". . . 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

Monday, February 27, 2012

One of the Two Best Presentations

esperanza-spalding-84th+Annual+Academy+Awards+2012+Arrivals+Group+j_ayFo-DU55l by foxessa09

In case you don't know, this is Esperanza Spalding, jazz bass player and vocalist.  We've seen play more than once, with Big Chief, Donald Harrison.  He's a mentor.

One of the Two Best Presentations

Gwyneth Paltrow by foxessa09

*The American Slave Coast* Introduction

snip word cloud by foxessa09
I did a word cloud for the Introduction. It's an experiment. Will word clouding a section of your text tell you whether or not you have a focus and are supporting your points?

Hmmm.  Unfortunately the right edge of the word cloud has gotten cut off by the layout.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Amazon Pulls Over 4,000 Kindle Titles

Including THE BOOKS, thereby significantly reducing our revenue stream.  But how can you allow them to set the price so far below what you can afford to let a book go for, after all the years of uncompensated work that allowed you to be in a position of knowledge necessary to write the book in the first place?

They are still available in other venues, including B&N, and for their Nook.


Bits - Business, Innovation, Technology, Society
February 22, 2012, 5:37 pm
Amazon Pulls Thousands of E-Books in Dispute


Mark Lennihan/Associated Press removed more than 4,000 e-books from its site this week after it tried and failed to get them more cheaply, a muscle-flexing move that is likely to have significant repercussions for the digital book market.

Amazon is under pressure from Wall Street to improve its anemic margins. At the same time, it is committed to selling e-books as cheaply as possible as a way to preserve the dominance of its Kindle devices.

When the Kindle contract for one of the country’s largest book distributors, the Independent Publishers Group, came up for renewal, Amazon saw a chance to gain some ground at I.P.G.’s expense.

“They decided they wanted me to change my terms,” said Mark Suchomel, president of the Chicago-based I.P.G. “It wasn’t reasonable. There’s only so far we can go.”

With each side unwilling to yield, Amazon pulled the plug, and all of I.P.G.’s books for Kindle disappeared. The physical books were not affected. A spokeswoman for Amazon declined to comment.

The dispute quickly reignited fears in some corners about the power Amazon enjoys as the shift to e-books accelerates. Amazon is dominant in both the physical and electronic markets for books.

“This should be a matter of concern and a cautionary tale for the smaller presses whose licenses will come up for renewal,” said Andy Ross, an agent and a former bookseller. “They are being offered a Hobson’s choice of accepting Amazon’s terms, which are unsustainable, or losing the ability to sell Kindle editions of their books, the format that constitutes about 60 percent of all e-books.”

Amazon’s decision to remove the digital titles was its most drastic such action since it briefly removed the physical books and the e-books published by Macmillan in a pricing dispute two years ago.

That time, Amazon eventually blinked, ceding to Macmillan and the other major publishers the ability to set their own e-book prices. This time, by selecting a group with less leverage, it may get its way.

“Presumably, this is a move Amazon is planning to make with other distributors and publishers as their contracts come up for renewal,” said Lorraine Shanley, a publishing consultant. Unless there is an outcry, she said, Amazon will not be likely to retreat.

The dispute underlines the escalating struggle between Amazon and publishers and distributors over control of the e-book market.

Margins with physical books were traditionally low, which meant that bookstores, publishers and distributors often did no more than scrape by. When Amazon began, it sold books at deep discounts but still had to depend on the good will of publishers.

With e-books, the situation is more fluid. Readers expect them to be cheaper, which Amazon has been able to encourage because it is now a publisher as well.

Traditional publishers, however, have their own modest margins to worry about. They worry that if e-books are priced too low, the public will devalue their worth, and the publishers might wither away — something, they fear, that would suit Amazon just fine.

The only two essential parties in the reading experience, Amazon executives are fond of saying, are the reader and the author. Middlemen like I.P.G. — one of Amazon’s three “distributors of the year” in 2008 — are seen as dinosaurs in this framework.

