 60 degrees.

Got the spring cleaning  bug today. Deep cleaned for hours, and now I can’t move. Seriously. My back is spazzing, and I have shooting pains going down my right leg. The back/leg pain hasn’t been this bad in years . . . but my house is getting clean.

Hooray?

In my head, I can relate to those poor women called porteadoras, or mule women, the ones who are paid a pittance to carry heavy bales of goods across the border between the Spanish enclave of Melilla and Morocco for merchants. I cannot even imagine what that must be like.

Anyway, good thing I have an appointment with a pain management doctor in only seven . . . weeks. Yep—weeks. Nothing is ever easy around here. Absolutely  nothing.

More later when I can sit in this chair without cringing.

Peace.


Selections from “Mythologies”

XV.

If you were a painter, you’d paint the wind
Green. It would shake the boughs of the honey locust trees.

It would chase the leaves across the continent.
It would scatter their crumbs in a twist of swirling snow.

It would be colorless and green at the same time,
The wind that aligns the pond and the cloud,

The wind that is everywhere, in constant motion,
As buoyant as Ariel and as scornful of gross Caliban,

The wind that holds up the fly ball, drives it back
Into fair territory, causes it to drift within reach

Of the right-fielder, who waves off the second baseman,
Until a last gust lifts the ball over both their heads

And it lands safely for the double that ends the game
In extra innings, costing our team the pennant.

XIX.

If we were painters we’d favor vibrant stripes,
Primary colors, flat surfaces, a lot of white

Remaining on the canvas. If we were composers
We’d take the music of exotic jungles with us

When we visit the vast vacant tundra. “If I were
Rich enough,” vowed the philanthropist, “I’d move

To a magnolia mansion and spend my days
Translating modern literature into ancient Greek.”

Great plans, distant vistas, a rearguard action
To sabotage the present—and here we’ve all assembled,

At the antiseptic airport, with haunted looks on our faces.
Occasional eye contact between man with tan and woman in white.

“You look like your voice,” she says, breaking the silence.
The rest of us know where we’re going, but we don’t know when.

~ David Lehman


Music by The Corrs, “Everybody Hurts”

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” ~ Joseph Heller, from Catch-22

Andrew Graystone outside his local mosque in Levenshulme. Photograph: @AndrewGraystone/Twitter

“This is the year of burning women in schoolyards
and raided homes, of tarped bodies on runways and in restaurants.” ~ Camille T. Dungy, from “Arthritis is one thing, the hurting another”

Monday evening, drizzle, 55 degrees.

Doctor’s appointment today, so sharing this story found on The Guardian in light of Sunday’s arson attack on a California mosque:

Choosing love over hate: In response to the March 15 mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, NZ, a Manchester, UK man stood outside a local mosque with a sign that read, “You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.” Andrew Graystone from Levenshulme, Manchester stood outside the Madina mosque holding the sign.

When I heard about this man’s gentle protest, it almost made me cry—one person’s unbelievable humanity in the face of yet another instance of man’s inhumanity to man. We—people, humans, sentient beings worldwide—need more of these small acts of kindness more than most of us even realize. They make us better bit by bit.


Music by Michael Kiwanuka, “Cold Little Heart”


Evidence

Helix of pain,

then dull haze,

a dozen or so soft black t-shirts

Distrust of the night, muscled voices,

dark SUVS, the unknown. Sheets

of paper work, faxes, phone numbers,

account statements, business cards,

to-do lists: feed yourself–

for a month of his last meal.

Break down when the bowl

empties. Break bowl, skin to get at

the hunger–an arterial pull that thrums

and thrums through the spine.

Bills–Write Deceased,

write it until you think

you are writing Diseased.

Start to imagine this your truth.

A few striped collard shirts,

Never, or

barely worn.

Size 13 shoes.

One pigtailed crying child,

one infant,

one boy

who wants to be a man,

and refuses to cry.

~ Casandra López (author of Brother Bullet, poem found on Literary Orphans)

“I will go down with my colours flying.” ~ Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry

Sunday evening. Sunny and autumnal, 63 degrees.

I’ve been saving this series of photographs for the perfect fall afternoon. It’s finally here. Enjoy the following beautiful images by Kacper Kowalski. For more of Kowalski’s incredible work, including his series Polish Autumn, click here.

By the way, I did not go through (since I am reblogging as published) and move the periods and commas to within the final quotation mark as they should be, even though this is one of my major grammatical pet peeves. I have to admit, I thought about it though . . .

                   

Reblogged from The Guardian:

He shoots, he soars: Kacper Kowalski’s forest photographs – in pictures

Travel writer Robert Macfarlane responds to photographer Kacper Kowalski’s giddily beautiful aerial shots of Poland’s forests in autumn

Henry James called it “the figure in the carpet”: a pattern that is imperceptible when seen from close up, but startlingly visible from above. For a century and a half, aerial photography has been revealing such patterns in the landscape: from prehistoric earthworks and trackways to the intricate designs of motorway flyovers and suburban street plans. The elevated perspective – once the view only of “the hawk” and “the ­helmeted airman”, in WH Auden’s phrase of 1930 – has become increasingly ubiquitous in everyday life. Satellite mapping has made gods and birds of us all, swooping over virtual surfaces of the Earth, while abstract patterns issue and vanish with a slide of the zoom-bar.

Kacper Kowalski’s astonishingly beautiful ­photographs of the autumnal Polish woodland disclose the figures in the forest carpet. Seen from above, tree species whose greens blend together for much of the year are vividly distinguished by their different fall colours, the change of season acting as a chromatograph. In one image, an area of forestry has been replanted and the younger trees assume a Mondrian-like geometry: Aztec red and gold rectangles and rhomboids of green and mauve, separated by logging tracks. In another, a band of heath, flanked by chalky ploughed fields, resembles a Rothko in its blocks and stripes of colour, and in the deep, ­eye-absorbing purple of its heather.

