". . . 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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Netflix's Narcos

Narcos became available streaming from Netflix on Friday.

I have watched the first three episodes. Narcos is engrossing me specifically from an historical viewpoint (though when our narrator first sees the woman he's going to marry, her hairstyle is at least 40 years out of period -- pure 2014-2015, not 197whatever)  How people who are looking for adventure drama primarily will see it I don't know.

It continues to amaze me to know these events took place in a time long before I ever knew the existence of the places the series , much less seen them, though, so far, I've only seen them through el V's eyes and experience:  Bogotá, Cartegena, Baranquilla, Medellín, etc.  Medillín now is a hip and cool city, capital of salsa music and dancing, with fine hotels, restaurants, shopping and parks.

I particularly appreciate the scenes that have the astounding Spanish baroque architecture of cathedrals and and public buildings as the frame for the latest capitalist extraction out of the New World of a product, cocaine, that is as highly addictive and profitable as sugar and slavery ever were, and remain.

I'm also enjoying the Spanish that is spoken many of the scenes. This is done with nimbleness and skill. An English-only speaker isn't going to be disturbed out of engrossment in the scenes by either the Spanish or the subtitles. As English and Spanish deftly interchange with each other, so too does the smooth insertion of the historic television footage and the newspaper photographs and headlines of Escobar's days.

Some have criticized both Boyd Holbrook, who plays Steve Murphy, the American DEA narrator, and his voice overs, but I like him and the narration very much. For me, this narration contributes to the overall sense of a timeless epic, framed within a Colombian-Amazonia South American perspective: another twist in the knotted saga that is the long, violent, bloody history of  South America's struggles with Strong Men from Cortés to Bolívar to Pinochet, and the Escobars.

The cast is uniformly good, including Steve Murphy's partner, Javier Peña, played by Pedro Pascal.

The critics agree: the principal player, Pablo Escobar's Wagner Maniçoba de Moura (a Brasilian, he needed to learn Spanish for this role) is very, very, very good. He's a little pudgy, a little paunchy.  His eyes alternately reveal a stone cold killer and the dreamer who imagines being president of Colombia and helping  the poor against the established wealthy elite who exploit them and the country. He projects that larger-than-life complexity that makes for the very best of villains -- which is countered with the plainer, simpler, USian good guys, of Peña and Murphy.  But this is el norte going against el sud, something long resented throughout South America, so they and the interests they represent aren't that simple or that plain at all.

Why I am liking Narcos quite a bit so far, the Guardian expressed well. A pull from the review:
"It’s not too much like a history lesson? It’s exactly enough of a history lesson. That most of the story is true is utterly fascinating, especially when it comes so close to melodrama with kidnappings, affairs, extortion, murder and a few devious families controlling insane amounts of wealth. It’s like Empire, but with more Spanish and tons of bloodshed. Chris Brancato (an alum of everything from the original Beverly Hills 90210 to several shows in the Law & Order franchise) makes the episodes compulsively watchable and even though the whole plot could be spoiled with a simple Wikipedia search, there is still plenty of action and suspense."
This isn't a series that is for binge watching so much as watching 2 or 3 episodes at a time  -- partly to absorb the historical aspects and to think about what they signify in terms of contemporary issues, including both Europe's and North America's ongoing immigration, drug and labor (including sex trafficking) crises.

Taking one's time watching the series allows one to properly appreciate the great location vistas and backgrounds, as well as to consider them in connection with what literature gringos insist on quantifying as "magical realism" -- which is NOT how South Americans characterize such works as those by Gabriel García Márquez, nor does Márquez himself, for that matter.*

Márquez grew up in  Aracataca, Colombia, and then lived with his grandfather in Baranquilla, where he began his career as a journalist.  As we see in Narcos, journalists still mattered a great deal, in terms of politics, in Escobar's day -- and, in fact, they still do.

OTOH, that's how it works for me, which doesn't mean that's how it works for everyone.


*   I suppose the academic term currently for this might include something that connects to the locution du jour: spacialization, "The Spacialization of Vision in Gabriel García Márquez's Love In TheTime of Cholera."  Every discipline has a form of spacialization now, including the music department, "sound spacialization" and "spatial music," i.e. as on a course syllabus:
"Spatial music is composed music that intentionally exploits sound localization. Though present in Western music from biblical times in the form of the antiphon, ..."
or in Ethnic Studies, "Multi-Ethnic Alliances, or the Spacialization of Race," etc.

or in an anthropology course -- the "spacialization of labor".

You get the picture.

Globalization is as unhip as yesterday.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

New Orleans - Failure of the Levees

In NO this week there's a drinking game. Every time you hear the word "resilience" take one.

