". . . 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

Thursday, April 30, 2015

History Channel's Vikings season 3 finale - "The Dead"

How disappointing was Viking's third season?  This is how disappointing it was -- I was disappointed that Ragnar didn't die.

I hoped (though guessed otherwise because protagonist is Ragnar) that Ragnar was dead. With Ragnar out of the way, the incoherent mess of subplots and useless characters who lack any, you know, character, could be jettisoned and the writers could do a do-over in season 4 with intelligently constructed plots, and bring back the focus on a core group of fleshed-out characters about whom, then, we the audience will presumably care about: Lagertha, her son Bjorn who is going to be a king as we know from history, his own son, Aslaug (who had nothing to do this season at all, except to sex up an Odin avatar -- for why?)  and her son Ivar the Boneless, who is going to be a great warrior and king, Rollo, who will sire the line of Normans who take over England a century or so down the line.

I cared, a great deal, in the first two seasons, about this core group of people, including Siggy, who was offed for no reason other than nobody could figure out what to do with her now -- especially as Rollo has A (Francia) Destiny. The core group of the first two seasons had feelings, they had ideas, they did things as individuals and as a cohesive, effective ensemble, sometimes needing to work through their conflicts with each other, to reconcile for their own sakes, for the sake of the family, the community, the kingdom -- of such is survival made.

But by season 3 with so many other characters zipping in and out of scenes that didn't advance any story line, filled with unmotivated, gratuitous violence  -- such as a dungeon complete with a presumably willing member of the Francia nobility, a submissive nameless fluff.  All just to make Count Odo a Bad Person so we can cheer when the Emperor Charles decides to marry his daughter, Gisla, to Rollo the Savage PAGANNOTCHRISTIAN Viking, instead of marrying her to his war leader who saved his feckless ass -- and Paris too, by the way -- more than once.  Cheap plotting.  Lousy writing. We're never going to see Nameless Noble Francia Fluff again and we know it. Nor had we wanted to see Nameless Nobel Francia Fluff in the first place. But we had to have Count Odo whip her so that we know he's a Bad Man and cheer because she is going to marry the Savage GOOD Viking Rollo instead Yay! Who has, by the way been shown raping women, lusting on his brother's wife, and betraying his family in the previous two seasons

So the final episode, the season's Big Wind Up and Down, "The Dead" felt empty, like so much of the season.  Yes, good, even fine moments, but these don't add up to a coherent, well-written, properly motivated, character-driven whole story that stays with you after it's over, to mull over and speculate about. Instead we talked about how yet again there was an episode with going nowhere subplots, time-wasting scenes, repetitions of tricks already pulled.

No more wanted or needed than the s&m scene between aristos in a real castle dungeon, no more do we need or want King Ecbert as an effete cuckholder of his own son, forcing his daughter-in-law to sex him in exchange for her son's protection -- moreover a son who is presumably an historical personage of great import, but whose mother historically was NOT this character. While his son is a terrific person who has done nothing wrong. There is no motivation for any of this, thus it makes no sense, and is pointless into the bargain -- and not even interesting to watch.  We keep waiting impatiently for this to be over and for something real to happen . . . .

Rollo receiving a tongue lashing -- not in the good way -- from Princess Gisla. To which he can only respond, "Je vous salue !"  Alas, Gisla wasn't impressed. Neither was I, though viwers who are less critical than I love it.
The actors do their best, but the material is poorly conceived, poorly written and badly constructed.  It does not hold together -- there is no center.

Once again Vikings's writers show they don't know what to do with female characters, particularly princess characters, like this one, Gisla, or with the Mercian princess, Kwenthrith, who was sexually abused by her relatives and now is a nymphomaniac -- or, more likely, by now is dead, as Wessex annexed Mercia. But that's how much these women matter -- the writers can't even be bothered to inform us of their fates -- like Porunn, once slave, then mother of Bjorn's first child -- she takes off, for no good reason and that's that folks. Because we male writers can't figure out what to do with her now that's she free and a mom.

It's as though this whole season insisted on degrading women instead of writing and plotting -- which means very bad plotting. Shades of that ugly series, Got.

Above we have the Francia Gisla spitting out threats and hate in the worst of stereotype of a couple hating on each other at first, when, of course the audience knows already they are passionately attracted.  One hoped that Rollo would pull out his "already baptised thank you" trump card to shut her up. On the other hand Ragnar the fake dead Christian probably spoiled that for Rollo too.

Why o why aren't you really dead, Ragnar?  Stab Floki and die fulfilled, let the new generation take over. The writers clearly have run out of their steam for you. Let them get going with Bjorn . . . and a bear?

"The Dead", the Vikings finale, ran on the History Channel April 23.  That's how disappointed I was, how little I cared, that I couldn't even be bothered to complain about it until now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reading Wednesday - Personal - A Jack Reacher Novel

I spent most of the day getting to, waiting around in and coming back from a hospital appointment.  The moment I began the trip up to the hospital I pulled the latest Jack Reacher novel, Personal (2014), from my bag and began reading it. It took only two sentences and I ask myself, "Did Lee Childs write this?"  Because though the signature pacing of a Childs's Reacher novel was there from the first two sentences, the voice, the tone, even the vocabulary and smart ass cracks, were off the Reacher mark from what my mind's ear had become accustomed over the course of 18 Reacher thriller novels.  The timing and rhythm is also just a bit off.

That nagging sense that this wasn't really Childs's Reacher was sustained all the way through the day of reading, and only increased as I reached the conclusion It is pacey!).

It has not been unknown for a very successful writer to employ sub-writers to follow plot and character instructions, and then run it through his own word processing program to put on the finish.  I can't help but wonder.

Also, whoever did write the text: be it known to you that women don't say nylons and haven't worn nylons in decades. We say, and we wear, tights, leggings, stockings and / or panty hose. Even female military personnel who wear skirts do not wear nylons these days.

