". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

HBO Treme, Season 2, Penultimate Ep. 10,

My Treme Viewing Partner (MTVP) groaned when the credits for "That's What Lovers Do," ep 10, rolled up the screen.  "Dayem!  I start thinking I'm in New Orleans when I watch.  I wish I was in New Orleans.  I wish I was going to New Orleans!" 
I share in this. I already miss the show, meaning I miss all these people we get to know through their ten episode season.  I miss New Orleans. It's particularly frustrating because we were supposed to have been in NO once already, since getting back from the Eastern Shore, and to go again in July.  But the funding for the events got pulled, or never materialized, so, no.  Dayem!

August we teach the course in West African geography and history, so no go then.  If one isn't being threatened by a hurricane, New Orleans in August is very pleasant.  At least so I've found it to be.  We moved to NO in August.  We've been in NO in August for large chunks of the month most years.  We were there just days before the Katrina criminal catastrophe.  Hot as hell, yes, but the nights are magic (and the beer is very cold). Because it is so hot, and so many people are gone, it feels more than at other times of the year, that supposedly leisurely city that so many fantasize is New Orleans, but is anything but for those who are living and trying to make a living there.

The opening sequence was just right, and brilliantly edited, not too long, but unrushed -- it was soul satisfying. Harley was surely pleased.

Setsuma Cafe and Sandwich Shop PLUS FREE WIFI, plus Piety Street Studios just around the corner.  That was fun.  I have put in a lot of hours at Setsuma, where Sofia is working the paid job her lawyer ordered her to get for herself -- and she likes it.

Transplanted Dutch Sonny's arc this season was my personal favorite.  This episode contained a Wire kind of mirroring  -- after Annie tells Sonny she saw a photo of him hung in the Ogdon, pulling people from the Katrina flood waters, i.e. he is who she thought he was -- she learns Harley was not who he represented himself to be: Harley was from Washington, not from Texas.  It's as though Sonny getting himself back on track brings back the Sonny that perhaps Annie fell in love with, and she can see him again, though she has moved on -- and so has he.

Both Sonny and Annie have become a part of New Orleans with the help of people for whom NO is their soul and in their dna: Sonny, with the help of bass player, Cornell Williams, and Annie from Davis.  Harley, with his song-writing, made himself a part of New Orleans as well.  That's how it works.

New Orleans is old and deep and rooted, filled with insiders, but it is open to new people, as is anyplace must be that stays vital instead of becoming a museum.  Irish and Italians came in large numbers in the 19th century. That the show is willing go out of New Orleans, to the boat and the fish market, the Vietnamese community, is another way Treme is a different kind of show all together from The Wire.

Young, creative and passionate people come from all over now to New Orleans.  It is a dangerous place, yes, but it is vitally alive-O! and very exciting these days.  The worlds of Treme are not closed, claustrophobic communities as in The Wire. Many of these Treme characters are not trapped by the corner, by jail, deadends, as were so many of the inhabitants of The Wire.  That included the cops too.  (Attorney Toni may have to let go to a degree or she will get stuck like McNulty did, in The Wire.)

That's the tragedy of the 'knuckleheads.'  They don't feel a part of this place and they are trapped in their violent pathology.  Their pathology even pushes out of New Orleans those who are most deeply rooted in the city, like LaDonna, perhaps.

That final vignette was sad.  Yet, Larry's hand touches LaDonna, even as she'd turned over and away from him, almost spitting, "We're just out of practice, that's all." Last week he didn't dare touch her.

I wonder what will happen next year.  Hopefully Janette is going to come home, we'll finally learn about Toni's backstory and why she and Sofia are so isolated, and everyone else is going to keep on keeping on.  And there will be someone to be a new friend.  I miss the old friends of Treme already.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Week To Remember!

We didn’t know that the Gay Marriage Bill had passed.

Instead we were dancing and getting blessed by the Big Chief and others. DH shouted el V out from the stage as the brilliant author of blahblahblah, the greatest underground supporter and facilitator of New Orleans music, culture and history, a great songwriter and musician as well as historion, who has been recorded by Willie Nelson, and should be more foregrounded, blahblahblah.
DH had done the same at the free BAM- MetroTek outdoors show on Thursday, and Thursday night Tito Puento did the same (DH played with Tito in the early 90’s, and one of his young nephews is playing with Tito now). This made el V blush and feel very humble.

After the set we had the great privilege of hanging out with Donald and discussing New Orleans music and African music diapora routes.  Whenever el V and Donald come together they pick up their conversation where it left off the last time.

