". . . 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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum

“Slavery gets understood as a kind of prehistory to freedom rather than what it really is: the foundation for a country where white supremacy was predicated upon African-American exploitation,” says Walter Johnson, a Harvard professor. “This is still, in many respects, the America of 2015.”

You all may or may not recall that we were invited and taken on a private tour of the Whitney Slavery Museum Plantation last year by the proprietor - creator, John Cummings.

The NY Times Mag did a piece on the Whitney for this weekend's edition of the publication. 

Built largely in secret and under decidedly unorthodox circumstances, the Whitney had been turned into a museum dedicated to telling the story of slavery — the first of its kind in the United States.
This is not by any means the first slavery museum in North America. I have visited quite a few of them, from slave markets as memorials and learning centers, to restored "quarters" on other plantations, to auction sites and slave jails. There's a large slavery museum in Richmond (along with a Confederacy museum; the Confederacy museum is located within a well-marked historical district -- the slavery museum, well, it's more difficult to access, shall we say?).

However, whatever first inspired Cummings to create this memorial museum out of a Louisiana sugar plantation, I recognize, intimately, what drives him. It's feeling that overwhelming obligation to bring out in an organized, structured, carefully documented public manner -- the revelation of  WHAT REALLY HAPPENED that we as individuals and citizens, and as a nation keep hiding and lying about:
. . . . “I started to see slavery and the hangover from slavery everywhere I looked,” he said. As a descendant of Irish laborers, he has no direct ties to slaveholders; still, in a departure from the views held by many Southern whites, Cummings considered the issue a personal one. “If ‘guilt’ is the best word to use, then yes, I feel guilt,” he said. “I mean, you start understanding that the wealth of this part of the world — wealth that has benefited me — was created by some half a million black people who just passed us by. How is it that we don’t acknowledge this?”

The Whitney Plantation is something different, and astonishing. It's art, a gigantic, multi-layered, multi-faceted memorial complex honoring the blood, sweat and grief of the thousands and millions of people, captured, victimized, tortured and held captive to their deaths, their entire lives devoured by estate-prison machines like the Whitney.

After visiting the Whitney Plantation, and then the Angola Prison, which is a fully functioning plantation, made from a plantation owned by the antebellum era's largest, most successful and wealthiest slave trader, what I'd learned about Jefferson and Virginia plantations from the penal colony of Monticello showed in even more disturbing relief.
Located on land where slaves worked for more than a century, in a state where the sight of the Confederate flag is not uncommon, the results are both educational and visceral. An exhibit on the North American slave trade inside the visitors’ center, for instance, is lent particular resonance by its proximity, just a few steps away outside its door, to seven cabins that once housed slaves. From their weathered cypress frames, a dusty path, lined with hulking iron kettles that were used by slaves to boil sugar cane, leads to a grassy clearing dominated by a slave jail — an approach designed so that a visitor’s most memorable glimpse of the white shutters and stately columns of the property’s 220-year-old “Big House” will come through the rusted bars of the squat, rectangular cell. A number of memorials also dot the grounds, including a series of angled granite walls engraved with the names of the 107,000 slaves who spent their lives in Louisiana before 1820. Inspired by Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, the memorial lists the names nonalphabetically to mirror the confusion and chaos that defined a slave’s life.

These names have been taken from the database compiled by long-time amiga and colleague, the ground-breaking, pioneering scholar, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. See her great works, which are now online, "Database for the Study of Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy" and "Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy 1719-1820".

Why this museum? Why now? (Why The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-breeding Industry? Why now?)
A nation builds museums to understand its own history and to have its history understood by others, to create a common space and language to address collectively what is too difficult to process individually. Forty-eight years after World War II, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum opened in Washington. A museum dedicated to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks opened its doors in Lower Manhattan less than 13 years after they occurred. One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, however, no federally funded museum dedicated to slavery exists, no monument honoring America’s slaves. “It’s something I bring up all the time in my lectures,” says Eric Foner, a Columbia University historian and the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery.” “If the Germans built a museum dedicated to American slavery before one about their own Holocaust, you’d think they were trying to hide something. As Americans, we haven’t yet figured out how to come to terms with slavery. To some, it’s ancient history. To others, it’s history that isn’t quite history.”
The article is a very good one, reflecting, hopefully, the tone of the NY Times Magazine's roll-out of its brand new do-over.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Interstitiality of Racism, Bigotry, Criminality, De-personification and Literature

What has helped provide this week's warmth, life's snap and crackle that keeps us keeping on, is our Vanderbilt amiga being here. She's so frackin' brilliant! It's a terrific mind-workout challenge being with her, so stimulating, so interesting and I always learn something, see things in new ways.

