LINES OF THE DAY

". . . 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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Catching Up -- Trying To, Anyway

Plus el V's flying off on the 6th to Barranquilla, Colombia for their annual jazz festival. It's a great gig, and he's staying a couple of extra days to poke some more into Cartegena.
The meetings we were to have this week have been postponed due to Irene, as well as the first rehearsal for Las Vidas Perfectas. They're postponed even more so because the Barranquilla trip.

The jazz festival means lucky el V will miss the 9/11 mess. Not only the relentless sanctimonious drumbeat of terrorism rhetoric, but the horrors of having both Obama and dubya in the city on the same day. Anytime a POTUS is here it ties up eveything else. Dub, loathing NYC, spared us most of the time, but O is here a lot, playing footsies with Wall Street. Which, as you know Barbara, isn't that far from where we live, and certainly the ground routes there and back are part of our territory. These are the same routes the observers who will be hording themselves down to Ground Zero for the hypocritical performances will take, coming and going.  9/11 is going to be a local gridlock disaster.

9/11 imprisons me in my apartment again ....

Now for some perspective on our impending local gridlock 'disaster' --


Upstate and Vermont are having an awful time, and in New Jersey too, flooding is still on-going. As we have learned over and over again because so many people we know and to whom we are close have suffered hurricane and earthquake disasters, and many of them have suffered enormously -- the worst of these disasters is after the storm is over.  At some point people begin suffering too from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I suffered nothing personally. Yet, last night I dreamed all night about being in a hurricane. All of the dreams featured my new! improved! sooperdooper flashlight that we never needed. A lot of the dreams were set in Cuba. Hurricanes have become a personal terror because we have so many near and dear who live where hurricanes are constant dangers, including the Caribbean and I’ve heard so many of their horrible experiences now, for years. Not to mention the earthquake in Haiti that affected so many people we know personally, not to mention everyone else in that island victimized by capital and history.

This is the Post Climate Change New World Order, as proclaimed by bush1, as implemented by bush2, as explained by Yours Truly:

Federal government has no place in disasters, whether warning and providing preparation assistance before the disaster happens, rescue and assistance during the disaster, and after, for rescue, assistance, clean-up and financial aid. This is the function of private insurance.Also, taxes must be raised on the 40% of the population that is poor, lower and mid middle-class because these groups are not paying their fair share.

Except for paying for everything most of us are of no consequence to our government, that exists to defend and expand the rights and conquests of the corporations around the globe, which is the only function of a government.

The big September national observance of labor day, in honor of people working is replaced by 9/11, Terrorism Day.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene -- The End

We’ll be heading back downtown to clean up the mess I left the apartment in a little later today. Despite what was said all day yesterday, most of the subway system was operational by rush hour this morning. Gotta be sure the Stock Exchange is up and running, you betcha!

Beautiful day here. Garbage trucks everywhere collecting the tree debris. We Unruly Women of the Jumel Terrace Hurricane Irene Posse were cleaning up after breakfast (of Virginia peaches, Alabama strawberry and blackberry jams, biscuits, Maryland bacon, New York eggs, bagels, lox, and cream cheese) this morning and all going, “We have electricity! We have running hot and cold water! We have garbage trucks picking up!” It would have been a very different morning if none of those were in effect. We wouldn’t have been dancing so much to old time New Orleans blues while cleaning off the stove top, scrubbing the porcelain sink, gathering the dish towels etc. to dump into the washer.
On the other hand, by chance, the three of us women, our Hostess, her sister-in-law and I, plus Niece, all have experience of heating water without electricity, washing things in tubs by hand.  BTW, that Niece?  She's craaackerjack!  The world is going to hear from her.  We're within walking distance of her dorm, so we'll hear from her in other ways as well.

So, for us and our hosts, this turned in a mini-vacation, in which we got to spend quality time together, which we’ve all been too busy all spring and summer to do – we weren’t even able to get together for a meal

Dayem, sometimes we’re lucky.

Today, August 29th, The Failure of the Levees Does Not Stop

Today is the sixth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Tonight at 7 p.m. at New Orleans's Duncan Plaza, across from City Hall, there will be "A Candlelight Rally of Remembrance and Resilience to Honor Pre-Katrina New Orleans Public School Employees," commemorating the only mass firing of an entire public school workforce in the nation's history.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

*Hurricane Irene* El V Video - Song Written Today

Go here for the YouTube premiere a half hour after el V wrote "Hurricane Irene."

