". . . 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, June 30, 2010

Baltimore, Maryland & Baltimore, County Cork

So, this is where Baltimore originates, though they are not pronounced the same.

That Brugger Maryland history that's so heavy -- no matter.  El V grabbed it the minute he left the dinner table.

Thus poor me am left with Wikipedia, which Brugger did not have, thus he didn't include the information as to the origin of 'Baltimore,' beyond the investment of the title upon Secretary of State, Sir George Calvert by King James in the 17th century, which passed to his son, Sir Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore.

The Maryland land grant was given to Sir Cecil. The first Lord Baltimore, Sir George, got lands in Newfoundland. In all cases, boats, coasts, ports, fish, naval trade was the portion of the Baltimores, back on the old sod or in the New World, north or south.

It seems prophetic that my favorite season of  The Wire, was themed around Baltimore's port and dock workers.

The History Of Maryland

Maryland: A Middle Temperament 1634-1980 (1988)  by Robert J. Brugger arrived this afternoon.  This history is considered currently the definitive history of that state.  With index it's 850 pp.  It's too heavy to hold.   Sigh.

Also arrived The Price of Freedom: Slavery and Manumission in Baltimore and Early National Maryland (1997) by T. Stephen Whitman.  This is a slim, but dense book, with tables and graphs and many statistics dredged out of primary economic and legal documents such as wills, legislation, sales and registration fee receipts, that sort of thing.  This is the kind of history that is the opposite in the spectrum of historical research that sees narrative, story-telling history as the end point, that also believes there are no facts in history, only 'feeling' and opinion.  But laws are facts.  Though opinions can be written about a law, and a law can be interpreted, particularly in its application by, say, a judge or a sheriff, a law is fact, just as are taxes.  I get so freakin' tired of those people.

It's sadly comic too, that these are the same people become livid if you bring up actual history that shows how little our national myths are founded in the reality of actions of the times that the mythologies of this nation describe.

The mythology that is propaganda:  I'm particularly aware of this process by watching the interminable Winds of War and War and Rememberance, the television miniseries from the 1980's that tell the tale of WWII.  According to these propagandistic mythologies on the home screen, WWII was conducted entirely in palatial offices and homes, by very attractive people wearing only the most becoming and stylish clothes -- even Jewish refugees are all very wealthy and well dressed and always end up in the homes of other wealthy people.  Yes, even in occupied Paris of 1943, all the women are dressed in the most lovely clothes -- even the Jewish women who are wearing the Star -- the star is of solid gold, pinned upon courture.  Their hair is done to perfection, their hats of unspeakable delight, their jewels in perfect taste.  Everyone eats and drinks the most splendid food and wines, served impeccably upon snowy damask and perfect china.  Now I remember reading often Simone de De Beauvoir's accounts of what it was like in Paris during those years. I recall vividly her own vivid memories of what it was like to get a new dress after the war was over -- which took a while.  This took even longer in England.  But in these miniseries, even in England all are dressed in high fashion and most becomingly, their hair and teeth are perfect and they eat so well in hallowed halls and dining rooms.  Even in the U.S. there is a slight inconvenience from the rationing of gasoline, but that matters not all -- we put our autos up on blocks and ride in military vehicles, which are always there for us when we need them.

The only people who suffer are the soviets -- and they deserve it because they're dirty commies and we're supporting them with Lend Lease. That they lose 40 million people on the course of refusing a separate peace and keeping Hitler harassed by war on two fronts instead of one, well, that's the price they should be grateful to have paid.

These kinds of mythologies are worse than fairy tales, they are pernicious lies, just like all those lies told of the War of Southern Aggression.

Computer Shopping -- Argh!

I must have a travel computer, but one of the netbooks won't be powerful enough, to function as my 'desk' computer in Maryland. A netbook, whatever, would be better for travel, such as the upcoming trip to New Orleans, but not enough to function as a the real work, at home computer.

The idea is that I'm going to get a flat screen monitor for use 'at home,' which most of this coming year will be in Maryland, but that I can still pack it up when we come back (frequently) to NYC during that time, and for other trips such as the guest thing at the U of Southern Mississippi, etc. So it has to have more capacities than a netbook, etc. I'll also get a mouse because I loathe touch pads.

What should I get? I have no idea!

Monday, June 28, 2010

97 + Degrees So It Must Be Time For

Potato salad, lettuce and tomato salad, cantalope, ham and iced tea.

Even with the a/c at full while the potatoes and eggs were cooking it got damned warm in the kitchen!

Thunderstorm in the offing -- in the offing all day so far. I could have then gotten to the library to pick up a history of Maryland in first decade of the nation.