Unless we're church ladies of as certain age in the upper midwest, of whom there naturally aren't that many left, we don't carry purses, but we do carry satchels, totes, even computer bags and cases, or tablet folders, etc. (neither men nor women carry brief cases much anymore since the portable digital device revolution), handbags or bags -- see: handbags, designer.*  Go into any place that sells such things and the signs are "Handbags and Accessories."

As well, to write,  " . . . she wore good shoes . . . " doesn't tell us a damned thing about the woman's character, but goes along with the writer's ignorance of putting her into nylons.

That kind of block clunk dumb kicks me out of the story. Among other things it broadcasts the male author's underlying contempt for women and the very many women who buy his books. This is particularly evident when it's the male author's male character telling us what a woman is like.  Worst of all, all through the books the writer / Reacher makes such a huge deal out of what an authority he is about women, including what they wear, which is part of the reason he's had so many really fine women over the decades (he ages but the fine women he has stay the same age more or less). What he does sound like to a female reader who has ears is an old guy, ogling women 30 - 40 years younger than he is, which, by the way is kind of the situation here.  Need it be mentioned that always these women throw themselves at him?



*  See, first paragraph above as first person (anecdotal) proof of this assertion.  I wrote "bag" without even thinking about it, without explaining, because just about every person inhabiting the universe that reads Jack Reacher novels knows what I mean.  Millions and millions and millions read Jack Reacher novels, at least half of them female.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Slavery, Martin Luther, Protestantism, Declaration of Independence, Secession and the Civil War

I complicated the opening pages of TASC by waking up this AM with the following on my mind.  And the final final absolutely final version of the text must be turned in by tomorrow.  No more changes, additions or subtractions!

The consolation is that el V insists this allows us to make more clear for the reader how this convoluted, looping imagery and thinking pervaded the slave holders' thinking about slavery, from the beginning of colonizing the New World. Why this didn't come to me earlier I don't know. I grew up reading Martin Luther's words,* and those with whom he agreed and disagreed, about religious dissent and religious wars with others and with our community's ancestors' own rulers. It was the context, the milieu of much of my earliest understanding of the past. We studied these matters in church all the time!

Slavery, the Reformation and the New World -- and the printing press --  collided simultaneously.  Before Henry's break with Rome slavery, freedom, bondage and liberty were not part of the English and European political vocabulary and imagery. After, they were constants.

As English and Americans our first concepts of slavery were formed in the crucible of European religious controversies that were the politics of the 16th and 17th centuries, and into the first decades of 18th.  Not coincidentally the 16th century is when the first slave ships out of Africa began servicing the plantations and mines of the New World. The initiation of Luther's Reformation generally is marked by the date of 1517.

The writings of Martin Luther and Milton consistently employ "free or slave" and "bondage and liberty" as the imagery with which both of them describe conditions of the soul, salvation, sin, their conflict with Church of Rome and the Pope, and with rulers, such as Charles I.  Kings too, as did James I, accuse parliament and dissenters of wishing to make the crown a slave to their will, as well as those who resorted to tobacco drinking as slaves to a filthy habit.

Describing those in opposition to oneself in terms of slavery and freedom was an ingrained trope of at least two centuries by the time of the Declaration of Independence. This imagery had been heard from the pulpits of every church denomination in both England and the colonies -- and in those days it was the law that members of a community had to attend established Church of England services or pay  fines or be imprisoned, put into stocks or even whipped (in New England compelled attendance was to which ever denomination church the dissenting colony had established). As late as 1862 a [i]The Baptist Young Man's Magazine's[/i] review of a book that glossed Milton's political writings admonished its young members to heed Milton's words or "forever truckle in slavery to sin."

Martin Luther during The Diet of Worms, 1521. "I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe." Soon after the Diet of Worms, the emperor declared Luther a heretic in his Edict of Worms. In the thinking of all protestants in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries there was no one more responsible for keeping Christians in slavery than the Pope. It may have been Luther who was the first of them to equate the Church with Revelations's Whore of Babylon.  See, not coincidentally in the King James (I) protestant Bible -- "And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
The component of free will in Luther's imagery of free vs slave had lasting repercussions for the African captives taken to the New World. As opposed to the slavery imposed upon Christians by the Church of Rome, his Reformation was to free Christians to operate by their own free will. Among their choices was to accept the salvation freely given by Christ's grace of forgiveness and redemption to every individual without any mediation by priest or church. If the individual refused Christ's salvation from sin and hell, it was his or her own choice.

From the beginning though, with protestant churches such as the Antinomians, Brownists and Calvinists this particular freedom was rejected in favor of the concept of collective predestination: the salvation of heaven or the condemnation to hell had already been pre-determined before our birth. Nothing we could do would change that. Entire communities -- even nations -- could be predestined to damnation.

However, we were bound to live and act as though we were saved. There were many signs that indicated an individual or community had been saved, such as faithful church attendance -- belonging to the right denomination -- prospering in one's endeavors, being good at what one did, and so on. Thus you were what you were. If you were a slave you were predestined to be a slave. That you were a slave proved you were slave. There was nothing to be done by yourself or anyone else to free you from the condition of slavery.  This kind of looping religious reasoning was very convenient to slave owners.

This is also why everyone from in the colonies complained that the metropolitan was treating them like slaves.  Most of the settlers whether in Virginia or New England were heir to this imagery starting in the reign of Henry VIII and only got stronger in political-religious discourses from the time of Queen Mary and through the hapless Stuart dynasty.

So Patrick Henry, inside his Richmond church,  holding his hands up as though in manacles, declaring, "Give me liberty or death,'  and then pretend-stabbing himself in the breast with his letter opener of death, was not only referencing Addison's perennially popular 1712  play, Cato, but centuries of political-religious writing.

Gads, I'm trying structure this into something that makes sense.  Plus I have to have quite a few citations. Fortunately much of what I want to cite is in English originally, such as Milton, or translated into English, such as Luther, and online.