Several of Kowalski’s most striking photographs practise exquisite deceptions of scale. A diamond-shaped island, set in a lake whose surface itself looks like the sky, might be a micro-terrain of mosses and lichens on a boulder. Reed-marsh cupped in the curves of a river has the intricately crinkled texture of chamois leather. The ­spreading grey canopies of beech trees closely resemble nano-scale imagery of human nerve endings. Indeed, our neurons possess “dendrites” (from the Greek word dendron, meaning “tree”) – the branching projections that conduct electrochemical stimulation from synapse to nerve cell, and that overlap to form what neuroscience memorably calls a “dendritic arbor”. The outer landscape has christened the inner.

Autumn leaf-turn expresses a death that is also a renewal. Through spring and summer, green chlorophyll is the dominant leaf pigment. But as day-length decreases and temperatures fall, chlorophyll production in the leaves is reduced, eventually to the point of extinction. As the ­chlorophyll content declines, other pigments begin to shine through: carotenoids – that flame-orange, yellow and gold – brown tannins and the rarer redder anthocyanins. The anthocyanins are produced by the action of sustained strong light upon the sugars that get trapped in leaves as the tree’s vascular system prepares for leaf-drop. In these ways, deciduous trees scorch themselves spectacularly back to their bare branches, in order to survive the winter and prepare for the resurg­ence of spring. It’s a process that still speaks to us – unseasonal though most of our lives now are – as we start to batten down for the cold to come.

British woodlands lack in number the real fire-starters of the North American forests: the maples, aspens and sumacs that set whole mountain ranges ablaze each autumn. The pleasures here tend to be subtler, and certainly smaller in scale.

In Cambridgeshire, where I live, the first trees to turn are the acers – the sycamores and field maples – that glow doubloon-yellow and then burn ember-red. The beeches, oaks and hornbeams take their colour later and hold their leaves longer: entering a beech hanger on a bright, mid-autumn day is like stepping into a light box. The sunlight assumes the hues of the leaves through which it passes, and so falls inside the wood as gold, green and bronze. When a frost is followed by a gale, spectacular leaf falls occur and vast leaf drifts build up, big enough for children to burrow into. I particularly like the brimstone yellow of the sweet chestnut, and the acid yellow of the larch (a deciduous conifer). Up in the Hope Valley in Derbyshire one November, I cycled through larch plantations after a frost-gale combination had knocked millions of needles from the trees. They lay in glowing reefs that seemed to possess a lustre rather than a colour.

The forest, seen from the elevation of Kowalski’s camera, becomes more artefact than ecosystem. Details are encrypted by altitude: is the winged shadow that falls in the blue lake that of a boat on its surface, a raptor flying overhead, or the photographer’s own aircraft? Are the silver shards that cluster the shoreline of the diamond-shaped island waterfowl or boulders? It doesn’t really matter: the viewer makes his or her own sense of the sight.

I suppose this is why I slightly distrust aerial photography. The images it offers us are often arrestingly beautiful, but this beauty is born of abstraction, distance and detachment. Seen from above, landscape tends to reduce to pure form, and our relationship with it to the purely aesthetic. I would much rather be tramping through an autumnal forest than flying over one. It’s for this reason that my favourite of Kowalski’s images is that of the dendritic beech wood. The trees are bare of their leaves, so we can see down to the footpath that slants across the frame. And just visible upon the track are a couple of walkers, out for a wander, making their own pattern in the copper carpet of leaves.


Music by Carina Round, “For Everything a Reason”

 

“Unfortunately, I seem rather short of tears, so my sorrows have to stay inside me.” ~ Nadine Gordimer, Interview in The Guardian (9 March 2012)

Nadine Gordimer 1981 BBC
Nadine Gordimer (BBC, 1981)

Goodbye Nadine Gordimer
(November 12, 1923 – July 14, 2014)

I’m fairly certain that I learned of Gordimer through Mari. As usual, she was so right in her recommendations. Gordimer’s work was simply beautiful, her mastery of language enviable. In 1991, Gordimer wond the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was the first South African to win, and the first woman in 25 years to win. Gordimer was an outspoken opponent of apartheid, and as a result, three of her books were banned in her country. In 1991, Los Angeles Times correspondent Scott Kraft said of Gordimer that “this unassuming, strong-willed white woman has used her manual Hermes typewriter to give the world some of the most perceptive and uncompromising works of fiction ever written about her homeland, South Africa.” After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked to meet with Gordimer. Here is a link to Gordimer’s essay on Nelson Mandela, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2013.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the Nobel Laureate:

“I’m a candle flame that sways in currents of air you can’t see. You need to be the one who steadies me to burn.” (from The House Gun)

“At four in the afternoon the old moon bleeds radiance into the grey sky.” (from “My Father Leaves Home”)

“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” (from “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer”)

“Any writer of any worth at all hopes to play only a pocket-torch of light — and rarely, through genius, a sudden flambeau — into the bloody yet beautiful labyrinth of human experience, of being.” (from “Writing and Being,” Nobel Lecture, 1991)

“A desert is a place without expectation.” (from “Telling Times”)

“I never thought about the prize [Nobel] when I wrote. Writing is not a horse race.” (after learning that she had won in 1991)


Here are some links:

The Guardian’s obituary

The New York Times obituary

Obituary in The Telegraph

Online archive of short stories in The New Yorker

Art of Fiction No. 77, Paris Review (Fall 1979/Spring 1980)

 

 

“Screw the consequences, we want to buy a lot of crap and we want to buy it cheap, with overnight free shipping.” ~ Jonathan Franzen, from “What’s Wrong with the Modern World”

mentoscoke.jpg
Group Mentos Coke Explosion in Belgium

“A succeeding century of the former, involving scientific advances that would have seemed miraculous not long ago, has resulted in high-resolution smartphone videos of dudes dropping Mentos into litre bottles of Diet Pepsi and shouting ‘Whoa!'” ~ Jonathan Franzen, from “What’s Wrong with the Modern World”

Karl Kraus
Karl Kraus. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

I came across a wonderful essay in The Guardian by Jonathan Franzen that is far too long to post here. To read it in its entirety, click here. Franzen’s words appeal directly to my little curmudgeonly heart even though I’ve never read a thing by Karl Kraus, “the great hater.” But after a taste here—”Believe me, you color-happy people, in cultures where every blockhead has individuality, individuality becomes a thing for blockheads”—I’m kind of wishing that I had, read Kraus, that is.

