". . . 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

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Book Of Negroes

The Book of Negroes is the book of the former slaves who worked and fought on the side of the Loyalists, who were transported from the colon ies by the British to Nova Scotia after the war for independence.  This list of names was compiled the British authorities, particularly one fellow in New York City, to counter the Patriots attempting to re-claim their 'property' who had taken the opportunity of freedom promised by the Brits by joining them.

This significant, primary document of the history of people of color in the War of Independence is complete, online now, here.  Just a very short time ago a researcher had to travel to the archives outside of the U.S. where the original, and copies, are stored.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quintessentially Victorian Vision of Ogden’s “The Wire”

HBO's The Wire, re-imagined as a Victorian serial novel:

By Joy DeLyria and Sean Michael Robinson

There are few works of greater scope or structural genius than the series of fiction pieces by Horatio Bucklesby Ogden, collectively known as The Wire; yet for the most part, this Victorian masterpiece has been forgotten and ignored by scholars and popular culture alike. Like his contemporary Charles Dickens, Ogden has, due to the rough and at times lurid nature of his material, been dismissed as a hack, despite significant endorsements of literary critics of the nineteenth century. Unlike the corpus of Dickens, The Wire failed to reach the critical mass of readers necessary to sustain interest over time, and thus runs the risk of falling into the obscurity of academia. We come to you today to right that gross literary injustice.
There is much more, including illustrations -- "Yo! Omar comin'!" 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

History Nerds! An Example of What Excites Us!

"Carpentry in the Southern Colonies during the Eighteenth Century with Emphasis on Maryland and Virginia"
Peter C. Marzio
Winterthur Portfolio
Vol. 7, (1972), pp. 229-250
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc.

There were no architects in the colonies at this time, the first decades of the 18th c.  Yet Annapolis has these exquisite edifices of classic Georgian architecture.  How did this happen?  A very old book which is a paeon to the old city (1937) and serves as a popular history and guide to historic Annapolis states that several Annapolis men hied themselves to England around 1730, subjected themselves to the most strenuous training in drafting and all the other associated crafts and skills of building, from assessing the quality of sand and paint, to wood working.  Then they came back and built historic Annapolis.

Well, yes, I believed what he said was true.  But this long ago author provides no references or citations -- this was a book for the popular market.  I also know like anybody else that most crafts were performed by slaves -- the more skilled your slave, the higher the fee for which you could hire him or her out for.  So obviously slaves had to be trained by these architects when they returned, for otherwise there would have been only one or two of these precious Georgian buildings in Annapolis built between the 1730's and 1775, where  there are in fact dozens.  These buildings were fashioned perfectly from design, to framing, to those finishing touches that take the longest, which means ornamental plastering, woodworking and carving of all kinds.  No one man, not even 30 men working alone could do that.  You need a crew.  You probably had to train your crew of slaves in these skills.

Now I have citation documention that proves this was so.  Ha!

How we spend our days, combing indices.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A New Review Despite Publication in 2009 (History Is Like That!)

On MSN, check it out here.

The review included this, and that makes me love it!

"And the chapters on New Orleans hip-hop are breathtaking, especially coming from someone who loves its r&b so much‑-enthusiasm for the city's modern music is in short supply among fans of the traditional stuff."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why the Commonwealth Did Not Chose Independence

After last night's presentation (to a packed room of mostly C'town residents -- this place does love history, as the history collection in the public library will tell you in about two seconds -- it's as large as the fiction section -- I came away from the discussions with, among other things, the conviction that I framed my question wrong side out in the entry below. The question should not have been posed as why didn't the lower 13 Colonies take the route of Commonwealth, but why the Commonwealth members did not take the route of Independence as the 13 did.

One of the ways Jasanoff frames this is that the Brits were "good losers." They learned a great deal about how to effectively administer their soon-to-be, post-Napoleon, global imperium from their failures with the lower North American 13 colonies. (Gads, this woman is incredible -- and she thus gets to do incredible things. Not only is she one of the most popular professors on the Harvard campus -- a historian! -- she gets to do research in various archival collections in England.)