Ensconced

Left home about 7:30 AM and taxied uptown.  Air already sodden, the sky an unpleasant ashen color, with haze, mist, fog.

We've finished helping do the physical prep for the house and so on.  So now we're chilling and thinking about making dinner when the time comes.  We're hungry!  We've had a couple of periods of rain already.

However it rolls, however bad, however easy (but I'm sure it isn't going to be easy), I'm glad we're up here and not at home.  What makes it really OK is that we were able to help and will be able to continue helping our friends, and they also help their neighbors.  Not only are our friends really brilliant, intelligent and creative, they've got a community consciousness, as well as that Southern hospitality gene.  All over again I'm aware of why we love them so much.

I hope everyone is safe, but I know not everyone is.  Three people have been killed by Irene already.  She's so huge and moving so slowly.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hurricane Irene

The mayor is telling us we should figure out now where we want to evacuate to -- preferably we're all supposed to go stay with friends and relatives out of the city. Right. The flood zones are classified as A -- most likely to flood,  B -- less likely to flood, and C -- unlikely to flood under circumstances that aren't a direct hit by a hurricane. We're not on the Atlantic side of lower Manhattan, though we're on the edge of a B zone that bleeds into the least likely to flood C zone. Our emergency shelter is a school where we vote, that's in this zone too, a couple of blocks down.

We're expected to get clobbered on Saturday and Sunday. It's not as if anything is being done to tape windows, for instance, or sandbag the basements. I would leave town now, if I had anywhere to go within the region. All our friends in this part of the world are on the Atlantic coast too. As I know all too well, it's not the storm itself that's the real danger. It's afterwards with no water, food and power. My nerves are shot. el V on the west coast isn't helping matters. He's not getting home until at least 9 pm tomorrow night. If we are to leave town it should be NOW, not Saturday, when the storm arrives.

It's August 25th, you all.  I have all too personal knowledge of the horrors of the aftermath of that flooding.

I'm trying to figure out where to go after the flooding if we can't live in the apt. for some days.  Our last greatest storm that took out the power as well as flooding the subways, left big parts of the city without electricity for ten days.  That's an impossible time to live without electricity in this city at this time. That time we were without here only about three days, which long enough in August.

I'm making lists of what to pack for the shelter, and what to pack for leaving town all together.  I'm trying to get food together that can utlized without electricty, or cooking -- stove is gas, but ?  Flashlights, batteries, candles, water -- I sure wish el V were here, and I wasn't trying to do this by myself.

Why Contemporary Written Rhetoric so Often Fails

The above use of fail is a Webster's definition, not urban / internet dictionary meaning --

"To lose strength, to weaken; to stop functioning normally; to become absent or inadequate; to become unsuccessful in a venture such as marriage or passing a test." Synonyms include 'breaking down.'

These days many a genre novel, particularly one hopeful of appeal to that expanding YA market, is narrated by the protagonist in a sort of ... what? hipster? style? This, in order to give an impression of contemporary, up-to-the-minute, I-live-in-your-world, I'm-one-of-you veneer that will urge the reader to suspend her disbelief. Secondary characters when in dialog with other the Primary and other Secondaries may resort to this tone and style to a greater degree.

We also encounter this with increasing frequence in non-fiction.

There are readers who, thus, are finding the reading experience less rewarding, their suspension of disbelief canceled to large degree by this style of writing. When it's non-fiction writing, intended to impart important information, this style and tone interferes with taking the writer seriously.

Why are writers resorting to such a degree to urban dictionary speak?

Maud Newton breaks it down here: "Another Thing to Sort of Pin on David Foster Wallace," which itself refers back to Wallace's own influential essay that she describes as the "The ur-text of this movement ...." "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction" (1993 -- full text available in pdf several places online).