Here is a sampling:

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you’re not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification (“Overnight free shipping!”).

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

Jonathan Franzen: what’s wrong with the modern world

While we are busy tweeting, texting and spending, the world is drifting towards disaster, believes Jonathan Franzen, whose despair at our insatiable technoconsumerism echoes the apocalyptic essays of the satirist Karl Kraus – ‘the Great Hater’
News: Amazon model favours yakkers and braggers, says Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen Karl Kraus illustration

Jonathan Franzen confesses to ‘feeling some version of [Karl Kraus’s] disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better succumbs to Twitter’. Illustration: Mark Lazenby

Karl Kraus was an Austrian satirist and a central figure in fin-de-siecle Vienna’s famously rich life of the mind. From 1899 until his death in 1936, he edited and published the influential magazine Die Fackel (The Torch); from 1911 onward, he was also the magazine’s sole author. Although Kraus would probably have hated blogs, Die Fackel was like a blog that everybody who mattered in the German-speaking world, from Freud to Kafka to Walter Benjamin, found it necessary to read and have an attitude toward. Kraus was especially well known for his aphorisms – for example, “Psychoanalysis is that disease of the mind for which it believes itself to be the cure” – and at the height of his popularity he drew thousands to his public readings.

The thing about Kraus is that he’s very hard to follow on a first reading – deliberately hard. He was the scourge of throwaway journalism, and to his cult-like followers his dense and intricately coded style formed an agreeable barrier to entry; it kept the uninitiated out. Kraus himself remarked of the playwright Hermann Bahr, before attacking him: “If he understands one sentence of the essay, I’ll retract the entire thing.” If you read Kraus’s sentences more than once, you’ll find that they have a lot to say to us in our own media-saturated, technology-crazed, apocalypse-haunted historical moment.

Here, for example, is the first paragraph of his essay “Heine and the Consequences”.

“Two strains of intellectual vulgarity: defenselessness against content and defenselessness against form. The one experiences only the material side of art. It is of German origin. The other experiences even the rawest of materials artistically. It is of Romance origin. [Romance meaning Romance-language — French or Italian.] To the one, art is an instrument; to the other, life is an ornament. In which hell would the artist prefer to fry? He’d surely still rather live among the Germans. For although they’ve strapped art into the Procrustean Folding Bed of their commerce, they’ve also made life sober, and this is a blessing: fantasy thrives, and every man can put his own light in the barren windowframes. Just spare me the pretty ribbons! Spare me this good taste that over there and down there delights the eye and irritates the imagination. Spare me this melody of life that disturbs my own music, which comes into its own only in the roaring of the German workday. Spare me this universal higher level of refinement from which it’s so easy to observe that the newspaper seller in Paris has more charm than the Prussian publisher.”

First footnote: Kraus’s suspicion of the “melody of life” in France and Italy still has merit. His contention here – that walking down a street in Paris or Rome is an aesthetic experience in itself – is confirmed by the ongoing popularity of France and Italy as vacation destinations and by the “envy me” tone of American Francophiles and Italophiles announcing their travel plans. If you say you’re taking a trip to Germany, you’d better be able to explain what specifically you’re planning to do there, or else people will wonder why you’re not going someplace where life is beautiful. Even now, Germany insists on content over form. If the concept of coolness had existed in Kraus’s time, he might have said that Germany is uncool.

This suggests a more contemporary version of Kraus’s dichotomy: Mac versus PC. Isn’t the essence of the Apple product that you achieve coolness simply by virtue of owning it? It doesn’t even matter what you’re creating on your Mac Air. Simply using a Mac Air, experiencing the elegant design of its hardware and software, is a pleasure in itself, like walking down a street in Paris. Whereas, when you’re working on some clunky, utilitarian PC, the only thing to enjoy is the quality of your work itself. As Kraus says of Germanic life, the PC “sobers” what you’re doing; it allows you to see it unadorned. This was especially true in the years of DOS operating systems and early Windows.

Jonathan Franzen Jonathan Franzen: ‘Anger descended on me so near in time to when I fell in love with Kraus’s writing that the two occurrences are practically indistinguishable.’

One of the developments that Kraus will decry in this essay – the Viennese dolling-up of German language and culture with decorative elements imported from Romance language and culture – has a correlative in more recent editions of Windows, which borrow ever more features from Apple but still can’t conceal their essential uncool Windowsness. Worse yet, in chasing after Apple elegance, they betray the old austere beauty of PC functionality. They still don’t work as well as Macs do, and they’re ugly by both cool and utilitarian standards.