Among their conclusions was that they'd given those 13 colonies far too much autonomy from the get go -- rather than too little -- and this is why they rebelled. This was enforced by the Loyalist evacuees, of whatever class or skin color, wherever they went: they agitated for more civil rights (yes, a contemporary term, and used by the former black slaves who were transported out of NYC to Nova Scotia, then to England, and then to Sierra Leone, where they founded Freetown), less taxation and more services and compensations from the British government -- just like their Patriot rebel brethren back in the lower 13!  In many places, their demands from the government were nearly the same as the Bill of Rights. Because of their experience with the lower 13 and then the evacuee Loyalists, the soon-to-be British global empire emphasised patriarchal responsibility with greater home, central, authority to which all were subordinate, even the Viceroys and Governors, military and otherwise

I am pleased that the conclusions I reached as to the primary underlying causes of the Declaration of Independence, as itemized in the response comments I made to the entry below, are confirmed by others: the nexus of Indian lands and slavery. It didn't work that way further north, where the slave-labor cash crops didn't grow. And in the Caribbean, there was no room for infinite expansion, which is why the Southern Loyalists, who went there with their slaves, mostly soon moved on. There was no land there for them to claim.

I am going to miss these regular intimate history round tables with the best historians of our time most of all things here, I think.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

U.S. Chose Independence, Canada Chose Commonwealth Status: Why?

Why did these contiguous lands make different decisions regarding their political status? I've been speculating about the reasons for this quite a bit lately. One the provocations for these speculations has been Maya Jasanoff's Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War. She follows 6 different grouping of Loyalists from the lead-up to the Declaration of Independence, through the war, and then after, to their fortunes in the various places of their exile, transported by the British. Among these groups are Native peoples and enslaved people, as well as the very wealthy feudal families in the south and north, and mercantilists such as the Delanceys. As I learned during my days at the Fraunces Tavern Museum, the Delanceys didn't make the clever move of the Livingston family, by having members on both sides, so they were in position to win-win as a family. (The Livingstons continued afterwards during the early days of the Republic and after the War of 1812, as an elite powerhouse player, in NYC, Maryland, New Orleans and greater Louisiana.)

There were proposals on the table, at the beginning of the 'troubles,' that would have put the 13 colonies into the same relationship that Canada eventually established for itself -- entire independence and autonomy domestically, just not internationally -- no power to begin a war on its own for instance. Why didn't the 13 colonies go that way?

Maybe Jasanoff will provide some answers to my questions via her presentation here tonight.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prosperity: Building the Home of the Brave and Land of the Free

Rockman, Seth. (2009). Scraping by: Wage labor, slavery, and survival in early Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
At a moment of great entrepreneurial energy and social mobility, prosperity came to Americans who could best assemble, deploy, and exploit the physical labor of others. The early republic’s economy opened up new possibilities for some Americans precisely because it closed down opportunities for others.
. . . the perpetuation of slavery in a place like Baltimore owed less to the actual labor compelled from enslaved workers and more to the fact that plantation purchasers in Charleston, Augusta, New Orleans, and throughout the South were willing to pay hundreds of dollars for Baltimore slaves. Under the “chattel principle” that facilitated the instantaneous conversion of a person into cash, Baltimore slaveholders reaped wealth from slavery that had little to do with urban labor itself.

Other historians have suggested that the “cultural work” of slavery should be considered alongside the actual work that enslaved men and women performed. What slaveholders obtained from their human property was not merely labor, but a way of conceptualizing themselves as “masters,” a vehicle for performing patriarchal obligations to one’s wife and children, a means of class differentiation relative to nonslaveholding whites, a mode of social discipline to keep impoverished European immigrants grateful for their low wages, and a tool for undermining interracial solidarity of working people in general. Slavery sustained, if not promoted, many of the values and practices associated with early republic capitalism, such as the performance of self, the attainment of middle-class standards of respectability, and the pursuit of upward mobility. Seen in this light, slavery appeared worth preserving as a system not merely for compelling labor and accumulating capital, but for its ability to shape the contours of a broader range of social and cultural relations.
Both a property regime and a system of cultural power, slavery was also a labor system that accelerated economic development. Payroll records and job advertisements from Baltimore reveal the ready assimilation of enslaved workers into a fluid labor market. Through the practice of hiring slaves, employers reconciled slavery with the most advantageous aspects of a “free-labor” economy, namely the ability to hire and fire workers at will and to jettison traditional responsibilities of providing laborers with room and board. However, they were not so committed to the free-labor ideal that they sought to abolish slavery or convert all labor relations to a wage basis. There was no need to choose between a labor force entirely of enslaved workers or one entirely of free, self-owned, and legally equal workers. Instead, the system that emerged in Baltimore blurred boundaries between categories of labor, assuring the interchangeability of different workers along a continuum of slaves-for-life to transient day laborers – with term slaves, rented slaves, self-hiring slaves, indentured servants, redemptioners, apprentices, prisoners, children, and paupers occupying the space in between.
Scraping By is an essential text for understanding the equation of labor = prosperity of the earlier decades of the U.S., and how this grew out of the laws and regulations of labor of the colonial eras previously.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Perigee Moon -- Twinned