I used the word 'blessed,' and I mean what the word means. I fancy this is how some people must feel after confession, absolution and Mass – far more clean and whole than they’ve felt in a while. The Indians with Donald gave us everything they had on that small stage of the Jazz Standard. The healing and cleansing power of music -- it's that cowbell/campana, baby, the power of iron, mediating between this and the worlds of the spirits.  I was way overdue.

When we were coming back downtown in the car we’re giving back to K next week, it being Gay Pride Weekend, it didn’t seem unusual to see many gay and lesbian folks reveling all over the streets – it happens every year. But this seemed more wild than usual. But then we met up with some other people to have drinks and talk, and didn’t see the news until very late, when the lightbulbs sparked.

Quite a week, yeah?  Plus mad amounts of Karl Marx, and, the national mythology of regeneration through violence.  I prefer regeneration from a different power of iron, via music and dancing.  We are expecting to be invited to many weddings within the next 18 months or so!  "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly," is gonna roll Big Time!

Now we're doing the Saturday night pasta with wine for me and cerveza for el V -- this is going to be one of the spectacular Saturday night pastas -- mushroom ravioli with garlic, shallots, zucchini, olives and pesto. We're listening to jazz from another age, the Great Depression, before WWII, when the Big Bands could still travel to Europe -- odd factoid: in the Great Depression the Jazz 'industry' recovered before the rest of the U.S. economy, partly because they were so popular in equally depressed Europe, and the rivalry for the entertainment dollar was so intense, jazz players and bands got a lot of work -- including on the radio.

This afternoon el V had a las Vidas perfectas meeting -- this Perfect Lives production en espaƱol will premiere sometime in December, here, somewhere, I believe.  Old friends working together again, as they did way back in the day in the first runs of Perfect Lives.

Gads, we are so happy tonight.

Funny how getting your savings for summer finally released into your bank account has such an affect on one's outlook, plus, you know, firm conditions for work for the rest of the year .... ....

Friday, June 24, 2011

Andrew Stanton Interviewed About Next Summer's *John Carter of Mars* Film

The interview is in the L.A. Times, 6/16/11 -- but I just saw it now, due to the very long lapses between checking on the progress of this version of an 'old Confederate' soldier's adventures among the people of color on Barsoom, the Planet Red of War.

The most intriguing bit for historical adventure fiction lovers is this:

" ... I know this book was so much the source material, directly or indirectly, for so many things, I got intrigued by the idea of treating it as if it really was the source material in the historical sense of the term. What if this really happened? That kind of opened my eyes. I suddenly had a fresh way to see it. And it goes back, in a way, to the way we take things in when [we were young readers]. When I was a kid I really wanted to imagine it as if it was a real sequence of events that took place on the surface of Mars in another century."
Followed by:

"Yeah, I looked at things like “Apocaplyto” and “Rome” and even things like “Shogun” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” things that as a viewer I could accept as having a level of historical research. They give me a sense of what it would be like in that land and in that age. So then you ask, “Well, what if we just did our Martian research really, really well and treated it as a period film. There are so many times and places in history in our world that I just don’t know anything about, and when I learn about them they’re always fascinating. I don’t need a predisposed interest in them if they are presented well. So we said, “We’ll treat it this way, we won’t treat it like some fantasy being fulfilled by a fan.” We tried to make it feel like we’re going with the story of what really happened. This is how it was, this is how those cultures really existed."
The movie is scheduled to be released a year from now. So, they're not taking it to Comic-Con this summer, which 'fans' are both angered by and feel bodes that the movie is already a deeply troubled dud.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Marx: Why It Pays to Work Workers to Death

Both works. by Marx, and Cairnes (mentioned below), provide an excellent description of the difference between a society that includes slavery and a slave society that is socially and economically organized by institutionalized slavery -- other than San Domigue, which we all know worked out so well for the slaveholders. Further, that the U.S. slaveholding south is almost the only society historically that was organized economically and socially entirely around slavery. This explains why it took war on San Domingue and in the U.S. to achieve abolition -- which happened nowhere else. That explains why, when the CSA tried to roll as a separate nation, it crashed and burned so completely it took another century to crawl back up -- even though it had instituted a neo slavery almost immediately.

Marx, Capital, v.1:

The slave-owner buys his labourer as he buys his horse. If he loses his slave, he loses capital that can only be restored by new outlay in the slave-mart.

