". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Monday, August 18, 2014

An African City -- Anyone Who Hasn't Watched

Anyone who hasn't yet watched An African City, should do so immediately.

It is a series of 10 episodes, generally around 14 minutes long, made for the web, featuring 5 young, ambitious, highly educated, upper class, privileged, well-off, diasporic women who grew up in Europe or the U.S., who have for various reasons returned home to Accra and their families, in Ghana.

The clothes alone are worth putting in the time.  But there's more to it than that.  Dialog is snappy, things can get very funny, the women are beautiful.

Some have objected to An African City being called the African Sex and the City, but it is Sex in the City in Accra, intentionally so, complete with the voice-over. However, I am not certain that certain elements are intentional, such as in all or nearly all episodes, short as they are, one of the women will at least verbally 'mean girl' it over a class 'inferior.' On Sex and the City, any character who behaved that way would be recognizable as a Bad Person, not a heroine or protagonist.  If this is intentional, this is presenting a modern African city as a real place, not an exotic fairy tale location, and I applaud the producers, director and writer.

It's interesting from several different directions, not only those of women's friendships, romance, sex, and fashion.  In some ways the most interesting aspect is that the central character, the voice-over narrator is, in the series, the daughter of Ghana's newly appointed Minister of Energy. Think about that .... It's quite like having Dick Cheney, your father, and you too are in the oil business, appointed Vice President in charge of regulating oil sales and military actions. Ghana has lots of oil ....

That's the class level of these women, the sort of class out of which comes Lupita Nyong'o, who played Patsy, in 12 Years a Slave.

They are not like thee and me ....

This is something I find very interesting about this series: how the international obscenely wealthy, no matter what religion, skin color, etc., have far more in common with each other than with thee and me.

I'm not quite sure the series intends to show us this.
Accra, and increasingly in cities like London, NYC, etc., the divide of the citizens are those at the level of wealth of these women, those who serve them, and nothing in-between, with a huge class of starving at the bottom. Lessons for us in the U.S. from this series.

The women in Sex and the City were never anywhere close to the level these women exist on -- but Mr. Big was, and that was the huge attraction of him for Carrie Bradshaw.  Equally telling, for the SatC friends, as for the An African City friends, going to Dubai, that arbitrarily constructed city-size shopping mall-playground for the international wealthy, is one of their criteria of Best Times Evah -- and puleeze, have somebody else pay for the trip and the acquisitions!

The first five episodes are on Free Hulu, and all ten are on YouTube.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Battle Of Caulk's Field Remembered, Where It Happened - War of 1812

From the Chestertown Spy,* the local online weekly gazette, that includes articles, essays and opinion about the Kent County, Maryland community, reported on and written by the community, whether politics or dog training classes.

"At midnight, August 30, 1814, between Chestertown and Rock Hall, in a field of shadowy figures and muzzle flashes, a 45-minute clash between British royal marines and local militia ended 14 British lives, including that of Sir Peter Parker, captain of the Menelaus. The Kent militia suffered only wounds.
The Battle of Caulk’s Field, while no Bladensburg—a devastating strategic loss for the small American army—is, nonetheless, a unique and significant marker in the field of American History. Its memorial and past ceremonies, performed by U.S. National Guard and British Royal Marines at the battle site, have come to symbolize a mutual respect for the past and highlight a future of shared endeavors.
Here, former editor of the Kent County News Kevin Hemstock and Friends of Caulk’s Field Committee President Steve Frohock discuss the Chesapeake theatre of the War of 1812, the Battle of Caulk’s Field, Peter Parker, and the upcoming weekend of events commemorating the war’s Bicentennial.
No more a post-it note, the War of 1812 is being discovered as a full-fledged chapter in American history."
The 15-minute video of the discussion is worth watching, not only for the information the two local historians provide, but also because it's delightful to see and listen to historians who know their stuff and are enthusiastic about learning ever more, whenever they can.

The local historians of this community -- which is just about everybody who lives here, and they love sharing what they know -- are as impressive as any other professional historians and scholars.

El V and I visited the site of the Battle of Caulk's Field on a Thanksgiving Day in 2010.  There shall be a Bicentennial re-enactment on August 30th.