Colorful figures in the supermarket today, flotsam and jetsom from Gay Pride, all confused about what to do in the Big Town, now that we're so hungover from a week straight of partying day and night, and it's so hot and it's Monday, and the Monday BEFORE July 4th yet.

Our not-gay downstairs neighbor skank hosted a party that began Thursday night and went non-stop until about 11 PM last night. Why no, the partiers were not gay either. They were however very very drunk and filled with drugs, which it was impossible for me not to notice as loud as they were, and how often I had to trek down there and tell them to shut the fucking music off it is 3:30 in the AM, and they'd say but it's um it's ah, that thing, yeah, pride. That's nice I said. The music is still fucking too loud and it's still 3:30 AM. Why no, they didn't go to the parade either, Their support and solidarity was in the bottle and up their noses. That bitch ain't long for this building. OTOH, we're the activists most affected, and we're leaving at the end of August. But the landlord has already spoken to her -- one of the employees of the office lives three floors above her and he's talked to the bosses. Lucky us, we're right above her.

Over the weekend two more shops on my block have closed. One a vintage clothing stor, one a boutique of kilms and persian-like jewelry. That one was around for such a short time that I never got used to it being there. I suppose these too will become food providers. Though I have noticed that the store front that had been the favorite of these boutiques, a very high end, artistist floral designer, is still empty, so maybe not? They didn't go out of business. They moved to larger digs.

OTOH, the local talky radio is beating the drums that Wall Street is hiring again.

In the peace and quiet of the end of PARTEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!, el V and I stayed up last night until after 3 AM, giggling. We're reading a history of President Polk. Probably many would not find much giggle provoking in such a book, but silly as we are, we do. Nope. Can't explain or describe. It's just so completely something that comes out of our shared stuff. But it was fun to read and laugh for three hours.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

July Means New Orleans & Haiti

El V's recording an album in New Orleans at Piety Street Studios.  Then it's Haiti for 7 - 10 days.

The  Haitian essay that was to be the centerpiece of an anthology of Postmamboist writings keeps getting more and more built out.  The editor is so impressed with it (the word used and repeated by ye editor to describe it is brilliant) that he asked to pull it out for a separate book.  He also wants to rush publication, so it's got to be finished before we move in August. Plus the terms of the Fellowship preclude working on any other book than the Starr project.

A slim book, this on Haiti -- out in January, $18.95 in hc -- but dynamite. Real dynamite.

I admit to having trepidations -- Haiti is awful. Our friend who is there, guarding and caring for her six-year-old daughter until she gets a visa to enter the US, is still waiting for the official notification that they can come in and have the dna testing done. They've finally got the dna testing kits, which must be purchased by yourself, from a short list of laboratories in the U.S. (another racket $et in place by the bu$hie$ for their crony crime $yndicates) -- and then they don't mail them to where they are supposed to go, and they lose them, and etc. etc. etc. People like our friends are coming down with terrible infections which the doctors tell them are probably caused by all the unburied bodies all over the place. It rains and rains, mud and mud, heat and heat, mosquitos and mosquitos, crime and crime, desperation and desperation.  Ah well. A footwetting for Angola, which is fall 2011, if all goes well.

Then we must pack for Maryland.

Back to my daily work of building bibilography and reading histories of Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.

I'm having to learn a great deal about boats and ships. The fundamental for this history is that the local and Caribbean history of their boats and ships and their many varieties -- this is a water culture. And are we not Braudelians in our historical philosophy?

Among what I've finally gotten straight so far, is the history of why Virginia always believed it was its entitled right to rule the United States, whever they were located. Now I know, finally, why it's Old Dominion. Though this out of our era of focus, of course.

It's an amazing region, the Chesapeake itself is a world unto itself.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Intellectual Underpinnings of the Civil War

"... the intellectual underpinnings of the Civil War ..." dere iz any?  O! u meenz such as this example provided by the Senate Historical Office?

On May 22, 1856, the "world's greatest deliberative body" became a combat zone. In one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate's entire history, a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat a senator into unconsciousness.

The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his "Crime Against Kansas" speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a "noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator." Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator's stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean," added Sumner, "the harlot, Slavery."

Representative Preston Brooks was Butler's South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his "Crime Against Kansas" speech.

Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner's head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.

Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.

Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and soon thereafter died at age 37. Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war.

If anyone could point me in the direction of the intellectual unpinnings for the War of Southern Aggression, I'd be grateful.

This inquiry has been provoked by an example in an article in College and Research Libraries News describing current trends for academic research libraries:

Many digital projects have been funded in part by grants from sources such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Mellon Foundation, while others are supported in total by institutional funds. Collaborative digitization opportunities abound: member libraries of the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries are creating a digital shared collection of 5,000 items from their rare and special collections that will help explain the intellectual underpinnings of the American Civil War

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

*Impeached* by David D. Stewart

Highly recommended is Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy (2009) by David O. Stewart to those who want or need to know more about the immediate history of the U.S. after Lee's surrender at Appomatox, Lincoln's assassination and Reconstruction.