Among I.P.G.’s 500 clients are the American Cancer Society, Aptly Spoken Press, Bees Knees Books and Change the Universe Press. Until this week, I.P.G. had 4,443 titles available on Kindle.

Mr. Suchomel said the publishers were solidly behind I.P.G. “They were almost unanimously positive, saying, ‘Don’t change your terms,’ ” he said.

I.P.G. is trying not to inflame the dispute. It declined to say precisely what terms Amazon was seeking, although it told its publishers a deal would have “substantially” affected their revenue. On the home page of its Web site, it referred to the issue briefly and discreetly.

On Amazon, the Kindle button for the I.P.G. titles is gone. The classic groupie memoir “I’m With the Band” by Pamela Des Barres was listed as being available only in paperback and an audio edition. But in what might have been a sly message from Amazon, there was a button to click to tell the publisher you would like to read the book on Kindle.

I.P.G. told its publishers to immediately begin stressing that their books were available in other electronic formats, including from the Amazon rivals Barnes & Noble and Apple. It also told them to contact their local independent bookstores and point out that they could now sell something that Amazon would not.

“They’re trying very hard to look on the bright side and make this a David and Goliath situation,” said Ms. Shanley, the consultant.

Mr. Suchomel said that the next step was up to Amazon. “We’re not going to go back to them and say we changed our mind,” he said.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents' Day

Last week the WaPo ran a poll for readers to send in their assessment of the most underrated POTUS.

By all accounts Grant was unassuming, decent and easy to get along with, in almost all situations and conditions, other than on the battlefield, when he did what had to be done, and that was that, no ifs, ands, buts or maybes. Most people liked him, he was someone they liked to spend time with. Lincoln was one of those who enjoyed his company. If their son hadn't been ill, the Grants would have been in that Ford Theater box with the Lincolns.
It would be an interesting project to dig into what began all the exaggerations and outright lies about Grant. It seems to have begun as soon as he came to Washington D.C. as POTUS,. It came as much from those who had been Unionists as much as from the Confederate side. Both Henry James and Gore Vidal, whose Americn Chronicles series took much direction from Adams's writing, particularly his novel of D.C., Democracy, had nothing but venom for Grant -- as someone who didn't belong there, out of his league as well as his depth, who didn't understand how things worked.

In Democracy, whose author was the consumate D.C. insider, already the romantic lead is a Virginian who had a brother die in his arms in the Battle of the Wilderness. So the hostility toward Grant, the determination to belittle him went in partnership with the revisionism of the history and causes of the Civil War, and it was immediate.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Remedial Course: How Free Market Capitalism Works

To refresh our memories as to exactly how free markets operate on the level playing field of capitalism and government staying out of these matters, let us enter the Way Back Machine to the 18th century. We shall land in the era of what is popularly known in the history text books as the French and Indian War in the New World, and the Seven Years War in Europe. This is roughly 1754–1763, though the struggle of France and Britain to control North America and various parts of the Caribbean, India, etc. was nearly a century-long conflict all together. We are in 1762, in British occupied Havana. Several times during these wars the British also occupied Martinique and other of the French Antilles.

The British re-made the Cuban economy during the very short time they ran things, turning it into a highly competitive slave plantation agricultural mono-economy of sugar. Martinique, Guadeloupe, San Domingue were already sugar plantation powerhouse suppliers -- indeed, San Domingue was the greatest wealth producer in the New World, funding the excesses of the French royals and nobles until their own revolution.

Now to the government staying O-U-T of the free market. The Jamaican and other British sugar plantation power elites of the Caribbean lobbied with every resource they had the members of both houses of Parliament to force Britain to return these islands to Spain and France. These islands' sugar production was now also being shipped to England, creating such a supply that the price plummeted. This was equally true for rum of course, and on a somewhat smaller scale, for coffee and tobacco. Their quality tended to be higher as well, and this was NOT FAIR to the original English sugar barons of the Caribbean. This competition was eating their fine wines, fine homes, fine paintings, fine horses, fine finer finest everything because the competition made their product so cheap they were no longer achieving the magnificent fortunes they were accustomed to whipping out of the lives of endless coerced labor from Africa to their mostly absentee landlorism-administered Caribbean plantations.