[ "Of course, Wallace’s slangy approachability was part of his appeal, and these quirks are more than compensated for by his roving intelligence and the tireless force of his writing. The trouble is that his style is also, as Dyer says, “catching, highly infectious.” And if, even from Wallace, the aw-shucks, I-could-be-wrong-here, I’m-just-a-supersincere-regular-guy-who-happens-to-have-written-a-book-on-infinity approach grates, it is vastly more exasperating in the hands of lesser thinkers. In the Internet era, Wallace’s moves have been adopted and further slackerized by a legion of opinion-mongers who not only lack his quick mind but seem not to have mastered the idea that to make an argument, you must, amid all the tap-dancing and hedging, actually lodge an argument. 


Visit some blogs — personal blogs, academic blogs, blogs associated with some of our most esteemed periodicals — to see these tendencies writ large. My own archives, dating back to 2002, are no exception." ]

All this by way of now understanding why the latest works of several writers I have always liked and admired aren't working. Now these are works of entertainment. We're not supposed to take them seriously. However within the world of the novel you must take the characters seriously in order to suspend your disbelief, because the characters take themselves seriously. But this veneer of sort-of hipster, sort-of intimate, sort-of slacker has become another barrier to disbelief's suspension.

In fiction, as it is entertainment, perhaps that doesn't matter. These styles come and go, particularly in genre. But in non-fiction, when it is supposed to be journalism, this style is detrimental to our national ability to assess, analyse and understand what is happening to us all, why it is happening, and impossible to work out an approach to change it. Oooops, I just turned political. 


ETA: When it comes to genre, the influence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on tone, style and presentation cannot be over-estimated, in my estimation .... However, what will work on a stage or a screen, with all the other resources available to the writers, such as actors, camera angles, scene editing -- may very well come across very differently in a page of text.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Today's Questions

Do we understand the definition of post-colonial as it is understood in the sf/f communities? What are the differences in how these communities understand the term and how it is used in academia? Does it matter that these communities understand the term differently?

What is non-colonial narrative?

Is such a thing possible? If so, would Patricia Wrede's The Thirteenth Child be a non-colonial narrative since there are no peoples to be exploited in the alternate New World, despite it having been first found by Columbus for Europe and settled by Europeans -- and evidently Africans too?

Is there a place for a creole identity in a non-colonial narrative?

What do we mean by assimilation, creolization, cultural mis-appropriation?
Can we list titles of works that illustrate any or all of the above?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My First Earthquake Experience - I Just Had It, 5.9

I was sitting at my computer and hear suddenly a rattling of the window with the locked gate because it is on the fire escape. My internal processor goes, "Rain? Sun is shining, but not impossible." The floor and chair start rocking. Internal processor goes, "Earthquake. They've finally screwed up the ground here enough putting all these skyscrapers in our neighborhood that doesn't have rock that we can feel earthquakes." At the moment Lenny Lopate who is interviewing someone from California on his WNYC sgiw says, "I believe we've just experienced an earthquake judging by the shaking of my chair." Confirmed immediately.

It was centered in Virigina, tremors up through D.C. and NYC. Between hurricane and earthquake.
Previously this month it was between fire and flood. The relentless tenth anniversary of 9/11 drumbeat pounding. No wonder my nerves are what they are.
No cell phone -- out everywhere down here. I'm feeling sick.


ETA: Things are normal here.  No damage or injuries, merely warnings to be prepared for aftershocks.

But in C'town there was a lot of 'minor' damage -- my friends' china cabinets emptied and they've lost a lot of that kind of thing -- most of which is heirlooms, so I don't regard this as minor at all.  At the same time they've been working to get ready for Hurricane Irene.  This is where they were dining at the Fish and Whistle at the end of spring and watched a tornado whirl right down the Chester River while dining on the deck which is on the river.  Texas friends are wishing Irene was coming to them instead up the Atlantic coast because they are so parched, "We'll take a hurricane if it will bring us rain."

Monday, August 22, 2011

*Ringer*

The things one learns in the dead time of flying, such as Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to television, in this series. She plays two identical twin sisters, both of them on the run from bad guys. No slayage evidently, but death is there. It's weird looking at the trailers -- she looks exactly like Buffy of the last two BTVS seasons. Exactly. All her mannerisms are exactly the same, her enunciation is the same, and Bridget - Siobhan even in the trailers already, repeat Buffy's most often spoken words, "I don't understand," "I understand," "I don't know," and she's playing two characters, one of which is impersonating the other -- shades of the Faith - Buffy conflict. Sadly, the trailers give the impression of dreary rather than vivacious, grim rather than snappy.