But “the rice-grounds of Georgia, or the swamps of the Mississippi may be fatally injurious to the human constitution; but the waste of human life which the cultivation of these districts necessitates, is not so great that it cannot be repaired from the teeming preserves of Virginia and Kentucky. Considerations of economy, moreover, which, under a natural system, afford some security for humane treatment by identifying the master’s interest with the slave’s preservation, when once trading in slaves is practiced, become reasons for racking to the uttermost the toil of the slave; for, when his place can at once be supplied from foreign preserves, the duration of his life becomes a matter of less moment than its productiveness while it lasts. It is accordingly a maxim of slave management, in slave-importing countries, that the most effective economy is that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth. It is in tropical culture, where annual profits often equal the whole capital of plantations, that negro life is most recklessly sacrificed. It is the agriculture of the West Indies, which has been for centuries prolific of fabulous wealth, that has engulfed millions of the African race. It is in Cuba, at this day, whose revenues are reckoned by millions, and whose planters are princes, that we see in the servile class, the coarsest fare, the most exhausting and unremitting toil, and even the absolute destruction of a portion of its numbers every year.”74

/Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur/ [It is of you that the story is told – Horace]. For slave-trade read labour-market, for Kentucky and Virginia, Ireland and the agricultural districts of England, Scotland, and Wales, for Africa, Germany. We heard how over-work thinned the ranks of the bakers in London. Nevertheless, the London labour-market is always over-stocked with German and other candidates for death in the bakeries. Pottery, as we saw, is one of the shortest-lived industries. Is there any want therefore of potters? Josiah Wedgwood, the inventor of modern pottery, himself originally a common workman, said in 1785 before the House of Commons that the whole trade employed from 15,000 to 20,000 people.75 In the year 1861 the population alone of the town centres of this industry in Great Britain numbered 101,302.

“The cotton trade has existed for ninety years.... It has existed for three generations of the English race, and I believe I may safely say that during that period it has destroyed nine generations of factory operatives.” 76

No doubt in certain epochs of feverish activity the labour-market shows significant gaps. In 1834, /e.g/. But then the manufacturers proposed to the Poor Law Commissioners that they should send the “surplus-population” of the agricultural districts to the north, with the explanation “that the manufacturers would absorb and use it up.” 77

Agents were appointed with the consent of the Poor Law Commissioners. ... An office was set up in Manchester, to which lists were sent of those workpeople in the agricultural districts wanting employment, and their names were registered in books. The manufacturers attended at these offices, and selected such persons as they chose; when they had selected such persons as their ‘wants required’, they gave instructions to have them forwarded to Manchester, and they were sent, ticketed like bales of goods, by canals, or with carriers, others tramping on the road, and many of them were found on the way lost and half-starved. This system had grown up unto a regular trade. This House will hardly believe it, but I tell them, that this traffic in human flesh was as well kept up, they were in effect as regularly sold to these [Manchester] manufacturers as slaves are sold to the cotton-grower in the United States.... In 1860, ‘the cotton trade was at its zenith.’ ... The manufacturers again found that they were short of hands.... They applied to the ‘flesh agents, as they are called. Those agents sent to the southern downs of England, to the pastures of Dorsetshire, to the glades of Devonshire, to the people tending kine in Wiltshire, but they sought in vain. The surplus-population was ‘absorbed.’”

74 Cairnes, “The Slave Power,” pp. 110. 111.
75 John Ward: “The Borough of Stoke-upon-Trent,” London, 1843, p. 42.
76 Ferrand’s Speech in the House of Commons, 27th April, 1863
77 Those were the very words used by the cotton manufacturers.” l.c.


For anyone who wants to read all these matters that Marx deals with in his Civil War dispatches and in Capital -- or if one doesn't trust Marx because, well, he's Marx! -- a more easily read work is by J.E. Cairnes M.A., Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Economy, Queen's College, Galway; and Late Whately Professor of Political Ecnomy at the University of Dublin.  Cairnes, who most certainly is not Marx, is, in fact, a writer Marx quotes, including above. In this work Cairnes tries to explain to the English press in particular, how and why they have the American Civil War all wrong:

The Slave Power - Its - Character, Career, And Probable Designs - Being - An Attempt to Explain the Real Issues Involved in the American Contest (1862).  Full text is available for viewing in google books and for pdf download.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

David McCullough Talks About Teaching & Writing History

In the Wall Street Journal, by Brian Bolduc:
"We're raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate," David McCullough tells me on a recent afternoon in a quiet meeting room at the Boston Public Library. Having lectured at more than 100 colleges and universities over the past 25 years, he says, "I know how much these young people—even at the most esteemed institutions of higher learning—don't know." Slowly, he shakes his head in dismay. "It's shocking."

He's right. This week, the Department of Education released the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that only 12% of high-school seniors have a firm grasp of our nation's history. And consider: Just 2% of those students understand the significance of Brown v. Board of Education.

