". . . 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, November 30, 2016

Reading Wednesday - Should I Bring Lee's Northern Invasion?

   . . . It rains, still.  This is good for the botanicals.  However this dark, wet and dismal atmosphere isn't helping with the post-election blues -- nay -- even terrors -- conjured up by the proposed cabinet nominations.  Even el V in sunny Cuba is depressed. The Travelers got off yesterday AM for home.  He'd like to come home too, instead of waiting for his ticketed departure of Sunday. For one thing it's currently too hot for this time of the year.  Climate change wherever one is.  Projections are that Cuba will drown all around the coast and through the middle, breaking it into two much smaller islands. For another the prospect of having the US take away Cuba from him again, just as he's totally at home and feeling seamlessly back in Havana, is very hard for him to bear.  Future prospects at home aren't any better.  Every time the Dems lose the White House we lose our ways of making a living.

Hotel Riviera, built by gangster Mayer Lansky, on the Malecón.  I cannot count the number of times I've had this view.
On the other hand it gives him great comfort to be in Havana, sitting on the Malecón and being able to breathe fully the sea air, seeing friends, and currently having some time to himself to readjust his head, maybe get some writing done.  US publications keep trying to get him to write something bout the monumental event taking place while he was there from the gitgo to witness it. Tonight he addresses a class of Sarah Lawrence students having a fall quarter in residence in Cuba on the history of Cuba and Cuban music. They'll take him out to dinner afterwards.

    . . .The book I'm currently reading struggling with is an anthology of academic articles: African Americans in Pennsylvania: Shifting Historical Perspectives (1997), edited by Joe William Trotter Jr. and Eric Ledell Smith, published by Pennsylvania State University.  Whatever the topic of the article, the focus is on quantification.  Thus many charts, graphs and statistics, thus very useful, particularly for me, the article by Leroy T. Hopkins, "No Balm in Gilead: Lancaster's African American Population and the Civil War."

In  the summer of 1863, during the Lee's invasion, Lancaster faced imminent plundering by the Army of Northern Virginia. Buchanan, so much responsible for this war in the first place, sent his family and servants to Harrisburg, which was being threatened by another CSA army, as was York.  He remained in Wheatland, with his loyal housekeeper, surrounded by staunch Masonic friends who entrenched around the estate to defend him to the end.

The invasion was of tremendous concern to the African Americans in Lancaster whether born free or self-emancipated, as the army was grabbing every African American it found for personal gain by sale down south or to be put to work in the army.  Fortunately Union forces -- many local citizen volunteers -- succeeded burning the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge across the Susquehana in time (it was barely possible, and just in time). Lee's army was diverted to Gettysburg as the ground he had not chosen as the best site to battle the Union defending forces.

This is an exciting story that takes place in a gorgeous landscape filled with prosperous farms, towns and small cities.  However, the text of the articles in this book lacks any quality that could remotely be called engaging. But we need our facts, ma'am, and so we persevere, and do so with thanks to those who made the anthology.

    . . . In the meantime, for textual engagement, the latest in Cornwell's Saxon Stories, The Flame Bearer, waiting for me.* Will he ever retake Bebbanburg, his ancestral home, stolen from him by his treacherous uncle?  This postponed, diverted life goal of Uhtred the Protagonist has been dangled in front of we readers for so long I lost interest in this mcguffin many books back.

* For some reason this series keeps getting re-named which for some reason keeps annoying me.  It's It started as the Saxon Chronicles, or the Warrior Chronicles, I think.  It's now also called The Last Kingdom series, after the BBC-Netflix television adaptation. -- which is currently, at least after the first season, my absolute favorite television series.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thomas Jefferson and Marie Antoinette (and The Neo-Gilded Age)

   . . . I revisited Nancy Isenberg's White Trash: The 400 Year Untold Story of Class in America (2016) a few weeks ago.  I wanted to see if wanted to revise my iniitial judgment that the book was thematically and argumentatively incoherent too often. I listened to the audio download rather than re-reading the book.

While doing that I was struck in a way I hadn't been during the book read by similarities between Jefferson the Agriculture Philosoph's Monticello and Marie Antoinette's faux rustic village of Hameau de la Reine near to the Petit Trianon in the Park of Versailles. There she and her companions played at being peasants as Jefferson impersonated "gentleman farmer." He was such an 18th century aristocratic fellow (though in a mode that was also peculiarily Virginian).

Isenberg didn't notice these similarities herself. As per usual with White Trash, when the author approaches something revelatory, instead of taking the leap over the walls surrounding the Founding Father of the Domestic Slave Trade and White Supremacy -- she pulls up short and turns to a different topic-- leaving unmined the US's systemic legal foundation of 'race' in the constructing of white divisions of class and poverty.

It was an exciting moment during a visit to th British Museum to spy a first edition on the shelves of the Museum's Enlightment Room.

In the Enlightenment Room, British Musuem -- it's enormous!
Isenberg's chooses excellent quotes from various Jefferson documents and his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, to illustrate his disdain for farm work, and his disinterest in farming in general. These chosen words suggest strongly that for Jefferson, "farming" for most of his life, was only so much "philosophy" -- fantasy world building that relaxed and entertained his lively mind, resembling closely the role playing of milk maids at Petit Trianon.

Water color of the grounds of Hameau de la Reine village, near Petit Trianon
It wasn't until Jefferson thought of agriculture in the terms of science experiments that he took any personal concern with 'cultivating.' on his own farms (he was a complete failure at it too). This was a deep contrast with Washington's constant concern with farming and how he managed Mount Vernon. Jefferson's exception to his impractical fantasies were his statements that breeding slave women for their "natural increase" must be encouraged as their babies brought more financial value to the estate than the crops brought in.

