Las Casas & Academe: Untranslated. Unsexy. Not Unsung.


Some of the only eyewitness written accounts of the early Spanish-occupied Americas, including almost all that we know about Columbus in America, are the works of Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas (1484-1566), a sort of Saint Paul who came to the Americas as an enslaver and encomienda holder before realizing how horrible the whole Conquest was and working tirelessly for the rest of his life to improve the lives of natives, while writing about the Americas and collecting the works of Columbus and others so the stories would not be lost. Las Casas’ writings detail the savage brutality of the invading Europeans, the idyll of the natives before the Conquest, and who should be credited what: ‘It surprises me that the admiral’s [Columbus’] son,’ Las Casas wrote, ‘Hernando, who is such a wise man, did not notice how Americo Vespucci usurped the glory of his father, especially since he had documentary proof of it, as I know he does.’

He didn’t pull punches either, writing of the early Conquest, ‘The Christian’s work consisted in keeping the Indians there [in the mines] by force, in beating them and in lacking pity.’

He also wrote about what must arguably be the first European police force in the Americas: ‘[The Spanish] treated the Indians with such rigor and inhumanity that they seemed the very ministers of Hell, driving them day and night with beatings, kicks, lashes and blows and calling them no sweeter name than dogs. The Spaniards then created a special police to hunt them back because mistreatment and intolerable labor led to nothing but death and the Indians, seeing their companions die, began escaping into the woods.’

Among Las Casas’ works is History of the Indies which was published in three volumes – only one of which has ever been translated into English. The last publication of this translation by Andree M. Collar was published by Harper & Row (now Harper Collins) in 1971. The book is widely available in used editions (one can procure a new edition for around $400), but what of the untranslated two volumes – would these stories of early America in what is now Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Caribbean islands ever be available for English readers? Are American English readers even interested in Las Casas’ writings?

The publishers were unhelpful. Harper Collins said they weren’t publishing The History anymore and referred me to Penguin, who only publishes Las Casas’ A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, which is a must read for America studies, but is not History of the Indies.

Since the publishers seemed uninterested and uninteresting, I reached out to Larry Clayton, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Alabama, and author of Bartolome de las Casas: A Biography (2012) and other works.

Professor Clayton responded eloquently:

You’ve got it all right on the three volume Historia de las Indias by Las Casas. Collar’s translation is the only one I know of, and it was only partial.

There are lots of editions/translations of the Brief History of the Destruction of the Indies. It was very popular with Spain’s Protestant competitors for empire! The Brief History is indeed different from the History of the Indies, but, on the other hand, it was largely drawn and/or extracted from the larger work.

I agree. We need a good, annotated English translation of the History of the Indies. Along with one or two other accounts, it is among the basic resources for the early history of the Conquest/Encounter.

Professor Clayton urged that Las Casas ‘continues to interest readers – professional and otherwise’ and mentioned several major projects about Las Casas that he is currently involved with.


Another scholar I sought out was Nigel Griffin, retired from the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages at the University of Oxford and writer of many works, who agreed that ‘It has never been translated. Considering it is the base text for the early history of European presence in the Americas, that is extraordinary’ – and who was far ahead of me. Not only had Griffin himself translated a third of History of the Indies for UCLA’s Repertorium Columbianum series, but he had delivered a keynote lecture at a 2009 conference in which he had addressed the subject directly – not only the lack of an English translation, but the Why.

From his keynote lecture: ‘Oddly, considering it is by common consent the most complete and most important early account of the Indies and of Columbus’s life, and was written by a man who knew Columbus and was an eye-witness to many of the events he recounts, it [History of the Indies] has still not been translated into other major world languages, even into English. This is, I think, a clear indictment of academic systems on both sides of the pond which today set more store by shallow theoretical posturing and unscholarly debate founded on sand than they do by the unsexy bedrock apprenticeship that comes from handling, editing, translating, and making available crucial primary sources.’