Politicians and pundits -- eff u.

Or maybe you should drive the Gulf Coast and do some compare and contrast with the state of the homes of the poor there and the state of the FEMA funded rebuild of the casinos and the -- lordessa save us! -- the "presidential library" of that traitor, Jefferson Davis.

Then talk about your resilience.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reading Wednesday - Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Yet another book about Lawrence of Arabia? This isn't one of those, despite the title. It's T.E. Lawrence within the context of a whole cast of characters in the run-up to, during and after World War One, as the scramble for control of the Middle East by the Powers plays out.  After the war ends, some of these Powers, such as Austria-Hungary and czarist Russia will no longer exist, and a new one, the U.S., will be firmly established on the scene.

 Lawrence In Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (2013) by Scott Anderson is well worth reading.  It isn't biography as much as it is a history of the Ottoman Empire's loosening grip upon Egypt, Arabia and the Middle East generally -- and the Powers that were already racing in the nineteen aughts to control the region's oil resources.

So, as well as the famous figure of T.E. Lawrence, the reader is introduced to a number of other personages. These other significant figures were from  Germany, Russia, Britain, France, the United States and some of the Jewish migrants from Turkish controlled Rumania and czarist Russia, who were attempting to create what would become Israel after the next Great War. Among them are the French and British Lords Rothschild. All of these people, and the interests they represented, schemed with or against the Ottomans, while Istanbul's young Turks dreamed of updating and reforming the Empire, joining the industrial world.

Emir Faisel, championed by Lawrence
In the meantime all these various sides had vicious intra-conflicts as well. "Betrayal and Lies", as Lawrence learned, was the real name of the game, whether nationalist, corporate, military or Zionist. Tragedies in real life make for a great cast of colorful personalities in a book of history.

The German Arabist Dr Curt Prüfer  (unlike the other figures, there are no photos of him on the web, it seems) is one of the most interesting of these men (for some reason, with the exception of Sarah Aaronsohn, in this history they are all men, these figures loyally working to control the region for their nation or their employer).  A sickly baby and child, a botched operation produced his whispery voice and frail physique, leaving him wide-open to accusations not usually even barely concealed of homosexuality, despite his wife and numerous liaisons with other women.  Nor was he member of the German aristocracy, so rising beyond a certain point in a diplomatic career (also, read for diplomacy, intelligence). was out of the question. However, like Lawrence, he was born with a facility for languages, picking them up quickly and accurately.  As Arabic is a most difficult language to master, he was a valuable player. He ended his life as a nazi ambassador-spy to Brazil during WWII.

The American aristocrat in the game was William Yale (yes, a descendant of that Yale), an employee of the Standard Oil Company of New York. He came to the region originally undercover as a wealthy playboy -- which disguise the young Lawrence ferreted out immediately -- to prospect for the same oil that the British coveted,  as they were converting the British navy from coal power to oil. When the U.S. joined the War on the side of Britain he began gathering intelligence for the U.S. Later he became a distinguished history professor.

Aaron Aaronsohn and wife.

Born in Romania, Aaron Aaronsohn emigrated to Palestine, toured the U.S. as an agricultural scientist, His dream was not only a Jewish state in Palestine, but one that supported itself by agriculture. His initial botanical station at Athlit, on the Palestine coast, was successful -- and plundered by the Ottoman overlord's military under the guise of requisition. He chose to support the British in the region when war came, even before Turkey entered the war. Aaronsohn died in an airplane crash after he attended the 1919 Peace Conference.

Sarah Aaronsohn,sister of botanist Aaron Aaronsohn, referred to as The Heroine of Nili;" the Nili was a Zionist spy ring working for the Brits in Palestine in WWI.
Earlier, his sister and spy collaborator, Sarah, had killed herself, during a brutal Turkish captivity.

Like Lawrence, all of these men and their associates became vital forces in intelligence for their governments and / or allies, helping determine the decisions and the direction of actions during the war and after.

They tended to converge in Cairo. Their descriptions of the thousands of Aussie troops stuck in Cairo after long confinement on ships to get there, waiting transport to Europe, are vivid. The Aussies turned Cairo into a puke-drowned brothel, raping and fighting constantly, dead drunk in the gutters. The British were deeply concerned because, until now, they claimed, the average "arab" had viewed "the white man" as a vastly superior creature.  The Aussies destroyed that image of "the white man" forever.

Scott Anderson is interviewed about his book and Lawrence in this YouTube video.

Among the valuable take-aways, i.e., what I didn't know before reading the book, for me from Lawrence in Arabia, is the role of the oil industry in wrenching the Palestine and the region from Turkey. It also gives a coherent picture of the Young Turks, their goals and how they went about achieving them, to make Turkey a modern country.

