". . . 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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Vikiings -- My People -- History Channel

Vikings, season 2, tonight!

Beats you know what all to hell.

Their gods were all about Hel.

My people.

An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson

"Commander in Chief of the U.S. Army and Agent 13 in the Spanish Secret Service."

In order to celebrate Dr. K's declaration that my broken elbow radial head bone has healed earlier this week upon examination of the x-rays and my real physical shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand -- I am celebrating!  I am also indulging myself as NYC soldier's through yet another polar vortex -- temperature down to 10 degrees tonight.  Yes, ten.

Celebration and indulgence mean curling up in bed with Scottish biographer Andro Linklater's 2009 work,

An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson. whose treachery to the U.S. makes Benedict Arnold look a proper piker.*  As well, General Arnold was a very good general in the field, and a good leader.

Wilkinson, on the other hand, was a complete failure as a general and fighting fellow -- one of the many land officers who failed entirely in the War of 1812. Nevertheless one of them suffered the full weight of official opprobrium, while the other lived a prosperous life of constant betrayal of all with whom he lived and worked.

A Marylander aristocrat, he was forced twice to resign his positions in the U.S. Army, rebounded to have T Jefferson name him the first governor of the Louisiana Territory, goaded Aaron Burr to actively declare rebellion and treason against Jefferson and the U.S., though Burr was always too wiley to do any such thing, on paper or vocally.

A true Flashman, Wilkinson's tale is long, colorful and, indeed, flashy.  This is going to be great reading.


*  Wilkinson, then Benedict Arnold's aide, was the one to blow the whistle about Arnold to his superiors.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Historical Fiction -- The So-Called Sixties!

On her excellent  blog, Reading the Past, Sarah Johnson describes herself as:
Reference librarian, readers' advisor, avid historical fiction reader, NBCC member. Book review editor for the Historical Novels Review, Booklist reviewer, and NoveList contributor. Winner of ALA's Louis Shores Award for book reviewing (2012). Blogging since 2006.
She frequently hosts guests, who write about various aspects of historical fiction. Her recent guest is Richard Sharp, with an essay about which perhaps not that many authors have contemplated previously, The Sixties: The New Frontier for Historical Fiction. Sharp's essay is of interest equally to the historian as it is to the novelist.

In the last few years I've seen the occasional feature show up in a variety of venues that regularly discuss fiction, describing why it's not possible to write the Great American Novel of the 60's.  The reasons given is that supposedly all the aspects of that era were covered beyond extensively in the contemporary journalism and sociology of the time -- the time that also hosted the "new journalism" that employed the techniques of fiction for big feature stories.*

Sharp thinks otherwise, since he's not thinking of the Great American Novel, but rather of dealing with the profoundly various matters that collectively we think of as "the 60's" in terms of writing historical fiction.

For me, so far, the best fictional treatment of the period isn't a novel at all, but the short-lived CBS television series, Swingtown (2008),that starred the wonderful Molly Parker (whom most of us came to via her role as Alma Garret on Deadwood) -- and -- which you can see clearly from the clothes and hair, it was set in the early 70's.  This seems to me to be what has happened with most of the fiction, whether on the page or on the screen -- it's really set in the 70's, not the 60's themselves, which were in so many ways, a very different set of very brief years: 1965-1966 -- 1969-1970.

While Swingtown gave the adults most screen time, it wouldn't have mattered, I wouldn't be remembering it with such vivid detail if it hadn't provided equal respect to the children of these suburban couples, and their reaction to the political and social upheaval of the era. Even more convincingly the children range in age groups from adolescents down to middle-school, to toddlers and babies. Each age cohort experiences and perceives the upheavals in a different way.

The upheaval contained and compressed in that brief half-decade was like bomb going off throughout the U.S.  -- so much so that my own parents divorced and re-married other people, in a rural world where nobody got divorced, NOBODY, ever  -- and particularly not upstanding community and church members who were my parents! In the context of who they were, where they came from, and where they remained, what my parents and the people they remarried did was far more of a revolution than anything most people under thirty did in that brief half-decade.

I still haven't read a single novel set in the era that is in the least convincing though.