The Johnson impeachment is complicated and complex and can't be reduced to a soundbite.  That's not the only reason it's not actually taught in American historry classes, whether middle-school, high school or college, though.  The real reason it's not taught is because this event has a starring role in the revisionism of the history of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the causes of the entire epic, which began even  before the War of Southern Aggression was finished -- which ended only with the assassination of President Lincoln by rabid confederate Booth, and the barely avoided impeachment of Johnson, avoided only because of the massive amounts of cash poured into the effort by the confederates, their sympatizers and the lobbyists -- one vote.  This was also revised, via Wilson and others, that rather than a act of veniality, this was as an act of patriotic heroism that saved the nation and the Constitution, an act which outranked Lincoln's efforts by a fair amount, something even JFK bought into 100%,

That the author is a lawyer, who "defended an impeachment trial of a Mississippi judge in the U.S. Senate in 1988," contributes no small amount to his ability to make easily comprehensible -- to an adult, used to thinking, who doesn't suffer ADD, and who has a decent outline of U.S. history -- this hydra-headed, significant event to the general reader.  Stewart cogently summarizes all of it in the first 35 pp, succinctly and clearly.  While a practicing attorney his briefs must have been a joy for his colleagues to read -- trust me on this, that would not be said of most lawyers's briefs.

The rest of the book goes into chronology and detail of the players, characters, the historical context and events.  For those of us who see General Grant as an authentic hero, he does not let us down during this crisis either.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of this work is seeing Grant's military abilities deployed upon the political battleground of the executive and legislative branches of the Capitol.  His close relationship with his other generals like Sheridan and Sherman plays a role as well.  The portrait of Thadeus Stevens, the arch villain of Birth of a Nation, is invaluable.

What is hard reading is the portrait of what happens to the freedmen and women in the defeated confederacy after Lincoln's assassination, during the years of Johnson's regime.  You may think you know, but you likely don 't, not in this detail, and at that Stewart is restrained in his description and detail of the horrors and the scope of the horrors committed against and upon them.

President Grant put a stop to that.  The real Reconstruction then began.

We briefly met David O. Stewart at the Starr Center during our visit there earlier this month.  It just so happened that this book was in my bag but neither of us made the connection at that moment between the man in the office and the book in the bag.  Our encounter was more than pleasant -- it was interesting, leaving both sides wanting more.  So we'll probably meet here in August before our move to Chestertown, while he's visiting Yankee Stadium with his son (though they won't cheer the Yankees!), and working in some of the Aaron Burr archives and collections for his current project, which is Burr's fantasy of carving out his own kingdom in the Louisiana Territory and his treason trial.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Captain Victor "Pug" Henry

Captain 'Pug' Henry is played by Robert Mitchum in the television miniseries  made from the Herman Wouk novels, Winds of War (published 1958; series 1983) and War and Remembrance (published 1978; series 1988).

We know what sort of character and naval officer Captain 'Pug' Henry is from the opening credits of both series.  Though the image is a moving one, though at first, in black and white, it looks like a still, a painted portrait in ,of an American military hero of chiseled face and the look of eagles, that fills with color.  It's only seconds later the viewer realizes this is a 'moving picture,' a looped screen moment.  We rapidly learn that the Captain is a supremely organized leader of men, courageous, intelligent and very talented in many areas -- he speaks so many languages, and fluently.  When he doesn't know a language he swotts it up in a matter of hours.  He effortlessly wins the trust and liking of everyone around him. Though loyal to his wife, he's also a chick magnet to very intelligent, talented, brave women who are much younger than he is.  President Roosevelt counts on him, personally.  He's an all around urbane cosmopolitan, who works as a naval attaché assigned to various U.S. missions abroad, while working as an intelligence advisor and reporter.*   He champs for his real life as a gunnery specialist at sea.

This is a splendid military fantasy of WWII and Our Fighting Men who are all Fighting Gentlemen Possessed of Great Honor (well, actually, the only fighting is accomplished by the U.S. Navy, of course, and the Royal Airforce -- and the German Pansers and executioners).

The essential qualities of Captain Henry are that his nature is composed of equal parts honor, loyalty, courage and intelligence. Prepotent sire that Captain Henry is, he's naturally  passed all these qualities on to his sons, who are also in the Navy, though one of them, significantly named Byron, has not achieved the strict rein on his temper and tongue that Captain Henry possesses.