And yet, to echo Kraus, I’d still rather live among PCs. Any chance that I might have switched to Apple was negated by the famous and long-running series of Apple ads aimed at persuading people like me to switch. The argument was eminently reasonable, but it was delivered by a personified Mac (played by the actor Justin Long) of such insufferable smugness that he made the miseries of Windows attractive by comparison. You wouldn’t want to read a novel about the Mac: what would there be to say except that everything is groovy? Characters in novels need to have actual desires; and the character in the Apple ads who had desires was the PC, played by John Hodgman. His attempts to defend himself and to pass himself off as cool were funny, and he suffered, like a human being. (There were local versions of the ad around the world, with comedians David Mitchell and Robert Webb as the PC and Mac in the UK).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the concept of “cool” has been so fully co-opted by the tech industries that some adjacent word such as “hip” is needed to describe those online voices who proceeded to hate on Long and deem Hodgman to be the cool one. The restlessness of who or what is considered hip nowadays may be an artifact of what Marx famously identified as the “restless” nature of capitalism. One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking. Kraus may not have cared about hipness per se, but he certainly revelled in taking positions and was keenly attuned to the positions of others. He was a sophisticate, and this is one reason Die Fackel has a bloglike feel. Kraus spent a lot of time reading stuff he hated, so as to be able to hate it with authority.

“Believe me, you color-happy people, in cultures where every blockhead has individuality, individuality becomes a thing for blockheads.”

Second footnote: You’re not allowed to say things like this in America nowadays, no matter how much the billion (or is it 2 billion now?) “individualised” Facebook pages may make you want to say them. Kraus was known, in his day, to his many enemies, as the Great Hater. By most accounts, he was a tender and generous man in his private life, with many loyal friends. But once he starts winding the stem of his polemical rhetoric, it carries him into extremely harsh registers.

The individualised “blockheads” that Kraus has in mind here aren’t hoi polloi. Although Kraus could sound like an elitist, he wasn’t in the business of denigrating the masses or lowbrow culture; the calculated difficulty of his writing wasn’t a barricade against the barbarians. It was aimed, instead, at bright and well-educated cultural authorities who embraced a phony kind of individuality – people Kraus believed ought to have known better.

It’s not clear that Kraus’s shrill, ex cathedra denunciations were the most effective way to change hearts and minds. But I confess to feeling some version of his disappointment when a novelist who I believe ought to have known better, Salman Rushdie, succumbs to Twitter. Or when a politically committed print magazine that I respect, N+1, denigrates print magazines as terminally “male,” celebrates the internet as “female,” and somehow neglects to consider the internet’s accelerating pauperisation of freelance writers. Or when good lefty professors who once resisted alienation – who criticised capitalism for its restless assault on every tradition and every community that gets in its way – start calling the corporatised internet “revolutionary.”

“Spare me the picturesque moil on the rind of an old gorgonzola in place of the dependable white monotony of cream cheese! Life is hard to digest both here and there. But the Romance diet beautifies the spoilage; you swallow the bait and go belly up. The German regimen spoils beauty and puts us to the test: how do we recreate it? Romance culture makes everyman a poet. Art’s a piece of cake there. And Heaven a hell.”

Submerged in this paragraph is the implication that Kraus’s Vienna was an in-between case – like Windows Vista. Its language and orientation were German, but it was the co-capital of a Roman Catholic empire reaching far into southern Europe, and it was in love with its own notion of its special, charming Viennese spirit and lifestyle. (“The streets of Vienna are paved with culture,” goes one of Kraus’s aphorisms. “The streets of other cities with asphalt.”) To Kraus, the supposed cultural charm of Vienna amounted to a tissue of hypocrisies stretched over soon-to-be-catastrophic contradictions, which he was bent on unmasking with his satire. The paragraph may come down harder on Latin culture than on German, but Kraus was actually fond of vacationing in Italy and had some of his most romantic experiences there. For him, the place with the really dangerous disconnect between content  and form was Austria, which was rapidly modernising while retaining early-19th-century political and social models. Kraus was obsessed with the role of modern newspapers in papering over the contradictions. Like the Hearst papers in America, the bourgeois Viennese press had immense political and financial influence, and was demonstrably corrupt. It profited greatly from the first world war and was instrumental in sustaining charming Viennese myths like the “hero’s death” through years of mechanised slaughter. The Great War was precisely the Austrian apocalypse that Kraus had been prophesying, and he relentlessly satirised the press’s complicity in it.

Vienna in 1910 was, thus, a special case. And yet you could argue that America in 2013 is a similarly special case: another weakened empire telling itself stories of its exceptionalism while it drifts towards apocalypse of some sort, fiscal or epidemiological, climatic-environmental or thermonuclear. Our far left may hate religion and think we coddle Israel, our far right may hate illegal immigrants and think we coddle black people, and nobody may know how the economy is supposed to work now that markets have gone global, but the actual substance of our daily lives is total distraction. We can’t face the real problems; we spent a trillion dollars not really solving a problem in Iraq that wasn’t really a problem; we can’t even agree on how to keep healthcare costs from devouring the GNP. What we can all agree to do instead is to deliver ourselves to the cool new media and technologies, to Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, and to let them profit at our expense. Our situation looks quite a bit like Vienna’s in 1910, except that newspaper technology has been replaced by digital technology and Viennese charm by American coolness.

Karl Kraus Karl Kraus. Photograph: Imagno/Getty Images

Consider the first paragraph of a second Kraus essay, “Nestroy and Posterity”. The essay is ostensibly a celebration of Johann Nestroy, a leading figure in the Golden Age of Viennese theatre, in the first half of the 19th century. By the time Kraus published it, in 1912, Nestroy was underrated, misread and substantially forgotten, and Kraus takes this to be a symptom of what’s wrong with modernity. In his essay “Apocalypse”, a few years earlier, he’d written: “Culture can’t catch its breath, and in the end a dead humanity lies next to its works, whose invention cost us so much of our intellect that we had none left to put them to use. We were complicated enough to build machines and too primitive to make them serve us.” To me the most impressive thing about Kraus as a thinker may be how early and clearly he recognised the divergence of technological progress from moral and spiritual progress. A succeeding century of the former, involving scientific advances that would have seemed miraculous not long ago, has resulted in high-resolution smartphone videos of dudes dropping Mentos into litre bottles of Diet Pepsi and shouting “Whoa!” Technovisionaries of the 1990s promised that the internet would usher in a new world of peace, love, and understanding, and Twitter executives are still banging the utopianist drum, claiming foundational credit for the Arab spring. To listen to them, you’d think it was inconceivable that eastern Europe could liberate itself from the Soviets without the benefit of cellphones, or that a bunch of Americans revolted against the British and produced the US constitution without 4G capability.