There are also two, not one, series that are based on fairy tales. One is called Once Upon a Time, and the other is titled Grimm. I did know about The Secret Circle (based on the YA novels of L.J. Smith, who has already gifted us with The Vampire Diaries set in a Virginia town founded during the Civil War by Salem witches or something like that, populated with the most pretty people you have ever seen) as there have been posters and billboards all summer trumpeting its fall arrival all over the town and subway walls. No sounds of silence in the Big Apple anymore!

I want a new genre, one that isn't about mystical or mundane cops or detectives, any supernatural or super-powered figures, a genre that isn't fantasy or sf or horror. Or at least a really good western?


The weather here in NYC is gorgeous, so different from down there -- but down there is more than great in itself.  Except one is anxious concerning Hurricane Irene.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wendell Pierce Speaks to the Era of *The Help*

For those who aren't fans of The Wire or of Treme, Wendell Pierce is an actor whose roles on both those HBO series is central to the arcs. His family is New Orleans, where he was born and grew up, and his family is still there, no doubt with much help from him.  He's very active in other ways as well in various Post the Flood recovery initiatives, with his time and personal involvement, as well as funding.

He watched The Help in the company of his mother, who did work as a maid for some time during that Jim Crow intersection of the Civil Rights era.

Here are some tweets Wendell made about it. An example:


I never knew my mother had raised white children until we saw this movie.I was shocked.She was hurt by the film.She thought it was an insult.



Tweet responses posted to Pierce's are included, some of which are -- duh -- stupid.

The GOPPERS' Sexist about the Girl Who Just Wanna Be POTUS?

Laura Clawson writes:
"Voices of Beltway conventional wisdom like Chris Cillizza are acknowledging that Michele Bachmann is a top-tier candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. But Bachmann's official welcome into the top tier (where she's actually been for a while now) is accompanied by a frantic search for her undoing. The Republican establishment is afraid of her and Beltway CW hacks like Cillizza feel they'd look biased or unprofessional if they called out the craziness of a top-tier Republican presidential candidate, but they really do think she's crazy. (Unlike equally crazy but more presidential-looking penis-having candidates like Rick Perry, who's receiving quite the honeymoon from the pundits.)"
And for your penis Iowa corndog photos go here. You will point fingers and laugh, and those at whom you laugh have fought hard for it so you need not feel any guilt! I really wanna re-write "Follow That Dream" now -- "No action too humiliating, no fear of being a fool, etc. until you find that vote, etc. "

The perfect metaphor for the whole sorry process.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Mob Action

Last night el V and I discussed some ideas that have been emerging through this intensive dig-into U.S. history, which unavoidably hinges before and aft on the U.S. era of Independence. We have been deeply fascinated by the lead up to the declaration of independence.  We ask, "Who decided?  Why?"  The Southern colonies and the New England colonies worked in rare concert to declare independence.  "Who were those southerners and who were those New Englanders, and what benefits did they expect to get out of political independence from England? Up until right about the time of the Battle of Lexington and Paul Revere's Ride, the inhabitants of the lower 13 North American colonies were not calling themselves Americans; they still referred to themselves as English.

The history of the mobs in colonial Boston is enlightening. The established puritan family classes prohibited the theater in Boston, unlike Philadelphia or New York, so the streets were the people's theater and the mobs were the acting company.  There's are many reasons the Boston Tea Partiers donned costumes, and this was one of them.  The more one reads of these matters the more difficult it is ri ignore that -- yes, really -- the contemporary Tea Party has far more in common with the Boston Tea Party than we might like to think.

Franklin's political life began in Boston at his brother's newspaper.  His brother opposed Samuel Sewell about innoculation for smallpox and went to war with him about it, challenging his authority, in his newspaper.  He made his apprentice, younger brother Benjamin, sign his name to the articles.  Benjamin realized that his future prosperity was jacked by what his brother, as his employer, had ordered him to do.  The old puritan ruling families' power might not be what it was, but they still ruled.  So he ran away from his indenture, to a place where he didn't have a reputation as against the powers in charge.