*  My personal opinion about this is profoundly affected by how much of that was written by ignoramuses, who, one would think, as adults, should really have known better.

To get a sense of what I mean, just watch - listen to the insulting inanities the so-called reporters and journalists throw at the Beatles and Bob Dylan, in the television and film clips of the era, or in Pennebaker's 1967 documentary of the Baez-Dylan tour, Don't Look Back, 

and even in the Beatles' Help! (1965). In fact, that's pretty much the premise on which Help! is hung. It's a mystery how these artists managed not to start shooting into the press pool.

In the meantime this enforces another of my deeply held opinions that for history, popular music is the treasure chest for historians, cultural or otherwise to dig into, as well as for fiction writers.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Consequences: From Ebony and Ivy to Today's Campus Life

Two articles that should be considered together when thinking about our institutions of higher "learning."

This, a report from the NY Times of the neck  Ol Miss'd  James Meredith statue desecrated with a lynch noose and CSA flag,  + other racial incidents common on that campus;

and this report-history on fraternities from the Atlantic Monthly.

This is just the first paragraph!
One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him—under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself—to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.
Historical enlightenment, of how the past keeps crawling into the present, is to read these two articles in the context of Ebony and Ivy League, Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America's Universities by Craig Steven Wilder.

Recall, Ol Miss was founded in 1848.  This is when Mississippi was the richest state in the Union, with the most millionaires, slaveholders all, who literally owned almost all the state and also owned the majority of its inhabitants. This is Jefferson Davis's world, which got the U.S. to go to war with Mexico to increase the wealth of the south generally and Mississippi's in general.  By this time Mississippi herself was no longer a slave consuming territory, but looking for territory to which she could sell her "overstock."

1848 was the chronological heart of the fire eater philosophy's successful conversion of southern thinking: slavery is God's will, the the most superior way of life, confirming that slaveowners were born to rule everyone else, no matter what their skin tone's heritage -- they were right, everyone else was wrong, and by god NO FRACKIN' TAXES! NO PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS! NO TAXES FOR FEDERAL GUMMIT OR LOCAL EITHER.  NOTHING WHATSOEVER FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD!  ANYONE WHO WANTS PUBLIC GOOD IS FIT ONLY TO BE A SLAVE!  By 1850, losing the battle to force California's addition to the Union as a slave state, the fire eaters organized and held the first Secession Convention, in Nashville.*

Therefore, they lost the war that the fire eaters themselves forced upon the U.S.. Other associated attitudes came with fire eater philosophy, that supported their cultural assumptions, presumptions and behavior, further contributed to their inevitable defeat:

-  somebody else do it, I don't do -- that's for slaves;  I talk and give orders that must be obeyed on pain of whipping, slave and even death, if I so choose;

-  non-cooperation; refusal to take orders but only give them;

-  blowharding, blowharding, blowharding NO CONTRADICTION instead of dealing with facts and real information;

- devotion to a slave economy, that then perforce was an economy of credit only -- credit 100% dependent upon possession of the slaves in which credit was literally embodied -- and no hard, dependable currency or specie.

History does repeat itself, sadly.


* This is not strictly true.  The New England Federalists held a secession convention in Hartford in 1814, in opposition to the War of 1812.  However, the official minutes of the meeting left out the secession discussion, when the minutes were published.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Man Friends

An historical novel that would be fun to research and write -- if I were to go in that direction -- is one centering american men's friendship, the language and practice, from the early years through the Civil War. If we see loving relationships between fathers and sons in such a novel, that would be value added.

Without even trying I can think of several bold-faced historical pairs of such friends.

The tenderness in the language with which men of those decades speak of their friends, and their behaviors a joyeous thing.  These are very different from what these days goes by the rubric "bromance." The very word -- tender -- will not be coming out these boy-children's mouths, but was commonly spoken by men about each other's friends in those days.  In letters and journals of these decades you see the men write phrases as he performed such-and-such an act on the behalf of a male friend "as tenderly as a woman," for instance.

It's interesting to google male friendships nineteenth century or 1840's and the majority of the images that come up are two women or a man and a woman.