Her capacity for using the professional languages designed to exclude, designed, even, to identify, those who are designated as expendable, extraneous, less than "human," is superb. She exposes the interstitiality among the professional languages, where the boundaries between religion and literature dissolve into the languages of case law and incarceration.  Further, this is enabled by the formulized rituals of the legal system to debase the body, and remove it entirely from the person's own control. When a person cannot control even her own body for a movement or a moment (i.e. as with slavery), there is no more personhood.

Angola Prison Plantation work gang 2014
The complete control of the body means complete control of the mind. I saw all of this in operation in how Monticello's master, more than any other plantation I've visited, implemented physical control via surveillance, and even minute arrangements of situation and organization. This includes armed guards, no different in operation and effect than at the contemporary Angola Prison in Louisiana, which I've also visited. Angola is deliberately kept as an antebellum plantation, with the cotton and other crops planted, cultivated and harvested, mostly by hand.  I felt the same creepy, oppressive, desolate depression at Monticello as I did at Angola. The entire antebellum south was a gigantic prison complex of interlocking systems designed to keep the captives incarcerated.  It started all over again, then in the Jim Crow era, where armed white men rode the roads and guarded the train depots to keep the labor force from escape to Chicago, New York, California.

CD exposes the ritualistic racism that further allows while obscuring, how our legal system and the others deliberately create classes of those who are slotted for de-personification.  It begins with the body, and the body then takes care of the mind.  This is the judicial system, the prison system -- and I will, as will she, insist this is what the plantation - slavery system of the colonial America and the antebellum era was deliberately created to be. However, without a foundation for thinking of, manipulating other human beings, as less, as like animals, i.e. not human, founded in the languages of sacred texts and "national "literature", we could not get from the conception of God's creation to society's throw-aways .

I'll go further than this, and insist that without that de-personification there is no control of not only the "poor" and others designated as social waste, but no control by the elite over labor and the wealth labor's production creates. We see this taking place now, not only in prisons, immigration agencies and other apparatus of state control, but in work.  See: the wildly expanding use of "employee monitoring," that tracks every single move an employ makes.  Its at the point that the UPS truck drivers are even monitored as to how they get out of and into their trucks.  There is a right way, which doesn't waste seconds, and all the other ways are wrong because wasteful, getting the driver called into the office for a talking to and warning that if s/he doesn't shape up getting in and out of the truck they will be fired.  See:
 Esther Kaplan uncovers many of these disturbing and intrusive behaviors, which inform hiring and firing decisions, and can push employees to their limits, in her article for Harper's, "The Spy Who Fired Me."
Exploring / exposing these matters from this perspective is fundamental to understanding the horrors of the world we're in. We'll never be able to make a more humane world without understanding this monolith that is sitting upon ever more shoulders, oppressing, repressing, denying our worth, our right to even "be."

I sit during her lectures, breathless and scribbling..

Among other things she does, CD works with prisoners in Nashville State Prison. She repeats that the men she's working with know all this better than anyone. They have a language themselves, that addresses, describes and embodies the ritual of humiliation, denial of personhood and exclusion as social waste.

And there, if I'm understanding CD correctly, is the only opportunity for all the rest of us, who as a class is growing globally every day, to push back, by understanding, taking into ourselves, the conceptual language of those who have been ostracized from "society."  I.e. it's another place to dissolve boundaries between us and the rulers.

CD first began this kind of work in Haiti.  Haiti, History and the Gods is a seminal work for examining the kind of society in which we are currently living, that has declared open season on young, unarmed black men, and the bodies of all the rest of us as well.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Reading Wednesday - The Silkworm

Well, this one went on too long.

Rowling / Galbraith's inexperience with the hardboiled, noirish, private investigator genre exposes itself throughout her second Cormoran Strike novel, in ways that weren't so obvious in the first one -- which was also shorter.

How much she's done a borrow of the paint-by-the-numbers sort from out of the Big Hat of what we call generally mystery and suspense writers is also revealed. She intelligently borrows though, from the most successful.  Agatha Christie, for one, particularly from "Hickory Dickory Dock"; physical and character elements of Lee Child's Jack Reacher in her Striker protagonist, for two examples.