*  See, for a single example of very many, this, by Martin Luther, titled "Concerning Christian Liberty" -- available online, so appropriately!  at the Gutenberg site. The very first paragraphs are stuffed with "freedom," "liberty" and "slavery" and "slave" -- frequently those who are unrighteous, who are sinful, are called slaves:
We first approach the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what means a man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian; that is, a spiritual, new, and inward man. It is certain that absolutely none among outward things, under whatever name they may be reckoned, has any influence in producing Christian righteousness or liberty, nor, on the other hand, unrighteousness or slavery.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Human Beings Have Always Waged War

Human beings have had armed lethal fighting between extensive groups since at least the Neolithic age.

After learning that anything like an organized and directed effort to collect the injured and dying from the battle field only came into existence during the U.S. Civil War in 1863 -- I wondered, why did it take this long?  War and battles are ancient human activities and it never occurred to anyone previously that maybe those making the wars owed this to those they sent out to be maimed and killed? And no one ever objected before?  Is this actually true?  Didn't the Roman armies have something organized in place for their men after the battle, at least if they won, and weren't in retreat or running away?

The Roman armies and the (very extended, contracted) terms of service provided those whose enlistment was up with land and some bounty, as well as whatever the soldier had managed to put together and not drink away, from booty and sales of captives into slavery. This was a way to reintegrate fighters back into civilian society -- am attempt to give him a stake in it.  But how many armies did this, even after states became the organizing entities?  This, despite knowing that just throwing these men into a civilian condition meant many turned to banditry and other nefarious, plundering, murderous activities to survive?

The NY Times today had a Disunion piece, "When the Soldiers Went Home," focused through individual Union soldiers, who write home with their long lists of anxieties about returning to civilian life after years of war.  Could they do it? So it's not as though people were too ignorant and unsophisticated to think of these things until WWII.

So why did it take us so long to think of either organizing care for the injured, dying and dead after battles?  Including organized hospitals?  Or to think of any assistance to bring soldiers back to civilian life?  We've been fighting wars for millennia, so surely someone had thought about these matters, even if they couldn't or wouldn't solve them?

The Battle of Rocroi (1643) -- Thirty Years War.  The French won the battle, the Spanish lost it.
There were problems that couldn't be overcome in earlier eras, such as burials had to take place immediately, on the field where the men fell, since there was no way to preserve them.  Embalming became suddenly the way of death in the U.S. Civil War, among the Union armies, so the bodies could be sent home via the railroad -- which, unlike wars, was a brand new thing that made it possible to send the bodies homes. Nore were there were states and professional, standing armies, until fairly late in our history. Often the military commander was also the ruler, and he paid the men himself, directly -- and throwing them off when unneeded was sound financial sense from his point of view.  During the Napoleonic wars, the armies facing off were so large, and, like with the U.S. Civil War, the fatalities and injured were so numerous, as in the Peninsular War, even when near hospitals and Church hospices, schools, monasteries, convents and so on, there was no room for all of them.

I've gotten very curious about the rituals of the wounded and killed in war, the treatment of the dead.  That the soldier was no longer of any interest to anyone once the war was over and he was sent home is a persistent theme in folk music and ballads.

Surely there are many out there who are better versed in these matters.  These are the historians of eras about which I know hardly anything, much less the names of the leading scholars who dig granularly into distinct periods and specialize in the warfare.  History -- she is so very large!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard - "It's All Going to Pot"

Willie and Merle released "It's All Going to Pot" earlier this week in honor of both International Marijuana Day and Earth Day.  It's adorable.

Nashville so needs to have these guys on the series,  doing this song.  Maybe it could be at a Luke Wheeler sponsored benefit to raise Teddy's bail when the feds finally bust him?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

By Way of Reading Wednesday and Earth Day - Jan Morris

Jan Morris has long been one of my favorite writers who explores time and spirit within ancient, rooted places.  She has had a long career as a novelist, journalist and 'place' writer; Morris tends to object to the catch-all term, 'travel writer' applied to what she does, which is staying in a place, not moving from place-to-place.  If there is any writer who appreciates this planet and the vast cultural variety that earth's places have produced, it's Jan Morris.

Fortuitously there's a new interview with her up on the Guardian, that provides a verbal portrait of this very sharp, penetrating, sympathetic, observant human being.  It can be found here.

I first discovered her when reading as many histories of Venice as I could find and had time for prior to my first visit there -- not el V's first visit, of course.

This 2006 edition of Last Letters from Hav
has an introduction by Ursula K. Le Guin.

In certain circles her novel located the imaginary small country and its same-named capital, and Last Letters from Hav (1985) and the sequel section, Hav of the Myrmidons of the 2006 reprint, is her most admired book. When asked here about Venice's influence on these two books she says:

Do you see your novel Hav as a fictionalisation of your experiences in Venice?

"No, unless subconsciously. I think places like Trieste, Beirut or Danzig were probably more in my mind when I threw myself into that fantasy, but most of it was, as far as I know, pure invention – ooh, but now I do distinctly remember plucking an electric ferry-boat directly and shamelessly from the harbour of Bergen, in Norway, and depositing it in Hav … Forgive me!"

As to the flavor of that insignificant but most important place on earth to those who live in Hav, here's a bit from a Guardian review by Ursula K. Le Guin of the 2006 imprint:
When Last Letters from Hav was published (and shortlisted for the Booker prize) in 1985, Jan Morris's well-deserved fame as a travel writer, and the unfamiliarity of many modern readers with the nature of fiction, caused unexpected dismay among travel agents. Their clients demanded to know why they couldn't book a cheap flight to Hav. The problem, of course, was not the destination but the place of origin. You couldn't get there, in fact, from London or Moscow; but from Ruritania, or Orsinia, or the Invisible Cities, it was simply a matter of finding the right train.
However, Le Guin's recognition that Hav inhabits the imagined geography of Ruritania, doesn't prevent her from understanding where else, and perhaps more importantly, Hav is located -- including within time, within history:
Probably Morris, certainly her publisher, will not thank me for saying that Hav is in fact science fiction, of a perfectly recognisable type and superb quality. The "sciences" or areas of expertise involved are social - ethnology, sociology, political science, and above all, history. Hav exists as a mirror held up to several millennia of pan-Mediterranean history, customs and politics. It is a focusing mirror; its intensified reflection sharply concentrates both observation and speculation. Where have we been, where are we going? Those are the questions the book asks. It poses them through the invention of a place not recognised in the atlas or the histories, but which, introduced plausibly and without violence into the existing world, gives us a distanced, ironic and revelatory view of everything around it. The mode is not satiric fantasy, as in the islands Gulliver visited; it is exuberantly realistic, firmly observant, and genuinely knowledgeable about how things have been, and are now, in Saudi Arabia, or Turkey, or Downing Street. Serious science fiction is a mode of realism, not of fantasy; and Hav is a splendid example of the uses of an alternate geography. If, swayed by the silly snobbery of pundits as contemptuous of science fiction as they are ignorant of it, you should turn away from Hav, that would be a shame and a loss.