Or, in short, Griffin explains: ‘Not sexy enough.’

But, I protested, wouldn’t a publisher want to publish the volumes because they would sell, given the importance of Las Casas to the Americas and the general public interest in the topic and him? And a publisher could fund the translator/translation. Am I missing something? 

‘Yes,’ Griffin responded, ‘I think you are missing something. Three things in fact.

‘First, current priorities in the university sector, which encourage young academics to publish regularly. These mean that long-term projects, however commendable from the point of view of scholarly usefulness, are unlikely to secure the author tenure or promotion. It took me two years to establish a critical text of the parts of Las Casas’s History that I had selected in consultation with the editor of the Repertorium, and then a further 18 months to translate them. To me that was immaterial, as I already had job security.

Second, those same senior academics who lay down the rules for promotion etc. have tended and still tend to favour interpretation and theoretical posturing over ‘old-fashioned’ scholarship and the hard-earned skills of deciphering manuscript texts, editing them, and presenting them free of messy theoretical input.

And third … the necessary skills are in short supply. You need a training in 15th and 16th-c. Spanish and Portuguese  literature, history, and philology; a good grasp of classical rhetoric; a knowledge of Columbus’s own eclectic reading habits; some sense of theology; and, of course, experience in reading LC’s manuscripts. A clear indication of how short the supply of such basic skills is can be gleaned from the fact that the most exhaustive recent edition of LC is riddled with transcription errors even though the editor is himself Spanish.’

Las Casas wrote in History of the Indies, ‘The whole world knows and admits this lamentable annihilation of so many people; even those who never set foot in the Indies know it, for it is notoriously and justly famous, but the truth of what actually happened was greater than any account one can make of it.’

He admits the limitations of his account and of all accounts while still striving to make an account of it anyway. The whole world should know of the lamentable annihilation of so many people. Of course the publishers and universities and professors have not gotten together to conspire to keep these un-translated texts hidden – they didn’t have to, and is that notorious or justly famous?

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The Day They Razed Our Town – new short story collection


JC’s new and first book of
short stories:
The Day They Razed Our Town.

Razed is a collection of miseries histories and comedies –
doggie daycare work,
Chelsea Manning,
first loves and last,
dental health,
New York,
watching your alma mater wrecking balled.

Stories included:

The Day They Razed Our Town

Smiling, USA


Sophia Sara Bednarczyk

It Was Me

Jesus’ Teeth

Taking Short or, I Love You, Chelsea Manning

Bedford & First


City Property

Mr. Drunk Driver


Jesus used to watch me.

Handjob at the Beach

Christmas Needs To Come Early This Year

House On Fire

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NSA Listening Party – Charity Case’s new CD!



a compilation

CD & online release from

Brooklyn For Peace


Charity Case

featuring the new single

we don’t want to live (in a surveillance state)

Featuring Songs From

charity case
(ft. moki marz)
chee malabar
dave lippman
gio safari
irka mateo
joe phillips experience project
john munnelly
raram de ny
raya brass band
veronica nunn
zap zap 4 ever

with 3 new music videos from
Charity Case:


we don’t want to live (in a surveillance state)

the only one



Where Available

Limited Edition CD available
suggested donation $2 – $5
to obtain a copy of the CD please email
contact us
if you cannot make a donation but want a copy
please contact us
or you can stream here
not all album tracks are available online
but the webpage has non-album:
music video links

and join us for our
CD release party
at Pianos
November 18th, 6-10pm
w/ Hollands!


NSA Listening Party started with the writing of charity case’s song “the only one,” and with these lyrics:

                    they’ve got my calls and letters recorded since i was born

                    sometimes i say ‘hello’ or write them but they never write back

                    they’ve got all kinds of ways to make you think you’re the only one

                    and i won’t be the only one

We wondered: who else would join us in a musical reaction to the Snowden leaks and the beginning of the unmasking of the surveillance state?

With Brooklyn For Peace, we found 14 artists, all but 2 Brooklyn-based.