Judging from The Silkworm, it feels as though the author rather despises women.* ll the women in the book are repulsive in some way, with the exception of Striker's assistant Robin, who -- coincidentally? -- strongly resembles the author herself, including the constantly commented upon, distinctive, gorgeous red-gold tresses and fine figure. Robin's mother is also comes through as attractive, but is so in an age-appropriate mumsey style, so we know she too, like Robin, is acceptable, despite being female.  But Silkworm's character, the one whom Striker is compelled to rescue, a la Jack Reacher's white knight complex, is such a pathetic woman that it's her very helplessness that is the compelling factor in his decision to take her on. Though at one point he does witter to himself that it is her honesty: she really does want her husband to come back and she really loves her mentally dysfunctional daughter, that she is innocent, that motivates him.  So the only other kind of woman Strike or author can stomach, besides the brilliant and gorgeous Robin-type, is a pathetic, innocent, selfless incompetent.

O that wittering.  We get every detail of every movement, every thought, every conversation.  O lordessa save us!  When reading on the page one could easily skim through this, but listening to the audio version, every syllable is drawn out, and the reader - actor just lurves it all -- o the multiple voices of impersonation.  Really that so-called sexual-romantic tension between Robin and Strike, puleese.  One can believe Robin would admire him for his skills, but anything else, o good grief. Drop this, if there are more books, because the two as mentor-mentee, eventually equal partners in the business of detecting would be so much more interesting than this manufactured by-the-numbers attraction. But that's the rule for these protags: no matter how old, battered and injured, how rude and crude, woman just fall for them at first sight. Even smart, gorgeous, competent women.

By the way, Strike is not nice to women generally. He lies to them, he uses them even when he despises them, as with the publishing assistant. He feels tremendously sorry for himself all the time on the level of a fifteen-year-old boy, while evidently his author believes this shows him to be sensitive. But really, he's a drag to be around for anyone: male, female, transgender.

One other thing, author?  With the injury Strike has?  He could not keep going all through the book. I have years of experience with pain in parts of the body that affect walking and running, and I know.  But then, as the protagonists of many a sort of romance genre novel have magical vaginas that have every man who looks at them fall in at least lust, these guy protags have the magical body that keeps them WINNING physically and sexually, no matter age, disability, poverty or appearance.

The first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling, had a charm of first time out, in which the author was able to describe the delight and pleasure she experienced herself of the perks of celebrity and wealth, from designer boutiques, private cars with driver, instant access into clubs that admit only the rich and famous, paparazzi.  That was fun, because she was having fun with it.

But, by the second novel, she seems only to know this now, so Striker must be stalked by the mobs of paps too, though it doesn't seem likely. Really, in this day and age, when have you seen a twitter feed blow up about a private investigator? seen one's face on the cover of media mags at the supermarket check-out? So, in order to have paparazzi stalking Strike, Strike must have a tabloid-famous father . . . .

Supposedly Strike is the cuckoo in his father's nest, unacknowledged, unwanted, impoverished, solitary, wounded by war, rejected for the seventy-millionith time by his tabloid-adored perfect beauty aristo financée.

However, whenever this this poor, solitary, broke, friendless, rejected bastard is up against it, imprisoned into inaction by his incapacities -- wait! --  he's revealed to have wizardly powers that get him immediate access, cars, cash, information, muscle -- er, he has loyal friends and relatives with money, influence, possessions and skills. Where would Strike have been in The Silkworm without his half-sibs, or even in Cuckoo, without his dad's loans -- which he can't pay back?

Elizabeth George's aristo New Scotland Yard DI Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton, doesn't even get that kind of paparozzi coverage from the London press -- except for his wedding to another aristo.  But he and his cases don't. Good grief, one might think Strike is the third coming of both Sherlock and Poirot! It's not because he's brilliant, it's because his dad was one of the biggest rock 'n roll stars of the era when that mattered, and the figures he's investigating are celebrities or part of a celebrity culture.  Both these novels are all about celebrity, not about justice.

Both of these books have been bought by -- I believe, the BBC? -- to be made into series, just her other pseudonymous novel, A Casual Vacancy -- it too went on for too many pages that didn't add anything -- has been (and is currently being broadcast in the UK).  One does feel they will make better television series than they did books.  Particularly if the producers don't shove in all those latin tags at the top of each chapter that are in Cuckoo, and all those lines from Jacobin vengance tragedies that precede each Silkworm chapter -- there mostly to remind the reader of how very well educated the author is.  One feels that if the author had worked more on structure and pacing than she did on finding the right lines to quote, she might also have cleared up some of the loose ends such as the man who touched Orlando and the the thug from whom Strike conveniently has 500 pounds when he's supposedly broke, but never did the deed that supposedly earned him the payment of the 500 pounds.  If more attention had been given to these sorts of matters than private clubs, the best restaurants, wittering and paparazzi, The Silkworm would have been a better book to read and, particularly, to hear.


*   Of course, judging by this novel it appears the author also holds a low opinion of the publishing industry and everyone in it, from agents to editors to publishers, and certainly the young women who staff most of the administrative positions.