By the years leading up to the declaration of independence the young Benjamin was a wealthy and very influential personage, with a media empire entirely in his control, in constant contact with the powerful elite north and south via his post as the colonial Postmaster General.  Among those we can certainly count as his friends and colleagues are the people who sat in the various 'liberty cells' of Boston, in which no one sat in more than one with few exceptions -- one of which was Paul Revere.  The cell 'runners' included those who could call out the Boston mobs.

What is very hard for most of us to comprehend about mobs is that mob actions have different purposes. They can be spontaneous,expressions of justified protest over the price and availability of necessities and other injustices. They can be opportunistic violence in the void of law and order. They can be called out by those run the mobs for a variety of purposes. What is particularly hard for us after years of being taught by entertainments that there is good-bad, yes-no, either-or -- mobs can be all these things at the same time, or can begin as one thing and turn into another.

The one thing we do know certainly is that the action of the mobs, particularly in New England, most particularly in Boston, were fundamental to the time we could declare independence. In every mob situation (I'm thinking at the moment in particular of the ransacking of wealthy merchant and lieutenant governor Thomas Hutchinson's mansion in 1765 in Boston that galvanized the American separatist movement), there are those who perform the violence, and there are those who interpret it. Those who control the interpretative narrative are the ones who benefit from mob actions. Benjamin Franklin, with his media empire, control of the mail and his personal abilities (persuasive writing skills, brilliant mind, etc.) was a first responser and primary interpreter of the mob actions;his was the narrative that was disseminated throughout the colonies, north and south, and even abroad

With cynical gloom I'm watching the process going on at the moment concerning the mob action in England. Those whose interpretation becomes the narrative are the ones who have the power.

http://www.economist.com/node/21525894


Gauging the political beneficiaries of suffering is a crass business. But the pattern is clear: riots tend to bolster the right. Margaret Thatcher won elections after Brixton and Tottenham burned in the 1980s. American cities and university campuses were laid waste in the late 1960s; Richard Nixon was duly elected and re-elected. Chaos in French banlieues in 2005 seemed to work in favour of Nicolas Sarkozy in the presidential election 18 months later. This week’s riots in Britain might be expected to play out favourably for any Tory prime minister. But the current one is unusually well-placed to benefit.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cultural Mis-Appropriation - Mainstream, *The Help*, Novel and Film -- And Gettysburg

SF/F genre writers and their fanfic writers have been having this discussion for quite some time. With The Help opening tonight here in NYC, this discussion has hit the mainstream. It is around, as seems to happen most often, a white woman writer taking black experience, particularly black women's experience, and making it about her and the white sensibility about what is the real lives of black women -- and thereby also reaping career and profit. Right at the moment on the NYC largest public radio station, the biggest broadcaster of NPR and PRI programming, WNYC, on the Brian Lehrer show this discussion is happening. It might be worth our time to tune it in over the innertubz, particularly the white women who call in about the novel on which The Help is based. They haven't had the advantage of Ally 100 or Mis-appropriation 100, or even Magic Negro 100. They couldn't put down this novel about black maids in Civil Rights era in Mississippi as told by a white woman. "I just loved it gave me a window into a world I never thought about, and how victimized they (meaning the white ladies who employed those maids) were in those days, both white and black." Earlier this week Nelson George wrote about these same issues in the NY Times around this novel and the film, in his article , "Black-and-White Struggle With a Rosy Glow," here.
This is an interesting bookend to that of Ta-Nehisi Coates' meditation on his visit this week to the Gettysburg battlefield, and the history of his thoughts about this battle specifically and the Civil War generally, his thoughts as an African American, whose legacy of these things he puts into this equation:
(White Folks)[Kidnapped+Whip+Rape(Lynch+March+Beatings)]=You


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nelson George Explains Why

What Nelson George explains, with specific detail and example, is how so often fiction about the Civil Rights and Voting Act era written by non-POC people fails. This applies equally to film and television fictions.