We wanted the content and attitude and perspective of the album to be true to Roger Waters’ promise: “If I’m in I’ll tell you / What’s behind the wall.” If you find out even an inkling of what’s happening, let everyone know.

Giosafari affirms the role of the artist in his song “Sing At the Top of Your Lungs”:

                    What’s the reason in the schools the arts are first to go?

                    Well, you know, it’s we the artists’ job always to show

                    the way things are; we artists must choose never to ignore

                    the violence, incompetence, injustice, endless war.

John Munnelly sings of the mental madness of being held back from knowledge:

                    Life today has too much dis-information

                    distract and distort from the ills in our nation

                    feel dis-empowered, have a sense of frustration

                    ‘bout things they don’t want us to know

Dave Lippman seems confident and hopefully not quixotic in his tribute “The Interdictedcalle”:

                    Arise ye pris’ners of surveillance

                    Arise phone callers of the earth

                    For Google swipes your information

                    Of privacy there is a dearth

And Spiritchild is on lyrical fire with “Surveillance Society (Free Tarek)”:

                    Beyond tap phones and emails.

                    Coded text red flags And details.

                    They don’t need that.

                    They’ll take your grandma if she utters the fact “something wrong” Handcuffs slap clap.

                    . . . . .

                    We good at letter writing we good at freedom fighting.

                    This song is my post card stamped delivered.

We can’t say how many musical genres are on this compilation: jazz, rock, pop, raram, folk, rap, hip-hop, balkan folk, traditional, antifolk, indie, psychedelic . . .

                    Hey Kids, what do you say?

                    We don’t want to live – in a surveillance state.





check out our 60-second radio spot for the album!

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The first novel atop the Greenpoint Oil Spill

Boulevardiers: The Greenpoint Oil Spill

One week in New York City, 2006. A small group of broke gentrifiers and undocumented immigrants working doggie daycare at a glorified kennel. Some of them live atop the Greenpoint Oil Spill. They demonstrate, consummate, levitate, infuriate. Chasing the New York dream, chased by the American nightmare. Part of the Brooklyn Historical Society’s collection.


Purchase here.

pages: 273
September 2014

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#Justice4Cecily and Solidarity

Hundreds of people gathered in Union Square on Sunday, May 18th, in support of and solidarity with Cecily McMilan, the Occupy Wall Street protester who was recently found guilt of assaulting a police officer for protecting herself when a police officer sexually assaulted her. Cecily is due to be sentenced on May 19th, facing 2-7 years. Supporters in Union Square demanded with chants ‘No justice no peace! / Cecily must be released!’

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra played a series of songs and led chants, before the People’s Court used actual testimony from the court proceedings, as well as information that was disallowed by the judge, to show how clearly innocent Cecily was, and therefore deserves no jail sentence at all. Chants of ‘Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!’

Cecily’s caretaker spoke of how ‘being a mother is political,’ thanked Occupy and everyone assembled for standing with Cecily, and reminded us that ‘a revolution starts in your own home, in your own family, in your bed, in your heart.’

The event as organized showed the kind of intersectionality and solidarity necessary to build movements. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network sent out the event to their supporters and tabled; Copwatch Patrol Unit (CPU) was also there to speak reminding us to ‘continue to fight for justice’ for all abused by police brutality; as well as a member of Black Veterans For Social Justice who said ‘We are calling for Cecily to be released tomorrow on Malcolm X’s birthday!’

Chants of ‘Our passion for freedom / is stronger than their prisons!’ Then chants of ‘No justice no peace! / Cecily must be released!’ mixed with singing ‘Which side are you on? Which side are you on?’

Afterwards anyone from the crowd was encouraged to speak out about their experiences with the criminal injustice system, the prison system, and with police brutality.