Mr. McCullough began worrying about the history gap some 20 years ago, when a college sophomore approached him after an appearance at "a very good university in the Midwest." She thanked him for coming and admitted, "Until I heard your talk this morning, I never realized the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast." Remembering the incident, Mr. McCullough's snow-white eyebrows curl in pain. "I thought, 'What have we been doing so wrong that this obviously bright young woman could get this far and not know that?'"
When it comes to writing history so that the book's readers become excited about the material, this I agree with particularly:

"Mr. McCullough learned to write from a series of great teachers, most notably Thornton Wilder, the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and novelist who was also a resident scholar at Yale, where Mr. McCullough graduated in 1951. To this day, he remembers Wilder's teaching that a good writer preserves "an air of freedom" in his prose, so that the reader won't know how a story will end—even if he's reading a history book."
I immediately wondered if we could employ this technique in the teaching of the August course:

"And teach history, he says—while tapping three fingers on the table between us—with "the lab technique." In other words, "give the student a problem to work on."

"If I were teaching a class," he says, "I would tell my students, 'I want you to do a documentary on the building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Or I want to you to interview Farmer Jones or former sergeant Fred or whatever." He adds, "I have been feeling increasingly that history ought to be understood and taught to be considerably more than just politics and the military." [ By the way, Adam Goodheart and many others at various liberal arts colleges do this, by the way, to very good effect, as it immediately show history is personal and local.]

What about textbooks? "I'd take one of those textbooks. I'd clip off all the numbers on the pages. I'd pull out three pages here, two pages there, five pages here—all the way through. I'd put them aside, mix them all up, and give them to you and three other students and say, 'Put it back in order and tell me what's missing.'" You'd know that book inside and out.

"Mr. McCullough advises us to concentrate on grade school. "Grade school children, as we all know, can learn a foreign language in a flash," he says. "They can learn anything in a flash. The brain at that stage in life is like a sponge. And one of the ways they get it is through art: drawing, making things out of clay, constructing models, and dramatic productions. If you play the part of Abigail Adams or Johnny Appleseed in a fourth-grade play, you're never going to forget it as long as you live."
Why have the progressives dropped history, the ownership of which is now a primary weapon on political battlegrounds?  Is it because of  what McCullough said here:

"What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."
Radical religious groups and radical, repressive politicos have known this for decades and doing it too, in home schooling, church schools and the rest. As observed long ago -- the radical right pasionately studies and presents history, while the liberal and progressive have ignored it all this time.

Well, that isn't the case in our books!  Quite the other, or as one miffed woman said after a reading from The American Slave Coast: "Must you quote Thomas Jefferson writing about slaves like that!"

Monday, June 20, 2011

Andrea Levy Wins Walter Scott Prize

The Long Song takes £25,000 award for historical fiction.

Told as the memoir of an old Jamaican woman who was once a slave on a sugar-cane plantation in early 19th-century Jamaica, The Long Song beat titles including David Mitchell's tale of 18th-century Japan, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and Tom McCarthy's experimental take on the life of a first world war radio operator, C, to win the award.

Levy said she was "very honoured" to have been chosen by judges as this year's winner. "This is a generous literary prize which focuses attention on an important aspect of the role of fiction. Fiction can – and must – step in where historians cannot go because of the rigour of their discipline. Fiction can breathe life into our lost or forgotten histories," said the author, who won the Orange prize for her evocation of a Jamaican immigrant couple in postwar London, Small Island.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Civil War Project Shows Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing

It's Juneteenth!

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, by Jie Jenny Zou:

At first the university put the word out to Civil War societies and other historical organizations to recruit volunteers, and some history buffs stepped forward. But traffic spiked suddenly last week, when the project was featured prominently on Reddit, a popular blog in which users post and vote on interesting Internet links. The site received over 32,000 unique hits—30 times its usual traffic for the week—said Nicole Saylor, the head of Digital Library Services at the University of Iowa.

The good news: Volunteers have now completed transcriptions of more than 1,400 documents.

But the rush of users crippled the Web site for a day. “Once the site started to get that much traffic, pretty much you couldn’t get to anything in the digital library,” Mr. Prickman said.

Officials have also learned another drawback of the crowdsourcing approach: So far, staff members are spending more time checking the work of volunteers than they would have taken to do the transcriptions themselves, according to Mr. Prickman.

“I don’t think anyone believes that there’s going to be a wholesale replacement of an awful lot of paid staff labor by crowdsourcing projects,” Ms. Leon said. “It gets the public involved, but it makes new kinds of work for existing staff.”

She also said that projects will have to be marketed in a way that makes it clear that paid staff is not being supplanted by free labor in order for crowdsourcing to be fully embraced by the professional community. Ms. Leon stressed that crowdsourcing in universities is still relatively new and that no project should go untended. “I think the accuracy question and the management burden are a lot,” said Ms. Leon, but “I just think that it’s worth it.”