The book is lengthy, but it's consistently interesting; though dense with information, it reads easily.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Interview With Samuel R. Delany

"The award-winning novelist discusses the intersection of race, sexual identity, and science fiction. By Cecilia D’Anastasio"

Among the questions D'Anastasio asks is this one:

CD: You have said, “For better or for worse, I am often spoken of as the first African-American science-fiction writer.” What did you mean by that?

Delany has a long and interesting response.  Here's a pull of a single paragraph in this response:
 ". . . . But another set of ghosts are needed to make our own discussion here make sense—ghosts who come from the genre (and I used the word advisedly) we call “the literary.” For an idea of how much literature has changed since I first entered the field as a writer in 1962, or perhaps when, in 1966, I attended my first science-fiction convention in Cleveland, consider first what the academy that gives us our sense of what literature is teaches today—and then consider how that differed from what it taught in 1967. In that year, there were no virtually black studies classes (much less programs or departments); there were no women’s studies classes or programs, and no gay studies or queer studies classes or programs."

After reading that paragraph, I sat and thought about it for a long time. This is called living history, and Delany is very aware of doing so.  Even the universities today aren't what they were when black studies, women's studies, gay studies, etc. were founded.

Checking out the interview is worthy it just to see the the very fine James Hamiltonphoto-portrait of Delany that illustrates the interview at the top.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cli-Fi - Climate Change SF

I'm not entirely convinced the author of "Climate change is so dire we need a new kind of science fiction to make sense of it" has stated the entire picture of what we need to change, slow and stop climate change's inevitable consequences, which will be dire for all of us, or at least anyone not of the 0.01%.

Changing a subset of science fiction classifications to Cli-Fi in which protagonists deal with the near future consequence of die-off due to lack of water and oxygen seems like expecting effective political and social changes happens by "tweets 'n likes". Nor may we have the luxury of thinking about how this will affect our distant descendants generations from now, because the impacts for so many are already here.  Even in places that aren't drought-tortured regions of Africa with booming birth rates nevertheless, how many 100-200-500 year disasters within a year or a decade can a nation handle effectively? (Or, perhaps, the author could have had more to say and propose, but due to space, the editor didn't allow that part?)

We need much more than a new name for fiction in order to explore, create and implement any effective change of route upon this headlong trajectory to self-destruction it seems we're on. Just think of how to rid ourselves of the oil dependency that is embedded and entwined in everything in all our lives, from our shampoos and moisturizers, our transportation, our cosmetics, our agri-biz, our communications -- everything.  It's like slavery -- it took a long and bloody war to burn that down, and in the end, due to federal indifference, the laws were no longer enforced other than there no longer was overt buying and selling, and ownership of babies, and calculating wealth and taxes via the bodies of human beings.* 

What will it take to rid ourselves of unsustainable extraction industries, including the wholesale destruction of the rain forests that provide our oxygen, and many, many ways, our water?  What will it take to stop the wholesale destruction of our oceans and the life they used to support?

Writing and thinking are essential. But don't we need more, including collective action that happens simultaneously with convincing people there is dire need for change?


*  That aspect of slavery was finished for good -- we hope! but then, there's this sort of thing by rightrightrightwinter talk show Jan Mickleson's frighteningly reminiscent of secessionist fire eater sublime, George Fitzhugh's Cannibals All! Or Slaves Without Masters, in which he proposes that anyone, whatever color, who isn't a wealthy white man, was a candidate for being enslaved. 

As to how easily and quickly what is enacted law, decided law, can be changed, by various means, think of  how impossible it is for women to get abortions even where abortion is legal in federal law as in the U.S. -- and even contraception -- even to save the life of the mother who is carrying a dead fetus.

When de facto abolition of abortion has happened here, why can't de facto slavery?  The Constitution has a built in loophole for slavery, i.e. criminals. Which is why our industrial prison complex is so lucrative.

This is what Mickleson is proposing with his outline that Iowa arrest undocumented people, imprison, put to work.  The precedent is the work gangs on the Jim Crow plantations.  Any time a nabob in the south needed a workforce the local sheriff rounded up any black man he could find, on the flimsiest of excuses, he getting paid a set amount for each "prisoner" he brought to the buyer.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The American Slave Coast Give Away

From the publicist for The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned Sublette and Constance Sublette:

I wanted to make you aware of a giveaway that Chicago Review Press has set up on GoodReads for The American Slave Coast.
We are offering 10 copies and the giveaway is running Aug 5 through September 15. 
If you would like to share information about the giveaway, here is the link to the giveaway:

Reading Wednesday - Elizabeth And Her German Garden

Elizabeth And Her German Garden was first published in 1898.  It was Elizabeth Von Arnim's (1866-1941) first book, but like the husband she had when making this garden, it was as far from being her only book as the "Man of Wrath," as he's referred to in the book, would be her only husband.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden was published anonymously.
Knowing only this factoid about the author the reader will know she's in for something unusual and quirky -- even satirical.  Satirical indeed is Elizabeth And Her German Garden, in the mode as other books, arch in tone and complacently upper class, as Max Beerbohm's
Zuleika Dobson (1911), Stella Gibbons's literary parody, Cold Comfort Farm (1932) and Nancy Mitford's comedies of manners.