Wotton House, Surrey.  This pdf is a good essay on Jefferson's travels in England (John Adams was his companion):
"A Comparative Study of Thomas Jefferson's Travels to England and Their Influences on Monticello"
Jefferson admired the great estates, parks and gardens he visited during his travels in England (786) and in Italy and France (1787). Lacking the economic resources held by aristos to build such impressive showplaces, of course, he relentlessly mortgaged his slaves, and created an lesser imitation at Monticello with lower quality materials. That showplace of Monticello is an impractical facade, like Marie Antoinette's Petite Trianon peasant village -- a folly, as certain edifaces des amusants erected on estates were called in England -- except, of course, at Monticello, the slaves were real people, and truly enslaved by every legal, religious and philosophic dictum possible to invoke, and ultimately sold away from the bankrupted Master of the Mountain's fantasy world that their bodies, fertility and labor had bankrolled.

Isenberg shows Jefferson's philosophy of agriculture was formed by European models that had not a chance of working in North America -- particularly not in Virginia, for all kinds of reasons. Invoking the gentleman farmer, his preferred term for a farmer was cultivator -- not yeoman, though this is the word everyone uses when writing about Jefferson's fantasies of how the huge swathes of the Louisiana territory was to be populated and organized. A cultivator differed as much from a yeoman as Theodore Roosevelt's stockman differed from a cowboy.  Roosevelt compared the stockman to a southern plantation owner and described a stockman's life as the best life to live -- except that of a southern plantation owner in the antebellum era. Unlike the stockman's whose life was filled with satisfactions and comforts, not least seeing his wealth steadily accrue through the natural increase of his herds and the labor of his hands, the cowboy's life was a hard one, and an economic dead end.

Even as his language for the naming of the newly acquired territory's states could have been used in contemporary (bad) fantasy world-building, it was not the language of sturdy small yeoman farmers: Michigania, Illinoia, Saratoga, and Washington, well, OK, but! -- Sylvania, Chersonesus, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Polypotamia, and Pelisipia? This was an equally preposterous progression of the fantasy feudal slave state of Carolina designed by John Locke and the Eight Lords Proprietors of Carolina to divide territory into palatinates and baronies, organized under a hereditary aristocracy of margraves, landgraves and caciques. Nor should we forget the proposed Margravate of Azilia as a the buffer zone between Carolina and the Spanish Floridas. Instead of happy serfs however, they would have happy African slaves.

Logo of the Royal African Company

Recall that Locke and these Lords Proprietors were original investors in the Stuarts'  Royal African Company, headed by the Duke of York, formed to enslave Africans and sell them in the New World, in order to fill their always empty privy purses.

What does all this have to do with poor whites and class? Isenberg seems not to know, though this history is included in White Trash, it is presented without any connection to the southern colonies' poor white populations, treated as expendable waste by the small, ever increasingly wealthy elite.  As critics other than myself have noted, Isenberg forgets about her central theme most of the time.

Though White Trash's argument is fairly incoherent thematically, pieces of it are informative. It's disappointing that she wasn't able to pull together the history of white poverty and class into a satisfactory explanation of our cultural, economic and political psyche. But since she couldn't or wouldn't examine and / or reconcile the victimization of poor whites with the victimization of slaves -- or that of Native Peoples either, though they get some mentions, ultimately the book, though an interesting read, isn't as useful as the author expected. It really founders when the author attempts to force New England's ways and mores into her theme? argument? (it's unclear). The points that are to be made are obscure -- again because of how slavery operated in the north, and the differences between north and south in how they profited from slavery are ignored and / or presented in a manner that can only be called murky.

Isenberg is a terrific researcher, but apparently wasn't willing to work-up her analytical skills to spin 400 years of history around a central theme without losing sight of the argument and straying off into dead ends. She founders at the wall of black - white, which always comes up central to the history, no matter what era and which issue. So, once again, African American history gets side-barred and made lesser, even as the historian centers the class system of whiteness as American history. It's an distorted dialectic of class and poverty, which forces the argument into a shallow flat shape, lacking scope and grain. The further the book progresses the more it presents as rushed and unthought-through, as up against a deadline the author resents as too close.

Another aspect of White Trash that confuses whatever the argument Isenberg thinks she's making is that she repeats, sometimes even word-for-word, illustrations.  One example of this is the scene from Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel, Dred: A Tale ofthe Great Dismal Swamp (1856), in which a poor white woman and her children are described -- she uses that same scene word-for-word at least twice -- while missing that the language Stowe has chosen to describe this miserable family is to evoke compassion in the reader, not contempt.

Though written and published before the election, her description of Jackson's political base is the same as that of many descriptions of the orange's political base, and Jackson's braggadocious, impatient, explosive, improvisational character as many describe the orange's character. The politics of resentment come through loud and clear. Though this is of no surprise to anyone who has spent time studying Jackson and the Jacksonian era, it's deeply troubling in its implications for our own immediate future.

Panic of 1837 here we come.   

Then, suddenly, we're past the Civil War, and these same despised people whom the author has claimed did not support either the seccession or the war, and who ere so badly treated by the CSA, are aligned with the planter-political class.

Then we move into the age of eugenics, a/k/a  the Gilded Age, or, as I call it, the Age of Horror, the age that so resembles our own.

She's gone through the Civil War and into this era in which the poor and anyone who isn't male, white and rich are regarded as worthless. Yet, she never explains how and why how these supposed crackers such as James K. Vardeman, whose class is so despised, oppressed and repressed, got wealth, got political power.  In fact they get so much wealth and political power they now run the country.  How did this happen if they are so oppressed? Did the legal system and white supremacy have anything, anything at all, to do with it?