In the Treaty of Paris Cuba was given back to Spain (in exchange for the Floridas -- which Andrew Jackson would take in turn in approximately another four decades), and so were the French Antilles returned to France in exchange for its North American (New France) territories.

That's how government makes an even playing field for the free market to do its business fair and square for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.

This was laid out with such clarity of detail at the New York Historical Society's exhibition, "Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn." We spent most of my birthday afternoon in it, breathless, taking notes like mad, since unlike most museum now, the NYHS still doesn't allow non-flash, digital photography. This exhibit is one of the results we're starting to see of considering the American, the French and the Haitian revolutions as sections of a single wave of historical movement instead of them being considered as separate events with little if anything in common, other than the desire for "liberty" ignited in the "citizens" in France, in an imitation of the real thing that was the "revolution' of the British middle North American Atlantic colonies.

This exhibit has many surprising items that perhaps we might not consider together, at first thought. The second floor galleries of the exhibit proper are many and dense with information and objects. However, there are deeply related off-shoots on the main floor, for instance, including the original written document of the 13th Amendment signed by Abraham Lincoln -- allowing for the final, long-resisted step in the consequences of the San Domingue revolution, recognition of the nation of Haiti by the United States. I admit to feeling a great deal, viewing this actual document on loan from the LOC.

Upstairs the second gallery, "Where the Empires Ended," begins with the various trades going on between the North Americans, particularly those from Rhode Island, with the focus on Paramaribo, Suriname and Haiti, in the late 17th and 18th century. We viewed "Sea Captains Carousing in Suriname," the first genre painting made by a North American, John Greenwood (1727 - 1792). You can take a look at it here.

It was as though we'd gone on vacation, threading our way through these dimly lit galleries, where the real light was focused only on these exceedingly well-chosen objects dramatizing the connections between the slave trade, slavery and trade generally in the New World, colonization and then revolution. Among other things on the main floor were slave badges, that were worn by southern slaves, dating from the 1820's to the latest dated 1860. That says everything about the connections among all these things. We did not have a full revolution here until the Civil War. That was the revolution that changed the way things were done. (Up to a point, at least, and not enough then either, as Slavery By Another Name made so clear.) We felt we'd gone someplace else.

Tired, but exhilarated, we stopped at the NYHS's very nice restaurant and bar (no television! no sports), for wine and appetizers before meeting K and C and P and K for dinner at La Paella. Our barista was very good looking, and an actor, of course, a young fellow born and bred in Yonkers. He asked to be put on da List. He had an audition for another television commercial yesterday -- he's been getting one or two commercials a month lately, so he's a happy man as well as personable, friendly and a very good barista.

It was pouring rain most of the day, but it felt soft -- like a day in the first week of April, thus the silvery rain light of afternoon, the hazy street light of after dark, and the shapes of bare branches of Central Park's trees made it all heart-breakingly lovely.

It was a lovely birthday, one that took us both far away from the classroom. Now, tonight, we all head uptown for salsa in da Bronx.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A.S. Byatt's *Ragnarok: The End of the Gods*

In the end I marveled: how did she present such bleak fatalism with so much verve and energy? I mean here the bleak fatalism aimed not at the old gods of Asgaard, but at us, those who are currently living on this planet, who most certainly are not gods of any kind.
Byatt's really good. But we know that.

Something else she stirred up, a lately musing, that no matter what it is, when it comes to Britain, at some point every writer and particularly any long running television series, has to come back to both WWI and WWII, even when set in the current era.

Does France do this? Does Germany? Russia? Japan? I know the U.S. doesn't.