I watched the perigee moon approach its full swelling over the last few nights from the shore of the river.  La Luna's falling light danced with the water, she herself mirrored entire and complete where the water was still.  Thus, last night -- two moons. The sky was sans a wisp of cloud, filled with big white light and clouds of stars washed like pollen across the ocean of night.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring-y Spring

Our backyard is an explosion of all the seasonal flowers -- daffodils, jonquils, hyacinth, narcissus, crocus, forsythia, some red flower I don't know, and a tiny white, tall-stem one growing out of the grass that I don't know either. It seems that another daffy opens even as I observe them. The college's b&g people still have not removed the tree limbs brought down in a December storm, so walking about my backyard is problematic -- and there are so many smaller branches, and bark, and so on -- it's a mess.

The birds are making racket continuously, but it is a melodious racket, so pleasant background music.

I lifted the winter storm glass on the kitchen screen doors this morning as it was nearly 60 when we got up and now has reached the day's projected high of 74. The inner kitchen doors are now open, to let fresh air into the house. Alas, I'm coughing as badly as I ever did: next door neighbor had insulation pumped into her upper stories ... I saw much stuff floating in the air around the pumping truck. I wonder if this is the cause? Or is is merely spring pollen, an allergic reaction -- I've never suffered from allergies before -- that's always been el V.'s malady, not mine.  That long tube through which the insulation was pumped: it coiled back upon itself, it looped, it shimmied the insulation materials through in a peristalsis to the top of house.  It looked like Valdemort!  My neighbor ladies agreed, that it was so -- they further volunteered that the Harry Potter movies are their favorites -- these are women who are 65 if they are a day!

I've been walking about on breaks, gazing upon the flowering ornamental short trees, attempting to decide if they are redbud, crabapples, pears, and etc. Oddly, I see nary a tulip here anywhere in town. Is it too early? I am looking forward to lilacs.  I wonder if we'll see goslings and ducklings in a little while?

This evening: Tonight's perigee full moon! It is hanging there, pouring out its luminous white light over the dancing high tide river.

An osprey has built a nest on one of the pilings of the mansion's dock that reaches out into the river next to the public deck. The ducks are swimming in pairs - one male, one female. I was assured that the ducks had been mating all day and pretty soon we'd see ducklings. The other birds were still singing up a storm.

All day long, every time I looked at my backyard flowers, at the flowering bushes and trees, more flowers had opened and bloomed. The air smells so sweet.  The humans are in shorts, sitting on their porches and patios, drinks in hand, adoring the warm soft air, sans mosquitos and chiggers.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Independence from Britain: Not Always How We Were Taught it Happened

I've returned this week to the meat grinder of the U.S. War for Independence, or the first Civil War, depending on how you want to characterize it.

I'm galloping throughMaya Jasanoff's Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (2011) Knopf, NY (she was a Cullman Center Fellow the same year el V was). This is feeding into the other information we've been gathering in this house that houses such a scholarship library of colonial, independence and early republic America.

Along with the deep re-assessment of our colonial and independence era history, just like with the War of Southern Aggression, contemporary scholarship is seeing this history differently from the previous dominant narratives of our past pasts: exceptionalist, triumphalist, unified. This doesn't mean that we can't admire where admiration may be merited, but it means we no longer 'historically disappear' what is in their primary documents, written by themselves about certain matters. These matters are first and foremost, northerner or southerner, slavery, and second, northerner or southerner, the mob action that was organized and run by the economically powerful elite, to make the declaration of independence from Britain.