“Nestroy and Posterity” begins:

“We cannot celebrate his memory the way a posterity ought to, by acknowledging a debt we’re called upon to honor, and so we want to celebrate his memory by confessing to a bankruptcy that dishonors us, we inhabitants of a time that has lost the capacity to be a posterity… How could the eternal Builder fail to learn from the experiences of this century? For as long as there have been geniuses, they’ve been placed into a time like temporary tenants, while the plaster was still drying; they moved out and left things cozier for humanity. For as long as there have been engineers, however, the house has been getting less habitable. God have mercy on the development! Better that He not allow artists to be born than with the consolation that this future of ours will be better for their having lived before us. This world! Let it just try to feel like a posterity, and, at the insinuation that it owes its progress to a detour of the Mind, it will give out a laugh that seems to say: More Dentists Prefer Pepsodent. A laugh based on an idea of Roosevelt’s and orchestrated by Bernard Shaw. It’s the laugh that’s done with everything and can do whatever. For the technicians have burned the bridges, and the future is: whatever follows automatically.”

Nowadays, the refrain is that “there’s no stopping our powerful new technologies”. Grassroots resistance to these technologies is almost entirely confined to health and safety issues, and meanwhile various logics – of war theory, of technology, of the marketplace – keep unfolding automatically. We find ourselves living in a world with hydrogen bombs because uranium bombs just weren’t going to get the job done; we find ourselves spending most of our waking hours texting and emailing and Tweeting and posting on colour-screen gadgets because Moore’s law said we could. We’re told that, to remain competitive economically, we need to forget about the humanities and teach our children “passion” for digital technology and prepare them to spend their entire lives incessantly re-educating themselves to keep up with it. The logic says that if we want things like Zappos.com or home DVR capability – and who wouldn’t want them? – we need to say goodbye to job stability and hello to a lifetime of anxiety. We need to become as restless as capitalism itself.

Not only am I not a Luddite, I’m not even sure the original Luddites were Luddites. (It simply seemed practical to them to smash the steam-powered looms that were putting them out of work.) I spend all day every day using software and silicon, and I’m enchanted with everything about my new Lenovo ultrabook computer except its name. (Working on something called an IdeaPad tempts me to refuse to have ideas.) But not long ago, when I was intemperate enough to call Twitter “dumb” in public, the response of Twitter addicts was to call me a Luddite. Nyah, nyah, nyah! It was as if I’d said it was “dumb” to smoke cigarettes, except that in this case I had no medical evidence to back me up. People did worry, for a while, that cellphones might cause brain cancer, but the link has been revealed to be feeble-to-nonexistent, and now nobody has to worry any more.

“This velocity doesn’t realize that its achievement is important only in escaping itself. Present in body, repellent in spirit, perfect just the way they are, these times of ours are hoping to be overtaken by the times ahead, and that the children, spawned by the union of sport and machine and nourished by newspaper, will be able to laugh even better then … There’s no scaring them; if a spirit comes along, the word is: we’ve already got everything we need. Science is set up to guarantee their hermetic isolation from anything from the beyond. This thing that calls itself a world because it can tour itself in fifty days is finished as soon as it can do the math. To look the question “What then?” resolutely in the eye, it still has the confidence to reckon with whatever doesn’t add up. And the brain has barely an inkling that the day of the great drought has dawned. Then the last organ falls silent, but the last machine goes on humming, until even it stands still, because its operator has forgotten the Word. For the intellect didn’t understand that, in the absence of spirit, it could grow well enough within its own generation but would lose the ability to reproduce itself. If two times two really is four, the way they say it is, it’s owing to the fact that Goethe wrote the poem “Ocean Calm.” But now people know the product of two times two so exactly that in a hundred years they won’t be able to figure it out. “Something that never before existed must have entered the world. An infernal machine of humanity.”

Of all of Kraus’s lines, this is probably the one that has meant the most to me. Kraus in this passage is evoking the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – the unintended unleashing of supernaturally destructive consequences. Although he’s talking about the modern newspaper, his critique applies, if anything, even better to contemporary technoconsumerism. For Kraus, the infernal thing about newspapers was their fraudulent coupling of Enlightenment ideals with a relentless pursuit of profit and power. With technoconsumerism, a humanist rhetoric of “empowerment” and “creativity” and “freedom” and “connection” and “democracy” abets the frank monopolism of the techno-titans; the new infernal machine seems increasingly to obey nothing but its own developmental logic, and it’s far more enslavingly addictive, and far more pandering to people’s worst impulses, than newspapers ever were. Indeed, what Kraus will later say of Nestroy could now be said of Kraus himself: “he attacks his small environs with an asperity worthy of a later cause.” The profits and reach of the Viennese press were pitifully small by the standards of today’s tech and media giants. The sea of trivial or false or empty data is millions of times larger now. Kraus was merely prognosticating when he envisioned a day when people had forgotten how to add and subtract; now it’s hard to get through a meal with friends without somebody reaching for an iPhone to retrieve the kind of fact it used to be the brain’s responsibility to remember. The techno-boosters, of course, see nothing wrong here. They point out that human beings have always outsourced memory – to poets, historians, spouses, books. But I’m enough of a child of the 60s to see a difference between letting your spouse remember your nieces’ birthdays and handing over basic memory function to a global corporate system of control.