What a double-whammy trauma the two world wars were for England.
I'm not sure that even the Civil War is like that for us. Of course that was longer ago than the two WWs. Though, perhaps, that's because we have still been fighting that war all this time, just by other names.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

We Little Engines That Can + Henry Adams 3

Despite the obstacles of him coming down sick and now me too, again, and why yes, the classic raw days of classic February NYC winter -- currently we are after noon and the temperature stands at 27º.

I'm gonna go back to bed where I shall curl up with Henry Adam's novel set in D.C., the delicious Democracy (published anonymously in 1880) until it's time to go to the theater for Chico and Rita.  This is a screening that includes a Q&A with the creative and production team, and the students are going. I promised I'd go with el V, so I shall. Beside the film is so lucious, graphically and musically.  If it plays in your area you really should check it out. 

The more I read in Democracy, the more I think I'm reading one of Gore Vidal's Chronicles of Empire novels. There's Senator Gore, who plays a role -- an actual senator, who was one of Vidal's family. Democracy is filled with the names of contemporaries in D.C. at the time it's set as well as barely disguised other names, for this is also a roman à clef. As well, it's a comedy of manners and an exposé of contemporary D.C. corruption. The wit and observations sparkle still. I'm deeply impressed. Surely Edith Wharton read this.

I'm reading this in a Library of America volume that collects Democracy, his other novel, Esther, Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, and The Education of Henry Adams. None of his historical work is collected in anything, much less the wonderful Library of America series. Keep in mind his Mont Saint Michel and Chartres are presented as belles lettres at best, in a lit course, or art history. This confirms my sense of why Henry Adams has so dropped from sight in the last decades. I must thank Gore Vidal for returning him to my consciousness as an historian.

*Slavery By Another Name* Broadcasts Tomorrow Night On PBS

PBS has an admirably high quality schedule of Black History Month broadcasts this year.
This one surely should not be missed, the screen adaptation of Douglas Blackmon's Slavery By Another Name. It's on tomorrow night (Monday, February 13).

What is particularly wonderful is that even those of us without televisions can see these because PBS puts up a feed online after the intitial broadcast. Here's their Black History Month schedule. The first one was The Underground Railroad. Last week's program of Scandinavian footage of the Black Panthers, Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, was wonderful -- and it corrects a lot of false info that's been propagandised about the Black Pathers, who they were and what they did.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Henry Adams 2

Thanks to an Elsewhere friend this ignorant person got clued in as to at least a contributing factor in the current obscurity of Henry Adams. So I did some poking around.

The first edition of The Education was a private printing by Adams, circulated among his friends many years earlier than the commercially published edition we know. This first edition contained letter exchanges with various friends, in which they batted ideas concerning Henry Adams's ideas back-and-forth. These letters are filled with anti-semitic observations. The letters are not part of the much later commerical publication of The Education, but painfully anti-semitic text remains within the memoir-contemplation of the author's past, the family's past, the nation's past and how all these pasts worked on him and the national political manueverings.

Mont San Michel and Chartres, studies in the Holy Grail of the medieval European Unity, as one then stomach-churningly must expect, contain a great deal more anti-semitic expression.

As these works are the only ones of Adams's anyone was looking at after his death in 1918, and they were taught in Literature classes, he understandably became less and less acceptable in undergraduate syllabii, particularly after the 1960's. (Not to mention, I will maintain, unreadable to anyone who isn't deeply versed by now in U.S. history -- and probably European history too, when one comes to Henry Adams's MSM and C studies.)

Page thirteen (page 19 in the journal article) in the pdf of "The Real Education of Henry Adams" by Richard A. Samuelson, one of a series of Reconsideration essays in the journal National Affairs, (Spring 2002) is very useful reading for Adams's anti-semitism. I'd quote it but this pdf version doesn't allow for c&p ... some do, this one doesn't.

Which means his historical studies of the Republican and Jacksonian eras of the nation such as his 9 volume history of Jefferson and Madison administrations have been ignored by historians for decades.