This history remarkably resembles the tbaggers and neocon tactics, strategies and objectives of today. We dare not say these people don't know their history. They know very well which clauses of the Constitution to leave out of public readings. They, or at least their runners and handlers, have been studying our past and our political history in minute detail since the days of Nixon. They have studied the history of how we achieved FDR's New Deal, workers' rights, labor unions, Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts -- the strategies and the tactics. They studied how we got Roe V. Wade.  As consequence their plans are bearing bumper crops of wicked fruit in the efficient rolling back of all these progressive political events. We dare not use the terms 'liberal,' or 'feminist,' for the neocons and tbaggers have made them laughing stocks. Liberal is used now in the context of the set of economic policies known as 'neoliberal.'  We cannot call a lie a lie. We cannot criticize the politicians who we elected on the grounds they were to represent our interests for fear of our own, who, out of their own fear,s lambaste us with, "You are a fool if you think there's no difference between electing a dem or rethug!" when you said no such thing.

Judging by our growing ineffectiveness -- and even seemingly (Obama's administration not rolling back policies of the previous ones regarding our civil liberties, for instance) to counter their narratives and their tactics, it's us, the progressives and dems who don't know or study our history.

In the meantime, it's a beautiful St. Patrick's Day -- a beautiful early spring day.  It seems whether NYC, NO, or here, I live where the community is more than signficantly populated with Irish, and they celebrate!  Tents have gone up.  There will be a parade soon, followed by all sorts of public amusements.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why Does the Nuclear Pork Barrel Insist That Nuclear Disaster Can't Happen?

According to those who work in the industry anyone who raises objections to nuclear power is a scientific and technological ignoramous who should just stfu and be slapped into the bargain.

The So-called-Feisty-Little-Engine-That-Can U.S. Nuclear Industry Tall Tales of Unfair Woe -- You can always count on Joe -- ain't it grand?

U.S. Nuclear Industry Faces New Uncertainty
“I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and one of the Senate’s leading voices on energy, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Also like this:

Japanese Crisis Only The Latest Hurdle For U.S. Nuclear Industry
Some experts suggested the situation in Japan, while alarming, should not be used as an argument against expanded nuclear power in the United States, because of differences in geography -- Japan is more vulnerable to major earthquakes and tsunamis.
"Unfortunately, we have a habit of not putting things into perspective," said Remick, the former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "So I think it will result in an overreaction."
Why is the reportage tilted to the perceptions of how badly this is hurting the poor nuclear pork barrelers industry rather than the terrible, great harms and catastrophes, and the great risks that more will takes because of the choice of nuclear plants for power?  Or their enormous expense and that it takes so long to build one and get it up to speed that it is out-of-date in everyway, including safety regulations, before it ever goes on line?

O, I forgot: earthquakes, tsunamis, carelessness, sabotage won't, don't, can't happen HERE in Exceptionalist States of America.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Emancipating History

"Emancipating History" is the lead feature in today's NY Times Arts section.  The editorial choice of title for the feature is to the point.  The subject is the slavery and slave market museums and exhibits of Charleston, South Carolina, which did not exist twenty years ago. The tourist destination plantations and museums of the Old South erased slaves, slavery and the slave trade from all discourse and reference as effectively as did the antebellum paintings of their plantation home (yes, I have been writing about that very subject this week as part of our book, The American Slave Coast).

I wrote "Mrs Langdon's Diary -- Or -- They Carry It Too Far," set on a South Carolina upcountry cotton plantation, in which the progress of the Civil War was narrated through the contrasting perception of the plantation owner and her oldest slave.  This was for Katharine Kerr's 1996 fantasy anthology, The Shimmering Door. 

The shock I got from the reception of that story by my then SFWA male colleagues remains one of my most vivid recent memories: I was told in no uncertain terms that I was risibly ignorant of history and the Civil War for even suggesting that secession and the formation of the CSA had anything whatsoever to do with slavery. Further, it wasn't concealed by some of them that women were not qualified to engage with the Civil War, or even with history in general.  In any case those slaves were just some long-dead people, a mere sidebar to history, unfortunate perhaps, but without real significance and certainly without agency when it came to that great, grand, glorious striving of marvelous to- always-be-refought battles.* Some of those boy-os now are among the loudest voices instructing other sf/f writers that the Civil War was all about slavery, though others of them have merely gone silent on the subject. Hallelujah, that's how far we've come since then

The credit for that goes to many, many people, many, many of them people of color, who began publishing their research, their own family stories, writing in styless that were reader friendly, in contrast to the demands of academic publish-or-perish texts.  I could run down a bibliography of those publications right here, if I wanted to take the space, for I was there already (and reading all these books as they came out), due to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Haiti, and had already been conducting my own research in these areas -- including West Africa -- since the early 80's.  When one takes on slavery in the New World there is no way to avoid looking at that, then, still, elephant in the North American living room, a slave system that lasted longer than any other in the New World, except Cuba's and Brasil's.  Yes, the USA was the third last nation to give it up.