“An invention for shattering the Koh-i-noor [at the time, the world’s largest diamond] to make its light accessible to everyone who doesn’t have it. For fifty years now it’s been running, the machine into which the Mind is put in the front to emerge at the rear as print, diluting, distributing, destroying. The giver loses, the recipients are impoverished, and the middlemen make a living …”

So that’s a taste of Krausian prose. The question I want to consider now is:  Why was Kraus so angry? He was a late child in a prosperous, well-assimilated Jewish family whose business generated a large enough income to make him financially independent for life. This in turn enabled him to publish Die Fackel exactly as he wished, without making concessions to advertisers or subscribers. He had a close circle of good friends and a much larger circle of admirers, many of them fanatical, some of them famous. Although he never married, he had some brilliant affairs and one deep long-term relationship. His only significant health problem was a curvature of the spine, and even this had the benefit of exempting him from military service. So how did a person so extremely fortunate become the Great Hater?

I wonder if he was so angry because he was so privileged. Later in the Nestroy essay, the Great Hater defends his hatred like this: “Acid wants the gleam, and the rust says it’s only being corrosive.” Kraus hated bad language because he loved good language – because he had the gifts, both intellectual and financial, to cultivate that love. And the person who’s been lucky in life can’t help expecting the world to keep going his way; when the world insists on going wrong ways, corrupt and tasteless ways, he feels betrayed by it. And so he gets angry, and the anger itself further isolates him and heightens his sense of specialness.

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos. He ‘may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen’. Photograph: Rex Rystedt/TIME & LIFE Images

Like any artist, Kraus wanted to be an individual. For much of his life, he was defiantly anti-political; he seemed to form professional alliances almost with the intention of later torpedoing them spectacularly. Given that Kraus’s favourite play was King Lear, I wonder if he might have seen his own fate in Cordelia, the cherished late child who loves the king and who, precisely because she’s been the privileged daughter, secure in the king’s love, has the personal integrity to refuse to debase her language and lie to him in his dotage. Privilege set Kraus, too, on the road to being an independent individual, but the world seemed bent on thwarting him. It disappointed him the way Lear disappoints Cordelia, and in Kraus this became a recipe for anger. In his yearning for a better world, in which true individuality was possible, he kept applying the acid of his anger to everything that was false.

Let me turn to my own example, since I’ve been reading it into Kraus’s story anyway.

I was a late child in a loving family which, although it wasn’t nearly prosperous enough to make me a rentier, did have enough money to place me in a good public school district and send me to an excellent college, where I learned to love literature and language. I was a white, male, heterosexual American with good friends and perfect health. And yet, for all my privileges, I became an extremely angry person. Anger descended on me so near in time to when I fell in love with Kraus’s writing that the two occurrences are practically indistinguishable.

I wasn’t born angry. If anything, I was born the opposite. It may sound like an exaggeration, but I think it’s accurate to say that I knew nothing of anger until I was 22. As an adolescent, I’d had my moments of sullenness and rebellion against authority, but, like Kraus, I’d had minimal conflict with my father, and the worst that could be said of me and mother was that we bickered like an old married couple. Real anger, anger as a way of life, was foreign to me until one particular afternoon in April 1982. I was on a deserted train platform in Hanover. I’d come from Munich and was waiting for a train to Berlin, it was a dark grey German day, and I took a handful of German coins out of my pocket and started throwing them on the platform. There was an element of anti-German hostility in this, because I’d recently had a horrible experience with a penny-pinching old German woman and it did me good to imagine other penny-pinching old German women bending down to pick the coins up, as I knew they would, and thereby aggravating their knee and hip pains. The way I hurled the coins, though, was more generally angry. I was angry at the world in a way I’d never been before. The proximate cause of my anger was my failure to have sex with an unbelievably pretty girl in Munich, except that it hadn’t actually been a failure, it had been a decision on my part. A few hours later, on the platform in Hanover, I marked my entry into the life that came after that decision by throwing away my coins. Then I boarded a train and went back to Berlin, where I was living on a Fulbright grant, and enrolled in a class on Karl Kraus.

As a wedding present, three months after I returned from Berlin, my college German professor George Avery gave me a hardcover edition of Kraus’s great critique of nazism, The Third Walpurgis Night. George, who had opened my eyes to the connection between literature and the living of life, was becoming something of a second father to me, a father who read novels and embraced every pleasure. I’d been a good student of his, and it must have been a wish to prove myself worthy, to demonstrate my love, that led me, in the months following my wedding, to try to translate the two difficult Kraus essays I’d brought home from Berlin.

I did the work late in the afternoon, after six or seven hours of writing short stories, in the bedroom of the little Somerville apartment that my wife and I were renting for $300 a month. When I’d finished drafts of the two translations, I sent them to George. He returned them a few weeks later, with marginal notations in his microscopic handwriting, and with a letter in which he applauded my effort but said that he could also see how “devilishly difficult” it was to translate Kraus. Taking his hint, I looked at the drafts with a fresh eye and was discouraged to find them stilted and nearly unreadable. Almost every sentence needed work, and I was so worn out by the work I’d already done that I buried the pages in a file folder.

But Kraus had changed me. When I gave up on short stories and returned to my novel, I was mindful of his moral fervour, his satirical rage, his hatred of the media, his preoccupation with apocalypse, and his boldness as a sentence-writer. I wanted to expose America’s contradictions the way he’d exposed Austria’s, and I wanted to do it via the novel, the popular genre that Kraus had disdained but I did not. I still hoped to finish my Kraus project, too, after my novel had made me famous and a millionaire. To honour these hopes, I collected clippings from the Sunday Times and the daily Boston Globe, which my wife and I subscribed to. For some reason – perhaps to reassure myself that other people, too, were getting married – I read the nuptials pages religiously, clipping headlines such as “Cynthia Pigott Married to Louis Bacon” and, my favourite, “Miss LeBourgeois to Marry Writer”.