How does our military stack up today?  Let's check out Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- but remember, he's Army, not Navy, so take that into account when you assess what comes through here, in Rolling Stone Magazine.

 Interesting to see how much President Obama's disappointed Wenner, isn't it?  See "The Spill, The Scandal and the President," here.


* Has anyone ever counted the number of scenes of Captain Henry opening an envelope and taking out a letter? For that matter how often we see him typing letters and reports, as well as writing by hand and sending telegrams?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

HBO *Treme*, End Of The Season

Gumbo party at Blake's tomorrow night and then we see the conclusion, "I'll Fly Away." This probably means funerals, since last week (episode 9, "Wish Somebody Would Care") the writer-blocked, depressed Creighton dropped himself off the ferry that runs between New Orleans and Algiers, and LaDonna was repairing the family crypt for Daymo's funeral.

I have no expectations for anyone's status changing in any significant way in this final episode. The best thing that Sonny ever did for Annie was in last week's episode when he kicked her out. Then, he told her he still wanted her, and that she should come back. Janette, kicked in the teeth by the conditions of New Orleans just too many times in one day, has decided to leave New Orleans and go to New York. But she may stay, because Davis wants her to.

That Creighton would go was telegraphed constantly from almost the beginning. I thought his checking out was done very well but it didn't have any emotional impact over here. That isn't because I've never been depressed or had anyone close to me commit suicide, or try to. I learned a lot about what it means for those of us left behind when someone who matters deeply choses that path, when my baby sister chose suicide by slow dynamite. The reason was because the more we saw of Creighton the less he felt 'real' to me; I could not believe in him as a professor in the English dept at Tulane or as a blocked novelist -- and I know both English profs (at Tulane even) and blocked and unblocked, unsuccessful and successful novelists very well. The other Treme characters became more 'real' to me as the episodes rolled on

In episode 9, "Wish Someone Would Care," again, as a Tulane English Dept. professor, Creighton was all wrong.. That was supposedly his freshman English class. The Awakening -- no novel, in fact -- would be taught in freshman English. As we did that team-teach thing in September of The Awakening to the Tulane English Dept's seniors honors students, I feel up to speed on the book, whereas Creighton's character didn't understand it. So unbelievable was he that I relieved when he finally took himself out. Harsh, but there ya are. It's tv.

Maybe if Creighton had to have to have done something, i.e. act, during all those weeks before the spring semester started maybe Creighton wouldn't have spiraled down so far, because he'd be too busy surviving. And, in fact, all our English dept. colleagues and amigos WERE working their butts off, for the school, for the dept. and putting their houses and lives back together. The weeks before that, in diaspora around the country, they were at least salaried, and so once they'd found their temporary perches, they worked on their research-book projects, because, as they knew damned well, when they went back to NO and Tulane, they were going to be so over-worked they wouldn't get to do any of that for three more years.

Now, Toni -- she's working, she's doing, she's listening. I'll bet she does have friends and family. She was born and raised in New Orleans, as she pointedly responded to Creighton's waxing nostalgic about the krewe of Momus. She was right. Those kerosene flambeaux, carried by the raggedy poorest guys of New Orleans -- not only are these things scary because so dangerous, it's ugly as hell to look at because they are so dangerous and the men carrying them are so poor. Nor are the flames pretty -- and they stink. They're a billboard that says who is in charge, and it ain't people with dark skin no matter who is mayor, and don't you forget it. Toni knows, no one better, speaking of her character in the narrative, that these poor figures are part of the still deeply embedded white supremacy of Mardi Gras and the krewes. What was surprising is that she saw it and it made her sad and sick, while Creighton, the insider-outsider didn't. That's a reversal of our real life experience, as opposed to television drama. We saw it, while the born New Orleanians or long time resident New Orleans denied, or else were shocked to have it called to their attention since they'd never noticed it.

So, is it Creighton then, unconvincing English professor/ novelist, transplanted into a fantasy New Orleans, getting a jazz funeral in this last episode, or is it Daymo, LaDonna's brother, who was killed by the New Orleans police department, whose coverup Toni unraveled?

Bet it's Daymo.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Retrospective Assessment of Flaherty's *Louisiana Story*

If I recall correctly, el V and I each watched Louisiana Story (1948) the first time in a college film series, long before we met each other.  We watched it again at some point after we married, probably here when it would have been shown as part of  the many Film Forum series.  Then again, in the months before moving to New Orleans.  Among my strongest recollections of each watch of this acclaimed classic of film propaganda, was my revulsion for the story it was telling -- how the oil business was a good thing.  Growing up in an agricultural community my sense of what is good or bad for the land, for the enviornment, was an innate sense.  No cinematic poetry could change this innate sense I possessed from growing up on a farm that grew food animals, food crops and ate out of a garden.  This was a simple-minded piece of propaganda film poetry, easing consciousnesses across the board of the evil that was being done to pristine, fertile regions and ways of life -- that were, let us never forget, very hard, very hard scrabble, very poor lives for those living them.