A few weeks ago, planning an extended field trip to certain places such as Monticello and Charleston, I remarked how all these plantations and museums put exhibitions and information about slavery on top, front and center as an attraction.  I knew from experience that a very short time ago this was not so.  We visited Andrew Jackson's Hermitage several times back in the 80's.  To even whisper the word 'slave' got you an ungentle pursed-lip-flared-nostril reprimand on the order of you having broken wind.  Now the Hermitage has restored the slave quarters, which did not exist during our visits.

Still ... yesterday I had a meeting at the county's historical museum concerning the talk we're giving at their new year's inaugural reception and banquet.  Meeting with the museum's director and curator upstairs for an hour we discussed the local history of slavery in terms of the county families -- their participation in the trade, the number of slaves, which side they took over secession (this is the Eastern Shore, the heart of secession for the state, which in the end did not "go out," as it was spoken of back in 1860 - 1861), how abolitionists were treated, so on.  After that we were brought to meet an elderly member of the board, a gentle, learned, elderly, local origin's, retired economist / professor.  He's been doing a great deal of work in these matters here in terms of numbers of residents of color, free and enslaved.  That there are these long periods during which the numbers of free people of color outnumbered slaves he has given to the difference between slave owners here and those 'down south.' the County's slave owners were kinder, gentler, truly the embodiment of the post-bellum south's golden haze of nostalgia for the patriarchal slavery system.  When I showed him the stat research we'd been doing on the numbers, and our sources for these number, what those numbers show is that the Shore was short on the enslaved because they'd sold them all to traders and speculators in a money-making frenzy -- it was all new to him.  This wasn't information that pleased.

Charleston's Old Slave Mart Museum only opened in 2007. There is still a great deal of work to be done.  But so much progress has been made.  I like to think that we've been part of the cause for that!

This, from the Times feature:

The museum doesn’t pretend to present a history of slavery, or an account of its abolition (though on the second floor, a traveling exhibition purchased from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York, does address the subject). It simply chronicles the domestic trade. There is nothing here still redolent of such barter —the backyard prison, kitchen and outbuildings are long gone — but it doesn’t matter. The transformation of a slave showroom into a slave-trade museum gives a poignant edge to the account, in which an auction of slaves could resemble a sale of used cars.

The most valuable workers sold for nearly $40,000 in 2007 dollars (a chart of costs is shown). Hundreds of slaves, it is evident, could be worth more than the plantation they worked on. We read, too, that most white Southerners didn’t even own slaves. But slavery’s presence was widely accepted as natural.

Spend an hour here, and it starts to seem all the more remarkable that a museum has not undertaken a more ambitious examination of the subject. That will be one of the challenges for the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which is scheduled to open in 2015. In the meantime, remnants of slavery’s presence are so prevalent here that it becomes poignantly evident just how major an achievement is reflected by slavery’s enduring absence.
* This is no joke even now. There have been those who have written angry comments to the Disunion column demanding to know why we're always dragging slavery into every discussion connected to the Civil War.  They want the fun stuff, the important stuff, they want the battles!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Rebel Constitution

Today's Disunion column, "The Rebel Constitution," is by Stephanie McCurry, author of Confederate Reckoning (2010 - Harvard University Press).  I have written here before about this study of the CSA's constitution, a study of the CSA's constitution, its at the top declaration that the CSA was made for white men, and white men only, and how the Confederacy massively failed, then, the women and children it chivalrously promised to support and protect:
There were, however, a few significant changes. In fact, with just a handful of alterations the delegates fundamentally transformed the character of the document and signaled the strikingly different purposes of their new national government they would erect on its foundation. In crafting their own Constitution, Confederate politicians made the most of their long-awaited opportunity to perfect, in their eyes, the original document. They purged the text of all of the ambivalences, compromises and hedges about slavery, representation and the power of the federal government that had plagued the republic since the founding.
Whatever revisionist stories Davis tried to spin after the war, the delegates in Montgomery set out to make something that had, in fact, never existed before: an explicitly proslavery constitution for an explicitly proslavery — and anti-democratic — country.
To view an annotated copy of the Confederate Constitution, click here.


Earthquake, then storm and flood.