This capsulates the admiration of this work of Morris's  I felt from the moment I encountered it in the 1980's (when, perhaps not coincidentally I also discovered Fernand Braudel magnificent, ground-breaking histories of the Mediterranean regions and their hinterlands). This also explains why it feels on Earth Day, as we admit slowly to ourselves that our efforts on our planetary home may well have made it unhabitable in the not at all distant future, Hav is a read for today.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wolf Hall - "Anna Regina" PBS - Mark Rylance's Cromwell

Mark Rylance's Cromwell was fascinating from the first episode.  By the middle of "Anna Regina", the 3rd episode of Wolf Hall on PBS, he has become mesmerizing.  We can never have enough of looking at him.

The subtilties and range of what Rylance communicates via his eyes and mouth alone, saying nothing, is, at the very least, worthy of all acting awards. Because of the thick, all enveloping masculine fashion of the era, particularly for somber administrative and legal fellows such as Thomas Cromwell, body language is out, so it's all in Rylance's head, so to speak.

The production's parallelisms and foreshadowings are quite faithful to Mantel's novel -- if I'm recalling correctly; it's been some time since I read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Favorite ones from this episode were his sister-in-law / mistress's off-handed observation that even if /when her husband succumbs to his maladies, because she's Cromwell's "sister" it's illegal for them to marry -- the very argument by which Henry VIII justifies his desire to divorce Katherine.

Another favorite was the sudden irruption of lust-fantasy on Cromwell's part, while conversing amiably with Anne Boleyn, in which his fingers trace around her neck, down between and over, across the high swell of her breasts uplifted by the stays in the bodice of her low cut gown.  Rylance's face remains blank, yet conveys his shock at himself, and even -- maybe? -- a sense of Anne's eventual fate?  or that may just be for us to think of -- all simultaneously.  Also, for the first time, we get a sense of Anne as a beguiling beauty (this is particularly good as earlier in the archery scenes we are wishing someone would give her a time-out, if not a spanking, in response to her total brattiness when her shots didn't go as she wished). This makes for a a special poignancy, when, in another

conversation after Anne is confined to wait out the conclusion of her pregnancy, she says that she's always been desired, but this is the first time she feels valued. All of which we see Rylance taking in, knowing, as do we, just how fragile is her state of value, depending as it does entirely upon what her womb delivers.

So many foreshadowings -- even Anne's coronation ceremony as Queen of England, has her outstretched arms on either side, flat on the cathedral floor, in the pose of her final fate.

It seems that this production cannot do, and has done nothing, not even a tiny detail, wrong!

Unexpectedly, so far my favorite character is actress Charity Walkefield,'s Mary Boleyn, speaking only in terms of a character's likeability, of course, as this is Rylance's - Cromwell's show all together.  But the other Boleyn girl has a sprightly good-natured understanding of the world and its matters, and terrific sense of humor.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

In Honor Of Spring - Rosemary & Thyme

Rosemary & Thyme was a three-season 2003 - 2006)  ITV mystery series featuring two professional gardeners who are also good friends.  In the second season they even travel to jobs in Europe.

My reason for watching has nothing to do with the thin and even at times silly crime plots and villains, but for the scenes of the yards, lawns, gardens and parks in which Laura and Rosemary work

In honor, then, of the many women who garden, those I know and those I don't, here is Rosemary & Thyme opening theme:

Friday, April 17, 2015

History Channel Vikings, Season 3 - Episode 9, "Breaking Point"

We didn't exactly see that coming, but we are not surprised either. For fear of spoilage, that's all I'll comment about that.

To whom or to what is the episode's title, "Breaking Point", referring or pointing at? 

Things did break for Odo, Emperor Charles and Paris, and for Ragnar, certainly. 

Presumably, when / if the Lothbrok familia gets back to Kattegat, everything will break for Aslaug and all those who did not go to Paris.

Those for whom nothing broke, who still live or who died within their viking code, were Rollo and Earl Siegfried. 

But what about King Ecbert, Judith and Æthelwulf?  Ecbert has gone full over to the creepy side, and it is -- slimey. Whatever did the Mighty Kwen Merican Princess put in the drinks of both Ragnar and Ecbert -- or was it when she peed on them?  though we never saw her pee on Ecbert, of course -- to make them go so weirdly off the the mindsets they had when we meet them?  This isn't satisfactory character development writing, for either man, whether viking or christian.  But then, religion isn't exactly a rational experience, is it. Yet I used to enjoy Ecbert, though without trusting him a minute, and would still if he hadn't revealed that he's creepy.

Earl Siegfried you are surely laughing and drinking in Valhalla surrounded by admirers giving you backslaps for what you pulled.  That joke had to more than make up for dying without a weapon in hand. I just wish we'd gotten to know you more, so that it mattered to us you died, so that we were invested in you getting into Valhalla.