Friendship is one of the most precious and wonderful of all experiences.  It seems to me that perhaps it was easier for men to be friends in some earlier eras than it is now.  This might be true of women as well: that they could have life-long tender friendships more easily in another time.  I don't know enough about these matters to know.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The American War of Independence Was Also a War of Removal

The War of Removal was waged against the Native Americans. For Native Americans, this war, whether called a Revolution, a war for Independence or a Civil War (U.S. and England), it was unmitigated disaster for Native Americans.

In fact the War of Independence was fueled here in this nation to great degree by the whites, north and south, determined to take-over Indian lands, from which they were legally barred by a variety of treaties the English crown had made with Native Americans.  These treaties, among other objectives, protected the lucrative fur trade between English merchants and the Native tribes.

The Mississippi River corridor was the super highway between clans and tribes living in the south all the way up through Canada.  The sheer rapidity by which members up in Canada could communicate -- and visit -- with members in what would become the Louisiana Territory some decades later, is only a single proof of how capable of organization the tribes were, and how well they knew their territories.

Those territories ... with what lust the North American colonists looked at them.  Treaties did not stop them from moving into and claiming these lands -- thus wars, wars that were the justification for the wars themselves.

In some ways what is most interesting about this phase of our history is that General Washington, who so often proved himself a unsuccessful battle leader on the ground against the English forces, was so good at fighting Indians. During the War of Independence, General Washington personally led campaigns into Iroquois lands.  The objective, which he carried out with devastating success, was to kill the men, and destroy town and crops. These were fire-and-blood campaigns unlike those he led elsewhere in this period.

The overt purpose of these campaigns was to undermine the English, by destroying the members of their Native alliances.  This succeeded so well, that even when the negotiations for peace between the Americans and the English went on, anything for the Native and the Iroquois confederations such as compensation, never was even put on the table.  Nor were there any Native representatives at the negotiations.

This was principally the Ohio Valley territory, which Washington had surveyed when young, and not incidentally, starting the French and Indian War as it was called here in the Americas, and not incidentally either, obtaining immense grants of the land for himself.

These wars against the Natives continued after the Peace, and during Washington's two administrations.

I've had such respect and admiration for Washington.  But this part of his career as a Revolutionary and as a military man, makes my admiration less easy.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Presidential Appetites

Today we celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Maybe we want to eat the cake that these great men ate.  If so, we can begin with Martha Washington's own cookbook:
In 1799, she presented the book to her granddaughter, Eleanor Parke Custis as a wedding gift when she married Lawrence Lewis. The cookbook was handed down from mother to daughter until 1892 when the Lewis family presented it to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania where it still resides today.

In 1940, the Society gave special permission to historian Marie Kimball to study the manuscript and prepare a cookbook entitled, "The Martha Washington Cook Book." Mrs. Kimball fully adapted Martha’s cookbook to practical, modern use. All the recipes were proportioned to our current practice of a formula for serving six people. Each recipe was tested. It is not only correct, but tastes great!
It was reprinted in a more limited edition in 2004
There are two recent Lincoln cookbooks I can recommend:

The earlier one (2008) is excellent: A. Lincoln Cookbook: A Cookbook of Epic Portions.  It features "over 600 recipes, photos of Lincoln dishes and utensils, and a CD of areas of the museum off limits to visitors."  This is the museum attached to the Springfield, Illinois Lincoln Pesidential Library and Museum.

Also of interest to historians of the era is Abraham Lincoln In The Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln's Life and Times (2014).  Among other things this one informs us how to serve barbeque at the political rallies of the day when there were neither paper plates nor paper napkins.

Just as I like reading works that describe the history of sheep raising, wool and the textile trade, I love historical studies of agriculture, gardening and cookery.

Happy Birthday, Mr Washington, Mr Lincoln!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

House of Cards - So Far - No Spoilage

It's melodrama in the best Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical tradition of power and revenge. Its got those eras' portentious atmosphere and the extravagance of language, personality and action. This is why the U.S. House of Cards works so well for the television audience in ways that a theater more grounded in the realist tradition would not. These tales play out upon a small(er) screen, so exaggeration in the service of exposing political power playing is necessary for the suspension of disbelief that the endless series of tiny nudges, pulls, bribes, betrayals and personal dislikes, expressed in the deadening obfuscation of the real D.C.'s language, could never do for us.