The CNN video of Tsunami's approach upon Sendai in northeast Japan, that wave made of mud, oil, burning buildings and debris of all kinds on its roll of destruction, for this westerner had to bring to mind Hayao Miyazaki's (2001) Spirited Away's River God transformed into Big Pollution Blob Dam, releasing all its filth in the gods' bathhouse. It contained everything that man had ever used, made, and thrown away.

We think tusnami, we think wall of water -- a killer, yes, but, well, water -- clean.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

This reason is the underlying cause of all my sad, because of its larger implications.
Last month was Black History month, but nobody much seemed to notice.
Today is another day that the the primary media or anyone else can hardly seem to notice. Google did though. And so did Tordotcom and some others, in a most useful way.

As with every progressive and rights organization and institution, and the movements and the rights themselves everywhere, for everyone except corporations and and embryos -- students are too young and irrational to vote, but a fetus is mature enough to provide testimony at a hearing -- I am very sad.
In Cuba though, International Women's Day is being celebrated everywhere, just as it always has been (like Valentine's Day!). I know because I have received e-mails from my friends there, celebrating me as part of their special celebrations of women on this day. The e-mail used up their very precious, rationed bandwidth capacities and allowances to send these greetings to me on this day. My Cuban women friends don't send e-mails often because the limited bandwidth doesn't allow (for which we can thank specific U.S. demand at the very highest level -- to keep Cuba off the fiber optic grid laid down to connect the globe way back when).

We are listening to a radio program streaming live from a San Francisco radio station (dj a Cubano amigo) playing great Cuban women music artists. Something, at least.

All On A Mardi Gras Day!

Last year's Mardi Gras (which was earlier) I dressed up, put on the most colorful and dramatic face cosmetics I possess, draped myself in beads and went off present the seminar that gave a history of cultural, economic and political connections among NYC, New Orleans and Havana.  That night we went off to hear Big Sam.  A few days later we were in New Orleans ourselves, during which el V was interviewed by Spike Lee for his HBO follow-up to When the Levees Broke.

This year it's difficult to realize it is Mardi Gras, so far removed do we feel from everywhere else.  However, I think this sense of removal has more to do with such intense explorations into the historical past than it does with geography.  We'll be in New Orleans next month so she will spring back into dramatic habitation of the head again, as she always does.

Still, it's sad that we don't have even a single strand of Mardi Gras beads around our necks today.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

More History of the Civil War & Brits Don't Get It

As we see again in today's Disunion column, "The Minds of the South," keyboarded by a Cambridge scholar, Michael O'Brian, who nevertheless seems clueless about the United States in these eras.  Why is that Brits, whether historians or historical novelists get the American Civil War wrong (at least all I've read)?  What do they do wrong in their research?

I mean, John C. Calhoun, a staunch Unionist?  This was a man whose arrogance and power lust had him dreaming of creating an entire new nation in the South, with himself running the show -- shades of Aaron Burr* -- because Jackson** beat his ass for POTUS.  During the Nullification crisis, he resigned as VP, before Jackson kicked his butt out for disloyalty (Jackson being Jackson there was zero tolerance for back-stabbing;  Jackson made these things deeply personal matters of personal honor ( not for him "it's politics, lets go play golf now").  Down in South Carolina, not incidentally, medals were struck that proclaimed "John C. Calhoun, First President of the Southern Confederacy."  And no, the Nullification Crisis was not about slavery at all, except that like now during which everything is always about  the oil bidness in one way or another, it was about slavery. 

"The tariff was only the pretext," he insisted, "and disunion and a southern confederacy the real object." Then he predicted what the next excuse would be, a prediction tragically fulfilled three decades later. "The next pretext," Jackson warned, "will be the negro, or slavery question."

This is from Andrew Jackson writing to Reverend Andrew J. Crawford, May 1, 1833, in Jackson's Correspondence, V.3, p. 72.

Further, this opinion was shared by others, namely that at the bottom of the nullification controversy "lurked a settled design to dissolve the Union and set up a southern Confederacy.  Only the "disaprobation" of other southern states cause its abandonment at present".  B.F. Perry to Webster, April, 1833, Webster Papers, New Hampshire Historical Society.

* Speaking of Burr, as we were, check this out.