Today on Counterpunch, Richard Ward takes another tack on Louisiana Story:

In an interview with Robert Gardner at Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1960, Francis Flaherty, wife of the great filmmaker, Robert Flaherty, who died in 1951, reads from a letter sent by Standard Oil of New Jersey proposing a film that would be: “A classic—a permanent artistic record of the contributions in which the oil industry had made to civilization. A film that would present the story of oil with dignity, the epic sweep it deserved, and assure the story of a lasting place on the highest plane in the literature of the screen. The film would also be such an absorbing human story that it would stand on its own feet as an entertainment anywhere. Because of its entertainment value it would be distributed theatrically, through the regular motion picture houses, both in America and abroad.” The result of this proposal, later followed by a check for $125,000, resulted in the propaganda piece the Rockefeller’s company wanted, and for posterity a hauntingly beautiful film laced with heartbreaking irony.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Far From Gulf, a Spill Scourge 5 Decades Old

This particular, ongoing for a half-century, environmental catastrophe has always been in the forefront of my mind in terms of what we are doing to the planet.  As with the people who live there, I ask, why has it taken so long for the rest of the world to notice?  Why is it that only now, when white people of the so-called developed world are catastrophically, criminally affected by the environmental murder these Big Oil criminals do everywhere, every day, and have done for over a century, that primary media deigns to mention this half-century crime?

Considering the stranglehold these same corps have on our local and federal government via the wealth they poor into the pockets of those who are elected to supposedly guard ours, the taxpayers' interest, how can anyone then wonder how massively corrupt rulers in these nations are successively in power in these nations?  Now it's caught up with us -- you might even say that history has bitch-slapped us over and over again, since 9/11.  When are we going to pay attention, instead of complaining about how depressing it is when people like me bring it up?

It's no longer happening way over there, somewhere, that has no effect on us. It's here. Right here, and has been for decades now. It's caught up with us -- you might say that history has bitch-slapped us over and over again, since 9/11. When are we going to pay attention, instead of complaining about how depressing it is when people like me bring it up?

From the NY Times:

The Niger Delta, where the wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates. The oil pours out nearly every week, and some swamps are long since lifeless.

Perhaps no place on earth has been as battered by oil, experts say, leaving residents here astonished at the nonstop attention paid to the gusher half a world away in the Gulf of Mexico. It was only a few weeks ago, they say, that a burst pipe belonging to Royal Dutch Shell in the mangroves was finally shut after flowing for two months: now nothing living moves in a black-and-brown world once teeming with shrimp and crab.

Not far away, there is still black crude on Gio Creek from an April spill, and just across the state line in Akwa Ibom the fishermen curse their oil-blackened nets, doubly useless in a barren sea buffeted by a spill from an offshore Exxon Mobil pipe in May that lasted for weeks.

The oil spews from rusted and aging pipes, unchecked by what analysts say is ineffectual or collusive regulation, and abetted by deficient maintenance and sabotage. In the face of this black tide is an infrequent protest — soldiers guarding an Exxon Mobil site beat women who were demonstrating last month, according to witnesses — but mostly resentful resignation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

OK, K -- I've Watched *The Celluloid Closet*

You were right -- the worth of the thing is Gore Vidal.  Why are there not more Gore Vidals in the United States?  Not that this GV spent much time here in his last decades, and who could blame him?

I didn't know that bit about the Wyler-Vidal discussion as to the backstory of Young Hur (Heston) and Massala (Boyd).  That is sooooooooooooooooooooo funny.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Wears Postmamboism?

This spiff, sharp gentleman from Seattle, flosses Postmamboism at the 34th meeting of WisCon, the premiere feminist sf/f convention.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Another Science Fiction

Megan Prelinger discusses aerospace industry ads from the golden age of science fiction—the 1950s and early 1960s—when the farthest reaches of imagination were fed by the technological breakthroughs of the postwar years. Her book Another Science Fiction presents nearly 200 entertaining, intriguing, and inspiring pieces of space-age eye candy.

The most interesting aspect of the interview-discussion is how the vision of the United States and its relationship to space exploration was an extension of the previous century's dogma of Manifest Destiny.  Also of interest is the designer of the Mad Men series blurbs the book, wishing it had been available to him in the first seasons.

See the Lenny Lopate Show showpage, WNYC for a series of these recruiting ads' illustrations, aimed at the industry.

Crude Souvenir: $1,000 Bottles of Blowout BP Crime Oil

From - AP --  the pull quote:

"I have a bottle of the enemy on my desk every day" . . .