These Kent Country events are so much fun.  Partly it's because of the food, partly because, while the events are executed as accurately as possible, neither the re-enactors nor the watchers take themselves too seriously.


*  The Chestertown Spy is named for The Spy, Chestertown's 18th century newspaper.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lost Girl - Season 5

Lost Girl was renewed for a season 5, but some reason none of the search engines brought the news for me until just now ... curious internet behavior ... however, the news was out to everybody else back in April.  That's what I get for watching via netflix rather than tv.  But then, I don't have to be annoyed by the supremely annoying SYFY channel....

And guess what, or rather, who is going to be a guest star?  Charisma Carpenter, playing ... " Freyja, who is “well-known in mythology as the most renowned of the Norse goddesses.” She is a goddess of love, sexuality, fertility, war and death ...." Going for a more of that Vikings action, with Tamsin the Valkyrie, and with Kenzi in Valhalla?

Some people seem to know things and aren't happy.

From the link at the top:
.... The group is all back together again. A big theme this season is 'family,' and these are all Bo's family. We've seen some of them get torn apart, but now's their chance to come together."

That makes me at least happy. Among the situations that most disturb me in watching / reading action-adventure is when "our Group" gets broken up.  I'm like a herd dog that way -- I want to go ranging and get everyone back together asap.

Except -- spoiler --

Hale will not return.  He's gone, dead and gone.

Charlotte Bronte's Shirley -- End Of Summer Reading Historical Fiction

Last night I began to read Charlotte Bronte's second published novel, Shirley (1849).  It seems the perfect novel to carry me through the change of seasons from summer to autumn, both long enough while engaging enough, with several themes.  Not the least of Shirley's engagements is that it presents dilemmas and problems for all the readers -- and even scholars -- who are insistent upon presenting Charlotte Bronte and her protagonists as feminist and politically liberal.

Shirley, though classified as a social novel, is neither feminist nor liberal, particularly in its outlook of Yorkshire textile laborers particularly, or the lower classes in general.  This may explain why Shirley is so unpopular generally with not only Bronte-ists, but those who study the history of the novel in English -- so much so that a surprising number of those who are well educated in The Novel, are unaware that Charlotte Bronte wrote this novel.

The edition I chose to read was not my falling apart Penguin copy acquired a millennium ago while an undergrad, but a newer Penguin edition with an introductory essay (2006) by the excellent Bronte scholar, Lucasta Miller.

The other primary reason I chose Shirley is that as well as being classified as Bronte's only social novel, it is considered an historical novel.  The novel's chronological location is specifically told the reader on page 1 as, "eighteen-hundred-eleven-twelve." I.e., we're in my favorite war (speaking historically), the War of 1812.  Britain, like Napoleon, had levied an embargo upon trade with "America" (which included grabbing every U.S. ship they encountered -- if they could) thus the Yorkshire textile manufacturers, like so many other industrial employers, had closed their mills or greatly reduced activity and workforces.

The narrator so informs us, in a one-sided explanation, on page 25, second

chapter, as spoken by the half French-Antwerpian, Robert Moore, owner of the Hollow's mill:
"I am very rich in cloth, I cannot sell; you should step into my warehouse yonder, and observe how it is piled to the roof with pieces.  Roakes and Perason are in the same condition: America used to be their market, but the Orders in Council have cut that off."

This is the period of the Luddite uprisings, as the manufacturers like Roger Moore, with the capital to do so, are installing more efficient machines that require fewer workers.

Bronte expands on the Orders in Council and unemployment on page 29-30:
"The 'Orders in Council,' provoked by Napoleon's Milan and Berlin decrees,* and the forbidding neutral powers to trade with France, had, by offending the Americans, cut off the principal market of the Yorkshire woollen trade, and brought it consequently to the verge of ruin. Minor foreign markets were glutted, and would receive no more: the Brazils, Portugal, Sicily,**were all overstocked by nearly two years' consumption. At this crisis, certain inventions of the north, which, greatly reducing the number of hands necessary to be employed, threw thousands out of work and left them without legitimate means of sustaining life.  A bad harvest supervened.  Distress reached its climax....
This is the first time I've undertaken a Shirley re-read since having lived in New Orleans and on the Chesapeake, major grounds and objectives for the Brits in the War of 1812.