** Is it necessary to state that in my opinion, in so many ways Andrew Jackson was a dangerous man, perhaps even a sociopath, and that in this area, at least, I share Thomas Jefferson's opinion, that he wasn't fit to be POTUS?  (Neither George Washington, nor Martha, after her husband's death, believed Jefferson worthy of the presidency either.)

However, Jackson was one of the most effective Presidents in our history. He had an agenda for his presidency, he was determined to accomplish his agenda and he did. He was the one who changed our political process from 'republic' to 'democracy.' Moreover, if the federal government hadn't become so corrupt and patronage-happy, that huge wave of populist disgust for it wouldn't have been there for him to ride in on. Of course, instead of 'patronage,' he instituted the infamous 'spoils' system.  In our nation, every president who came in on an agenda to reduce spending and corruption left with more of it in place.  This has been the same with the national debt -- except  with Jackson. Jackson paid down the national debt.

I Still Want To Know ....

Who scans all these dox so the computer can data mine them?  For that's what this is, data mining, i.e. pattern recognition -- not analysis.

Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”
Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation.
“The economic impact will be huge,” said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.”
Nowhere are these advances clearer than in the legal world.

E-discovery technologies generally fall into two broad categories that can be described as “linguistic” and “sociological.”

The most basic linguistic approach uses specific search words to find and sort relevant documents. More advanced programs filter documents through a large web of word and phrase definitions. A user who types “dog” will also find documents that mention “man’s best friend” and even the notion of a “walk.”

The sociological approach adds an inferential layer of analysis, mimicking the deductive powers of a human Sherlock Holmes. Engineers and linguists at Cataphora, an information-sifting company based in Silicon Valley, have their software mine documents for the activities and interactions of people — who did what when, and who talks to whom. The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.
Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.
And etc.  It's very interesting.  But it doesn't answer the question I asked at the top.

Friday, March 4, 2011


We're doing a summer session Seniors Honors course in African diaspora cultures to the New World back in NYC. Ooofta! The amount of work pulling together a syllabus. We are planning it around the Eltis and Richardson The Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2010), Yale.
In 2011 so far, I've worked out to three audio books; this isn't too shabby, considering each cd runs on average 50 - 60 minutes, so I get through two and a part of another cd per work-out: Eudora Welty's Delta Wedding, Machiavelli's The Prince, and now have begun Ivanhoe.

I had not previously read Delta Wedding. Likely I'd have gotten too impatient with the text to actually read it on the page, but listening while working out the endless, minute detail description of objects and feelings, sensations and sensibilities, the constant dweling upon and adoration by all the female characters of every age of philandering, selfish, dickhead Brother George could be put up with. I understand what is admirable about this work. But I don't like it, other than as more cultural information about a time, a place and attitudes. In that sense it is a treasure chest of pertinent information. For instance, though there are numerous characters of color, they are so apart from the white characters as to be aliens.  Unlike the rest of the characters, Welty never provides the reader with sections of their observations and sensabilities from within.  Still, Welty was a more sly author than she's sometimes given credit.

I also possess the temerity to take away from The Prince the idea that in some parts the author was a fool. Not entirely a fool in all the parts, but certainly in some.

Ivanhoe has been one of my favorite novels since childhood, and remains so to this day. I recently re-read Scott's Essay on Chivalry, written as a companion piece to an encyclopedia's section "History of the Middle Ages." (IIRC, this encyclopedia was never published.) As per usual, the conclusion one must come to is that Twain AND the southerners did not read the book that Scott wrote. I'm re-reading (listening, rather, which is a new experience of the novel) again, to re-check my understanding of what is in Scott's text of this novel so battered by critics who seem not to have read Scott either -- they've probably only watched the 1952 movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor. I remain forcibly struck by Scott's earnest yet most cunning critiques of the Middle Ages and 'chivalry,' that the most admirable, active characters are those who not 'gentlefolk,' much less nobility, from whence come all the villains of agency.

The most intelligent characters by far are a slave and a Jewess -- those figures so far from the power structure of the Middle Ages as to be outside it all together. Rowena is not stupid, except, perhaps in sharing an adoration of that blockhead, Ivanhoe, with Rebecca; nor do we see much of Rowena because she spends most of the book as a captive in one way or another throughout to the cultural power structure that in her case includes her gender and her rank, as well as of the villains.

Yet, Scott has a lot of comedy in Ivanhoe, and the comedy does not come at the expense of either Isaac or Rebecca.