As well, we citizens all know the truth of our current politics is like researching this history of  slavery in this country: no matter how awful you learn slavery was, you are always learning it was even worse.

It's interesting to see how the show's editors incorporated up-to-date headline matters such as the numbers of suicide-by-subway we've had here in the last months.  Then, how House of Cards has also appropriated the rather innovative story-telling, screen techniques such as showing cell phone texting on screen that we saw first in Sherlock (just as we saw the late unlamented Da Vinci's Demons grab for its protagonist Sherlock's graphic on screen representation of the mind palace process).

Having re-watched the British House of Cards several times, the conclusion of the second season's episode had little impact, because I always knew this particular even was coming. In truth, I was glad they got past this bump so soon, and that it was not made the conclusion of the episode. The surprise for me came further into the episodes.

Claire's secret, which made me groan initially, was a plot turn point about her and her character's capacity!  It was not the usual lazy, non-creative writing that sort of thing is usually used for -- motivating the male protagonist.  It was about her!  As Claire's my favorite character it was even more satisfying.

Still have many episodes to go --  I'm so glad to have this House of Cards to watch this weekend.  Currently it's noon here.  It's snowing. Again.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentines Are Not Only For Lovers!

Our friends make our lives rich.

This is for them.

It's particularly for those friends who are in the South of England.  You are so much in mind, today and every day during this time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Original Cain't Touch: Dr. John's Zu Zu Mamou

We' ve been on a fairly constant rotation of New Orleans music, because it's Mardi Gras (despite 10 inches of snow, rain and whatever else has been falling since about 2 AM this morning and is projected to continue until about 8 AM tomorrow), and because these two weeks are the New Orleans unit of of the class.

Anyone who doesn't know what "Zu Zu Mamou" is,  I'm sayin' go here:

This is from Mac's Night Tripper days. What has been striking particularly lately is how good, way back when, in the '60's and '70's his straight up African beds and backs are -- I mean real as opposed to pretense or imitation.  In those days too, the studios were just starting to play with overdub  --  so the whole production is there, at the same time, in the studio, on the tracks.

If the bone rattles and the "snake aiggs" whispers running on top the foreground instumentation at the end aren't on the track, ya gotta find one that has it.   This is the real New Orleans hoodoo.  Vampires? WTF you talkin'?  This is New Orleans, man.  It hadn't yet been invaded by Ann Rice ....

ZU ZU MAMOU by Dr. John
Zu Zu Mamou with your pig tail on
Say somebody crossed you now your mind is gone
If it hurts you too bad, call for help
Don’t be ashamed to call the Doctor
When there ain’t nobody left
Tell you now
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
You say somebody’s rippin’ out your mind
If you feel in your heart that you so inclined
If you feel like you too strung out and too ashamed
Don’t look at me, if you’re lookin’ for somebody to blame
Just say,
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Tell me who’s little who do you think you are
Tell me who’s little what’s you trying to be a star
Tell me why you try to act that way
You know, I ain’t the fool that I was yesterday
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
You say somebody stole a strand of your hair
You know it’s missing, but you don’t know where
If you feel somebody’s tryin’ to rip off your mind
If you feel in yourself that you so inclined
Go ahead and cop out
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
He: You know, big mama?
She: That’s the one.
He: She’s got all the Zu Zu ?
She: She stole it from – Hoodoo.
He: She beat him ?
She: She beat him.
He: On the street like that?
She: Yes.
He: For all the Zu Zu ?
She: All the Voodoo.
He: All the Hoodoo too?
She: Voodoo.
He: Just the Voodoo and the Zu Zu ?
She: And the Hoodoo.
He: And the Hoodoo ?
She: Yeah.
He: She beat him for everything what he had?
She: And the goofer dust too.
He: Oooooooooooooooooooooooh !
She burned candles on him too ?
She: And she used a snake eggs
He: Uh-oh I don’t like those snake eggs
She: No, they grow plenty.
He: If they come in my Zu Zu, I have snake in my legs
She: I know, and then you’ll have eggs in your head.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Go ahead and cop out and tell me all about it
Tie a rag around your head, run through the street and shout it
Go ahead and tell Dr. John all about it, I want you too
Zu Zu Mamou say what ya wanna, tell me how you feel
I won’t tell you nothin’ make ya feel bad, it ain’t no big deal
Do what ya wanna, please, don’t feel bad about it, come on bother me
And we gonna all run down the street with a rag on our heads & shout it.
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Zu Zu Mamou
I found this artist, doing this, on my own, when I was a tad.  It was my first introduction to New Orleans. And how I cam across  him I have no recollection, but I'd been fascinated by West Indian and Gulf African-American culture via poetry for years already. Ever since I came into possession of The Poetry of the Negro 1746 - 1949 (1949) edited by Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps the fascination grew.