Elizabeth And Her German Garden was immensely popular, either in spite of or because it addressed so many of the matters the early first wave feminists discussed, but did so within a frame of gardening -- a typical, acceptable female occupation in England -- as a radical female act in Prussian Germany, going against appropriate class and gender avocation.

As were many of these early, outspoken female radicals Elizabeth was an aristocrat.  For that matter she was an aristo times two. Mary Annette Beauchamp was born into a wealthy English family while they were living their Australian holiday home. She married first the German Count Henning August von Arnim-Schlagenthin. As might be suspected from the author referring to him as the Man of Wrath, this marriage wasn't particularly successful, despite five children, among whose tutors were E.M. Forster and Hugh Walpole.  By good fortune, Arnim-Schlagenthin died in 1910, leaving her free to marry John Francis Stanley Russell, 2nd Earl Russell, elder brother of Bertrand Russell. This marriage was also unsuccessful. She left him, but as they never divorced she had affairs -- she was one of H.G. Wells's mistresses --  rather than husbands. She lived many places during the course of her colorful life. Having fled the bombs and war, she died of wartime influenza in Charleston, South Carolina. She was cremated in Maryland; her ashes were brought back to England in 1947.

From wiki:

Arnim's husband had increasing debts and was eventually sent to prison for fraud. This was when she created her pen name "Elizabeth" and launched her career as a writer by publishing her semi-autobiographical, brooding, yet satirical Elizabeth and her German Garden (1898). Detailing her struggles both to create a garden on the estate and her attempts to integrate into German high-class Junker society, it was such a success that it was reprinted twenty times in its first year.[7] A bitter-sweet memoir and companion to it was The Solitary Summer (1899). Other works, such as the The Benefactress(1902), Vera (1921) and Love (1925), were also semi-autobiographical. Other titles dealing with protest against domineering Junkerdom and witty observations of life in provincial Germany were to follow, including The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight (1905) and Fraulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther(1907). She would sign her twenty or so books, after the first, initially as "by the author of Elizabeth and Her German Garden" and later simply "By Elizabeth".
Although she never wrote a traditional autobiography, 'All the Dogs of My Life', her 1936 account of her love for her pets, contains many glimpses of the glittering social circle of which she was part.
I enjoyed listening to Elizabeth And Her German Garden very much. However, her attitude to the "underclasses" is disturbing,. The narrator always refers to them as a matter of course as animals and children -- while in that typical feminist manner of the privileged class, she takes enormous umbrage at the males of the ruling class to which she belongs, who refer to her and women in general as "animals, children and idiots." In Germany the classification of those who are not allowed to attend political meetings, vote or own property were "animals, children and idiots." 

She rather likes hat in Germany, where she is making a garden on her husband's Nassenheide, Pomerania estate with migrant labor, that masters and mistresses may by law employ corporal punishment upon their barely paid employees -- many of whom in Prussia come from Russia and Poland.
In her favor, the narrator of Elizabeth And Her German Garden does feel keenly that the women among these laborers are unfairly treated and argues with the Man of Wrath about it. These women are beaten as a matter of course by their husbands, paid less than the men for doing the same work, perform yet more work in their family, and as well, do it while pregnant, and immediately after giving birth. The Man of Wrath complacently informs her that is why women are inferior beings, because they are weaker than men and can be beaten, because they get pregnant and have to take care of babies.
Perhaps more than any other impression this reader-listener has taken away from Elizabeth And Her German Garden is how much again things in the so-called enlightened nations have returned in terms of wealth, class and labor and gender, particularly for migrant labor, to what they were before World War I. 
Many of her works, including Enchanted April, have been adapted for the stage and films. Virago has reprinted them.
Wiki further informs that many of her works are available online:
Works by Elizabeth Von Arnim at Project GutenbergWorks by or about Elizabeth von Arnim at Internet ArchiveWorks by or about Mary Annette Beauchamp at Internet ArchiveWorks by Elizabeth von Arnim at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)