As for the plan that was to be a reading transition from one season to another -- well, Climate Change evidently made another plan.  When I left for the libary before 10 AM the temperature was 64 degrees.  Big brown leaves were being blown off the plane trees in droves.  This is like no August I've experience here ever.  The long term weather forecasts are saying we're going to continue with temperatures generally lower than usual, November is going to be wet, and winter will began early and be close to the brutal thing is was last go-round.  I'm going to be extra-careful not to catch a sinus infection in November or break my elbow in January as I did last time.


*  Napoleon's monstrous egomania and British arrogance were equally responsible for the embargo. All nations' trade was caught between the hammer and tongs of the British and French navies.  Indeed, when Denmark insisted on her right to continue trading as she wished, and an ally with Britain against the French, the British navy shelled Copenhagen, burning much of it to the ground, in 1807.

 ** Not to mention being under siege in one way or another, as with Sicily to where the King of Naples had fled, and Portugal, as part of the very long and brutal Peninsular campaign -- Bronte is frequently hazy, to put it generously, with her information about many aspects that she mentions regarding trade, the military and politics, despite her passion when younger for heroes such as Wellingon and Napoleon. Her forte is the personal, always.

Additionally she was writing this some decades after it took place; she was born when it was all over, in 1816.  Thus Shirley gets classified by some as an historical novel.  I'm not sure I agree, however, any more than I can think of Middlemarch as an historical novel.  Though set in the 1830's of the Reform Movement bills, Eliot, born in 1819, was more than old enough, particularly with her father profession and their common interest in public issues and politics, to remember the time well.  As well, the Reformist movement returned to the public stage in 1860.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Continuum - Season 3

As of last night's dinner-preparation hour I'm nearly half way through watching Continuum's third season.

Season 3's plot lines and the characters themselves are complicated.  Part of the complication involves Alec Sadler, one of the three principal characters, being present as two; i.e. one from the timeline (I think ...) we've been in since the beginning of the show, and the other from another timeline branch, and they're existing simultaneously in the same timeline -- though I'm not entirely clear whether this timeline is the series' original timeline.  I may have forgotten some essentials from watching seasosn 2 last year at this time.

This season also began with two of the protagonist-protector from 2077, Kiera Cameron, but immediately one of them is shot dead.  The killed Kiera was the "original" Kiera known from the series's start by her contemporary Vancouver

police force partner and friend, Carlos Fonnegra. That there are / were two Kieras is known to him almost immediately.  He sees this Kiera as different the first one, and isn't sure he either likes or trusts the second one.

Second Kiera doesn't like First Alec or trust him, but seems to like and trust the second one.  Further complications are created by First Alec learning that his first love, Emily, wasn't what he thought she was, while Second Alec, who was the first Alec, traveled back in time a week to save Emily's life, after she's killed in the first timeline. First, now Second Alec, still loves Emily, no matter what.

If others can follow all this with no difficulties they are much better viewers than I am.  In the meantime, as the two Alecs and the Second Kiera dash about, the timelines are getting ever more muddled and history in the past and the future is changing. This further complicates the plots because it's not always easy to distinguish what seem volte faces of characters and their relationships with each other as they seemed previously.

Further we're presented with Kiera's past -- which is still in our future --  beginning when she's still a young girl, and not yet a Protector.  But -- is her time traveling changing her past as well?

Tonight I'll watch the seventh episode (there are thirteen), and will perhaps understand things better.

As well, I am hoping that Alec Sadler, who the series isn't about --

Note: the captions says "the future is in her hands."
it's Kiera's show -- isn't edging the focus from her to himself.  The show couldn't handle two Kieras -- i.e. two supercompetent females leads --  but we have two Alecs, and the Alecs are supergenius-nerds, who are getting at least twice the amount of screen time than previously.

What I'm like most about Continuum, is how well the writers are connecting labor, capitalism, and the corporate state with the police state, in both our present and the future.  Indeed, in Kiera's future, the state has gone full circle in which every person owes a life debt to the state -- which is connected to one's economic status --  which debt gets adjusted in various ways  up and down, including execution when the debt is greater than one's economic value.  This value is assessed by many criteria: treason is of course a debt that merits execution. This sort of conceptualization seems to indicate the writers have carefully read at least the first

sections of David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011).

