Wednesday, September 22, 2010

if i stick entirely to the program, and only teach the textbook and what's in it, sometimes i'm bored to tears but the students actually have it worse, because they're bored to tears squared, double the pain. but if i take the subject, mix it with what they're interested in, and then overlay that with what i'm interested in, it turns out to be a spicy gourmet kind of dish, with all kinds of interesting things coming out, and movies that, for example, you can watch a couple of times and not get bored. so it happens that i've been watching about facebook addiction, twitter and its role in iran, and the mound builders, a people who occupied this part of north america for a thousand years or so, but who nobody knows about.

facebook itself has become quite lively, and while i was at work, obama said something about healthcare, and right there in front of my eyes got 800 comments in 40 minutes, and, it didn't let up; after 60 minutes, he'd gotten 1200. A lot of them were vulgar; some constituted passioned and well-said frustration; some offered support. it was clear that a fair million were on the spot when he spoke up. in iran, however, they couldn't find more than a hundred or so who would even admit to using twitter; and even those, they probably had to cajole into saying something to the effect that, yes, well, i saw it, but i didn't actually write anything...

as for the mound-builders, their town had only 20,000 people, barely the size of carbondale, but it was the biggest city in north america from about 1000 BC to about 1200 AD, a span of a couple of thousand years, give or take a few hundred, until they disappeared entirely; in the ensuing centuries small wandering bands of native americans would come by, occupy the mounds or not, and then be replaced by others. why did they disappear? there are theories. were they related to the ones who came later? apparently not, except possibly in the south, where the caddo (of louisiana) had legends of a sun god who occupied a 10-story mound (cahokia), ruled up high, and gave declarations to the people. and are the caddo related to the mound-builders? not sure. the movie does not prove it conclusively, in my opinion. i'm sure someone is related to them, but how can one know?

so we are in effect in the dark about this incredible civilization, that ruled the americas, used the rivers and great lakes effectively, to get resources from the deepest appalachians, the high rockies, canada, the farthest edge of huron and superior. grew corn, and made it into alcohol; killed deer, and fished in the fresh rivers- and still, even their capital, their megametropolis, was no larger than carbondale. but they would occasionally burn their cities, then, basket by basket, bring dirt up from the lowlands to fill in the holes, until their mound was higher, and they could start again, build more houses, and be that much closer to the sun. was this sun worship? understanding caddo legend and tradition would help unravel this, but who knows? very little is left of them; when they left, they left completely, and it took years for the land to restore its own health, presumably.

so nowadays, the roads we know as going around, through and toward st. louis and east st. louis surround this place and people siphon the dirt, one scrape at a time, having uncovered only 1% of the site. 1%, yet they seem to know what they might find as they go after the second percent. they seem unfazed by the fact that apparently, the history of the modern world and east saint louis itself goes marching on, right on top of this ancient capital. and the mound that remains looms high, at night especially, dominates the landscape, even though there are such things as enormous race tracks (dogs?) and casinos nearby. it's somewhat seedy; but, in its day, it was a world capital.

sure people are addicted to facebook. the movie shows people with mobiles, checking their facebook while they meet clients, while they should be doing other stuff. this was certainly true when 1200 people pounded obama within an hour. it's a modern city, all online. i'm working on an online spectacle; somehow it will involve a virtual abe lincoln, a gettysburg address-type event, an address to obama himself, ultimately asking him to put his presidential library in southern illinois. so i'm talking to my friend dave more, and discussing the possibility of publicity as spectacle, and i actually thought of my old friend dr. alphabet, a guy who would write poetry across bridges, or from the top of a building down to the street, or around a city block. he would wear these enormous top hats, with letters on them, and make poetry into a city event, which would turn everyone's head, and even make it into the local paper. the guy inspired me in many ways, and in addition, was a friend of mine, so when i encountered his facebook site on the wikipedia page, i immediately asked to be his "friend." this may or may not happen (keep you posted), but keep in mind that iowa city was a truly unusual place at that time, any connection i had with it (i lived in it), i want to glorify, keep alive...

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