Ultimately the book ignores its own theme and argument.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel in North Dakota

     . . . El V called me from Havana last night the moment Fidel's passing was announced to the nation. El V and his Travelers were in La Tropical, dancing to Revé y Su Charangón, when suddenly the band stopped in mid-number.

He wished he had been videoing at that moment.

The announcer came on stage and said (paraphrasing): "fuerza mayor. Tenemos que suspender la actividad. Murió Fidel Castro."

9 days of mourning in Cuba -- all public activities will cease. Fortunately the Travelers feel that being here -- I mean there, I guess-- when this happened is worth more than their last scheduled activities.

It seems events have proceeded at such a pace with Cuba in the last 18 months or that visitors to Cuba get caught in living / dying history. The last tour's Travelers got caught in the vortex of President Obama and his family's visit to Havana.  These Cuban music seminar Travelers are feeling this history profoundly -- feeling privileged from having more context now in which to view this death and understanding it in ways, that, as one Traveler put it, his sister in Miami can't.

Everything in Cuba is very quiet. One sees that Miami is supposedly partying in the streets. The commentary here from everyone starting with the NYT seems pretty clueless, doesn't it.

Publications from Billboard etc, are asking el V to write something. But he can't. He has the Travelers to take care of.  He hasn't the space to even process his own welter of emotions or to analyse in the light of his long experience in Cuba and his deep knowledge of Cuban history what Fidel's death means to him personally, or to the Cubans personally and nationally, or to the world. After the announcement from La Tropical's stage, El V got his Travelers into taxis.  His driver hadn't heard the news.  He broke it to him. The driver said, "no me digas eso.  No me digas eso.  Yo soy fidelista."

Fidel Castro, left; Batista, right. Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar, more commonly known as Fulgencio Batista, was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution

   . . . These seminars that tour extensively outside of Havana, during which the Travelers have extensive face-to-face encounters with many, many different Cubans, in the light of the events in our own nation and others, have been leading el V, at least, toward thinking that the Cuban Revolution is more important than ever. The political and economic trends elsewhere are giving the Revolution a new lease on life, when previously it looked likely to topple from its own top-heavy weight. I'm not sure yet what he means by that, as we don't have time to talk it through in such brief phone calls. He doesn't know yet either.

   . . . .Fidel has been in my consciousness all my life, as he's been in el V's and many of yours too. Batista, the Revolution and Fidel were center stage, or so it seems in memory, every week in My Weekly Reader.

This was an odd little publication that every Friday morning, when the bell rang that ordered us be seated at our desks, a copy was waiting for each of us. It included photos, diagrams and maps, with text written for little kids' comprehension. Those Friday mornings we in turns, read, out loud, the stories from the paper that our teacher selected. It wasn't something that the consolidated school's own budget provided.* The pupils in our small school were, with a very few exceptions, children of the district's small family farms. My best partner in crime, Bobby, and I, assumed My Weekly Reader was given to us because our teacher was a sucker for talking current events. Whenever we got bored we would get her going by asking a question about something happening somewhere else in the world.

I realize now the pulp paper weekly provided a heavily propagandized digest of national and world news that the Reader's publishers thought were the best designed to ensure that the up-and-coming boomer generation would think the way they were supposed to think and support the government programs the publisher's backers believed should be supported.**

In my memory Batista, the Revolution and Fidel, Taiwan, Macao, Formosa, Quemoy and the Communist Chinese received column inches and maps every week in My Weekly Reader.

The Cold War, communist threats, both Soviet and Chinese, as I recollect from so many years down the road from then, were primary subjects of the publication.  The communist political threat and nuclear attack was always the subtext.

In my recollection also, every issue had stories about space and Antarctic exploration and stations, jets, missiles and satellites  They were the same thing, we were informed, since Antarctica was the best place to create the protective suits, test the equipment and train for the conditions of being in outer space -- which WE, the United States, had to dominate to prevent THEM the communists from getting there, to keep our country and way of life safe from communist missiles launched from space by commie missile launchers.

There were little quizzes at the back of the Reader that we had to take on those Friday mornings that tested our reading comprehension of the who what when and where of the events.

Ah.  Of course, there's a wikipedia entry for My Weekly Reader.  It was founded in 1928 and suspended publication in -- 2012.

It was through My Weekly Reader I first learned of all those places so far away from the southeastern farmyard corner of North Dakota which I inhabited.  Almost all those places, the space race, the individual figures that were on the world stage, with which the media and the national government was obsessed -- both the U.S. government and the media lost interest in all of them long, long ago. Most of the planet's  people now living have never heard of any of them.

There two exceptions to that, however:  John F. Kennedy and Fidel's Cuban Revolution.



*  Our parents had to drive us into that town of about 300 every morning of the school year and pick us up again at the end of the school day. The town was close but still, even in our hardy community, too far to have the kids walk or bike to, especially in the harsh winters.

**   I have no recollection of any mention whatsoever of the Civil Rights movement which was already underway.  Or that African Americans even existed.

***  The only person who has been able to knock the orange off the top of the front page and in the opening sentence of every talk / news blather has been Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.

He also did more by far to bring down the old Soviet Union than Reagan did -- while the new so-called USian president is allying himself as fast as he can with the dictator of the new Soviet empire   -- and Cuban - Russian relations are warming again, after the long freeze of the last 20 + years.

Ironies abound, which no one would have appreciated more than Jesuit-trained Fidel.

El V Just Phoned - Fidel Has Gone

El V and the Travelers were dancing out in la Tropical -- when the news shut down everything.