So far though, Continuum's writers haven't overtly connected these conditions to so many jobs being performed by robots and other automation,* though it is implied, whenever there are scenes set in a college or university, and the many public protests included throughout the seasons' episodes.  It's this that makes the over-arching time lines of both "present" and future so plausible in Continuum.

Continuum does seem to be asking the important questions, and further inquires, what are the answers, and how can we get to them?

Alas, so far, there's been no hard announcement there's going to be a season 4 of Continuum, though it was scheduled to be made "early in August."


*  Just this week: room service and check-in desk will be robots:

the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, Calif,  ... will begin using an R2D2-esque robot for such trips. Fittingly, Aloft’s parent company, Starwood Hotels, tests the latest technology at the Silicon Valley hotel. Guests can enter their rooms with a smartphone app and bypass the traditional check-in process at the front desk.

So very soon now, not even turning your city, your region into an extractive, toxic tourist playground will provide even the most menial of jobs, that are always touted as "jobs creation," and o so good for the economy.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Lost Girl - Season 4

Lost Girl's season three was darker than earlier seasons.  Season four was much darker than season three. There were no recreational scenes of our friends hanging out and enjoying themselves together, nor, though there was a lame attempt to have a non-arc episode with -- mermaids???? -- that didn't work at all.

Season 3 had managed a few of those before the cliff-hanger ending.

This season, Beau's character as action hero in danger presented problems as the actress, Anna Silk, was so very pregnant that one was always anxious about the baby, as well as distracted by the obviousness of angles and costumes that were intended to distract us from noticing her pregnancy.

However, Lost Girl's costume designers were better than ever throughout this season;

it was the writers who dropped the avian arc imagery and theme that we began with, not wardrobe. This was a particular shame as a major character whose superpower is that of sound is killed before the conclusion (no spoiler).

It seems the writers were as hesitant about the material as the directors might have been in figuring out how to make a pregnant action heroine perform that role. We don't even see Beau in the first episode, which must have thrown them off their writing stride right out the gate, and they never recovered it.

They never quite explored anything that they gave us at the start including both the Wanderer and the avian-wing creatures.  We get a glimpse of what it might have been with that spectacular scene in the conclusion of the final episode with Tamsin's wings arising in full Valkyrie glory.

The obviousness of the attempts to divert the watcher from noticing the pregnancies interfered with my suspension of disbelief. I had the same experience attempting to watch Ringer and the last season of Scandal -- both of which I stopped watching about half way in, though for other reasons than the pregnancy of the actresses playing the protagonists. Once Anna Silk was no longer pregnant I had trouble transitioning back to her as Beau, rather than Silk.

Nor did it seem the smartest writing in television to conclude two seasons in a row with a primary character gone missing: Beau at the end of season 3 and Kenzie at the end of season 4.  A bit too Buffy-esque here.  I have both admired and enjoyed the panache of the Lost Girl's writers light-hearted delight in snaring this and that from television and book fantasies, but by the end of season 3 the “borrowing” began to feel less blythe than desperate.

One may think season 5 will more than hit the series' sell-by date.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Best Beach / Summer Vacation Read

My best summer read didn't take place at a beach, but on the university's outdoor swimming pool deck. I spent the mornings in intensive Spanish classes (two semesters in 6 weeks), nights memorizing and drilling Spanish irregular verbs, grammar and prepositions.  The middle afternoon, after a bout at the gym, it was swimming time, under the golden sun and turquoise sky of New Mexico.

That summer I read for the first time, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.  In-between long takes of Kostya Lev's meditations, Anna's dresses, Kitty's disappointment,

Stiva and Dolly's marital ups and downs, the most exciting horse race ever written, haymaking, babies born and brothers dying -- I'd leap into the pool to cool off and swim some laps.

 It smells faintly still of my coconut-hibiscus scented tanning oil.

Anna's rise to passion and fall to suicide lasted the whole summer.

When I finished the novel, the Spanish course was finished and it was time to pack, leaving behind this paradise to New York, and a life that not only would not be centered around a university, but where winter mattered, and except for him, I knew not a soul.

That summer I was also madly, passionately in love, and living with him!

There were many adventures, felicities and infelicities, in many places, still ahead for him and me, including break-ups and separations. Then, we got married.  The adventures -- and the marriage -- are still works in progress.