He does this in his NY Times review of the new fiction film, The Help, made by a non-POC director from a novel written by a non-POC author.
In these days of concern about doing it right and cultural appropriation in sf/f and other entertainments -- which might be more accurately labeled culturally inappropriate entertainments -- this is an enlightening piece to absorb.
“That most Hollywood-created features have failed to reach this standard is no surprise. The film industry was as much a pillar of institutional racism as any business in this country. To indict American racism is, by definition, to attack the machine that created decades of stereotypes."
You can hardly issue a more true statement than this.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Writing Fiction With Wit, Wisdom, Manners & Stylish Eroticism?

How does a writer know her story is growing organically rather than being contrived?How does a writer recognize she's building her characters, story and world the way a computer game is built rather than viscerally? thus, presenting the reader with the veneer of plausibility rather than the real thing?

Think of the novels Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, Challenge by Vita Sackville-West and Violet Keppel's Broderie Anglaise, that "Rashamon of the Violet-Vita affair." Why can only the English say or write something of this nature and have it be entirely plausible, whilst for the rest of us over here it would come off as unintentionally comic?

Who was my father? A faun undoubtedly!” she wrote to Vita, not too far off the mark. “A faun who contracted a m├ęsalliance with a witch.”
This is from a long piece on Sir Michael De Courcy Fraser Holroyd's latest and perhaps last volume dealing with "the Blooms berries," A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers, which centerpieces Violet Kepple and Vida Sackville-West and their love affair, which remains of constant fascination to at least me.

Why this eternal fascination? For me, I'm guessing, it's because the people and their lives are so foreign, unlike anyone I have ever known. Even among the aristos of the art world that I might spend time with, these English are an alien species, even though the Bloomsburyes are artists, historicans and writers, of whom I do know so many. Among the American species I do encounter patterns of behavior and relationships that are reminiscent of those Holroyd's described, particularly when it comes to the louche behaviors that seem common to some groups or individuals within these groups, but -- the settings and landscapes, the ancestry, the history as it were -- so very different! Thus, one has little or no personal emotional investment in their behaviors -- which face it, were so often cruel and damaging, particularly to their children.

But perhaps, for me, possibly this enduring fascination has a great deal to do with my political platforms -- these are the heirs, the end products of a long-time, vastly wealthy colonial empire, unique perhaps, in the history of empires, so far as we can know them from the outside of their time and culture.

Americans aren't good at Feydeau-like farce. Among the reasons for this is we haven't had a heritary aristocracy, we don't have the kind of French pornographic traditions that are related to Feydeau farces -- and most of all, we have always, top-to-bottom, in our culture(s) had a much more grave vision of marriage, and we still do. So perhaps that's why when we try them we end up with something like this.

What we do tend to do, however, is the kind of menage of Emily Dickinson's married brother, Austin, with Mabel Loomis Todd, married to a charming somewhat conning fellow who himself couldn't ever resist seducing whomever he could seduce. He was 'paid off' by Austin with privileged positions at Amherst, for which he was not, strictly speaking, qualified. The rest of the family, including Austin's wife and children, hated Mabel Loomis, the intruder, the Lady Macbeth of Amherst. It is the paying off with a job and property of Mabel's husband that truly strikes one as American. There isn't much wit, charm or comedy here. Rather desperation, economic and social climbing, and anger -- as Emily Dickinson put it, lives that stood "like loaded guns."

Guns.  You cannot get more U.S.A. than guns.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What You Don't Learn from Puzzo's *The Godfather*

That New Orleans was the Mafia's Plymouth Rock, the first place 'the mafia' was spoken of in the United States. The Matraga Family from Sicily immigrated to New Orleans in the 1870's, as did the rival Provenzanos. The Matragas got damned fast into labor racketeering (and brothels and saloons) while the Provenzanos ran the docks -- they ruled United Fruit's South American shipping. Another area over which the two families warred was control of supplies of produce and groceries.
The Mafia was already old in the game down there in New Orleans when Marlon Brando Vito Coreleone (b. 1891) arrived in NYC.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This Happened Last Night 6 Adresses Down From Our Building

A three alarm fire that has taken out the homes of those who lived in that building and the one next to it. They're in emergency city shelters. They won't be finding new housing in the city any time soon. The only housing being built currently is 'luxury market' housing ... yet the city rulers are wringing their hands that NYC has been losing population these years. People move away and the sort of people they want to move in and take their place, just -- are not.