By the way, Ragnar, when you told everyone what is what:
I did not become earl because I aspired to be one. It came about because of other people’s actions. And I did not become king out of ambition, but once again I had no choice, as a result of other people’s actions. But nonetheless I am king. King Ragnar! That is my name! King Ragnar. What does a king do, Bjorn?
He rules.
Very good, Bjorn. He rules. And as a ruler I have the last say. Me! Not you, not you, not you, and not you. You’ve all had your ideas and they have all failed! I will not. Now, with no more discussion. We shall meet the Franks tomorrow.
you know what I say?  That's what all rulers say.  O no, I don't want to rule, other people made me do it.  Yet you all insist on your ruler prerogative of telling everyone what to do.  So, spare me that part, OK? And don't speak to me again about how all you really want is to be a simple farmer.

All this season has been about religion and power. My take-away from season 3 is that religion and power are not a very attractive team to drive story-telling. Maybe the final episode next week will pull out season 3, but so far, it ranks rather seriously below the first two seasons, and certainly far below the kick-ass that season 2 was. There's been little given to us in season 3 to invest in, whether as story-line or character. A great battle episode is not enough, neither is this episode's spiked spool of death -- it's not even essential -- to make a good season, but story-telling and characters are. There's been no story here.

But then power tends to accrue in the hands of the aging, and the aging tend to be more interested in religion, and Ragnar's aging rapidly. Ragnar pissed blood in the previous episode from the beating he took in that losing battle to break into Paris.  He's pissing even more blood in "Breaking Point."

Rollo -- all our hopes now depend on you.

Andrew Jackson, Talleyrand, Napoleón

I suppose Napoleón is a fascinating fellow.  What he did, the havoc, game-changing, and bringing the changes around to, not even a monarchy embodied in the body of the divinely appointed sovereign, but an imperium, the closest model of which would have been the Roman Empire of the Caesars.  Like Augustus, he re-wrote and remodeled every part of administration from jurisprudence to the military.

Why did Napoleón stick his hand inside his uniform?  Dang, every military fellow, and those who liked to ape pretensions to military background for over a century was painted and / or photographed with his hand inside his clothes -- fondling their manly chest hairs?
That he appointed  members of his family as monarchs of the territories surrounding France  -- not principally for la belle France's defense as declared in his public announcements of the appointments -- but in order to be recognized as a dynastic ruler equal to the ancient houses such as  Bourbon, Hapsburg and   Romanovs is interesting.  But it still, a megalomaniac is a megalomaniac, and inflated egoist narcissists  in the end are inflated egoist narcissists, and ugly dangerous people, whether their fields of operation are limited to one's family or are expansive as a continental theater.

But Talleyrand now ... the fellow, once in Church orders, in the government of Louis XVI, run to American self-exile from the Revolution that had turned to the Terror, returned to France when the Directoire to become France's Foreign Minister, surfed successfully all the waves between that, the Consulate and throught the zenith of Napoleón's imperium, then falling out and again in exile, this time in England, to return again triumphantly as one of the four major players at the Congress of Vienna -- now that is a fascinating human being. Perhaps not a good one or an admirable one, but fascinating -- and more than a survivor, a success, until the end of his days.

And by all accounts, excellent company, which by most accounts, for any length of time, Napoleón most certainly was not.  Charismatic he was for long periods, but not good company: he lacked manners and courtesy, he was cruel and impatient, and loved hurting people by pinching them violently for extended minutes, leaving bruises and on occasion, blood -- even when not angry.

Talleyrand was a remarkably clear-sighted pragmatic realist. An egoist too, no doubt, but he wasn't a megalomaniac.  In the end, he was more successful than Napoleón, whose second coming transformed to defeat and ended his not that many more days in prison-exile.

One of Andrew Jackson's duels historically imagined.  This one was about a horse race.
Where on the scale between these two would fall Andrew Jackson? He sure was a megalomaniac in so many ways, see the Bank of the United States, hard money, the English, Indians, etc. He too was charismatic, and his manners with women at least, frequently were noticed as exquisite. Women flocked to Jackson, even those politically opposed to him, as they flocked to Talleyrand.

People like speculating how Jackson the military leader would have stepped to Wellington's game (another egoist! -- whose manners with women were anything but good), but what would have been more likely if San Domingue's revolution had not put a decided end to Napoleón's plans for the New World, is how Napoleón would have stepped to Jackson's, facing off as they'd have done in the Floridas and Louisiana territories.

Run-ons, are us today, as getting ready for a Harvard visit takes most of my attention!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Wednesday - C.S. Harris - Who Buries the Dead, A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery

This is the tenth title (March, 2015) in C.S. Harris's  Georgian - Regency Sebastian St. Cyr murder mystery series.  Sebastian, the Earl of Devlin,  and his wife, Hero daughter of Lord Jervis, most trusted and ruthless keeper of the reign's secrets and dirty tricks performer to the mad king's and his son, were seen a the very end of the previous installment as brand new parents. Who Buries the Dead picks up soon after that perilous birth, which Hero barely survived.

C.S. Harris is a New Orleans novelist.  She began publishing this series with What Angels Fear in November, 2005. Presumably she was dealing with the end tasks of publishing a book in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, these ten St. Cyr novels have appeared on a yearly schedule. This is particularly admirable considering that surely, though Harris may not suffered as terribly as so many others from New Orleans's Katrina tragedy -- let us say no New Orleanian escaped from the long, on-going experience and aftermath without being seriously affected.

Over the course of these ten years and novels  the reader has learned quite a bit more about Sebastian and his highly fraught past. We're now at the point where we know as much about Sebastian's past as he does. From now on, we readers, like his wife Hero, if more information is revealed that may solve the mysteries of his past, will be learning it with him.

Each novel follows the same structure.  Each novel includes scenes in which Sebastian and members of his family have encounters in which the secrets of Sebastian's birth are either never mentioned, or are addressed obliquely.  Often the encounters are hostile, despite his father, Lord Herndon's, efforts to mend fences. The same with Sebastian's meetings with Lord Jarvis, his most implacable antagonist -- who clearly knows more about Sebastian than most -- and who is the father of his dearly, deeply loved wife, Hero, and, now, also one of his son's grandfathers.

The series isn't entirely even, meaning not all of them are equally engaging, partly because of the formulaic structure.  Which nonengagement then might be just me, because I don't like formula much in my fiction.  Repetition of character and event irritate, do not comfort, me.