I read the Globe with an especially cold Krausian eye, and it obligingly enraged me with its triviality and its shoddy proofreading and its dopily punning weather headlines. I was so disturbed by the rootless, meaningless “wit” of Head-on Splash, which I imagined would not amuse the family of someone killed in a car crash, and of Autumnic Balm, which offended my sense of the seriousness of the nuclear peril, that I finally wrote a slashingly Krausian letter to the editor. The Globe actually printed the letter, but it managed, with characteristic carelessness, to mangle my punchline as Automatic Balm, thereby rendering my point incomprehensible. I was so enraged that I later devoted many pages of my second novel to making fun of what a shitty paper the Globe was. My rage back then – directed not just at the media but at Boston, Boston drivers, the people at the lab where I worked, the computer at the lab, my family, my wife’s family, Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, literary theorists, the minimalist fiction writers then in vogue, and men who divorced their wives – is foreign to me now. It must have had to do with the profound isolation of my married life and with the ruthlessness with which, in my ambition and poverty, I was denying myself pleasure.

There was probably also, as I’ve argued, an element of the privileged person’s anger at the world for disappointing him. If I turned out not to have enough of this anger to make me a junior Kraus, it was because of the genre I’d chosen. When a hardcore satirist manages to achieve some popularity, it can only mean that his audience doesn’t understand him. The lack of an audience whom Kraus could respect was a foregone conclusion, and so he never had to stop being angry: he could be the Great Hater at his writing desk, and then he could put down his pen and have a cosy personal life with his friends. But when a novelist finds an audience, even a small one, he or she is in a different relation to it, because the relation is based on recognition, not misunderstanding. With a relation like that, with an audience like that, it becomes simply dishonest to remain so angry. And the mental work that fiction fundamentally requires, which is to imagine what it’s like to be somebody you are not, further undermines anger. The more I wrote novels, the less I trusted my own righteousness, and the more prone I was to sympathising with people like the typesetters at the Globe. Plus, as the internet rose to power, disseminating information that could be trusted as little as it cost to read it, I became so grateful to papers like the Times and the Globe for still existing, and for continuing to pay halfway responsible reporters to report, that I lost all interest in tearing them down.

And so, sometime in the 90s, I took my bad Kraus translations out of my active file cabinet and put them into deeper storage. Kraus’s sentences never stopped running through my head, but I felt that I’d outgrown Kraus, felt that he was an angry young man’s kind of writer, ultimately not a novelist’s kind of writer. What has drawn me back to him now is, in part, my nagging sense that apocalypse, after seeming to recede for a while, is still in the picture.

In my own little corner of the world, which is to say American fiction, Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they’re the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you’re not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification (“Overnight free shipping!”).

But so the physical book goes on the endangered-species list, so responsible book reviewers go extinct, so independent bookstores disappear, so literary novelists are conscripted into Jennifer-Weinerish self-promotion, so the Big Six publishers get killed and devoured by Amazon: this looks like an apocalypse only if most of your friends are writers, editors or booksellers. Plus it’s possible that the story isn’t over. Maybe the internet experiment in consumer reviewing will result in such flagrant corruption (already one-third of all online product reviews are said to be bogus) that people will clamour for the return of professional reviewers. Maybe an economically significant number of readers will come to recognise the human and cultural costs of Amazonian hegemony and go back to local bookstores or at least to barnesandnoble.com, which offers the same books and a superior e-reader, and whose owners have progressive politics. Maybe people will get as sick of Twitter as they once got sick of cigarettes. Twitter’s and Facebook’s latest models for making money still seem to me like one part pyramid scheme, one part wishful thinking, and one part repugnant panoptical surveillance.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. (Warning: graphic content)

The photograph that went round the world. The Guardian tracked down the child with the bottle, two-year-old Reza Khan, and spoke with his mother about her family’s struggles.
Photograph: Mohammad Sajjad/AP
                   
“The next question had to be, why go on? If memory continually brought us back to this, why build a home? Why bring children into a world in which God and man betrayed their trust in one another?” ~ Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Speech

Despite your initial reaction, do not turn away. Force yourself to take all of the time necessary to see the face of human tragedy unfolding in real life.

I realize that what I am asking is hard, painful, that it would be so much easier to click off and move on to something else: an innocuous joke in your inbox, a comedy during primetime television. But you are better than that. At least, I hope that you are.

I know that when this image appeared on my screen, my first reaction was to scroll down, to move beyond the image to the words, but then I realized that ignoring the image would not make the reality of what is depicted any less palpable, that it would not put milk in that child’s empty bottle, that the flies that cover their bodies would continue to torture their skin relentlessly, no matter how much I wished it all away.

So I forced myself to look. I forced myself to see what was before me. Yes, you already know that I am a bleeding heart, that my empathic nature only compounds the wounds to my psyche. But I refuse to pretend that this isn’t real, just as I refused to look away when images of bloated bodies filled the blood-stained waters of Rwanda. Just as I have carried with me from office to office, bulletin board to bulletin board a faded, yellow newspaper image of a man carrying his skeletal son atop his shoulder during the Ethiopian famine.

I do this because I am human, and because sometimes I forget to place things in their proper context, and I carp too much about the difficulties of my life, forgetting just how little so many individuals in this world actually have to call their own, how the things that I and those like me take for granted that we can turn on a faucet and have clean drinking water, that we can close a door and use indoor facilities that carry away our bodily waste so that we do not have to dwell on the smells. I complain when there is no more Pepsi in the house, and I bemoan that fact that a carton of Breyer’s ice cream isn’t sitting in my freezer.