I still have the volume, which is falling apart now
Where I grew up there was little to no scope for learning more.  However, my inner eye was always open, and thus I ran into this a few short years later.

Followed by

This is the stuff.  Who else could write something like this?  Not anybody in The Originals's writers room.

Alas, I had to absorb a lot more education to appreciate all the Prof Longhair and other New Orleans's musical traditions of which Mac's the master -- and even longer to live there.  But I did get there all right.  I sure did.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

María Dueñas - el tiempo entre costuras in Spain; The Time In Between in the U.S. - Reading Wednesday

A first novel, el tiempo entre costuras (2011) is a phenomenon.  It was a best seller in Spain, translated into many languages and made into the most watched television minseries in the history of Spanish television.

In the U.S. the novel is titled The Time In Between, translated by Daniel Hahn (2012), published by Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. This site provides a video trailer for the novel.

An interview with Dueñas in English can be seen here:

Set before and during the Spanish Civil War and the run-up to World War II, the novel's protagonist, a poor girl, grows up to become a successful couturier -- and a WWII spy.

In this English language description of the television series, the writer begins by asking if Spain has found it's own Downton Abbey ....  Here's a YouTube Trailer.

So popular and influential has the series been that it has revived sewing of all kinds among Spain's women and girls.  Doubtless, as the period is the Great Depression, and Spain's economic woes are currently about the same -- sewing one's own clothes is not only creative, but practical. Judging from various stills, you do understand the television series is all about a beautiful woman designing, fabricating, sewing and wearing the most beautiful clothes.  And nazis, of course.

It's a winner, whether as a novel or a television series -- though, for me, personally the television series is better than the book, because of the colors and the clothes and seeing the locations.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Originals - Season 1; ep 13 "Crescent City"

It's done again.  The Originals finally show us the werewolves as humans who aren't somehow shambling, malnourished and mentally deficient, Hayley's own line -- an original line! no less.  And what do we get?  Shambling muscle-bounds, with shoulders so huge their heads are pinny.

Good Grief.

Jason -- destined Werewolf King to Hayley Werewolf Queen: A Marriage Pact Arranged Before Hayley Was Born!
Also following the werewolve tradition it seems, these guys are extraordinarily unattractive. At least the males are. But then it seems its only the males in which we're interested. Honestly, do you believe that Hayley would find this guy remotely attractive?

This Man-Wolf Is Of So Little Consquence He Rates No Name, Though He Mates With Original Vamp Rebekah
Do you believe that within minutes of laying eyes on this man-wolf mass, Original Vampire Rebekah was up against a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g?

Now This Vamp Is Masculine Eye Candy!
Slipping effortlessly from her passion for the suave and smooth Marcel to -- the above sort?

The thing I've liked best so far about The Originals is that the writers allowed that a pregnant woman, who is young, single, healthy and attractive, could be a romantic interest and be interested in romance herself.  It's hard to dredge up any novel, movie or television program that has done this, with the exception of soap operas.  Which The Originals is, a telenovela, a soap opera, which we should not forget for otherwise we shall be disappointed by season 3 and stop watching. Which is what happened here with The Vampire Diaries because I stupidly hadn't recognized it for the telenovela it is.\

Nevermind, the point of this is how tireseome it is that male werewolves always shown massively, brutishly muscled and of little brain.  Hayley's a werewolf, but she's lovely, sleek and smart, thank goodness.