That said,  for me, Who Buries the Dead is up to the best of the series.  Both Jane Austen and her brother, Henry, who, in this novel, is still with the bank he joined, are ancillary characters. Austen is visiting her brother, Henry, in London to help care for his wife, Eliza, who is confined to home by the illness which will soon kill her. This is a period in which Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice have been published, and, thanks to the Regent, are the rage of ton reading.  (There are those who will have a knowing smile reading this, as Austen herself used 'ton' only once in her own fiction.)  Names and events encountered by Austen in connection with Sebastian's murder investigation reference those of Austen's later novels, Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion, though the author has very wisely chosen not to replicate any of the characters or plots of these books.

Who Buries the Dead is centered around Jamaican slave plantations, and the execution of Charles I. For more fact-checking The American Slave Coast, these last  three weeks I’d done more granular delving into the lead-up, execution and  aftermath of Charles I's execution, in Rebellion: The History of England From James I to the Glorious Revolution (2014) by Peter Ackroyd,  and (Lord) Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I (2015).

However, it was purely by chance I picked up Who Buries the Dead last week, nor did I have any idea that Charles I's remains were the central axis of Harris's novel. The reading of these two works of Stuart history -- "that most hapless of British dynasties", as the historian Robert Tombs declares them to be in his The English and Their History (20014), made the enjoyment of this St. Cyr Mystery greater, not less.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

New York City To Acknowledge Slave Market At Wall and Pearl + The Murder of Lincoln

The Dutch built their Manhattan settlement, New Amsterdam, on the island's tip. In this oldest part of New York there are 38 historical markers and plaques, sculptures and statues such as the bronze commemorating Peter

Peter Stuyvesant, known as Petrus, served as the last Dutch Director-General of the colony of New Netherland from 1647 until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664, after which it was renamed New York. 

Stuyvesant.  What most visitors and residents don't realize is, besides founding New Amsterdam among their other activities in the early colonial era, the Dutch traders, among the first Africa-New World slavers and traders brought the first slaves to North America and the English colonies such as Virginia.

Harper's Magazine illustration of the New York City slave market in 1643.
New York's largest and longest operating slave market was located on the East River, at the corner of Pearl and Wall Streets. It began operating in the 1700's, long after the Dutch had ceded its North American colonies to the English, including the renamed for Charles II's brother, New York City.  Not incidental to this story, King Charles II was part of two royal African companies of merchant adventurers, whose aim were to fill the king's coffers with profits made by capturing Africans and selling them in the new world. Wresting domination of

Catherine of Braganza, Charles II's Portuguese, Catholic queen, controversial with her subjects and still controversial in New York City today, due to her connection with the African slave trade.
the African slave trade from the Portuguese and Dutch was a large motivation for Charles II's wars with the Dutch and his marriage to Portugal's royal daughter, Catherine of Braganza.

An historical drawing of the spot where New York City's 18th century slave market was located.

New York City's slave market existed at the corner of Wall and Pearl Streets from 1711 to 1762. "Slavery was introduced to Manhattan in 1626." The date is important because it's less than two years after Dutch settlers first arrived at the tip of what is today known as Manhattan. That means white Europeans and enslaved Africans arrived in New York — then called New Amsterdam — at essentially the same time.

To the many downtown historical markers, this summer the City is adding a marker that acknowledges the slave market. At this time the plan is to unveil the marker on Juneteenth (June 19), also known as Freedom Day, which dates to the emancipation of African-American slaves in Texas and throughout the Confederate South. "The marker will be freestanding and located in a pocket park on the northeast corner of Wall and Water Streets, a block from the historic location of the slave market."

Chris Cobb, an independent scholar who contributed research to the historical marker, testified at a City Council hearing last year about the legacy of slavery in New York. Cobb pointed out that the city directly benefited from the business. "It was a city-run slave market because they wanted to be able to tax every person who was bought and sold there," he said. "And the city hired slaves to do work like building roads."
One of the many reasons to have a public reminder of this slave market is because

New York and other northern cities accrued vast wealth from slave labor and profited for centuries from dealings in the slave trade. Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of some very famous companies, some of which are still around: Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few. Various units of these and other financial companies bankrolled southern plantations, insured slaves as property, and used slaves as collateral for loans.
Rioters subjected black people, including children in an orphanage to the most brutal violence: torture, hanging, and burning for three days in July, 1863.  Lincoln had to sent Union troops to the city to quell the violence.
This also explains why New York City, as opposed to the state at large, was such a hotbed of copperhead and other anti-abolitionist and emancipation action, including riots in which free African Americans were killed in large numbers, and why it hosted so many secessionist spies and plotters during the Civil War.

Acknowledging how thoroughly slavery and the slave trade are embedded in all our national history in all parts of the nation helps explain too, the murder 150 years ago today, of President Lincoln by Booth, only 5 days after Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox.

Lincoln's murder was a true, national, tragedy.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Vikings - Season 3, Episode 8 - See Paris and Die - NO SPOILERS

Vikings' "To the Gates!" may be the best, and certainly among the very best, prolonged battle scenes put up on screen.*  It's certainly the best ever made-for-television battle.

Even knowing some of the historical background on which the last episodes of season three are drawing there were moments when it was impossible to not to think:
"See Paris -- and Die."
Those were deeply disturbing moments.

Now Ragnar knows the weak places and strong places of Paris's defenses.  He knows how the Francia soldiers fight, and their variety of weapons.  He's got a sense of the commander who directs the defense.  He also knows how much religious faith matters in the battles. However, Ragnar's lost . . .  how many men?

O Lagertha!  At least you promised to kill him . . . sometime . . . .
A very great deal happens in this episode beyond the hewing, hacking, bleeding, burning, drowning and dying, but I will not speak of them for fear of spoiling.**

However, this can't be a spoiler, or much of one anyway: The writer(s) made magnificent use of the Oriflamme, as it played such a big role in some of the wars and battles of the English-Normans and France at times during the Plantagenet reign.  Which means descendants of the Norse will still be dealing with the banner of St. Denys in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.  Not the same banner-textile, obviously, after hundreds of years, but there's always an Oriflamme since about the 6th century.  In terms purely of the episode the Oriflamme's presence underscored how much this season has been about conflicting religions and how these conflicts inevitably play out by fire and sword.