Saturday, February 21, 2015


I love David Suchet's ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot (1989 - 2013), though it takes a turn around 2008 which is darker and uglier, less a luxe entertainment of justice served and order restored, though not necessarily more realistic. Poirot begins to feel the stress of his years of being the instrument of bringing justice to murder's victims, while his solitude begins to weigh on him. His large eyes -- like those of an owl -- that see in so many directions at once, also well with tears, more than once. In Murder on the Orient Express (2010), which pointedly is located in 1938, though he solves the crime, he cannot force himself be the agent of justice. Even his mustache points, point if not down, straight, not curved upwards in Poirot's signature second smile.

No little provocation for that love is embodied by the design and score of the title sequence. These are a seamless blend of the Poirot period elements (end of WWI, to nearly the outbreak of WWII) signaling sophistication, elegance and glamour. The opening title sequence deconstructs the decorative arts of the historical era that is being recreated. Art Deco and modernist, i.e. both revolutionary while harking back to certain more traditional decorative arts, such as the Asian and Egyptian. All this, plus at the end, a soupcon of occult suggestion. that further plays up the announcement that this program will deliver nothing of the ordinary.

See for instance, the 1993, series 5 episode. “Dead Man’s Mirror” (which is specifically named at the auction as Art Deco) where all these elements of Deco, Egyptian, Modernist etc. roll together seamlessly. The era's class considerations, roll together equally as seamlessly -- which is where Poirot differs so much in treatment from American attempts at these entertainments.

This floats with a buoyancy one would not expect of a series drama centering murder, in the decades that include the Depression and the lead-up to WWII. So we are further promised that we're about to escape into a English world that is as much a fairy tale in a never-never-land -- though without the delicious frou frou -- as are the American Astaire-Rogers madcap song and dance romance extravaganza films, the sets for which also frequently employ extensively Art Deco set design.

The title sequence literally pulls us into the series's escape by centering travel, which, for the elite and privileged who could afford it, had finally become authentically comfortable and easy.  (To learn what travel was like, prior to the age of steam and the innovation of passenger ships, even for the privileged, read the accounts by John Quincy Adams's first voyage to Europe, with his father, John Adams.)

In Poirot's opening sequence, comes first a plane (presented by a rendering influenced by period, industrial design, small enough to be a private plane).* Air travel was just beginning to be common -- again for those who could afford it, the most up-to-date glamorous mode of travel.  The plane pulls along the older form of travel, a train which has first class cars. For only an instant we see "Liner" printed upon the side of something racing along in these transportation scenes, which could mean either the train or that even older luxe form of travel, the first class passenger ship liner.

The 1920's and 30's are the interim between the old world of rigid class definition, in which almost everyone was either a servant or had a servant -- or very many servants -- and the world of reliable factory work, modern housing developments and modern conveniences that made servants too expensive and difficult for nearly everyone. Among many other elements this series is presenting, made from murder mysteries written in those decades, is a milieu that reassures the class elite's anxieties about a changing world, no matter how many of them are murdered by their relatives and lovers. (That supposedly is the attraction of murder mysteries: a bloody destruction of how things are, then, with the revelation of the killer, traditional social order is redeemed and returned.)

This wasn't going to last much longer, babies, and one might guess that Ms. Christie was rather more aware of this than many of her contemporaries.

ITV's Poirot shows up the Downton Abbey crew as fusty and musty as it is. They may pretend they're in the 1920's, but they're still lurching along in the 18th century. The comedy perhaps comes out of knowing that the audience identifies itself primarily as Lady or Countess so-and-so when, in the reality of those days, we'd be the skivvy -- who doesn't even rate her own name, as even ladies' maids in those days were called by their Lady's name.

If I have a criticism to proffer about this long-running series, is that characters who are supposed to be Americans just don't talk like Americans. But then, this is said about Americans who are supposed to be playing Brits on American television too. But it can be grating that British television actors on a British television program, when playing an American default to something that evidently is supposed to be either Southern or Western, and never is either one.

The mouse that runs all through Hickory Dickory Dock is not cute and endearing, particularly as it not quite tracks through a victim's blood.
Quite a few episodes of Poirot I'd not previously seen became available via streaming on netflix, including the brilliant 1995 series 6 episode "Hickory Dickory Dock."  For starters, the episode is seen extensively from the point of view of a mouse, including the opening, as the mouse runs down the clock. One of the suspects is played by a very young Damian Lewis, now Henry VIII in the BBC's Wolf Hall.  It seems too, that Rowling / Galbraith borrowed some of the elements from it -- or from the book? I've never read any Poirot novels, never seen a one around here, and am reliably informed that the book Poirot is very different from the Suchet Poirot. In Galbraith's The Silkworm, a meeting takes place in the venerable Cheddar Cheese pub-bar between protagonist private detective, Cormoran Strike, and Nina Lascelles – a junior editor, whose body language and appearance are perceived by Strike as those of a mouse. The locations of Hickory Station, etc. are also in The Silkworm.