The fire began because of the faulty electrical wiring. The posted date for re-opening of the street level cafe came and went some weeks ago. These 19th century tenement buildings just aren't eqipped for this kind of use. Yet, there are something like 20 cafes and small restaurants on these two blocks -- this isn't including the big restaurants.

You can see how awful this fire was from the many photos with the article. Three firefireighters were burned.  Yet -- the New York City firefighters are the best gd-ed firefighters in the world.  The roof was a conflagaration as the fire swooshed up the airshafts like a volcano -- yet the trees nearly as high as the roof, are not burned.

Needless to say now, with the manufactured debt ceiling crisis, the double dip economic depression crashing down here and globally, August 25 looming and 9/11 as well -- after which our lives were much the wore and have never been able to recover -- we're feeling awfully stressed and jangled and depressed too.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another Jeremiad -- Why History Matters

Without your history you are nobody. You are naked and alone, easy prey for whoever wishes to eat you. This is as true for a collective as it is for an individual. This is why the markers of a slave is no name, no language, no family, no nation, no religion, no culture -- not even clothing.


A slave is what in old English labeled a nithling, a nothing. A slave is only what the owner allows and the owner does not allow a slave a past, and therefore no future. A slave lives in the eternal present, waking or sleeping, moment-to-moment pinned to whatever the owner might demand or choose.

The first thing an invading people does is replace the conquered / colonized people's past with their own, the conquered / colonized people's language with their own, substituting their own culture for that of the people they are exploiting. No one has ever expressed the rage of that experience more coherently, more coldly, more powerfully than Jamaica Kinkaid, whose people, within the living memory of people she grew up among, were enslaved, whose history was doubly removed from her.

"Never again!" What does it mean that the survivors of the nazi WWII holocaust send that cry to heaven over and over again at this very moment? Why has museum after museum been erected for the history of the Holocaust, for the Jewish people? The nazis were determined to wipe them and their history off the face of the earth. It is that history among so many other terrible histories that have the best of us striving to keep that from happening again for the wages of such horror weigh upon the histories of those who are spared, whether Jewish or not. Our nation is paying for the weights of those sins and crimes every day, whether we were alive during such genocides or not.

Poland has been wiped off the map more than once, divided and eaten by others, her history, her language, even her very name uttered a crime punishable by death. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay's brilliant Fantasy situated squarely inside terrible histories, brilliantly invokes this terrible thing, and makes of it a golden ring: we begin his narrative with an entire people and their home erased from history, from collective memory and individual memory throughout the world, making of that world a deformed, distorted exisitence for all -- and then -- by the heroic and sacrificial acts of so many, so various characters, that identity returns in a rush of memory.

Adopted children will spend their lives searching for where and from whom they came from, for without that knowledge they do not know who they are. A people begins with its collective history, created orally, via memory: the sagas, the epics, that are found among every people from Hawai'i to Homer. There are still cultures in which those who know these histories make up a professional class -- in ours we call them historians, but in Mali, for instance, they are griots -- you cannot choose to become a griot -- you have to be born into that professional class.

The belief that history is merely 'what is,' and doesn't have to have a purpose, are those for whom history is a series of pretty pictures and colorful events, to be plundered as seen fit for entertainment -- history as theme park, you might say, like Williamsburg used to be (it's been doing much more than that in the last decades). It is a vision of history popular, perhaps among non-historians and those who colonial mindset has never been challenged. Peoples who have been colonized, whose ancestors have been enslaved and thereby don't know where they came from, those who have suffered genocide see it quite otherwise.

Here endeth the second jeremiad in two days -- Or -- "O noooooooooz! Somebody iz rong on the innertubez! Quack, Gack, Argh!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Jeremiad -- Contemporary Footbinding

Snow-flower and the Secret Fan (2011), adapted for the screen from a novel by Lisa See, has had adverts up everywhere for days and days, particularly in the New York Times, particularly in the Style section. This makes sense since footbinding is a focus in the novel and the movie, and the Style section publishes articles like "Dress Codes in New York Clubs -- What Will Get You In." Ladies, what gets you into the most exclusive venues is foot binding. You don't wear six inch stilettos that cost at least $500 a pair, don't even bother trying.