“We’ve developed a really nice community of folks who are interested in the content and willing to contribute to the work,” Ms. Leon said of the project she is leading. She is also developing Scripto, an open-source tool that will enable others to carry out crowdsourcing transcription projects without investing in costly software.

Friday, June 17, 2011

*The Judges of the Secret Court* by David Stacton

Like so many I was ignorant of the author David Stacton, until John Crowley drew it to our attention.

Stacton's novel of Booth and the assassination of President Lincoln, The Judges of the Secret Court, has been re-released by the NY Review of Books. Mr. Crowley has written the Introduction.. It's reviewed today in the WaPo by Michael Dirda.

It seems that Stacton took the same revisionist stance about the Booth conspirators as Redford did in The Conspirator -- maybe that's where Redford got his ideas that Stanton was a cold-hearted villain and many innocent confederates were hung, whereas in reality Stanton and Seward became close friends, and Lincoln was dear to them both.

Anyone who cares about books and writing applauds when a neglected author gets renewed attention. But I wish it had been a different book of Stacton's the NY Review of Books put out, rather than what -- at least the review suggests -- an apology for Booth's co-conspirators to kill Lincoln, by making them sympathetic victims of the military justice system.

This, please be assured, is in no way a criticism of of the wonderful writer and excellent person that is John Crowley, or anything remotely resembling that.

What it is about is that the focus put upon the trials and sentencing.   I've no doubt that is it very likely there were some, at least, miscarriages of justice, because that is how this nation rolls in response to attacks upon itself.  But focusing on the trials rather than their crime(s) obscures that there was a criminal conspiracy and that many people as well as Booth participated and were guilty of killing Lincoln, that they'd tried to find a way to kill him for many years.

Booth was a Confederate criminal -- not an aberrant, lone madman -- and he did create more than one criminal conspiracy against Lincoln and the Union. This last one involved many people, many of them the same people who were part of his previous unsuccesssful conspitorial attempts. His last one succeeded for the most part, the most important part (one of the conspirators chickened out, and at least one of the other intended victims, General Grant, left town unexpectedly -- but Seward was horrifically attacked; that he lived is a miracle, and also the result of the heroism of several people, including his daughter).

Yet the amount of revisionism around the assassination and the aftermath including the trial and who was guilty, never fails to astonish -- it comes from every side: historians, movies, fiction, text books. It's been so constant since almost the moment of Appomattox, that it's only been in the last decades that there has been a review of all these mythologies, and a push-back by historians. Non-historians have still been flowing with the mythologies, however, until even more recently.

The reasons for this revisionism about all matters to do with the American Civil War are many and, for an historian, no matter how distressing for an historian this is, it is also endlessly fascinating for an historian, filled with many lessons about how history is made.  Those who write the history -- in all and any media -- own it.  But we already know that, right?

Not the Flood, the Fire Next Time

"Fire's Manifest Destiny," or --

"How the West Was Lost."

By Chip Ward on

Apocalypse is now, here in the United States.

The cowboy movie gave way to Science Fiction, and today the west is an apocalyptic science-fiction disaster movie. Flames from Georgia to California.

Monday, June 13, 2011

White Man's Country

The set of sf/f genre marketed as Urban Fantasy is not generally of reading interest to me personally, but that doesn't interfere with acknowledging the positive things it has brought to the SF/F Reading table. Diversity of characters and cultures in the genre is excellent news for the genre as a whole. You can start with the nomenclature of its marketing category --Urban Fantasy. In marketing other products, to employ 'urban' as a defining descriptor means 'black,' or African American.

You must first be able to imagine something other than what is before something other than what is can come into being.

My take is this: the Western, its revisionist historical, and, as well, its mythological space was exclusive to white people. There were some Indians (who are convenient antagonists who prove the protagonist's exceptional expertise) and occasionally Mexicans and even more occasionally Asians. Black people, like slavery, were disappeared from the history of the Western Territories. This entertainment / mythological paradigm of the historic west was, of course very different from the history. This applies particularly to the presence and influence of women and of African Americans, not to mention Asians and Mexicans and Indians.

With Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Feminism, the defeat of the American century in Vietnam, the Western's mythology was no longer functioning satisfactorily. In attempts to revive the Western, we saw then, finally, what some call the Civil Rights Western, with black protagonists. This was a long road in Hollywood, and there were signposts along the way in the Westerns that African Americans could be and someday would be full citizens in the west, in the nation, and we were trying to imagine that day, and what it would look like.