The last two episodes, judging by this one, will be killers.


*  Among these very best battle scenes this watcher would include more than one battle and siege from the 1961 film,  El Cid (this film also has the best castles).  Recall too, there was no blue / green screen or CGI then.  Every once in a while, in the days before digitization and dvds and streaming and all the other ways we revel in our watching now, El Cid would show up in a local art theater.  This film was done in the days of cinemascope and alas the days of theaters with one of those screens made for that were long gone before I got to learn of El Cid.  But I have watched in theaters like the Film Forum several times.

**  One of these involved the Francia princess, Gisla, daughter of Charles the Bald (who is not historically an emperor though they call him that in Vikings) whom I always wish to call by her historic name, Judith.  But there's already Judith in the series. She's not used in her historical position either, since by the historical record, Judith was Æthelwulf's second wife, and she had no children by Æthelwulf', or anyone else .  However, when it comes to the liberties Vikings takes with history, this doesn't bother me.  First because Ragnar himself probably didn't exist outside the sagas, but rather was a composite figure.  Which is why the timeslips don't generally bother me either.  Sagas didn't necessarily progress in any careful linear narrative line in which every point between getting between A and G is described much less even mentioned.

What Romantic Art Means - "Critique of Reason"

This is a "sweeping, 300-piece survey of the movement at the Yale University Art Gallery."  The majority of the pieces were produced by English artists as it's a collaboration between the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art.
The first major collaborative exhibition between the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, The Critique of Reason offers an unprecedented opportunity to display together treasured works from both museums’ collections. The show comprises paintings, sculptures, medals, watercolors, drawings, prints, and photographs by such iconic artists as William Blake, Théodore Géricault, Francisco de Goya, and Joseph Mallord William Turner. The broad range of work selected challenges the traditional notion of the Romantic artist as a brooding genius given to introversion and fantasy. Instead, the exhibition’s eight thematic sections juxtapose arresting works that reveal the Romantics as attentive explorers of their natural and cultural worlds. The Critique of Reason celebrates the richness and range of Yale’s Romantic holdings, presenting them afresh for a new generation of museumgoers.
Since seeing the film, Mr. Turner, last year, Romanticism has again been much on my mind, and wondering how much, if any impact it had upon the thought of the new United States and her political - intellectual classes.

The War for Independence has been profiled as a product of the Enlightenment, without considering that continental and British Romanticism might have had equal or even contradictory influence. For instance, see the successive religious waves of  The Great Awakening, and their huge footprint in American history.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Whitney Plantation Museum

CBS News did a segment about it. Their commentary afterwards isn't the usual empty drivel.  Among what the segment includes is the mother of of someone we know learning that her first American ancestor was brought from Africa to the Whitney.

Video here.

The word is getting out.  People are being as deeply affected as Mr. Cummings, the creator of this slavery memorial art, has wanted.

Other Foxhome entries about the Whitney Plantation Museum here, and here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

BBC / PBS Wolf Hall - First Episode, "Three Card Trick"

PBS broadcast the first of Wolf Hall's six episode this past Sunday. So much had been written about it earlier this year when it ran in the UK.  Many viewers / reviewers seemed to think the characters mis-cast, the lighting too dim, and the pacing far too slow, while Cromwell, whose story this is, is not ruthless and dangerous enough.

The impression I have taken away from the first episode is rather different.  That it is not afraid to take its time is a pleasurable relief.  The dimness of scenes at night or in enclosed, windowless spaces contrast not only dramatically in terms of light and cinematography, but in terms of the narrative and characters up on the screen.  This flows naturally out of how the visual adaptation meshes these period light and dark realities with Mantell's third person intrusive narrative style, and her Cromwell's memory sweeps back-and-forth through time. I'm guessing that the scenes featuring King Henry or Anne Boleyn in this first episode will, as the series progresses, become darker for them both.

Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn with Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII. Lewis is a terrific choice for King Henry as I've never gotten over him as the loathsome Soames in The Forsyte Saga. This is a terrific still from "Three Card Trick" because one of the exaggerated cods of the period is evident, which are part of the series' costuming, though they were all hidden under the skirts and voluminous layers designed for the actors.
The way Anne was played in "Three Card Trick", she was unlikeable and not strikingly different from the other women around her. One wonders what she possesses to so obsess the King, other than the fact that he was not allowed to possess her body entirely without marriage. To keep a king dangling for so many years Anne Boleyn had to have other features, one would think. (The Tudors, to give that much criticized series its due, did do this, and did it very well, with no little credit to Natalie Dormer; this makes Claire Foy a most courageous actress, following Dormer's Anne.) Henry, with all his flaws, faults, foolishnesses and paranoia, was not unintelligent, nor ignorant, and he was a personality possessed of great curiosity.  Perhaps a clue can be found in this first episodes most perceptive line, which further indicates a great deal about Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry and Thomas Cromwell -- and Anne Boleyn.  It is suggested to Cromwell the reason for Wolsey's fall from the king's favor is due to the Cardinal having overreached in his pride, thus the king punished him -- this was Wolsey's error.  Cromwell responds -- the words are not 100% exact, merely recalled: "The only mistake the Cardinal made was making an enemy of Anne Boleyn."

Claire Foy as Kate Balfour in Crossbones.
Personally, I don't care for Claire Foy as Anne, disliking her character's style  in Crossbones.  Her style is equally abrasive in Wolf Hall.