Camels Do Not Belong In Genesis

So little, so very little, contained in Genesis turns out to be true. Not Eve and the Apple, not the Jewish Captivity in Egypt, not, o all sorts of events. And, now, not this either:
Radiocarbon dating was used to pinpoint the earliest known domesticated camels in Israel to the 10th century B.C.— decades after the kingdom of David, according to the Bible.  ....
 Camels probably had little or no role in the lives of such early Jewish patriarchs as Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, who lived in the first half of the second millennium B.C., and yet stories about them mention these domesticated pack animals more than 20 times. Genesis 24, for example, tells of Abraham’s servant going by camel on a mission to find a wife for Isaac.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The South of England, Cornwall & Wales - Once, Present and ... Future?

Having so much personal experience with catastrophe brought by flood and wind,  I am reading and watching with compassion and distress what this winter's extreme weather is doing in the UK.  It's particularly affecting the south of England, which means some of the oldest areas that we who aren't English but learned to love via literature, fiction and history.  This is King Arthur country, the country of Midsomer Murders, King Alfred, Thomas Hardy's Wessex, Oxfordshire, Stratford-on-Avon among many other other associations that are loved by us in the U.S. as much as in England.  It is beautiful in the way that only land that has been lovingly cultivated and intelligently nurtured, for at least 1500 years can be.  From this part came many of our ancestors to what would eventually become the United States.  You can see much of the same methods of architecture, agriculture and landscaping, and experience the cultural roots in the homes of friends on the Eastern Shore of Maryland even today.

The worst affected -- from what I can tell via news reports, and I do not personally know the geography in the way I do Maryland's for instance --  are the Somerset Levels, which have hosted humanity since at least the Neolithic, which were early drainage projects to expand agriculture and husbandry going back at least to the Roman occupation.

Somerset Levels Seen From Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor
Somerset Levels Today
What is to be done?  What can be done?
Lord Smith denied making the controversial comment that Britain may have to choose whether it wants to save “town or country” from future flooding because it is too costly to defend both.
He said: “I have never said it is a choice between saving the town and saving the country.
“What I have said is that the clear priorities that have been set for us by successive governments is: our top priority is protecting lives; our second priority is protecting people's homes and people's businesses; our third priority is protecting as much agricultural land as we can.
“That's the order of priority, that happens in both the town and the country.”
The worst storms yet are to hit the region this weekend.  It has been battered by one storm, worse than the preceding one, since the holidays.
The Met Office issued severe weather warnings for the flood-stricken south-west of England but also for London, the south-east and Wales, predicting torrential rain and winds of up to 80mph on Friday night and Saturday, which could cause another wave of power cuts and bring down trees as well as causing inland and coastal flooding.
These are not catastrophes of a single season.  This extreme weather is the new order of things. For all of us living in water-rich lands, in which past drainage, building and paving over are taking a dreadful toll of our preset and future.  Water Meadows were called that for a reason.  Just as right where I live Spring Street is named that for a reason, and the waterfront is five minutes away by foot.

However, for everybody not affected personally:  Let's Go Sochi. rahrahrah.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Life & Times of Twelve Years A Slave

Mary Niall Mitchell is Joseph Tregle Professor in Early American History and Ethel & Herman Midlo Chair in New Orleans Studies at the University of New Orleans.  She has published this solidly researched, interesting article on the background of Solomon Northup's book:

All Things Were Working Together for My Deliverance: The Life & Times of Twelve Years a Slave, by Mary Niall Mitchell, in the journal,  Common-place The Interactive Journal of Early American Life.

Mitchell goes into detail, in particular, of the Union soldiers who were stationed in the area of Bayou Boeuf, where was the plantation of the cruel slave owner, Edwin Epps.  Soldiers went looking deliberately for the location and for people who might have -- and did -- know "Platt," the name by which the his captors called him, forbidding him to ever use his own given name.

All the details of the book are verified.

Then, the war was over, and the book disappeared.  It took  the Civil Rights Movement and a married, middle-aged female historian, Sue Eakins, to put it all back together.

At the last minute, a male Ph.D. was poised to take over the entire project, because, well, female and not as good, of course. Dr. Eakins wasn't able to get her Ph.D. until some years later.

A fascinating story in all its aspects, and such an "American" one.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reading Wednesday - The Marriage Plot's Future?