Successful Westerns, for instance the 1939 The Outlaw Jesse James, spawned over a dozen remakes. This did not happen with the Civil Rights Western, because it was antithetical the White Man's mythological vision of the west. Putting black male protagonists front and center spoiled the mythology. It forced consideration of the nation's actual history of the south and of the west, and its connections to slavery and the Civil War, which Hollywood and the audience did not like. As the great historian of the nation from colonial era to the present, Professor Richard Slotkin, states: "The Western is about white supremacy." When the white supremacy is taken out, the mythological space implodes.

Additionally, Slotkin says, when the politics of white supremacy and local time history elements are removed from the western, " becomes clear that it is about S-E-X, particularly if the protagonist is female." The place of the female in the Western is usually to inform the audience which of the men is good, is bad, who to sympathize with and so on. If she's the protagonist all those signals disappear.

So, then, it’s the 70′s and the Western is dead. But a new (mythological space) frontier emerges in our national imagination. This one had been until the 70's and Star Wars more the space of those who regarded themselves as outsiders rather than to the mainstream sort who used to make Westerns solid box office and publishing profits.

Still, mythologically, reaching back as far as Burroughs's John Carter of Mars — the Western has always spawned at least some sets of SF/F. Like the Western there were no female protagonists or females of agency, or so few as to not matter; the same for POC and gay or transgendered — and if they were there, they are either to be rescued, be rewards, be magically useful, be victims that are avenged by the (white, male) protagonist, or be the villains.

SF/F, and particularly, space opera, in those decades was still safe space for USian White Man's country, for only we USians had the wealth and the technology to go there in covered wagon shuttles (the space race with the Soviet Union was a convenient goad, foil and antagonist for getting more funding), go there in imagination via Dreamworks and the like, and the publishing industry to support the fiction. We controlled distribution space. Outer Space -- vast, empty, we could populate as we liked, even with non-human, non-flesh, robots and mechs.

But now it seems the Other is again crowding over the frontier and filling this once safe country — POC, Women, the gay, and even non USians, non-Europeans, are playing in space, both in imagination and in efforts to get there in shuttles, explorers, and other technologies, and claim it for themselves. And the Space Race competition died with the dissolution of the Soviet Union competition.

It’s not a coincidence, one thinks, that this borderland of urban fantasy in sf/f, that includes the steampunk, is ‘urban.’It is in the cities where diversity begins. New Orleans had the largest population of free people of color of any city in the U.S. when Jefferson bought it. Baltimore had the largest population of free people of color at the run-up to the Civil War. NYC was a close, close second. All three of these cities were magnets for immigrants as well. That’s just three examples.

We're imagining full citizenship for everybody in Urban Fantasy.

I’m most curious to see where White Man’s Country is next located.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The War of Jenkin's Ear -- Random Musings

(1739-1743). Has been called the "most ridiculous war in military history."

Which war was the consequence of the War of the Spanish Succession. Underneath it all, it was a continuation of the wars of religion -- Protestant England vs Catholic Holy Roman Empire.

If I am recalling correctly, this is the second Golden Age of Piracy, with Spain, France and England mutually at each others' throats. It was over trade, due to the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), that concluded the War of the Spanish Sucession. The (a Bourbon, i.e. French) Spanish monarch awarded England (the British South Sea Company) the asiento, the monopoly over the slave supply to the Spanish American colonies.

The Gentlemen's Magazine, 1747, out of London provides a descriptive list of taken merchant vessels and taken privateers as well. There was so much action at sea with the privateers and the merchant vessels one could almost wonder if this war was merely a pretext to go pillaging on the water.

Full text of the list, via google books.

Even Marylanders got in their licks, both as booty and as privateers. This war marks the first time 'American' was used by His Majesty's service as opposed to English, and the first time Britain used her colonial troops outside of North America. Only two-thirds returned. So far as we know, there were none from Maryland. George Washington's stepbrother Lawrence was an aide to Admiral Edward Vernon ("Old Grog"). According to mythology, Vernon, being so disgusted with the amount of rum his forces consumed, had water added to the bottles, thus creating Grog. Upon Lawrence's return, he established his estate on the Potomac -- presumably with his share of the naval campaign booty, which would have been considerable due to his rank as aide to the Admiral -- which he named -- Mount Vernon.

On the heels -- stern? -- of the War of Jenkin's Ear, followed the War of Austrian Succession, mostly fought in Europe. Here it was called King George's War (1744-1748) and was fought mostly in Canada. What we call the French and Indian Wars here, the Seven Years War in Europe (1754 to 1763), soon followed King George's War. These are all installments, some say, of the eternal struggle for global, colonial, political and trade dominance between England and France.  Maryland troops participated in all three.

The War of Independence was part of that same struggle, because without the aid of France there wouldn't have been independence -- for instance, without the French naval blockade and instruction in siege and sapping, Corwallis might well be sitting still in Yorktown today.  France provided the financial and military aid because it snooted Britain's cock, not so much because of a love of American ideals of liberty.