However, though Cromwell rode to success and power the king's and Boleyn's obsession to be married legally, I'm not sure he particularly liked Anne, or cared about her at all. He couldn't afford to, of course.  It was the king he served. Second, Wolf Hall is Cromwell's story, not Boleyn's or even King Henry's. So Boleyn and the king -- and Thomas More -- are as Cromwell perceives them within his own arc, which I, as viewer, must keep in mind.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall
As for Rylance not projecting the coiled threat and danger that Cromwell must have been, with his first decades so infused with violence committed upon him and violence he himself committed -- watch his Cromwell's eyes watching everyone and everything while no one looks at this nobody. Watch how still he is in his watching, how his seemingly affectless remarks in response to his enemies' such

Anton Lessor, playing Thomas More in Wolf Hall.
as Thomas More lets out the bile of their insults to him like a stiletto thrust lets out blood from flesh. He's so still, that the king, Anne, More -- anyone who doesn't know him as his family knows him -- can see anything they wish in his delivery -- even humor, which is not lacking in Cromwell, if one is paying attention -- and we see early that the Henry does pay attention. All three of these trump cards of the three card trick, Cromwell, Henry and Boleyn, are always paying attention to everything and everyone. Their personal survival more than anyone else's depend on on seeing what is really there.

Thus a man whose wishes to become necessary to a king's administration and exchequer cannot be overtly projecting an image of himself as a weapon ready to strike anyone and anywhere anytime. This is particularly true if one is baseborn, surrounded by noble enemies.

I personally appreciate very much this approach of Rylance to Cromwell's character.

Yes, Wolf Hall, particularly because of Rylance, bodes well. I will also enjoy being able to watch it without a week's interruption when it's on dvd.

About the costuming:

This was an era of worse than usual cold, as well as when men were men, who supposedly exhibited their most manly of their manly selves in war and combat, so all the bulk of the clothes. But all those bare bosoms, FREEZING!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ann Leckie - Ancillary Sword

Leckie, Anne (2014) Ancillary Sword. Orbit – Hachette. New York.

Why have the covers of these books been made so ugly while reflecting nothing of what's inside?
Ancillary Sword reads as fast as its predecessor, Ancillary Justice. I began reading it about 10 PM on Thursday night, and finished it during Friday night's reading hours. It's accidental that I read this book only hours before the Hugo awards short list was announced. 

Some readers have said Ancillary Sword wasn't up to the quality of Ancillary Justice. I don't agree. However, I think I can see why some feel this way. It's like traveling anywhere: you can only see it for the first time once.

Justice educated us into understanding the strangenesses of the world Leckie created.  The grammar is used as we currently usually employ English grammar. But it takes time to comprehend the vocabulary in which Sword of Justice is written. It is almost entirely Leckie's usage of gendered nouns and pronouns that creates the strange of Radchaai space and its citizens -- yet the full collective noun, is the non-gendered "human". Since Justice has educated us into seeing and hearing what was initially strange and puzzling, Sword is more immediately accessible to the reader than Justice was. As Sword is more immediately accessible some think it is a bit disappointing.

In terms of language driving the narrative, the plot and and dramatizing the narrator-protagonist Breq, even the titles of the books provide another sophisticated and intriguing dimension to the series.  In Justice, it was the sword on which we focus, i.e. how the ruler of a planetary empire employs organized military violence and war, to adjudicate the imperium's disputes and conflicts, even, literally within itself.  In Sword, it’s about how justice -- legal, political, social – can be employed to counter even Anaander Mianaai's imperial inner conflicts, as well as specific disputes in specific places.

In both books, the outcomes still depend upon how particular minds choose their own employment of violence and law, on behalf of individuals and collective entities. These collective entities are also themselves often individuals, so to speak, contained within a larger collective, such as the captive labor in generational perpetuity labor slavery within the larger collective of the empire, spiraling down through containment within the planetary system, the planet, the tea plantations and the administrations of all of them.

Though the second novel is titled Ancillary Sword, Fleet Commander Breq serves on a Radch imperium Mercy (of Kalr) ship, while being countered by a Sword (of Atagaris) ship, complete with the ancillaries, which Breq's Mercy ship doesn't have. But it is justice, strained through mercy, that Breq must wield, for the survival of her ship and mission, not the sword of military violence.

Ancillary Sword tackles other issues of an imperium's violence as well: colonization, exploitation and slavery, as well as wars of conquest and civil war for control that are not only inevitable to empire, but even, in many ways, an empire's raison d'etre (see: Napoleon's empire, to examine this signature of imperium from fairly close period in our own time, but one distant enough in history that we can see it more clearly than our own).

Leckie give us all this, not only through characters' dilemmas, but with language.  She creates an exciting work of fiction that interrogates the boundaries of civic responsibility for individuals whether AI, such Station Administrator Celar, or collective individuals such as the variety of ancillaries, and the variety of levels that make up the whole society of the Atohoek (ad hoc?) planetary system, at this moment, within the Radch imperium. This is an impressive achievement. 

So far the Ancillary novels are among the most original, most interesting writing achievements that has come out of science fiction in quite a few years.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Vikings - Anniversary of Paris 845 Siege 'n Sack

In the 9th century, 845, when Paris was part of the kingdom given to Charles the Bald, one of Charlemagne's grandsons.*  I don't know though, exactly when 

Charles the Bald enthroned.

Easter took place in 845, but the siege began in March.

It surely has delighted the History Channel's Vikings team to begin their interpretation of the Siege of Paris with episode 7, which broadcast last night, three days before Easter.

As well as extracting an enormous weight of silver, the Vikings' siege of 845 taught Monsieur Bald to build fortified bridges leading up to, into, the city.

Nevertheless this was not the end of invasions from the Norse, attacks on Paris 
and danegeld (or, gafol, in 11th century sources).  For that matter this wasn't the first invasion of the Norse into Francia, but this one really brought the gafol home!


*   Fans of the History Channel's Vikings series (of whom I am one), please take note this sentence in the above-link to the history of the siege:  
In March 845,[5] a fleet of 120 Danish Viking ships[1][6] containing more than 5,000 men[7] entered the Seine under the command of a Danish chieftain[8] named "Reginherus", or Ragnar.[1] This Ragnar has often been tentatively identified with the legendary saga figure Ragnar Lodbrok, but the historicity of the latter remains a disputed issue among historians.[5][7]