Fidel has died.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Cuba -- Spiritual Renewal

     . . .  Currently el V is leading a tour of intrepid Travelers on an intense cultural, religious and music tour of Western Cuba -- a Tobacco and Sugar Counterpoint.  It's only the second Thanksgiving since we've met that we aren't spending it together, and the only one we're not together since we've been married.

Two Muñequitos performing rumba guagancó in their home town of Matanzas. Their kids are now performing in the group. One of them is the daughter Vivian (above), who performs the child Eleggua, just as did when we first met her. The audience adore her child as much audiences had adored Vivian at that age.
The theme for this trip is "Spiritual Renewal."  If any people understand the need for spiritual renewal its the people with whom the Travelers are meeting on this trip. By all accounts, for the Travelers, what they're experiencing is so far beyond their hopes or expectations they can hardly find expression for it. However, maybe the words were found yesterday, and they were few and short.

Yesterday, among the activities was the finale of an initiation, seating of Changó, in the head of a santería initiate (the activities for the initiation have been going on for a couple of weeks already -- this is the conclusion), at the the home of a member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the foremost rumba group in the world, founded way back in the early 50's.  Our relationship with the group and the members, many of whom now are 4th generation, reaches back to 1990. This was the real thing, not made up for tourists. The reason the Travelers were invited is because el V's a member of the family, and his friends and family members are welcome everywhere.

 This experience has not been provided for the other travel groups el V's taken to Cuba, for various reasons. But this group is special, because it's the first group el V's brought to Matanzas since the election.  Cubans understand hurting and their compassion for USians who are hurting is deep and broad, as a citizenry and as individuals, is deep and broad, as I learned personally, after 9/11, and after being very ill.

Two of one of the founders' sons, Barbaro and Figurine, dance in NYC.

While all are hurting badly right now, some are hurting very much more.  A significant number of the Travelers in this group are African American women, some traveling with their daughters.

A Changó altar -- el día de Changó -- the feast day, is December 4.  El V will be participating. The orisha is syncretized with the Roman Catholic saint of Santa Barbara for many reasons including that she, like the orisha, is associated with lightning and the axe. His colors are gold and red.  He is one of what I call the Magnificent Seven of the orishas.  Like Eleggua,  Ogún, and Oyá, Changó's a warrior.

A beautiful rooster was ritually sacrificed.

The conclusion of the rituals and ceremonies is the meal of beans, rice, the chicken etc.* The Travelers needed to partake for ritualistic reasons. But a big dinner was scheduled right after this event. So -- Anna ensured that it was just a taste of each of the required dishes for each of them. 

As they were eating, one of the Travelers said, "I think this is our Thanksgiving."

You can imagine what was all in those words. As soon as el V repeated them to me, my heart thumped in resonance, and I started to tear up.

Spiritual renewal includes reaching back and up and down to the Ancestors.  We know how to do this.

     . . . Giving thanks is one of the caminos to spiritual renewal.


*  For those who think is terrible, think Christian communion . . .  and how much violence has been unleashed for centuries over the argument whether or not it is truly the body and blood of Christ's sacrifice or merely a representation of the sacrifice.

Friday, November 18, 2016

We CANNOT Safety Pin Together This Shredded Republic

     AS IF the Republic can be pinned together!  Then we call it rebuilt -- while the secret midnight trains roll, and the after-midnight coffles with their shackles muffled by rags to not awake the precious sleeping (white) babes and their precious (white) mommies see out the window by chance, clanking their way to the slave cars.  Shades of Reagan -- give something a different name and it's all fixed now yah!

Nightime coffle in D.C., capital of the brave and home of the free, being shipped further south for sale into the Cotton Prison Camps of the Deep South.

      . . . . In the meantime some bennies may trickle down (for white people), which makes it all the more difficult to see, hear, speak, write, while the rest are ever more marginalized and the midnight trains roll.

That we may even be dithering about whether to safety pin or not to safety pin ought to tell us just what a risible, useless, empty gesture it is.

If you don't believe me, read this, from The Root:


Let’s call these safety pins what they are: an empty gesture. Of the white people who actually voted in the election, the majority of them, including white women, voted for a man who rants about banning Muslims and building walls to keep immigrants out and who thinks all “the African Americans” live in inner cities and will be shot going to the store. This same man jokes about grabbing women by their vaginas. And because of that vote, white people are being called out—again—on their racism, this time with actual numbers to back it up. Oh, voting for Trump doesn’t mean you’re a racist? OK. Let me quote you a popular and accurate meme making the rounds: “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal breaker. End of story.” 
These pins—not the wearing of them or the pictures posted of folks wearing them—are not about safe spaces. They’re about not wanting to be perceived as a racist. Like, “I might be white, but I’m not like them, over there. I’m enlightened.” 
No, you’re not. You’re trendy. These safety pins are the 2016 version of a 2004 “Live Strong” wristband. No. Wait. The money spent for those bracelets actually benefited cancer research. Who is benefiting from your safety pin purchase? Wal-Mart? CVS? Rite-Aid? 
Look. I’m all for safe spaces. Don’t get me wrong. But how does your little pin really help someone like Ernest Walker? How does your trite pin help a young Muslim woman who’s forced to remove her hijab or else be set on fire? How does your trendy pin soothe a kid who shows up to school and his teacher tells him his parents will be deported because Trump is president now? 
These are the things happening to disenfranchised groups, and you think they’re gonna turn to you? You? Not their mom? Or their partner? Or their clique? Or their church? To you? You who just realized Tuesday that the racism and bigotry that people of color have been complaining about forever is actually as bad as we’ve all been saying it was? You? You, who finally got informed half a millennium late and showed up $14 trillion (reparations) light and bought a damn pin? You? If this ain’t some white-savior-complex mess, I don’t know what is. 
Like, a pin. A pin? Really? Not even an actual pen, which is said to be mightier than a sword, to write to your local congresspeople demanding that they vote in favor of actual justice and equality for all or else you’re voting them out in the midterms in two years? Not even a figurative pen, like a Facebook screed calling out your grandmom, and hell, your mom, too, about the casual racism of people who continue claiming, “I’m not a racist”? 
Just a pin. The solution for fastening a baby in his nappy or keeping a blessed-in-the-chest girl from busting open her button-down is the same solution you’ve applied to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance. 
The only time your little pin might maybe mean something is if you’re wearing it to an anti-Trump protest rally or one that supports black, LGBT or brown lives. Extra points if you hold a sign and post the picture on your Instagram so all your friends and family know you’re about that life. Your shiny pin shines sparkles if you put on your big drawers like Brad Pike and call out your racist family members on Facebook. Bonus points if you go HAM over the ham at Thanksgiving. You can relieve the white guilt of your whole bloodline if you film that moment and submit it to WorldStar. 
Your pin will actually count for something if, the next time you see something bad happening to a person of color, you speak up and intervene instead of staring wide-eyed and silent and then writing about it in a status update that’s all about how you were traumatized by witnessing a terrible thing that happened to someone else. 
You want to help? You want your little pin to matter like black lives? Actually create a safe space instead of cheaply designating yourself one because you fastened a piece of malleable metal to your sweater. 
It's more than time for we the people of this nation to put away childish things and grow up.  WE BROKE IT.  WE OWN IT.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blank Spaces On The Map -- Here Be Dragons (But Not, YOU KNOW WHO!)