The extended imperial, global struggle among England, France and Spain, reveals to the historian that the North American colonists were not as innocent of military experience as Revolutionary mythology proposes. A significant contingent of them had been gaining real experience since the first days of the first colonial foundings. Thus, when war was declared there wasn't a rush to howl in delirious joy, throw hats and wigs into the air, and giggle, "We'll beat 'em by Christmas," -- unlike the secesh of the CSA.

Dates are your historical compasses, anchors, ballast and buoys in the heaving sea of Contingency.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

History Has Become a Primary Battleground for Possession of the Present and the Future

We see it here in the U.S. with the Exceptionalist vs. the Marxist historian, the cultural vs the great (white) man, neo-conservative vs. the progressive -- and no more clearly do we see it than in the current battles over who owns the ultimate cause of the Civil War: was it slavery or was it anything, everything, whatever else?

I've always been a history person; it was one half of my double specialization through all my degrees.  However, I used to be the only one at a party who might make a historical reference, a reference that nobody else would get or even notice.  That has changed so much in the last 15 years or so.  This is good.

It's not only the case for this nation.  An old friend from Italy has his film premiered at the Walter Reed - Lincoln Center Italian Film series this week.  It's a 3 hour national epic film dramatizing the struggle for il Risorgimento, following three grunts, so to speak, over several decades of the struggle.  It concludes with disillusionment and cynicism, for the same Italian power elites that battled the progressive forces in alliance with the Catholic Church and the French and the Savoyard kings have also taken over the unification and are back running things their way.

This film is very controversial in Italy.  The youth, the students love it.  It has become so popular that the state television is going to broadcast it in three parts after refusing to do so. The dialog, the speeches, the texts quoted, the newsapaper essays -- all of the words, M. took from primary documented source materials.  Though the Berlusconi forces hate the film they can't argue with what it says about the factionization and the betrayals even within the movement of the glorious unification -- as it is taught in the schools.

Does that sound familiar? 

So we played hooky today and went to the movies.  It's 96 degrees, there is a heat index warning and an air quality warning.  It's gonna be 100 by Friday, They Say.  We had a splendid time after the film, having a late lunch? early dinner? before Mario and his art historian wife had to get on a plane.  From inside the a/c restaurant it looked lovely in the streets around Lincoln Center-- the June light, the lush foliage from the cold wet winter and spring, all the tourists. I felt, "This is what people imagine living in NYC is like when they come to NYC." It was change of pace fun.

We talked of the film, the conditions in Italy, the fortress at the end of Italy where the refugees are held (ye ole Scylla and Charybdis -- both Mario and his wife are stone Naples scions) -- I thought, "I'm not in in C'town now." I also thought, "It would be worth it to get them somehow to New Orleans, to check out the Italian history there as a possibility for a new project."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Television & History -- TNT's *Falling Skies*

When speaking of the 1939 film, Jesse James, Richard Slotkin stated that movies, particularly genre films like westerns, are always commenting on two eras of history: the era in which the film set, and the era in which the film is made.

The sf series Falling Skies debutes this month on TNT, with much Steven Spielberg guidance, and, boding badly, Mark Verheiden who is the fellow muchly  responsible for the mess that was the neo-Battlestar Galactica.

Why 'boding badly?'  Because this concept of Space Aliens Want Earth's High School Kids! is supposed to be inspired by the US War of Independence. 
"He said he suddenly saw the show “as an allegory for the American Revolution: noncombatants against a vastly overwhelming military force,” he said. Originally the series was called “Concord,” after the 1775 battle. (The title changed when the references became less overt in later drafts.)
Mr. Wyle plays Tom Mason, a history professor in Boston whose wife dies during the invasion. (Mr. Rodat said his own wife was a touch annoyed to have been killed off so early in their family’s parallel existence.) Because of his knowledge of military history Mason is appointed second in command of the 2nd Massachusetts, a resistance regiment protecting a group of civilians that includes two of his sons. The third boy has been abducted, and aliens have seared his spine to a “harness,” a many-tentacled metallic slug that appears to lull kids into a supplicant army. ....
Does anyone consider that perhaps a military historian has a different kind of tool belt than an experienced military strategist and leader of men? women? teenagers? in real battles?  And even then, regarding our War for Independence and General George Washington.  He had military experience.  He lost almost all of the battles that he commanded, before fighting the British and after he began fighting the British.  General Grant, on the other hand, got his military experience in the Mexican War, and he not only won his battles for the Union in the Civil War, but devised strategy and tactics.  Later in his life he wrote the most specific and useful history of those battles in his personal Memoirs.  So, it is possible.