Poirot, the Greatest Detective in the World and the Most Famous, flanked by his friends, decomissioned Captain Hastings and Chief Inspector Japp of Scotland Yard. 

Miss Lemon, Poirot's faithful and extremely competent assistant.
Agatha Christie's Poiret may be perhaps one of the greatest television series ever made, particularly if one's criteria include the design and cinematography. The writing and acting are top-of-the-line, with a fine ensemble cast that one greets joyfully in each episode -- just as their characters do with each when having been separated for long periods by circumstance -- sometimes they've been separated for entire seasons. --, and often not pleasant circumstances. As many of the episodes show, even as Poirot and Company travel comfortably to stay in the most luxe of hotels, to the most ancient of places in Mesopotamia, Rhodes, Egypt, among those unhappy circumstances is time itself. Time just keeps going, with murder and all the other darkness of humanity flowing along its currents from the furthest past into futures that we can barely see, so darkly does the future loom for Poirot's world.


*  See the first Astaire-Rogers movie pairing, before they became the feature marquee attraction, Flying Down to Rio (1933).  In fact, their last film pairing was the 1939 biopic The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, in which Vernon dies tragically in a training  accident preparing to be a war pilot for the Royal Flying Corps in WWI.  Among others, there is Dorothy Sayers's second Lord Peter Wimsey (1926) Clouds of Witness, adapted for BBC television in 1972.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Mardi Gras! Westminster Dog Show! Chinese New Year!

It's snowing here, and raining in New Orleans.  Yet, via the internet, it sure sounds as though people are having as much as they always have in New Orleans on the Mardi Gras.  Nothing stops Mardi Gras -- not even Katrina stopped Mardi Gras.

You can hear New Orleans Mardi Gras thanks to WWOZ streaming.  At this very moment it's Dr. John singing "Iko Iko".  Which has reported that sunshine has been spotted!

Live video coverage of the parades via The Times Picyune.

As with New Orleans, weather or not, NYC is busy with Large Week-long events. Not only is it another Fashion Week here, but Thursday, the 19th, is Chinese New Year (Year of the Sheep), with various celebrations such as parades going on February 22, and, currently, the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is in progress.

The Westminster Dog Show is a venerable event:

Oooo -- the sun's come out!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Locally Today Is Not the Best Day for Birthdays

It's Washington's birthday.  It's also another Fashion Week in NYC.

The record low for this date in New York City has been broken, which has been held since 1888 -- when North Dakota wasn't yet state!

Hudson River From Above - U.S. Coast Guard

Manhattan shore of the East River, Monday, February 16, 2015

Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, Hudson River.

Washington's first inauguration, April, 1789
I imagine George Washington in Manhattan on his birthday during his first administration. He'd have had his first birthday as President in 1790. It was probably even colder than today, as the northern hemisphere was still in the throes of the Little Ice Age in 1790. *

Presumably however cold it was on his birthday in 1790 Washington's circumstances were a deal more comfortable than on the night of December 25–26, 1776.
Mr. Washington, hasn't fared well on his birthday NYC today either. See today's NY Times's "George Washington, Slave Catcher."  In truth, this column rather depressed me, as if waking up in frigid temperatures on my birthday after a night of waking el V four times with my nightmares wasn't depressing enough.


*   1790 - 1820 was a period of particularly extreme weather anomalies -- which were significant factors in the French Revolution's momentum, which had already started (1789), as there had been so many failed crops = famine.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Death In Paradise - BBC1 - season 2

Upon arising this AM the temperature was 8º.  This is why for the last two days I've been watching the second season (2013) of the lighthearted Brit policier series, Death in Paradise.

The action takes place on Saint Marie, a fictional island speck described as "situated in the Eastern Caribbean Sea and one-tenth the size of its north-west neighbor Guadeloupe." Having stayed on Guadeloupe, I can honestly say this means Saint Marie is so tiny it's hard to believe it can support any population at all, much less survive a hurricane. Nevertheless the island is densely populated with tourist resorts, markets, rain forests, sugar plantations, mountains, a volcano, about 100 beaches and a local population equally fluent in English, French and a variety of patois and religions from the Roman Church to Vodún.