I am human, but when confronted with the face of unimaginable suffering, I feel that I am the alien, the being from another world, a world that takes what it wants and leaves little for those most in need. I hate feeling this way, but I hate more that we still inhabit a world that tolerates and ignores large-scale suffering—not just in countries far away, but in our own country.

So please don’t turn away. I am appealing to that side of you that it is easier to tuck away beneath the veneer of civilization and creature comforts. Look at the picture. Read the story in its entirety below. And then, if you can, do something.

Behind the photograph: the human face of Pakistan’s deadly flood
Rania Abouzeid in Azakhel
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 September 2010

It was an image that conveyed the human cost of the Pakistani floods – and the failure to deliver aid to those affected –more powerfully than any statistic: four young children lying on a filthy patchwork quilt, one of them sucking on an empty yellow bottle, all of them covered by flies.

The photograph by Associated Press’s Mohammad Sajjad went around the world and featured in the Guardian’s Eyewitness slot last week. The Guardian identified the child with the bottle as two-year-old Reza Khan and tracked him down to a makeshift camp at a roadside in Azakhel, some 19 miles from Peshawar, the capital of the insurgency-plagued province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan.

The camp is a hotchpotch of about two dozen tents donated by various aid organisations, but it is run by none. Its residents must fend for themselves, and rely on the charity of passersby. There are 19 families here, all of them Afghan refugees: people who were displaced once by conflict in their homeland have now been displaced again by the month-long deluge.

Reza’s family is from Butkhak, near the Afghan capital, Kabul. His father fled the area as a young boy, some 30 years ago, to escape the cycle of foreign occupation and internecine battles plaguing his homeland.

When we found him, Reza was in a tent with his mother, Fatima, who, like most Afghans, has only one name, and six of his seven siblings, all huddled on a blue blanket extended over the muddy floor. He was still clutching the same bottle. It was still empty.

Fatima tried to calm the boy, who cries in a constant, low whimper, as well as his twin brother, Mahmoud. She covered three of her other children–she has eight, all under the age of nine–with a dirty mosquito net somebody in a passing car gave her, but it has several gaping holes. Her eldest child, a nine-year-old girl called Sayma, is mute and seems dissociated from her surroundings. Her green eyes stare blankly ahead, seemingly oblivious to her brothers’ wails. Flies carpet the few blankets arranged on the floor, and swarm all over the children. There is precious little in the tent–one cooking pot, a few cushions and two or three items of children’s clothing. The stench of human and animal waste is overwhelming in the hot, humid air. There is no sanitation, just shallow, open ditches of raw sewage that attract flies and mosquitoes.

“They have had nothing to eat today. I have no food,” Fatima says as she tries to swat the flies away from her children with a bamboo fan. “He’s crying with hunger,” she says, pointing to Reza. “It’s been a month since he had any milk.”

Pakistan floods: Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima

Two-year-old twins Reza and Mahmoud Khan sit with their mother Fatima and six other siblings in a roadside tent. Photograph: Jason Tanner for the Guardian

On this day, Reza’s father, Aslam, was in a nearby hospital with his seven-year-old daughter, who has a skin infection caused by the unsanitary living conditions. Reza and several of his siblings also bear red spots, and appear malnourished. Their thin hair is coming out in clumps, their mother says. “We have been here for a month, a month!” Fatima says. “We are tired of these flies and of being without food. Before the waters came, my husband worked. We were poor before, but we had full stomachs.”

The family of 10 used to live among the 23,000 residents of the Azakhel Afghan refugee camp, about 20 minutes’ walk from their current roadside location. Aslam sold chickens for a living, travelling from door to door on a rickety bicycle, one of the family’s prized possessions. He made about $2 a day.

Their mud-brick home was small, Fatima says, but it was enough for her. They lived among her husband’s clan, about six families in all. “I had a kitchen, and there was a water tap close by,” she says as her youngest child, one-year-old Ayad, tugs on her lilac dupatta, the scarf Pakistani women drape over their heads, arms and chest, pulling it away from her hair. She quickly readjusts the worn, holed fabric. “These clothes are all that we have now,” she says, almost apologetically.

The loose mud bricks of their home were no match for the raging waters of the nearby swollen Kabul River. The floodwaters gushed into the house in the morning. She and her husband snatched several of the children in their arms, while extended family members helped bundle the others out of the house.

The clan of some 60 people walked toward the main road linking the town of Nowshera to Peshawar. They spent five days out in an open field, eating whatever scraps they could forage.

Aslam’s older brother, Taykadar, set out on foot to find help, stopping at several of the dozen or so organized relief camps nearby. “They would ask us for our Pakistani identification cards in order to register us, but we are Afghans,” he says. “And we are too many, that’s the problem. We don’t want to be split from each other. We’ve already lost our homes, we don’t want to lose our families.”

The men managed to obtain several tents from various organisations. Fatima’s, for example, was donated by the Saudi government while others bear the logos of UNHCR. The Afghans say they have nothing to return to. Taykadar says they haven’t received any help from a government he knows is overwhelmed by the destitution of its own people. The busy road that they have camped alongside is now their lifeline. Men, women and children rush out towards any car that appears to slow down alongside them. Hundreds of hands stretch out, hoping for food, water or clothing.

“We have to run after the food, it isn’t given by some organisation in the tents,” Fatima says bitterly. Her children eat once a day, usually in the evenings, thanks to charity organisations that provide iftar meals during Ramadan. But Ramadan ends this week. “I just want to say to the world, isn’t there any way they can get us food?” she pleads. “Look,” she says, pointing to the twins in her lap. “Please, our children are dying of hunger.”

Click here to find a list of organizations helping with the relief effort as well as a list of donations that can be made via text.

More later. Peace be with you and yours.