   . . . . After seeing the trailers I will not be watching the latest Harry Potter franchise blockbuster, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Location is New York City.  Time period is 1926. Pop quiz, kiddos: What is happening in New York City in 1926, hmmmmmmmmmmm?

However this primary cultural, social, economic and political phenomenon is seemingly not even hinted at -- much less having actual characters who happen to be African American?  Why does Rowling persist in getting the U.S. and the many peoples who inhabit this nation and its history so wrong?  Or, perhaps, more to the point, why does she disappear them -- or turn them as in her Wizarding school debacle -- into something they are not?

In Rowling's imagination African Americans and Native Americans in the U.S. are infinitely MORE RARE reaching to IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND -- than imaginary beasts. What does this say?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Magnificent Century -- Sulyeman Emperor of 16th Century Ottoman Empire

. . . .The Magnificent Century is extremely popular throughout Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Greece, Macedonia, Egypt and into Pakistan, as well as in the home country of Turkey.  Recall, that all or almost all these nations that watch the series avidly were under lengthy Ottoman rule. It has become popular along with many other Turkish television show in Chile.

[First post about The Magnificent Century here.]

    Finished watching the final episode of the 48 episodes of season one (2011) last night. 48 episodes or not, this was only the first season of four.  As far as I can tell, the entire series centers the trajectory of the survival in the murderous hothouse of the Ottoman Emperor's harem, of Hurrem, the captured, enslaved Ukrainian, Greek Orthodox concubine who becomes muslim and, eventually, Sulyeman's wife. So it is she who is the primary protagonist, though there are many plots and principal characters. The Magnificent Century is, above all, a soap opera. Thus, this 48th episode ends, of course, on a cliffhanger, as do many of the episodes within the season, for that matter.

Sulyeman's Valide Sultan

     Minutes earlier Hurrem and viewers learn she's pregnant with a fourth child from Emperor Sulyeman. She has immediately informed the Valide Sultan (Valide is the title of the queen mother who runs everything, and thinks this includes her son, the emperor), and his sister, Hatice, married to Grand Vizier, Pasha Ibrahim, of the anticipated fortunate event. 

   While guards, his mother and sister look on horrified in the garden, a knife is being held at Sulyeman's throat by Victoria, a Greek slave girl - spy, renamed by the Valide, Sadıka. Sadika was a princess who was married in a castle of the King of Bulgaria, who had stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans. While the wedding party is at the banquet table, Sulyeman and his army attack.  Sadika's groom was killed by Sulyeman in front of her eyes while they attempted to escape. The guards get the bride away.  Later, she takes on a secret mission to insinuate herself as a slave girl-concubine in the harem and assasinate Sulyeman. In the course of attempting to fulfill this mission she has murdered a couple of other harem concubines, gotten promoted to be the Valide Sultan's personal maid. 

Hatice Sultan, Sulyeman's sister
Later, the Valide gives Sadika to her daughter Hatice, when she marries the Grand Vizier, Pasha Ibrahim, who is also Sulyeman's beloved friend and adviser. They now live in their own palace, away from the Valide's oversight.

In the final episode very much goes on, which will, as seen from the description above, one will not have any comprehension, unless one has watched the whole thing.

   Pasha Ibrahim took Leo prisoner.  He has beaten the Ruthven (Ukraine-Hungary) artist, who stupidly tracked his childhood sweetheart, then fiancée down to Istanbul after the Tatars left him for dead and sold her into slavery. he only stopped because the emperor has ordered the artist be brought into his presence. Ibrahim's attempting to torture* Leo into admitting he's been having an affair with Hurrem. On the contrary, from the moment Alex/Hurrem lays eyes on Leo she's been trying to make him get the hell outta Dodge. She's entirely in love with the emperor.  Beyond that, the slightest hint they know each other would be her death and that of her children.  But Leo, selfish and self-centered doesn't care about the terrible threat his existence in the palace is for the woman he claims to love.