Ever since the cloning of Dolly the Sheep -- and even before -- a cluster of classic plots have occupied my own thinking about stories, whether (still) in old-fashioned print, on screen, in song lyrics and any other way.

I first thought about this when I was a young woman exploring my sexuality.  So many stories I'd read hung breathlessly upon young women's virginity -- who was going to get it, and what will happen to her when that happens?  I came to the age of sexual expression when virginity wasn't what determined the rest of one's life. If one were educated and / or determined, neither did  having a child -- and raising that child oneself -- without a husband define one's social status. Rather than being Ruined and condemned to prostitution and an early, miserable death, a pregnant single woman family, these days many parents even are nearly pathetically grateful that their child has chosen to reproduce.  Two plots gone right there!  (Unless, of course, you are a poor, resourceless girl, raped and abused by whomever -- but we don't like those stories.  We like stories of promiscuous, careless, lustful girls who fall by their own stupidity. We still do ....)

Married the wrong man?  You can get divorced.  There were even lawyers and law students who would handle your case pro bono!  Anne Bronte Tenant of Wildfell Hall conditions no longer in place  Neither would there have been an impediment between Rochester and Jane, for he is allowed to divorce his mad wife. (Sadly,for people without funds, this is not true in most cases. Extricating oneself from an unhappy -- and particularly from an abusive marriage -- isn't that straight forward, easy, and inexpensive, particularly when your abuser prefers to kill you and then himself rather than lose his power over you.)

Finally, there are all the historical fictions of the future, what happens with them? No desperate Queen Catherine of Aragon faking pregnancies in vain hope of extracting Henry VIII from his obsession with the younger and presumably fertile Ann Boleyn.  Corporate power dynasties can clone themselves, as well as employ many other technologies to reproduce themselves -- perhaps, even digitize their consciousness -- literally making the legal fiction that corporations are persons reality.

Science fiction has been writing stories about these last matters for decades already; I edited Not of Woman Born, an anthology of such stories before the turn of the 21st century.

So, now what?

A novelist and film critic discuss the future of story-telling's ubiquitous marriage plot in The New York Times, here.

Dana Stevens describes it this way:

This past year alone, in the world of film — which, as the dominant popular art form of the last century, can be said to have picked up the marriage-plot baton from narrative fiction — we’ve seen movies like Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” the third installment of a two-decade-spanning trilogy that treats long-term romantic partnership (not marriage — significantly, the character played by Julie Delpy resists that step) as a permanent negotiation involving countless small compromises, disappointments and, often, self-deceptions. More radically, Spike Jonze’s man-meets-software romance “Her” imagines a very near future in which love breaks down not just traditional gender binaries but the line between human and nonhuman itself (and in which the familiar “love triangle” becomes a complex love polyhedron involving hundreds of simultaneous human and digital paramours).
Whatever form the marriage plot assumes as it continues to evolve, it seems clear that the richest and most ambitious love stories will be those that aren’t afraid to call into question what we mean both by “love” and by “story,” whether by opening up the closed temporal loop of “happily ever after” (in the style of Michel Gondry’s mind-bending, time-shifting sci-fi romance “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) or acknowledging the impermanence and imperfection of all relationships (like Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” which could be seen as an early turning point in the reinvention of the contemporary rom-com). The freeze-frame kiss that’s marked the end of so many Hollywood romances — the image of a man and a woman joined forever in changeless heterosexual bliss, the ultimate teleological goal of all love — is coming unfrozen, and what happens after those two pairs of lips separate is ours to decide.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sherlock - Season 3; Who Is Mary?

There are no actual plot spoilers in the following -- but then, there's not much plot, though a lot of running about, and a whole lot more of talking-talking-talking.

Who is Mary?

We've had centuries of adventure tales in which generally there is no knowing who are the wives, girlfriends, mothers, and other female accessories of the male principals -- because evidently the composers and the audience didn't find these women of any value beyond, possibly reward for Heroes' heroism and, presumably, make dinner.  We're so used to this we don't notice -- we don't question even to ourselves -- what we don't know. Or so  Moffat and Gattis evidently believe.