It was a joke, at first, says Kevin Voisin.
At the southeastern Louisiana oyster company his family owns in Houma workers were having what he calls an intergenerational brainstorming session, trying to figure out how to help the fishermen and deck hands whose livelihoods were being smothered by the BP oil spill. But with their boats docked and their oyster leases pretty much useless, what did they have to work with?

"As a joke, somebody yelled out, 'We got a lot of oil,'" Voisin said Thursday. About a week later, he said, it seemed less funny and more inspirational. Voisin (pronounced VWAH' san) last month helped launch a nonprofit relief effort for seafood workers thrown out of work by the spill. And on its website,, is the result of the inspiration: thick blobs of oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig leak, scooped from Louisiana waters and poured into a glass bottle, sealed with a cork and wax.

The price: $1,000.

One thousand of them are being offered as a limited edition souvenir of the nation's worst environmental disaster, unleashed after the rig exploded and sank in April. Voisin thinks of the bottles as a work of art that philanthropists might actually shell out for.

Lesser donations also are being accepted for those unwilling or unable to afford $1,000-a-bottle oil.

Money raised will go to oyster shuckers, fishing boat deck hands, day laborers, and others who might not have the time or necessary proof of previous income to apply for help through the BP claims process or government aid programs.

Owners and managers of seafood companies know who the people are and can  give the money without having to wait for applications or documentation, he said.

"We don't need W2s. We don't need 1040s. We know the places that are shutting down. We know the community," Voisin said.

"The obvious criticism is: What if you help someone who doesn't need it? If it helps one person who doesn't need it and it helps nine people who need it, that's a good trade. It's a trade the government can't make, I understand that. It's a trade that BP doesn't want to make from a cost perspective."
Voisin himself is keeping one of the bottles as a kind of dark inspiration  to keep fighting the spill. "I have a bottle of the enemy on my desk every day," he said.

He also helps fill the bottles in a company warehouse. "It's a very labor-intensive process," he says. "The stuff sticks to everything."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

*Treme* 8th Ep -- "All On A Mardi Gras Day"

The episode's Mardi Gras in the streets aspect provoked an unexpected sense of flatness – or -- well, it wasn't our Mardi Gras 2006, was it?  Still, it seemed that the sheer bizarreness of what you see -- flickering now here, now not here, now over there! -- was missing. The closest we got to that wasn't in the street at all, but at the party with Tom McDermott as the Horse's Head – the letter we received from him, "To My Fellow Horses" immediately after we'd watched the episode, expressed the indescribable absurd fun that Mardi Gras can be.

Davis's contribution was fundamental. He embodied the force of Mardi Gras's delight and joy, who on this day was perfect wherever he went, because he is Mardi Gras 24/7*.

Davis guided Annie into her personally perfect Mardi Gras. Annie is at the crossroads of her lifepath: shall she stay with Sonny or should she go? Wherther or not Sonny kills her as so many fear, if she stays with Sonny, she will be destroyed by the damming of her talent. This is why Annie found Eleggua-Eshu, i.e. Davis, on Mardi Gras. This is the time of her choice; he showed her the choice that isn't Sonny, that is without Sonny, can be, well, sunny. Horses play piano! A horse who Annie knows, a horse that is willing to 'carry' Annie, with or without a mask.

Including the Davis character in the world of Treme was brilliant world building, a creative brilliance has nothing to do with the character base in a true citizen of New Orleans. It's not an easy thing to be a society's energetic, 24/7 King of Absurdity -- the clown in Shakespeare, the Fool in the Tarot, the rule of Mis-rule for feasts and Uncommon Days, Papa Legba in Haitian Vodún, Eleggua-Eshu of Ifá's system of divination -- the opener of the ways among the worlds, owner of the crossroads, the irresistable force of chaos, that turns all upside down and leaves behind a new order. Steve Zahn performs, inhabits Davis, splendidly. Without this figure of boundless energies and enthusiasms, Treme would be unremittingly grim, spiraling, without hope or joy, into unreconstructed, unredeemed destruction and malaise. It would be stuck in the past, like Creighton,  who is still fobbing off the depression he's suffering, his perception of himself as a failed writer, on the failure of the levees.

The tender and the sweet again were provided by Antoine. He gave his Japanese patron a wonderful Mardi Gras Day, not least by telling him the story of his donated trombone's destination, which allowed Koichi Toyoma feel more personally connected to New Orleans, to New Orleans jazz, and the celebration, because the destiny of his gifted 'bone, to Nelson's grandson, respect for family tradition, is the Japanese way also.