Mahidevran Sultan

Ibrahim, Hurrem, proved to be a traitor to Sulyeman, is rid of her influence over the emperor and will have Mahidevran Sultan, the previous most favorite of the harem, mother of the oldest son and heir-designate, forever in his debt.  Don't forget, the Pasha's managed to marry Sulyman's favorite sister, and is a very ambitious fellow.  I'd identified with im in the earlier episodes, but no longer! Unfortunately the series hasn't made it clear to this non-Turkish expert just why Ibrahim took on such a hate for Hurrem.

Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pargali
So, while Sadıka is holding a knife to Sulyeman's throat, Hurrem is holding a bowl of poisoned candy shoved into her hands by Ibrahim, instructed to eat it and take her own life (while presumably the pasha heads for the harem to strangle her children), or else Leo must, and this would prove, I'm not sure what. She's weeping, Leo is howling, Ibrahim is seething with EviLe, Hurrem's fingers are about to take a candy -- The End.

     More has to come since we have not yet had the precedent-breaking wedding, the Ottoman emperor taking a legally wedded wife! Will netflix get the rousing following 3 seasons? I want to see Ibrahim Go Down. I know from history that he betrayed Sulyeman, went to war on him, and was either beheaded or garrotted or poisoned, though I don't know why he turned on Sulyman.  This being a soap opera, presumably this happens after Sulyman marries Hurrem, and she persuades the emperor to do or not do something that Ibrahim doesn't want or does want? 

Sulyeman riding to war
   With success of the series, later episodes were more lavishly budgeted, with some set pieces as the endless celebration of the Grand Vizier's wedding to Emperor Sulyeman's beloved sister, and more scenes set outside the claustrophobia of the Istanbul palace and harem.  It does remain primarily a talking heads format, with the eyes of every character broadcasting enormous information about themselves and what issue / person / event is centered in a scene.  The clothes remain breathtaking. 

Over such long sequence of episodes, the skills of the actors, particularly that of the actor who plays Sulyeman, become more evident.

When will the next season be available?  I feel bereft, after living with these characters for two months.


*   Beating is standing in for serious torture, doubtless. But due to Turkey's standards and regulations for what can be seen on television, it couldn't be too graphic.

Leo the artist

Leo was surely tortured in real life -- if this happened in real life that is.  I have no idea -- this is a soap opera -- he would have been horribly tortured if taken by a Grand Vizier for his own nefarious purposes.  Nevertheless, the beating is bad enough to look at, though no skin is shown broken, despite the pounding of fists, cracking of head against stone cell wall, kicking in the gut and head as well. All we see then is a faintly bruised cheekbone and his velvet clothes are not dirty, torn or even disheveled. The most terrible part of this scene is the face of Ibrahim.  We've seen glimpses of this Mr Hyde face previously in the later episodes as he chokes with his hands the harem overseer, Nigar Kalfa (who for inexplicable reasons has been shown to be in love with him, upon which he learns, he spurns her in the most humiliating way), demanding she find evidence in Hurrem's rooms of adultery.

Evidently this is setting us up to see this character, with whom we have been so sympathetic, because of his love for the emperor's sister, which was impossible.  Hatice is so lovable herself and she was dying for love of him, so how could he be -- evil? As well, he writes beautiful poetry to her, and plays the violin and reads western literature and enjoys western culture of all kinds including art. I don't know enough about Turkey and its politics to know, but perhaps Ibrahim's affinity for western culture is supposed to signal the audience that he will turn evil and betray the empire?

I always keep in mind this is historical fiction and a soap opera to boot!

However, {NY TIMES PAY WALL} reading about this discovery of more than forty very well preserved ships in the shipping waters of Bulgaria spanning the 9th - 19th centuries in the Black Sea -- I was delighted for several reasons, including this frivolous one, since this is the route the ship carrying Hurrem / Alexandra to Turkey takes in the 16th century.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Amsterdam News Reviews Symphony Space Slave Coast Live Performance

Because the video advertisement on the page is so annoying, even though it's from CNN and shows thousands of people protesting the results of the election, I pulled the part of about Symphony Space and Slave Coast from the longer article and c&p ed it here.  The article's  author is the Amsterdam News's editor. Amsterdam News is the longest surviving original African American newspaper in New York City. It is the only Symphony Space performance review, of course, beyond the blog pieces written by white jazz music writers. 

The Amsterdam News Building at 2340 Frederick Douglass in New York has been adorned with some funky new murals as part of the #NotaCrime campaign 

The text came from Ned and Constance Sublette’s book, “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry” (Lawrence Hill Books). The passages were read by the authors; by vocalist Lezlie Harrison; by musician, vocalist Nona Hendrix; by actor, writer Carl Hancock Rux; by actress Kandia Crazy Horse; and by filmmaker Jonathan Demme. 
The music was composed by the saxophonist Donald Harrison and performed by his versatile quartet of guitarist/banjoist Detroit Brooks, pianist Zacci Curtis and drummer Darryl Staves. 
After reading “The American Slave Coast,” Harrison was inspired to write a composition with an intriguing edge anchored in the blues, and at times his New Orleans roots leaped out. 
For two hours the sold-out audience sat in scary silence as the music consoled them in the midst of being tortured by slavery’s agonizing truths. 
Ned stated, “I knew from the beginning this project needed to be performable.”
“The American Slave Coast” is the 2016 winner of the American Book Awards. Slavery, one of the most horrific crimes on the face of the Earth, is a crucial fabric of America. It is this contemplated abomination that has kept this country racially divided over the past 400 years. 
Last weekend the slavery empire built on terrorism and the torture of Black people, politics and economics traveled through time to sprout the heart-wrenching truth through the words of “The American Slave Coast: Live,”
at Manhattan’s Symphony Space. 
Today, one political candidate is using race as a talking point. But ssshhh! He isn’t using that word. He prefers the phrase “let’s make America great again.” Some folks ask, “Why don’t Black people just get over it? After all, slave masters weren’t really that bad.” 
Perhaps the slave masters they are referring to were former presidents Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and James K. Polk. Regardless of their presidency, these men were white supremacists who profited from and promoted the selling of African-Americans from birth to adulthood. 
“The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry” is one of the most concise, graphic, historically researched books ever written on the subject. This book should be required reading for Americans, particularly those running for any political office.
By now there are 63 64 reviews of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry up on amazilla.  With very few exceptions all the reviews are four and five stars.  I think, though I haven't looked myself, that the majority of the reviews are 5 stars.

