he’d make a great writer if he could just get over his years-long block. Zigal writes with an eye for human vanity and hypocrisy, although he’s not really too hard on anyone. He amuses readers with his caricatures of writing conference perennials: declining authors, schmoozing publishers, lecherous professors, and naive, selfdeluded -students. Zigal’ s writing lacks the self-consciousness of most of the other writers in this collection. He’s having fun, and his writing feels effortless yet taut, particularly in its pacing. The dialogue is timed so naturally that you hear it in your head. His minor characters are defined and consistent. Even his descriptions are well drawn: Nine hours later a grainy red dusk settles over the flattest hardscrabble land I have ever seen, the horizon undisturbed by even the meekest ridge. The town itself an unimaginative grid of flaking woodframe houses and small, slapdash shopping centers, is severed by an ancient rusted railroad line, suggesting the place was once a watertank stop along that endless cross-country stretch through the dusty wilderness of the heartland. Thomas Zigal is a first-rate writer. At the beginning of Careless Weeds, Clay Reynolds explains how novellas are like careless weeds: “harbingers of hard work, small reward.” But I want the metaphor to go fur ther. When I was a child, on our corner I discovered pink flowers with yellow centers. I picked a bouquet and ran home to present it to my mother. She scoffed and said, “Oh, those aren’t flowers. They’re weeds.” Years later, I discovered these “weeds” had a lovely name: evening primrose. Perhaps novellas can gain a place in the catalog of marketable literature. ‘They can be transformed from “weeds,” those pesky,. too-long stories or too-short novels, to “evening primrose” novellas. I admire Pilkington’s courage, persistence, and belief in this form. One hopes his collection will inspire others to write and publish similar anthologies of this maligned and neglected species. Environmental Grassroots BY SVETLANA TSALIK TOXIC NATION. By Fred Setterberg and Lonny Shavelson. 301 pages. New York: John Wiley and Sons. $22.95. CONFRONTING ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM. Voices from the Grassroots. Edited by Robert D. Bullard; Foreword by Benjamin Chavis, Jr. 259 pages. Boston: South End Press. $16 WHEN ANDIE MacDowell’ &character in sex, lies, and videotape was inordinately concerned with where all the garbage in the world goes, many of us laughed. But to the ethnic and rural communities who live with the answer to this question it is not a joke. They understand that the system of distributing hazardous waste in this country is like the system of dispersing benefits disproportional. People of color have largely fed the fuels of production with their labor, yet they have not enjoyed the benefits of this labor. The product of industry that they do enjoy, disproportionately, is the waste matter produced by industry. Toxic Nation and Confronting Environmental Racism set out to discuss the growing alarm and the response that the toxic presence is causing in many communities, especially amongst ethnic groups and in small towns. Confronting Environmental Racism, an anthology of essays written by leaders of the Svetlana Tsalik is a freelance writer in Austin. environmental justice movement, extensively describes the scope of the problem. And it is a substantial one. According to its 1987 study, Toxic Wastes and Race, the Commission for Racial Justice found that nationwide, race is the most significant variable related to the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities. Although Africati Americans and Latinos comprise only 26 percent of the nation’ s population, their communities host 60 percent of the largest toxicwaste facilities. Three out of five African Americans and Latinos live near uncontrolled hazardous waste sites the wide range of dumps operated prior to regulation and now lying closed or abandoned and posing a significant present or potential threat to human health. In metropolitan areas, the problem is even worse. In the ten urban areas with the greatest number of uncontrolled sites, 90 percent of the African-American population lives near those sites. Even in compact Washington D.C., air pollution levels were found to be higher in the areas where the AfricanAmerican population lives. And to make matters worse, communities with one hazardous waste site are likely to attract others, becoming “toxic doughnuts” or “sacri fice zones.” Although poor white communities also suffer disproportionately from the effluvium of industry, they are not as often affected as minority communities are. For example, lead poisoning, identified to children’s health, affects half of all black inner-city children, but only 16 percent of white inner-city children. For those who would argue that these conditions are not the product of design, Robert Bullard offers the findings of a 1984 report, “Political Difficulties Facing Waste-toEnergy Conversion Plant Siting,” commissioned by the California Waste Management Board. The report declares that although everyone resents having waste facilities in their neighborhoods, it is the middle and upper classes that are most likely to organize effective opposition; therefore sites should not be proposed within a five mile radius of middleand upper-class neighborhoods. Waste disposal is a growing problem, and the search for creative solutions often turns out to be a rerun of past exploitations. In a chapter on global threats to people of color, Dana Alston and Nicole Brown explain the practice known alternatively as “toxic colonialism,” “toxic terrorism,” and “economic extortion,” by which the polluting countries pressure underdeveloped nations to “buy” waste. Countries hopelessly indebted to the West are offered “debt-for-waste” swaps as an escape from insolvency. The practice of exporting waste was callously justified by World Bank chief economist, Lawrence Summers, in an internal memo reprinted in the anthology. Summers maintained: 1.That since people will get sick and die as a result of pollution, the most “impeccable economic logic” dictates that foregone earnings should be minimalized therefore countries with the lowest wages will bare the least loss. 2.That many areas of underdeveloped countries are vastly “under-polluted” and their air quality is thus “inefficiently low.” 3.That people in countries suffering from high mortality due to famine and disease are unlikely to live long enough to experience the effects of toxic pollution. 16 FEBRUARY 11, 1994
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