Nearby supporters of the Zapatistas had organized their own rally in support of Zapatistas in Chiapas, and people elsewhere in Mexico, who are being run off their lands, kidnapped, and murdered by drug traffickers and para-militaries while the Mexican government turns a blind eye and deaf ear. The McMilan organizers asked the Zapatistas to come speak out to the crowd assembled in support of Cecily, and two Zapatista women spoke of what was happening in Mexico, and sang a short Zapatista song.

Cecily’s letter from prison in Rikers, read by a supporter, quoted Eugene Debs: ‘While there is a soul in prison I am not free.’ Which side are you on?




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Gene Stavis, RIP

Handout received this sad news from filmmaker CJ Gardella, regarding the death of professor and film collector Gene Stavis, who was interviewed by Handout in 2012. CJ sent this memoriam in Gene’s honor.


My dear friend Gene Stavis has passed away. I regret sharing this news, but want to take a moment to share a little about him for those that knew him or maybe didn’t.

He LOVED film. He discovered a lost student film by Orson Welles at a library in Greenwich, CT. called “The Hearts of Age.” He confronted him over the phone while he was at a hotel in Las Vegas, “excuse me Mr. Welles, I have a film that belongs to you.” Welles: “It’s a fake, burn it.” Gene: “But Mr. Welles, you’re in it.” He worked with Henri Langlois at the Cinémathèque Francais in the 1970’s. Langlois asked him, “Stavis? Is that short for something?” Gene: “Stavisky.” The name of the notorious French gangster immortalized by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Langlois: “I knew there was a reason I hired you.” Gene served as the American representative for the cinémathèque and travelled with Langlois while he was in the states to accept his honorary Oscar. Gene got to meet the likes of Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx and many more. He said Parisians would often take he and Langlois for brothers. Gene would screen movies in his apartment from his collection of 2000 16mm film prints for everyone; a screening of “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.” for the kids in the building or a print of “Little Caesar” for Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He was the end all of film knowledge and above that he was one of the most earnest, standup human beings I’ve had the privilege of knowing for the past 12 years. Our friendship began with Ernst Lubitsch. He showed me every Lubitsch print he had in his collection, including “Broken Lullaby” Lubitsch’s only foray into drama and allegedly James Dean’s first onscreen appearance. From there we became fast friends. We worked together to put legs under the SVA Theatre, Gene’s own cinémathèque!! His love was sharing films before an audience. It was his passion. He loved the splash of the movie studio logo on the red curtains as they parted to reveal the screen. He enabled me to make my own movies and fed me lunch and showed me movies when I was broke. I love the man and will miss him dearly. It’s not often that someone of such genuine originality and humor comes down the pike. He was a person of great humanity and wisdom.

Above picture: Gene (center) with Langlois & director George Stevens.  

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circle k branded

From: Handout

To: Customer Service 

Subject: Circle K


Why is this store called CIRCLE K? Why not O K? Or just K? Where did CIRCLE come from? Thanks.



From: N——-, Mark 

To: Handout 

Subject: answer to your specific question.


Hi Handout,


Circle K originated with the purchase of three convenience stores call “Kay’s Food Stores” in the early 1950s…

The buyer (Fred Hervey) changed the name to “Circle K”…. and the name has lived on..




Mark N——

Director of Human Resources and Training

From: Handout

To: N——, Mark 


Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for your reply. I’m just wondering WHY he chose CIRCLE. Why not SQUARE or RECTANGLE or any other shape? or even TRIPLE K or POWERFUL K? Were the stores located in a geographical circle in relation to each other? Did Mr. Hervey already have the logo and so took the name literally from the logo? Thanks for satisfying our curiosity.



From: N——, Mark 

To: Handout

Handout…. As we understand it….


The three original stores were located in El Paso, Texas and the branding Iron used on cows was part of how it originated or the idea of Circle K was derived. In the Original Circle K’s if you would envision a Branding Iron Circle and the K in the center. The original look was truly a Red Circle around a K and the new version that has the red square around the white Circle and the letter K evolved in the early nineties.