Returning to Prof. Slotkin's statement that what we see on screen in genres, particularly if they are supposedly invoking an historical past -- we know by their own words that the historical past the producers of Falling Skies are invoking is that of the Independence era.  But what about the historical moment in which the program is being made?
"But the show’s central relationship is between the professor and Mr. Patton’s gruff, commanding Captain Weaver. “I’m the humanist, and he’s the warlord,” Mr. Wyle said. “I was interested in this idea of hitting the reset button on society, having to start from Square 1. The first season is about negotiating that line between a military dictatorship or a democracy, which is relevant today.”
Why is our only choice a warlord or democracy?  It wasn't in the Independence era -- it could have gone  lot of different directions, and, in fact, we didn't have democracy with a small d until the first Jacksonian election, and even then women and Indians and the enslaved had not place in the democratic process.

Is this true, that this is our only choice, and if we make the wrong choice the invaders of the U.S. will win?  But haven't the invaders already won, since they wiped out all but 20% of the population?  What is the tipping point for loss when an army can not longer fight? Isn't it when something like 15% of their fellows are hors de combat that soldiers lose confidence and the battle's lost?  Who are the alien invaders standing in for? This is sooooooooooooo sf -- why do the aliens only want Our Children? Evidently, by the trailers I've seen, the only surviving children in the surviving 20%  are Our White Children.

The embedded approval of fascism / warlordism in television invasion series like Red Dawn and V has always been there.  This sounds kind of the same, though I do admit I've seen nothing but trailers, so that has to be factored in.

Then, there is this:
“On another level,” he added, “it’s pure escapist entertainment. It’s just fun to watch guys shooting machine guns at aliens."

This series was hot at last summer's Comic Con, so it's been muchly looked forward to by many.

But on another level, some of us are gloomy gusses who persist on raining on Other People's parades and harshing their squee because in this climate "it's just fun to watch guys shooting machine guns at aliens" while providing an either / or binary of dictatorship or democracy doesn't seem like a productive idea, 'entertainment' or not. We're the sort who believe that words and images blasted into our brains matter, otherwise there wouldn't be ad agencies, and elections wouldn't generate so much revenue for them and the media.

We still don't know who the aliens are standing in for. Judging by the rhetoric that's violent, threatening and relentlessly pointed at people like us since the Nixonian era we know it is very likely you and me.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chronology Is the Historian's Best Friend

This afternoon I was in the library, copyediting and proofing and just plain line editing a chapter among those we're sending on to Agent.* I hit this sentence that states a slave trader and merchant had also outfittted a privateer in 1752. I didn't write this sentence and I don't have the rest of ms. on me that provides the citation for the footnote. So I send el V an e-mail asking him, "Um, against whom did Galloway send that privateer in 1752? There weren't any wars at the moment that I can think of for which privateer action would have been acceptable."

El V e-mails back: "I wish I knew too." So then he goes digging into the citations. Turns out that was a typo. Not 1752 as he'd written, but 1757 -- big difference. Already the French and Indian Wars, as we called them over here, 1757, but not in 1752. In 1757 you could take a French vessel as a legal prize of war, but not in 1752.

But if I didn't know my dates I wouldn't have questioned el V about the date.

So don't believe anyone who says history shouldn't teach us dates because dates are boring so we shouldn't have to bother. Date are the platform via which all historic work begins. If your platform is erected on false chronology, everything else will be wrong too. (I'm not even going to get started on all the people who believe that history is only opinions, and there are no facts involved in historical studies.)

It's so great to have two of us doing this process.

* I was working in ms, actual printed out pages, not on screen, though I had the laptop plugged in, and the library's wi-fied, so I could e-mail el V -- unlike so many I was polite and courteous and thinking of others, so I E_MAILED, I did not phone and talk on the top of my voice.

Among the things at the top of the bewilderment list is this: I sit in a bookstore cafe -- a place of retail -- with a friend and we are talking. All around us come disaproving stares, and even demands that we be quiet because we are disturbing people studying, writing, whatever. However, in the effing LIBRARY, these same people eat, drink, talk on their cell phones and have a party with their peers, and think you're  crazy for requesting them to modulate their voices lower or to not play music. One more sign that this country is insane.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Online Instruction - Slotkin Lectures, the Western

How much more cool and convenient can it be?

On your computer you can listen to a lecture on a western film (while working out!), then watch the film, then re-listen to the lecture, while having Slotkin's book open too.

Sometimes living in the 21st century is wonderful.

It was nearly 90 already when I went out to do errands at 10:30 AM.  It is as I feared this summer: straight from 40's and 50's to high 80's and 90's.