Then, the relief Antoine gave LaDonna (at the price of Desiree's generosity -- Newton's Laws in action) **. What a sequence of scenes those were, that led up to her turning to him with her own need, her need to forget, to transcend, to release, for just however long it took, the terror, the grief, the outrage that she's got held so tightly inside her skin. She knew he could, he would, he wanted to. He knows her in some ways as no one else ever will. Over here there was a small discussion as to whether or not LaDonna told Antoine that she'd found her brother. El V. says she didn't. I thought maybe she did, but it could be that she didn't either.

Janette the Fairy Princess, turning old cars into taxis, leading her own parade, that was the magic, as others here have described so beautifully.and so well. The magic that is only New Orleans, unique in the world, all on a Mardi Gras Day.

* You know, Davis pulling the Garden District into "The Battle of New Orleans" had a poignance that no way could the HBO Treme team have envisioned when it was written and shot, when the BP Oil Crime had not yet occured. That's what happens with great writing, great creativity, the true magic in the world.  Which is why Treme had to open with Davis -- Eleggua, the opener of the ways.  O wow!

** I'm beginning to wonder ... Ochun, and the various other glamours of romantic, erotic love, the sweetness of honey, the cleansing of the vortex ... must they always wear the bodies of the female? Antoine .... A woman needs, and Antoine, he gives. Like Ochun, Erzulie (when she's not Dantor!). Etc.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise

This is the title of Spike Lee's follow-up to his splendid HBO documentary on the catastrophe of Katrina, When the Levees Broke.  He was back in NO doing more work on If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise.

SL wanted an extra-large Postmamboism tee-shirt, so he now has one.  In return he provided us two If God Is Willing  production "Beefy t's, XL.  They're handsome, of  high quality, heavy cotton.  A military patch of the 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks Begat - 1986  insignia graces the left sleeve.  The title covers the front between stripes of black and gold with the New Orleans fleur-de-lys on the right.  On the back, in gold and black, run the the questions:

Who Dat?
Who Dat?
Who Dat
Say Dem
Be Safe?

Above the questions is a rectangle patch, outlined in red, red lettering on black background, that says:


Hurricane season is here.  No more insurance for shooting television or movies in New Orleans again, until November.

We all must pray, and pray constantly.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

BP to go ahead with $10bn shareholder payout

Tony Hayward to defy calls from politicians to cancel dividend until Deepwater Horizon oil spill is resolved.

UK Guardian story here.

The eco mafia must wet its beak.

What the POTUS Can Do About the BP Oil Crime -- & Has Refused to Do

What the POTUS can do, and so far has not. This should be our agenda, for which we agitate, contact media, politicians and everyone else we can think of:

  • prevent further use of those destructive to life dispersants;
  • commandeer in whatever manner the 25 oil tankers that BP owns and is using to carry oil rather than work on clean up -- in other words get as many tanker ships into the area to siphon up the oil;
  • fire Ken Salazar, who has always been an active proponent, i.e. paid by Big Oil, for deep water drilling;
  • halt immediately any issuance of new deep water drilling permits;
  • send out knowledgable teams answerable directly to the Oval Office to inspect every goddamned deep (or shallow) water operation in the Gulf and off our coasts, from Hawai'i and Alaska to Maine (are there any off Maine?);
  • there is one more thing that the POTUS and feds could have done, and should have done, from day one: insist that BP start cutting pressure wells immediately, while yes, trying the other things that in all reality, had little hope of working at that depth.
But again, as the government isn't -- isn't supposed to be -- in the business of Big Oil Business, it probably wasn't up to speed on that.

However, all those Big Oil Bidness Friendlies and Cohorts that Cheney etc. have in place in the government, they should have known. But! Wait! They wouldn't open their mouths about such things because it would cost BP money (and BP has been busy limiting liabilities via their lobbyists and lawyers as their perspective on dealing with the Criminal Crisis) -- and because they probably didn't know either, as their competency for the positions likely rival Heck of a Job Brownie's.

The best scenario, according to a notable geobiologist we met last night uptown at the weekly Bobby Senabría gig, is that if nothing more happens, and the pressure wells get operational, it will be at least a century for the wetlands presently destroyed by the BP Oil Blowout Crime to recover.

Here in Casa C'nN, we have taken to referring to the Big Oil transnationals as what they are in reality: the Eco Mafia Families.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Errol LaBorde -- Interview With NS Tomorrow

For Errol Laborde's morning radio program re the impact on the culture of the Gulf, of the BP Oil Blowout Crime.  Because Errol's very familiar with V.'s view of history and culture in terms of the Gulf \ Caribbean, as described in The World That Made New Orleans and The Year Before the Flood.  He's been to a lot of V.'s presentations on various aspects of this.