In "The Empty Hearse" we don't notice that all we know of Mary is that Watson fell in love with her, she loves Watson too, and they want to get married.  She's fulfilling the non-expectation of agency and identity of the typical male protagonist's accessory. O! lucky woman! -- she will likely die soon and / or be raped as our protagonist's plot and character motivation. Beyond that, all that matters is whether Sherlock accepts and / or likes her, and he seems to.

Which is more than enough after centuries of conditioning --  until Sherlock's scan reveals "Liar."

Then we forget again, because in  "The Sign of the Three Sherlock" reveals that Mary's pregnant, which apparently explains "Liar," i.e. she hasn't told Watson yet. All innocuous, until the third episode, "His Last Vow," in which it all changes.

This does not obviate that, for this viewer, season three was seriously disappointing.  In fact "The Sign of the Three' was such a tedious talking head sort of episode that I spent less time wathcing it than I spent sort-of listening to it while peeling, chopping, and otherwise doing dinner preparation. Sherlock performing his memory palace and scanner shenanigans are something viewers look forward to. But this time around the shenanigans had me impatient for it all to be all over. This bode badly for "His Last Vow."

Initially, "His Last Vow" seemed to promise full redemption for the previous wretched family - fannish dramaration that the first two episodes had been.  We had a case!  A case that we can accept matters to national and even global security!

And then ... and then ... and then ... as the old song says, "Along came Jones."  Or rather, along comes a deluge of cheap-shot sociopaths -- o goody, Mary's one too! We are all one big unhappy family of sociopaths -- Sherlock's parents, Mycroft, Watson, Mary and Sherlock.  Merry Christmas to us all every one.

There is a single exception to this disappointment, which, if more thought and time were given to it, would provide a lot more interest than tossing yet another sociopath in the mix: we learn something about the Holmes brothers' mother that is very cool.  Will we learn something equally interesting and explanatory about their father next season? Not a hint of that anywhere.  So this bit was probably just a toss-off.

But now goodbye forever to Sherlock because he sacrificed himself for Watson's happiness. Which we all know sociopaths as a matter of course care deeply about other people and their well-being.

This is why Sherlock can blithely lie to, manipulate and fake romantic-sexual love with an innocent woman to get what he wants -- and care not this is a rotten thing to do to another person.

In the meantime, pregnant Mary ....  The upshot of her plot shot is -- Sherlock's banished to sure death in 6 months. But along comes Another Reverse!  Mycroft calls back Sherlock because something really really REALLY huge is afoot.

This hugeness is Another Reverse!  Guess who else has returned from the dead? The creepiest most boring psychopath of them all.  Ho-hum. Forget canon. Forget everything when everybody is so Super they are predictable, uninteresting, Jacks in the Box, not a corpse in the body bag.

Telenovela family dramaration is the easiest formulaic stuff to write.  Creating, foregrounding and centering intricate, interesting case episodes, with sufficient action and tension, that might even be seasonal arcs, in which the personal relationships are essential, but not the focus, is about the most difficult television writing to do.  Moffat and Gattis aren't up to it.  They have confused cheap, pandering with creativity and smart writing.

It's unlikely I'll be watching next year.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Little Women # 20 In Robert McCrum's UK Guardian Column - 100 Best Novels Written In English

I, for one, didn't expect to see an Alcott title on this list.  Granted, McCrum's selections are deeply idiosyncratic.  His criteria for the individual selections are not always clear or understandable, though he provides his justification for each column's choice.

For Little Women (1868), he's sketchy about everything, including why he chose it.  It's the shortest column he's done so far.  I am disappointed, considering what one could have written about this book and the author. He makes errors about the book, such as confusing the girls' metaphorical playing acting of Pilgrim's Progress with the little books that are the extracted account out of the New Testament of the life of Jesus. One senses he personally did not care for the book.  It was a dutiful inclusion that covered the categories of 'Woman author" and "American" in one shot.

Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, After Publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin
This choice allowed him to skip over another extraordinarily influential American woman author, who even influenced George Eliot's choices of including the Jewish identity - zionism arc in Daniel Deronda -- Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Evidently books that deal with this centuries-long sin, crime and conflict that is slavery and the slave trade are too intimidating for him -- and / or too controversial.

Over here, we are unimpressed.