Monday, November 7, 2016

As Yet, Project Untitled

      . . . . Harriet Lane is an interesting historical personage What will initially bring her to the attention of a USian historian is that Harriet Lane Johnston was President. Buchanan's niece and his de facto White House First Lady.

She performed all the duties of a First Lady of her time that are now taken on by a dedicated, permanent member of the White House staff.

In Harriet's earlier years, and for many years, she was considered one of the most beautiful, attractive and interesting belles of the age. Supposedly she received an enormous number of marriage proposals, but remained at her uncle's side until age 35, when she married (1866)  Henry Elliott Johnston (1831-1884), whom she had met many years before, and with whom she always remained in touch, whether in Pennsylvania, D.C., New York, or Europe.
In those decades leading up to 1860, such important matters as creating the seating plans for White House dinners, and even making the place cards, were done by the First Lady and her female relatives, and maybe, a close female friend or two.  She already had a great deal of experience. As a belle of D.C. in her extreme youth her understanding of how things worked in socially, culturally and politically in Washington was deep and broad.  She became even more accomplished, as well as sophisticated in London society, when her uncle was minister to England. She was madly popular in London, a popularity that included an authentic friendship with Queen Victoria (at least, so the U.S. newspapers jubilantly reported, overjoyed that an American was included in the balls, hunting parties and banquets with British nobility).

Harriet Lane's life would have been quite different if her uncle Buck hadn't had such a long, successful political career in D.C.. He filled a seat in the House of Representatives, was elected a Senator, named minister to St. Petersburg (by Old Hickory in his second term), appointed Secretary of State (under Polk). and minister to England (by Pierce), before finally achieving his decades' long goal of becoming President of the United States.

Harriet Lane was educated at the Merritt Boarding School in Charleston in western Virginia (no West Virginia yet).  When Buchanan became Secretary of State he transferred her to the Academy of the Visitation Convent School, Washington, D.C. (1847-1849). He wrote:
 "I think of all the places for you, the nunnery at Georgetown would be the best." 
The convent school was part of what now is Georgetown University. Lane was there only a few years after the Jesuits sold their Maryland plantation slaves down south in 1838, to plug the holes in the college's finances, since their tobacco plantations were no longer producing revenue.

A friend of Harriet's, who has yet hasn't been named, whom she meets at the convent school, a girl who also comes to be friends with Thaddeus Stevens's niece or nieces, will bring this up at some point in a conversation. These girls will remain friends as long as both of them are alive. In their class, friendships formed at school were as important in women's later lives as were the friendships formed by boys and young men at their schools.

Harriet Lane Johnston, Grand Dame. This summer in Lancaster, PA, I took a photo of this portrait that still hangs in the Buchanan mansion, Wheatlands, along with many others. 
Buchanan's character will be played straight -- no scenes of midnight London cruising in the Victorian homosexual haunts of that city, for instance.

Harriet destroyed all of Buchanan's correspondence with "Miss Fancy" (Andrew Jackson dubbed Buchanan and his dear friend, William Rufus DuVane King, Miss Nancy and Miss Fancy), just as King's family did with his correspondence. Thus there are is no smoking gun primary documentation that they had a full-blown homosexual sexual relationship with each other -- or anyone else, for that matter. However, the two men were very close, lived together in D.C. during the months government was in session, went everywhere together, were inseparable.

In a family like Buchanan's and that of his fellow Lancasterian, Thaddeus Stevens, in which female relatives played all the public and social roles that wives would have played, and their housekeepers and their families were treated (unusually for the era!) as part of the family -- even unto receiving substantial legacies, dining with the family, etc. -- Buchanan's family would have taken his deep attachment to King in stride. Perhaps they loved King themselves. And certainly Harriet Lane herself was a sophisticated woman of the world -- she was even a friend of Queen Victoria's. She would have understood how the world might have interpreted her beloved uncle's relationship, and chose to protect his reputation in that area -- he is still vilified in both northern and southern quarters for his actions as POTUS.  The north's point of view is that he aided and abetted the slaveocracy and secession, while the south's is that he didn't help them enough. I feel Harriet would have keenly felt her uncle's grief from King's death, and entered into it with all sympathy.

The families of abolitionist Stevens and pro-southern Buchanan lost so many close members, often within short periods, yet another mirror reflection found so often in the matters of the War of the Rebellion, not excluding the White House in D.C. and the White House in Richmond. Harriet lost her husband and her children and then her uncle, in close succession. Yet, most of her life was still ahead of her, and she lived it fully and filled it with accomplishments that signify into the present.

A Matthew Brady photo of Kate Sprague Chase when she was very young.
Ultimately a sad story.  Kate's end wasn't the prosperous one of Harriet's, though they both ended in Washington, D.C., where ultimately they both were most at home.