People tend to forget that Scott was a lawyer, and evidently a very good one, judging by his success in the profession. He knows exactly what words mean.  He. was not endorsing chivalry as a social or economic code.  In Ivanhoe, Scott shows us how little the codes were observed, and how little protection the codes provided to anyone of any rank, including those who supposedly are chivalry's flower.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

They Cross Wires, HBO's The Wire and HBO's Game of Thrones

Not until I saw the latest GoT trailer did I know:

"Aidan Gillen, a fan favorite from early on, has been cast in the role of Lord Petyr Baelish, more popularly known as Littlefinger. A scheming, immoral social-climbing conniver, Baelish is a pivotal character in the series, one that viewers are sure to love to hate."

Aidan Gillen played Tommy Carcetti in The Wire:

" ... an ambitious Baltimore politician who rises from a seat on the city council to the office of the Mayor of Baltimore, and to the office of the Governor of Maryland by the end of the series."

Additionally there is season two of David Simon's HBO's Treme this spring, and Showtime's The Borgias, starring ... Jeremy Irons.

There will be television worth watching -- at least on dvd or something, sometime, for me, since I don't have a television. Which, considering this American Slave Coast we're writing, is just as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Return From Los Angeles, Minus Fone

It was cold in Los Angeles.  And there was cold pouring rain!

Home early this AM to the C'town House from the EMP conference in LA via two different airports and drive then from D.C.  Along the way el V lost his phone.

Unhappily, reflecting the trend noticed in the last years in most arenas of entertainent, media and academia, this year's presenters tended to be more white and more male than at the recent meetings.  Attendence was noticably down from previous years, and a noticable number of panelists canceled at the last moment. Partly this was due to it being Oscar weekend, which no one had thought about when choosing LA and the dates for this year's meeting.  Plane tickets and hotel rooms were difficult to score, and the prices of both tickets and rooms were sky-high, which was partly due to the Oscars and partly to the events in the Middle East and North Africa.  Then -- there is the economy, stupid.  So many people are out of work and have been by now for a very long time.

The theme this year for the Experience Music Project's conference, the first one held outside of Seattle, was "Music and Money."  Among the highlights were Greil Marcus per usual -- the man is a brilliant music composer, though he uses language rather than instruments -- and Robert Christgau.  All in all, it was still a very good conference and a lot of fun for all those who were able to attend.

el V's presentation was titled "Money Musk."  He's built out a fascinating complex of historical and musical research from the sheet music of this so-titled fiddle tune in Thomas Jefferson's library at Monticello.  The tune was evidently a favorite of the Virginian, played for Jefferson by one of his sons by Sally Hemmings.

The points of the presentation included the Chevalier de Saint-George, Charles Dibdon, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and its sequel, Yankee Doodle and the Macaronis of London who were among Handel's groupies, Liverpool's Penny Lane and the South Sea slave trading company bubble, the Anacreon glee plus the Star Spangled Banner, and oh, so much more about the history of England musical theater and "blacking up."

To put the point of the presentation into a very few words, it described the roots of pop as found in the black face traditions of the English and by extension New World English 18th century.

His presentation was early Sunday afternoon, Oscar Day. This tradition of white people blacking up for theatrical presentation was already present in the court of Henry VIII.  The court ladies loved to be "black moors,' so there were instructions to those creating the court masques that were such an essential part of keeping the courtly boredom at bay to include such roles. Before the right cosmetic paint was devised the ladies blacked up by wearing fine black mesh masks on their faces and arms.  I had mentioned to him that Portman's costume as the Black Queen in The Black Swan included a black veil that covered her face, so he mentioned that factoid appropriate to the day, which was received with happy applause because everyone had seen the movie -- though he hasn't.  Though I refuse to take credit for this particular work, el V insists that I do get loads of co-credit, starting with finding out initially about the sheet music of Money Musk in Jefferson's library.  So he shouted me out for co-credit from the stage in the middle of it all.

Windows 7 crashed fairly early into the presentation so the YouTube embedded Power Point musical examples couldn't be played.  The whole damned computer froze.  el V used colorful bad language and then slammed the laptop shut and continued sans notes or any other memory enhancer. The audience included  Jeff Chang -- any time you get to hang with Chang is a great big plus -- our agent, as well as many of the other Usual Suspects of music writers, who you love to see because they are amigas and amigos, brilliant and so interesting.

Next year's EMP meeting will be in NYC, which makes it a lot easier for us.

Now, to recover or replace the missing phone.