Very recently it seems, Henry Adams's work in these eras is receiving attention again. Sean Wilentz, all-round fair-haired historian, commentator on culture and politics, is one of those who has somewhat revived looking at Henry Adams again -- as in his mammoth (2005) Rise of American Democracy, and the equally fair-haired Garry Wills -- as in his (2005) Henry Adams and the Making of America. Both of these fellows are favorite historians consulted by the MSM from the NY Times to NPR. They both are favorites of the New Republic as well. Wilentz hammers Wills's scholarship in the New Republic.

Historians' biases and advocacy pov is not always easy to tease out, but teased out the bias, advocacy, point of view must be by each of us, in order to understand fully what they are telling us. How anyone can think that history is a dull, sleepy profession is hard to understand!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Henry Adams

I have found another historian to add to the pantheon of Most Useful and Most Interesting.

How could I have missed Henry Adams for all this time? His great-grandfather and grandfather both presidents? His father one of the negotiators in Britain to ensure it didn't recognize the CSA. Charles Sumner constantly at the house, and one of those men the boy Adams admired and liked so much? A man who wrote a history in nine volumes of the U.S. during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison? Who wrote a long historical essay on Napoleon and San Domingue? Who lived through the Civil War into the 20th century, and lived inside D.C. for decades? Wrote novels?

That while reading him I hear the voice of Gore Vidal coming through loud and clear only helps matters. Vidal too experienced so much of the history he lived through personally knowing those in the corridors of power. One wonders even, if that narrator's voice in his historical series, Chronicles of Empire, in any way was influenced by that of Henry Adams.

Adams conducted his research from archives and primary documents in Britain and Europe too, as well as here in the U.S. Which allows him to avoid that triumphalist exceptionalism that so many of his contemporaries communicated. He thought seeing our actions through the eyes of other nations to be a very useful thing that politicians should take more into account. Imagine how acceptable that attitude was, which might explain how he got dropped from the American history curriculum.

He was never presented to us as an historian in university. He was taught, if at all, as a minor belles lettres sort, quaint and of less relevance the further his era receded into the past -- The Education of Henry Adams. I found this book unreadable. Now I know why -- I didn't know anything!  All the figures he refers to, even in the first five pages, I had no idea at all who they were. This was in the American Literature department. He was part of Lit and Lit Crit, but not history curricula.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Labor, Class, Racism Struggle & Ideology

As well as the useful, thought-provoking How the Irish Became White, there are two other really fine studies that were published in the same period, which should be read, as content and slants of all three books illuminate and cite each other.

Alexander Saxton's The Rise and Fall of the White Republic: Class Politics and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (1990 - reprinted in 1996:


The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class by David R. Roediger (1991). Originally it came out from Verson, like Saxton's, but Verso has made a pdf available at no cost online. This one includes an Introduction by Kathleen Cleaver.

Among what I personally am finding so useful for my own research and what I'm writing right now is that each work includes good sections on the Jacksonian era. Unlike The American Slave Coast though, these books are focused on the years after Reconstruction and the making of the labor struggle to organize for better working conditions as we've generally understood it into and through the 20th century.

Additionally, these are historians who reject entirely the Psychohistory view of history -- which is such a relief, particularily when working with issues such as the construction of "race." I hadn't even consciously realized how much I rejected Psychohistory until listening (as oppose to re-reading) Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and the way she built out huge portions of that book from a psychological diagnois of 14th century Europeans -- that these mothers and parents didn't love their infants and small children because they died so frequently, and based it the lack of art that showed such parental love except with the Virgin and Jesus -- and yikes! there wasn't secular art to speak of yet in the 14th century! particularly at the start of it!

Each of these works are now classics in the relationship in our nation among racism, class and labor. So why aren't these works and the many other useful studies that appeared in the 90's that focus on this cluster of issues by black and white authors not cited by those who insist that it is class that matters only these days, not racism? For these books make it very clear that the truth of the matter is quite otherwise.