Considering the main character, DI Richard Poole, played by comedian, Ben Miller, is a coerced transplant from the London police force, one assumes that at least through the last century or so of its existence Saint Marie, like St. Lucia, has been a British possession.

However! the lingering panoramic scenes of beaches and sky at all different times of day and night are luscious -- it's porn for we winter-frozen northern hemispherites.* The characters tend to be as gorgeous as the scenery, particularly the French-Portuguese actress, Sara Martins, who plays Detective Sergeant

Photos of DS Brodey because I adore her. She makes this series.  So does her mother. Catherine Bordey, played by Élizabeth Bourgine. In this still from season 2 Camille is interviewing a possible witness about the murder victim.  There's always a murder.

Camille's mother, Catherine.  From France, she married a Saint Marie native, who subsequent to Camille's birth disappeared.  She owns the de rigueur bar-restaurant  in Honoré that any self-respecting Caribbean policier must have as the center of information.

Camille Bordey. Part of the fun is seeing which color combination of cut-offs, leggings and matching tops she will wear in each episode: coral, mango, aquamarine, turquoise, lemon. There's a succession of male extras and minor characters who are equally easy on the eyes as DS Bordey.

Among all these lovely people, the aged-out, poor man's Hugh Grant-mannerism afflicted DI Poole is so out of place. Not only is he socially maladjusted -- the

Harry the lizard, who lived in the beach shack before DI Poole, and presumably will still be inhabiting it when Poole is gone . . . .
recurring character with whom he's most comfortable is a lizard who lives in his beach "shack" --  Poole insists on wearing a BLACK suit and tie and shoes at all times in all circumstances -- even though he's been on the island now for over a year. (When he arrived in season 1, this was to be only a temporary assignment.) That's over the top, even for a Brit, in this day and age where the temperature and humidity are intense. Of course, despite these traits that go far beyond idiosyncrasy, the luscious Bordey falls for him so fast that nobody's fooled by her initial antagonism.  As a viewer this is so implausible that it nearly tips over into being (unintentionally) entertaining.  Well, not very much really, but nevermind.

Death in Paradise is pretty, warm, charming and provides the pure escape that Caribbean resort bubbles that protect the tourist from the real island always promise, and for only pennies instead of thousands of dollars.

The soundtrack is mostly reggae and ska. The location shots are mostly Guadeloupe.

DI Poole is no longer on Saint Marie in seasons 3 and 4.

In Season 3 Kris Marshall is the new guy -- who played that unbearably stupid character in Love Actually (2003) who goes to America and gets shagged without charge by numerous Milwaukee prostitutes -- one of whom is Betty Draper, i.e. played by January Jones.

Season 3 ran in the UK in 2014.  Season 4 is either currently showing or has just concluded.  I'll probably watch them in the next two winters, just as I watched season one last winter, and season two in this one.


 *  That was the appeal of Glades too -- winter escape watching.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Reading Wednesday - Ancillary Justice & The Silkworm

In fact I stayed up past my bedtime to finish Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (2013).  It's a fast read, very well written, which reminded me  throughout of an sf novel published

21 years ago, also in which much of the action is on an ice planet, featuring "characters" of gender

fluidity or neutrality, by another writer of above-average talent, Nicola Griffith's Ammonite (1992).  Both writers and their books are very smart.

What do I mean by this?

For starters, at this particularly moment, particularly in the mystery/thriller/suspense/police procedural genres, the extremely cold parts of our planet are of great interest, i.e. "nordic noir."  The latest entry into this subgenre that began rolling with the popularity of Sweden's Kurt Wallender series (both in print and as two television series -- one on Swedish tv and the other on English television starring Kenneth Branaugh) is Fortitude, where a murder is committed in small town professional scientific community in the Arctic.

The second thing I mean is how Leckie handles gender. In Justice, what is masculine and feminine, or he or she, slides all over the place There are no other markers in the for male or female than pronouns, and those pronouns seem to have quite other significance than sexual identification. The unmarking of gender as identification for sex or hierarchy is of great interest in current sf/f.

The third smart thing is that Justice is space opera. Publishers and readers alike have been wanting updated space opera for a while now, upgraded to a more current reflection of "The Way We Live Now" than the by now quaint treatment of ST and the racist, sexist  Firefly, which underneath, whether or not Whedon realized that's what he was doing, celebrates the slaveocracy rebels of the War of Southern Rebellion (1861 - 1865).

But what is smartest of all about Justice, is that it doesn't come across as smart.  By that I don't mean comes across as dumb, because it doesn't.  What I mean is that the text reads so elegantly in composition and organization, that all these elements are effortlessly there, and centered, while there's a strong plot that, like all stories are supposed to do, pulls the reader along to find out what will happen next. It doesn't draw attention to how smart it is at all.  Instead we simply experience the pleasure of its smartness.