    .... I haven't seen any thing about this but do wonder if she and Kate Chase ever met?  (I read this biography about Kate when it came out.)  Kate truly shone during the war years in D.C. and Buchanan, being a persona non grata for the Lincoln administration, rusticated at Wheatlands.  But they may well have met in New York after the war, after Harriet married, while Kate was still married.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Requiem For Thousands of BBSes Gone

     >>> Those who had the experience and those who didn't -- a generational as well as digital divide.

Images weren't possible, which had so much with their demise.

Ah, the GEnie SFRT . . . .
The four Science Fiction RoundTables (the SFRT): the official online home of the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America before the Internet became popular (SFWA members, who were all published authors, received free access to the SF RoundTables) {J. Michael Straczynski developed the show Babylon 5 while on the SFRT and maintained his e-mail presence throughout the run of the show}

Not to mention the Buffy discussion group!

In The Atlantic, "The Lost Civilization of Dial-up Bulletin Board Systems."

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Our Remarks for Sunday Night's American Books Awards - Before Columbus Foundation

Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz kindly read our words as we could not get to the West Coast within a few hours of the Symphony Space live performance with music event of The American Slave Coast . . .

       . . . .  Dear Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz:

Thank you so much for lending your voice on behalf of our work as we happily accept an American Book Award. Your endorsement means a great deal to us.

Please thank Justin Desmangles on our behalf, and of course, the Before Columbus Foundation. We salute the Foundation on the longevity of the American Books Award, whose roster of recipients over the years takes on a historical perspective all its own, and in whose magnificent playlist we are now thrilled to reside.

Perhaps because of the stimulating name Before Columbus, and because The American Slave Coast is squarely in the genre of American history, it took a while for it to sink in for us that this wasn’t a history award but a literary award. Which is particularly gratifying, because we have long read history as literature, and vice versa. Creating historical narratives is inevitably a literary act, and it’s a never-ending task, because people interrogate history differently over time: different moments have different urgent questions, different reference points, different techniques, different sources, different taboos.

Our publisher, Chicago Review Press, published all three of Ned Sublette’s books prior to The American Slave Coast; all four were edited by Yuval Taylor, creating for us a long-term continuity of editor, publisher, and writer that is rare in present-day publishing. This solid editorial support has allowed us to create large historical structures, which goes against the grain of a publishing industry focused on short books and narrow topics. Our book is 265,000 words or so, and weighs 3 pounds in hardback. At first we were apologetic for its length and heft, but in New Orleans a woman said to us, “It takes a book that big to tell our story.”

Quote [from The American Slave Coast's text]:
The American Slave Coast is a history of the United States that takes into account something that everyone in slavery days understood: the workings of the slave-breeding industry, which was a unique creation of Anglo-American entrepreneurship, and which was central to American politics as long as it existed. All of American history looks different once the slave-breeding industry is taken into account, and indeed key events like the annexation of Texas and California are inexplicable without reference to it.

The book became a project in 2010, when Ned was named the Patrick Henry Writing Fellow at the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and thanks also to our agent, Sarah Lazin. The argument is a little complicated, but here’s how we tried to explain it in the introduction, quote:

This is a history of the slave-breeding industry, which we define as the complex of businesses and individuals in the United States who profited from the enslavement of African American children at birth. At the heart of our account is the intricate connection between the legal fact of people as property—the “chattel principle”—and national expansion. Our narrative doubles, then, as a history of the making of the United States as seen from the point of view of the domestic slave trade.

It also traces the history of money in America. In the Southern United States, the “peculiar institution” of slavery was inextricably associated with its own peculiar economy, interconnected with that of the North.

One of the two principal products of the antebellum slave economy was staple crops, which provided the cash flow—primarily cotton, which was the United States’ major export. The other was enslaved people, who counted as capital and functioned as the stable wealth of the South. African American bodies and childbearing potential collateralized massive amounts of credit, the use of which made slaveowners the wealthiest people in the country. When the Southern states seceded to form the Confederacy they partitioned off, and declared independence for, their economic system in which people were money. . . .

The conflict between North and South is a fundamental trope of American history, but in our narrative, the major conflict is intra-Southern: the commercial antagonism between Virginia, the great

slave breeder, and South Carolina, the great slave importer, for control of the market that supplied slave labor to an expanding slavery nation. The dramatic power struggle between the two was central to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and to secession in 1861.
[End Slave Coast quote.]

      . . . .  For us, writing a book doesn’t end with publication, it merely enters a new phase. In the year since publication, we’ve been on the road when we can be, taking it as many places as possible, and hearing what connections people are making to this history in this age of police brutality, open-carry militias, and mass incarceration. We’ve learned so much about our own book by going around the country during the last year, reading, talking, and listening. We had a tremendous experience last month in Columbus, Indiana, where we spoke to 150 high school students. In doing this, we’ve had the privilege of hearing a cross-section of what people are talking about.

It’s been an uphill struggle trying to get the narrative out there: with a few much-appreciated exceptions, mainstream media haven’t been in a hurry to talk about the slave-breeding industry, but we’ve had wonderful experiences with regional black media, especially AM radio, and independent left media.

Unfortunately, we haven’t been to the West Coast yet, but we hope to remedy that in 2017. We’re at home today, just emerging from our Friday night performance at New York City’s Symphony Space of The American Slave Coast Live, a 2-hour reading of the book with multiple voices and a live score by Donald Harrison and musicians. For two hours, a theater full of people listened and responded to historical discourse. It was cathartic, and we hope to present it in other cities.

At the top of the show’s flyer, we proudly set a banner: AMERICAN BOOK AWARD WINNER. So many people have congratulated us on this award. Our publisher is very happy. We send a profound thank-you to the Before Columbus Foundation, and we feel dumb for not being there to celebrate with you.