There is enormous room for more work too, particularly now as the jobs that have so long been the springboard into the middle class for the working poor and labor, along with the artisan skills, have shrunk to nearly zero. How is this going to play out in the coming years in this cluster of intimately entwined categories?

The more I look into everything around slavery and racism in our national history the more I see how little things change, really. Which, as the author of The Wages of Whiteness says can create a sense of pessimism, at least in the readers and critics. What we see are the patterns of our own national folkways. But I'm wondering if we really aren't approaching the time when this will change. Because, folks, when it comes to those jobs and the future, there isn't even a social caste-status payoff for whiteness in the mix any longer.

Culturally, at least the musicians recognized this (well, not Charlie Daniels and his ilks, of course -- but then we're speaking of the really good stuff that you need a great deal of talent to play, compose, arrange, or jam on). All three of these books have sections on culture, particularly music.

Friday, February 3, 2012

*A History of the World In 100 Museum Objects*

I love this BBC radio program made in concert a couple of years ago with the British Museum.  When I can't be home to hear it, I can click online for the program.  This is one of those series which really is best imbibed in the small program time doses.

It's being broadcast here at 1 PM. We've just finished today's installment, # 19, the Mold Gold Cape, discovered in the 19th century, in a hill, in North Wales.

There is a Numen, it has always seemed to me, contained in ancient objects that somehow have spun successfully down the spiral of millennia to be handled, thought of, dreamed over, the closest to the key that could allow us to travel back up the millennia spirals, to unlock the past. Each one of these objects is treasure that has become history, as the commentary intones.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

*Apocalypse to Go* by Katharine Kerr

The Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher DAW has been publishing quite a few of the best writers with which the field currently is blessed, including, but not limited to, this year's World Fantasy Award winner, Nnedi Okorafor, Tanya Huff and Patrick Rothfuss. Katharine Kerr, creator of the great Deverry Fantasy series, is another DAW writer giving us consistently highly entertaining, smart and very well written books.
Katharine Kerr's latest series, the Nola O'Grady Novels, are, in order of publication -- License to Enscorcell, Water to Burn, and the most recent, published 02/07/12, Apocalypse to Go. The series is urban fantasy, located in an alternate San Francisco. Among these novels' strengths is the strong sense of real place, despite it being an alternate San Francisco, situated in a universe different from ours in many respects. This palpable sense of reality helps the reader to effortlessly suspend disbelief and submerge in the story.

One of the urban fantasy conventions is the protagonist generally is paired with another equal but different companion. This would be Israeli Interpol agent Ari Nathan, Irish Nola's partner in the super-secret supernatural government agency that is secret even from the (many) other government secret agencies. The conflict of potential divided loyalties is equal to the conflict at times as to who is giving orders, who is in charge and who makes the decisions. This makes for an interesting relationship, which becomes even more interesting as Nola's close-knit, if difficult, Irish family becomes a part of the mix of diverse worlds, supernatural creatures, murders, kidnappings and missions to save the world.

While Kerr's Nola O'Grady novels do conform to the conventions of urban fantasy, she puts a stamp of originality on each of them. The originality partly rises out of her fine grasp of how novels are plotted and structured, and partly through Kerr's splendid command of language. You hear it in the way the characters talk to us the readers, talk to and about each other. The interchanges and observations are conventionally genre 'smart,' yet on Kerr's pages they come through as naturally hip, not self-consciously wise-cracking attempts to talk the supernatural noir talk. But then the author lives in the state where noir and its language on the page and on the screen were invented to large degree.

Because of the unexpected actions of Nola's family, and also because the language in this world of Kerr's balances tension and lightness, this reader has often been put in mind of the first and best novels of Roger Zelazny's wonderful Amber series. I vividly recall reading non-stop Nine Princes in Amber the first time, hardly able to stop and take a breath. This is high praise. Go Kerr!