If I had a criticism to make of Ancillary Justice it would be that Orbit, the publisher, gave it an unattractive cover.  Indeed, the cover may be what has kept me away from the book for so long.  The cover's elements are clunky and clumsy, colored with muddy grey and green tones. The cover as depicted in the photo above is of much sharper resolution and clarity of tone than on the book on my desk.

The Silkworm is the second novel featuring private investigator and Afghan war vet, Cormoran Strike, by Robert Galbraith. I didn't actually read it, but listened to it via library audio download during my workouts. The Silkworm's case is set in the publishing industry.

We encounter several novelists and editors and publishing companies, an agent or two. What is interesting to me about this is, as per usual in fiction, and I suppose naturally so, publishing as depicted in the novel is only concerned with novels -- whereas in reality, most of the publishing industry is not fiction, and profits from all forms of fiction are falling. There are a few exceptions to this, and the author of this series, who, as we all know Roberta, is in reality J.K. Rowling, is a mighty exception.

I'm not liking this second Cormoran Strike investigation as much as I did the first one. It feels more like a dutiful fill in the formula blanks for the genre, than the fresh delight that seemed to come through about everything in the first one, The Cuckoo's Calling, from entering extreme high end restaurants and boutiques who cater to the very prosperous, to packs of ravening paparazzi. This delight in exploring the new, distilling the author's own experiences of entering the world of private cars and drivers, hair stylists and designers, the deference and perks with which the celebrated are received everywhere, covered a lot of the clumsiness of composition.

This second time around, not so much, particularly the habit of preceding each chapter with a quotation from plays, mostly out of the Jacobean era of English drama. No more than the Latin quotations at the head of each chapter of Cuckoo's Calling, do these quotes seem to illuminate either character or action, or do only occasionally. They feel irrelevant, because Cormoran Strike, our protagonist, doesn't have knowledge of either Latin or the history of English literature, and certainly doesn't give a damn about either one. The epigraphs are tacked on decorations rather than integrated, graceful ornaments. Whether or not this was the author's intention, their function seems to be reader reminders that Galbraith is really Rowling, who is educated and smart. This kind of error in presentation she never made in the Harry Potter series.

I probably won't be reading any more Cormoran Strike books.  But I will read Leckie's second, Ancillary Sword -- though when I don't know, so much work, so many projects are stacking up.  Maybe on the plane to NO for the Caribbean Conference at the end of the month?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grantchester -- Episode 4 - PBS / ITV

I liked this series from the first episode.

It's odd that I did, and even more odd that my liking has increased as season's episodes roll on PBS.  Grantchester is a quiet show, with a fairly superficial treatment of people's moral dilemmas and personal stumbling blocks to being good, the individual's obligation to strive, life-long, to become a better person, as part of, and within a social community.  I even think of its softly delivered lessons during the week. It's the sheer generosity of spirit that infuses this series, so different from just about anything else in current entertainments, that has grabbed me, I suppose.

Our attractive vicar, Sydney Chambers, and Dickens. 

 Like everyone else in this episode, Detective Geordie Keating learns lessons in Gross Indecency and Judge Not . . . .
This week's episode delved into dimensions of seriousness regarding being a gay man in semi-rural 1950's homophobic England. This theme has already been touched upon via continuing character, Leonard Finch, Our Attractive Vicar's curate, who is referred to as "the pansy" as a matter of course by Detective Keating.

Leonard Finch, who has hoped to find a refuge from his conflicted instincts within a quiet life of contemplation by serving the Church of England.  His situation, however, leaves little time for contemplation and his Vicar is teaching him that his calling is not to serve the Church per se, but people and a community.
So we have already seen a gay man's conflicts of living in way in which one must conceal who one really is. Even the Church of England that Leonard serves condemns him to damnation as a "sodomite."  But the focus this week is not on Leonard, but another young man, and an older, married man,.

Mrs. McGuire, Vicar Sydney Chambers's housekeeper, who, he assures a German visitor, "hates everyone."  Mrs. McGuire does seem to learn her lessons in  Christian charity from Sydney, but tends to forget them from one episode to another.  But that means the viewer has the pleasure of her softening repeated from episode to episode.
The episode's message of how harmful and wrong it is, socially and morally, for both individuals and communities to shun and condemn those who are different from "us" then broadens in scope to include Germans. Recall, everyone in this community has been afflicted by Germany in both WWI and WWII.