If you all aren't familiar with Errol Laborde you can learn more.  He's also the editor of New Orleans Magazine.

Sandals, Togas, Swords: Progenitors of *Gladiator,* *Rome* and *Spartacus - Blood and Sand*

The Decline of the Roman Empire (1964) will bring to mind Gladiator (2000), because not only does it tell the same story of the successor to Marcus Aurelius, but it also plays as loosely with political history.  Despite William Durant as the historical advisor, The Fall of the Roman Empire had no evident effect upon Fall's historic accuracy.  Since that is the case its plod, thud and dud is even less forgiveable.

The movie's design looks more like a mad combination of Byzantium, the early Roman Church and the early European middle ages than it does the later Roman Empire. Is this due to it being shot on location in Spain?

Samuel Bronston produced this, with Anthony Mann as director, and Sophia Loren as leading lady (and the only lady in Fall), all them repeating for El Cid. A very young Omar Sharif plays a not so good guy, the Armenian king and husband of Lucilla, who, of course, is passionate for Livius.

You will never see so many reaction shots of two people turning their heads to look at each other to note each other's reaction to something someone else says – sets of couples, doing this, in sequence in the same scene. 3 hours long with intermission and overture, these were some of most drawn out talky scenes you'll ever find this side of the BBC I, Claudius (1976). The first part is Marcus Aurelius philosophizing with Timodes and Livius and with Charon. Not even Sophia Loren cheers up the monochromatic dreariness of the snow and smoke and forests of Germania. Many fights, many battles, much posturing, blow-harding and processing. The last hour, though equally plodding, is more colorful, as we at last get to Rome.

Never will you see so many restive horses on screen, particularly the chariot horses. It was as though the equines kept trying get you to look at them instead of those people talking. The horses are right; they are more interesting to watch.

Did The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) put an end the sequence of Hollywood's big budget spectacles, the movies that were more than movies, but Grand Public Events, the development, casting and filming  of which were followed in national magazines and newspapers around the world?
  • The Ten Commandments (1956);
  • Ben Hur (1959) – there's a chariot race in The Fall too, outdoors, not in a stadium, i.e. not really a race, and pointless in terms of the movie's plot;
  • Spartacus (1960);
  • El Cid (1961);
  • Cleopatra (1963)
The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964) tanked financially, while the others made big profits – well, Cleo didn't, despite its grand world-wide global box office – the highest grossing film ever, up to that time - because it cost so much. The Fall's cost and box office failure bankrupted Samuel Bronston, ending his movie and production career.

The big historical spectacle seemed pretty much bankrupted too for the big screen.  It's interesting to see this genre revived with the rise of cable television.  However, looking at  Spartacus: Blood and Sand, this hasn't been a happy development.

In contrast however, Rome (2005 - 2007, HBO, BBC),  was the perfection of trash entertainment: its political events and historically named characters had little reltionship to what we study as history in hopes of learning more about our own times. But Rome's historical detail in the clothes and armor, the street life and the graffiti, all of it was as exact as they could make it.  That it looked so wonderful played no small role in the show's splendid entertainment value.  I was sorry there were no more seasons of Rome. No blue screens and cgi for them. Which, of course made it very expensive, whereas Blood and Sand is very cheap, and looks cheap on every level. They don't even spend any money on the male characters, who are naked mostly except for ball & penii pouches and weaponry.  Instead of entertainment you have grisly brutal endless sequences of violent confrontation.  Sensation, not entertainment.  Eye-ball aversion but not any story, nor any characters.

But hey!  Look-ee, look-ee!  Shot almost entirely against blue screen and done via cgi -- it's like the politically and historically stupid on every level, 300. Much, Much, MUCH showing bare flesh, full frontals even of the guys -- the gladiators all have like triple sixpacked abs, their muscles have muscles -- and the penises -- penii? -- of the hermaphrodites, and of course naked breasts every where all the time. Much simulation of sex everywhere all the time. And even more brutality and fake blood gouting everywhere from many shorn body parts. It's extreme violence, set to -- yes! -- heavy metal sound track, and the crowds crowding at the fighting events also act like they're at a rock concert or a soccer game, with the women, why yes, they do BARE THEIR BREASTS when their favorite comes out to waves of heavy metal, or kills someone in a specially bloody manner.
How far we've come from The Ten Commandments' Deborah Carr's slave girl, Lilia, shrinking from Edward G. Robinson as Dathan, and his oily command as to the placement of the Nile lotus in her hair.  This command  stands in for what in Blood and Sand would be many minutes of naked, sweaty grinding of abdomens, grabbing of bruised breast flesh and then, probably, many more minutes of  bloody brutal death.  Guess which one provokes authentic fear, pity and anger in the viewer?