"For women, shoes are key. “Minimum five-inch heel,” he said. “Christians are our favorite,” he added, referring not to the faithful but to Christian Louboutin, the designer known for his red soles. Jimmy Choo and Christian Dior are also welcome. If the crowd in Provocateur on any given night is a gauge, being European, gorgeous and at least 5-foot-10 is good, too."
Every season I say to myself that the footgear for women cannot get any higher or any more ridiculous, and every season I am wrong. Why are women doing this to themselves? I watch these girls hobbling on the sidewalks wearing these 5-plus inch heels, and often soles too that are inches thick. Their bodies are hunched and clumpy as they try to move along, not lithe and graceful. I love beautiful shoes as much as any woman. I even still wear stilettos when I can, with my back condition -- meaning I'm feeling damned better than usual for a while, not walking, and not standing -- dinner parties will be an occasion when I feel I can do this, for instance -- otherwise these days I stick to a variety of boots mostly in the cold weather. But never ever will you see me wearing anything like you see here. Not only can you not walk in these, they are ugly.
Here endeth ye jeremiad.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August 1, 1834 -- Jane Austen and Emily Bronte

It was on this day, August 1, in 1834, on which Britain's Parliament abolishes slavery in its colonies.


Once one's eyes have been opened to this condition, this institution, this economic power house of slavery and the slave trade that were so welded into all European and New World transactions and actions for so long, they can never not see them. They so pervaded the world(s) out of which we all come that commentary was't necessary by the contemporaries whose lives were lived in the matrix of slavery and the slave trade. So,we, coming along later, after Abolition and Emancipation -- even during the long days of Jim Crow and the American Civil War II, i.e. the Civil Rights Movement and de-segregation, never noticed what was often right in front of our faces in the art and literature of the 18th and 19th centuries.

This is why I so admired Patricia Rozema's 1999 Mansfield Park. Rosema put the sugar barons and what they meant to England of the time into Austen in uch a way that we, of our time, can see it. This infuriated the janeites. Yet, Jane Austen knew these things, though she didn't foreground them any more than she did the Napoleonic wars, but the wars are always part of the condition of the lives the characters in her novels lived.

The Caribbean and the various Caribbean trades are omnipresent in the Brontes' novels. In Jane Eyre, from the Caribbean comes the taint of Rochester's mad wife, from the Caribbean comes the deus ex machina of a fortune.  It is left to Jane by an uncle in the wine trade who supplied Caribbean planters; the legacy frees Jane from poverty and raised her condition to one of more than equality with blinded Rochester, and equality with her now much poorer relatives who had rescued her from the life of a vagrant.

Last night I watched the latest BBC version of Wuthering Heights (2009). As mentioned at other times, Wuthering Heights is the single Bronte novel I do not care for or admire. And the elements I do find interesting about it -- the frame narrative by an outsider, Nelly Dean's embedded narrative, etc. -- these are exactly what film and television re-makes leave out.

I had often pondered, however, what it was that Heathcliffe had done to make himself such a large fortune in the three years he is gone from the neighborhood. Three years is such a short time -- he without any stake, no education, no connections, no skills or abilities but fists, horses, pistols and, seemingly, cards. Of course, I thought, last night. He went down to Bristol or Liverpool from Yorkshire, and shipped off into some kind of work in the slave trade. He'd do very well there with his capacities, and also with his incapacity of conscience or empathy, his inability to feel anything except his obsession for Catherine and for revenge.

Wuthering Heights was condemned as a loathesome book, and the author equally so, particularly when it was revealed Eliot Bell was Emily Bronte. As familiar as the conditions of the Caribbean, the slave trade and slavery were to the readers of the time, this too would be part of the coarseness, criminal knowledge and mad godlessness for which book and author were condemned as unfit for decent society.

Interestingly, we know the Brontes, like Emily Dickinson, did not care for Jane Austen -- no passion, they sneered. We do not know what Austen thought about them, of course. But I suspect she would feel much admiration, while, like me, finding Heathcliff and Cathy howling on the moors, ridiculous. Look what happened to Sense and Sensibility's Marianne when in the throes of passion she ran out in a night's thunderstorm in her thin clothes -- and someone else then had to take care of the mess that she made of herself while she nearly died.