To the sorrow of so many, the harm of such phobias remain in their lives, even after lessons are learned. What happened in this episode, it is clear, has permanently affected the lives of at least three men, a woman and two children.

The episode also depicts the casual sexism that is so common among almost all men that it continues even now. Did the episode connect homophobia, xernophobia and sexism?  If it did, it so merely by presence, not by preaching.

Next thing you all will hear is that I've joined an Episcopal congregation, the closest thing here to Church of England.

OTOH, if I was seeing it back-to-back instead of one episode a week, it might not be so appealing?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Empire - Fox - Season 1

Despite it being noon on Saturday in Soho, the temperatures, the ice everywhere and the intermittent snow left Gourmet Garage so quiet that the sound system -- Pandora, Spotify -- whatever service they use that eats musicians' profits and leaves none at all for the creators -- could be heard so clearly that one of the few other customers was dancing to the hiphop track that was currently playing.

In the course of being checked out I observed to the young African American behind the counter, "Gee, that sounds so old school it could be on Empire."

She interrupted processing my purchases to toss me a look.  "Are you saying this cut's that's playing is on an Empire soundtrack?"

"No, no. it just that whatever-this-is, has so copped that sound, from, like, 20 years ago or something, that it could be Empire. That whole picture the show makes of the music, the biz, the lingo, the bling, though not the shoes or the dresses of the female characters who aren't Cookie, the aspirations, are from at least 20 years ago, but nobody seems to notice that."

She says, "It's older than that!  1997, no wait, really, it's 1993."

Thoughtfully, she adds, "I was one then, in 1993. I like the sound and looks from then, though, maybe because it was my mom's music."

We love Empire's Cookie!
We love Nashville's Rayna!

We love Treme's Desiree!
Part of the reason Empire feels 20 + years earlier in many ways, though set in the present, is because Cookie has been in prison for about that amount of time, and has just gotten out.

Empire big extended not-so happy family.
Empire is a hiphop music soap, in the way Nashville is a country music soap -- which, when I first looked at it, struck me as the Treme for white people, the same white people who couldn't get how music and musicians, instead of gangastas, could be the center of a show that had so many black characters.

Anika, the bougie baby who thinks she can take Cookie's stuff.
I love all three of these series, primarily I'm sure because some very interesting and strong women are in the front of them, as only one woman among several other women whom the male characters need to reckon with. The music is strong too: Treme's live music was provided by some of the very best living musicians; the music supervisors for Nashville's first season was T-Bone Burnett; Timbaland is Empire's music supervisor

The writing for Empire's pilot was very, ahem, strong.  So much got effortlessly established in terms of who everyone is, their relationships and the plot.  None of the subsequent episodes so far have quite equalled the pilot, but they still exert that same effortless engagement on the part of the viewer.

For ye fans of olden, golden daze Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Danny Strong is one of  creators and executive producers of Empire -- along with Lee Daniels.  They have previously worked together on 2013's multiple-award nominated film, The Butler, set in the White House over the course of 8 presidents' administrations.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Langston Hughes 1902 - 1962-- Today's Google Doodle

It's Langston Hughes's 113th birthday.

Langston Hughes was the first African American writer I "met" so to speak, back in maybe, what was it? the 6th grade? In those days students were divided into primary, middle and junior high. In my tiny community we were all in the same building, though the three divisions each had their individual classroom. Somehow an anthology of American writing landed in my classroom's little library -- a small closet of shelves -- that included Langston Hughes.  The name alone -- Langston -- kept me mesmerized, and set me into "making up." The bits from his poems that were included also mesmerized me, so unlike rural North Dakota syntax and landscape.

I have read a great deal more of Hughes since then, and seen his landscapes, and even met people who knew him, some themselves and others through their parents.

"Bound No'th Blues" (1927)

Goin’ down the road, Lawd,
Goin’ down the road.
Down the road, Lawd,
Way,way down the road.
Got to find somebody
To help me carry this load.

Road’s in front o’ me,
Nothin’ to do but walk.
Road’s in front of me,
Walk…an’ walk…an’ walk.
I’d like to meet a good friend
To come along an’ talk.

Hates to be lonely,
Lawd, I hates to be sad.
Says I hates to be lonely,
Hates to be lonely an’ sad,
But ever friend you finds seems
Like they try to do you bad.

Road, road, road, O!
Road, road…road…road, road!
Road, road, road, O!
On the no’thern road.
These Mississippi towns ain’t
Fit fer a hoppin’ toad.

Earlier today, the New Jersey jazz station, which has become my favorite radio station, at least from around here, played some recordings.

It's a nice doodle.

Yah.  We're in February now.  February is Black History Month.