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favorite union (1)




American Postal Workers Union: Keep those postcards from my dentist coming in – and issues of Handouts going out! Put your hand out and take this Handout! On Saturdays too! And in rural places, like George Jefferson Adams McKinley intended!

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Why We Sing

by Huy Dao


Karaoke.  I’d even do it sober; but that’s starting at the end.

There’s something that happens to people the first time they hear themselves amplified.  Some recoil, some close their eyes and revel, some need to do it again just to make sure they heard it right.  From cheesy late night Asian phenomenon to mainstream activity via video games, karaoke has become a cultural force in some circles.  In my circle – a circle that deals with brutality, crime, and advocacy – it’s become more: stress relief.  Shouting out the day’s or week’s misery has served to bring people closer, even those who just watch, and has reinforced the notion of tribe.  We do this work, we face these pressures, and, perversely sometimes, we let it out on the ears of strangers.

The local karaoke joint is, of course, also a bar.  We call it the Second Office.  We take our clients there:  people who served time for crimes they didn’t commit.  We invite our friends there, the brave ones who would step into our tribe to sing.  We go there to be anonymous to everyone but ourselves, because strangers at karaoke rarely ask you why you’re there.  We don’t have to explain it to ourselves.  We don’t care if you can sing.  We don’t even care if you sing, but if you do, we care more about how you sass the mic. We clap for your enthusiasm, not your pipes.  We may wince, but we’ll cheer you when you’re done.

What started out in my living room as a party-ender has become a way of life at work.  The transformation was not conscious, but did seem to follow a trajectory.  That is, in a small non-profit, it is easy to move across the blurry lines between people you work with, people you hang out with, people you call your friends – and people you’ll sing with.  There is a dropping of the curtain, a revealing vulnerability when you decide that singing “Endless Love” in front of coworkers is all right.  Like any after-work time at a bar, there is the requisite complaining session, expressions of weariness, and sometimes office intrigue, but eventually your turn comes up and you get up to perform.  To do that, you need to get something out of some other (often ridiculous) place inside, something you won’t see in the office.

At first I thought of it as just the bar around the corner from work.  The drinks were weak, the food and the crowd unpredictable, but we went there anyway and we sang anyway.  Then the bar burned down.  So we tried the other bar down the street.  Not just any bar, though.  Now it had to have karaoke.  It became a thing, the default.  Singing became the default after-work activity, the thing people thought to do on particularly hard days.  Then it became the place to have celebrations, to lay it out in front of (and encourage the participation of) people who had spent years inside, wrongfully.  How does that compute?  I don’t know, but it just makes sense now.  Of course we should sing.  Who doesn’t want to sing?

Sociologists, psychologists, maybe anthropologists could do a better job explaining the cultural forces at play.  We are often too weary, or too bleary, to understand what is so satisfying about getting up in front of office mates and strangers on a Tuesday night to sing power ballads. Or attempt the high harmony of a Heart song.  There is a sense about it, though, that explaining it would be impossible, that we couldn’t be explained by this activity.  That may be the psychology of a junkie.  I’ve often heard, and said, “I need to take a break from the whole karaoke thing.”

They always come back, though.  I always go back.

For us, as our own audience, we perform for each other in some vague but important way.  Dedications are not uncommon, but imagine a karaoke session where the words actually mean something.

Underneath the cheese, a current of shared memory in familiar songs, reasons you don’t have to explain.

True or not, at the base level, we know we understand.  We know why he’s singing that one again; we know who she’s singing about.  Group therapy in the weirdest guise.  I would never have predicted the odd office  following, that someone other than me would choose to do this instead of going home or out elsewhere if there was a choice.  You see, there’s no workplace reward for coming, no career punishment for not coming, no automatic friendship if you come, no hard feelings if you skip.

You come when you need to come, sing when you need to sing.  And if you sass the mic, we’ll support you, and maybe even sing along.  Brilliant.

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books we are reading (2)

It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level.

– George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

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