". . . 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

Friday, July 31, 2015

White Collar - Final Season - No Spoilers

There is no more White Collar that oddly mated Valentine to NYC, the elegant caper con man and -- the FBI.

I shed tears.  You were special, and now, where o where are thou?

You had the loveliest friends, because of whom you were not alone.

The final, 6th season, was a truncated one, 6 episodes in all.  All involved knew the series had run its course, so the emphasis was on the caper of capers, concluding its run as elegantly as it began.

Neal -- you lived up to everyone's expectations.

Neal Cafferty though.  You were charm coupled with elegance and intelligence the way only a caper crook can be.

At least there's that very different NYC crime show, Elementary, which covers so much more ground than plutocratic Manhattan, though there's no dearth of plutocrats, yet is as dependably entertaining and clever as White Collar ever was. The wit is different; it includes a social commentary which manages to speak truth to power, such as banks and other foolishnesses with which we fool ourselves as to who we are.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vidal vs. Buckley

Due to my interest in Gore Vidal, the historical fiction author of what has been called Narratives of Empire, I am interested in this film, Best of Enemies, as well. 

Vidal did know his history, and particularly he understood how history could be and often, even usually, deliberately re-written,  facts left out, selectively cited, revised, manipulated to tell the story the historian wished to tell -- rather than the real story, so to speak.

Vidal did it himself  in his Narratives of Empire, partly as style and reflection of the eras the novels re-created, while always reminding the reader that fiction cannot be trusted.  (I've never quite forgiven him for his mendacious portrait of President Grant in1876: A Novel (1976) -- here we see a bit too much of Henry Adams's influence on Vidal.) The Narratives are an ongoing lesson in both writing history and historical fiction for me, to read, listen to, watch Vidal's process and objective in creating his picture of the U.S. throughout his life, in everything he did, including running for office.  He was among the more interesting and valuable Americans the U.S. has produced.

Press Release for Robert Gordon's Best of Enemies follows: 

My latest documentary, “Best of Enemies”—about the debates and feud between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal—opens in NY, LA, Toronto and Vancouver this Friday 7/31.  I made the film with Morgan Neville, and Magnolia Pictures is rolling it out around the country in August.  Opening weekend is very important to an arthouse film and we’d love for you to come out this weekend to attend. Tell your friends too. Tweet, post, tattoo! A good opening weekend means a wider reach to follow. Best of Enemies has received almost universally positive reviews—from across the political spectrum. The film does not take sides in the argument, but makes us consider how we argue. Both Buckley and Vidal were tremendous wits, so the film is very funny. Until it’s not. Below are links to the trailer, to some reviews, and to theaters we’ll be expanding to over the next couple months (the list can increase or diminish, based on opening weekend (it’s a crazy way to do business; we’re hoping it doesn’t rain this weekend in NY)). Sharing information anytime is great, but especially Thursday July 30 and Friday July 31, if you could post or email to remind people it’s opening Friday July 31, we’d be very appreciative.
Here is the trailer: 
Here’s theater info:
Here are the websites:  
A review from the Hollywood Reporter:
Coverage from the New York Times: 
In New York, we are opening at IFC downtown and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas uptown.In Los Angeles, we are at the Landmark 12.In Toronto, we are at the TIFF Lightbox.In Vancouver, we are at Fifth Ave. Cinemas.
Some of the nice things people are saying:"Outstanding. There could scarcely be any documentary more enticing, scintillating and downright fascinating.”  -  The Hollywood Reporter“A delicious spectacle” - Newsweek “Witty, nasty and laugh-out-loud hilarious” - Movie NationJuicy and thrilling” - The Guardian“Superbly entertaining.”  - New York Magazine"Thoroughly engrossing.” - Joe Leydon, Variety
Facebook - - @VidalBuckleyDoc#BestofEnemies
 Thank you, thank you very much! Robert Gordon

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Poet Elizabeth Alexander

While working out this afternoon I listened to poet Elizabeth Alexander speak and recite her poetry. Like I have, many who recognize Alexander's name probably first learned of her work when she recited at Obama's second inaugural.

Her mother was an historian. She's a professor herself as well as a poet. The professor part supports the creative part of her life in many more ways than the financial -- just as being a mother does, she thinks. She's so articulate, her thinking so deeply grounded, that her language shimmers as much while speaking as on the page.

She spoke of reading Toni Morrison's Beloved, or rather, how for some years she avoided reading it. "I thought I just can't take it right now.  Some other time."  When she did read it, she could read it only in small bits, over a long period of time.  The novel has captured terrible dimensions of the African American historical experience -- particularly that of the antebellum mother's experience, in the language of poetry. It's terrible beyond describing yet Morrison did it, in language that "shimmers" in words of "radiance."

In the course of the program Alexander said without centering the black experience and culture in our educational system we have no idea what this nation and its history are.  Of course she's far too generous, intelligent and compassionate to even think that this centering of African American history and culture must be accomplished by, or even should be, through the exclusion of everything else.

A review of Alexander's latest book here.

What she means, what we believe, is that this experience must be finally taken from the sidebar and put as much front and center as that of the battles and diplomacy of the War of Independence.

When I brought this up to my partner and co-author of The American Slave Coast he responded: "that indeed is where many historians are at these days.  I think the general weight of the history profession now is there. We have the moral force of history on our side . . . "

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

BBC America Musketeers Season 2

Is there anything, anything at all, that Musketeers doesn't do right? and classy?

They even record the music that scores all those action scenes live, in a studio, with an orchestra made up of living female and male musicians! Paul Englisby is the compose and music director.  There aren't that many series that do this, not in the movies, even on Broadway, and certainly not on television.

There is nothing simple about Musketeers.

Even the super villain character of Milady de Winter is fully rounded, and complex, mysterious -- and developing. How can a villain develop?  Their job is to be evil and thwart our protagonists.  Even the primary villain of this season Rocheford, isn't simply evil, but boy, is he scary!  King Louis XIII, lost much of his sympathy as he reverts to the arbitrary use of a monarch's power while becoming paranoid and very selfish with it, and thus easily manipulated.

All of these characters are equally interesting and were from the first episode of the first episode.  They only became more so in season 2.  So I'm very sad that Milady will not seen during the first episodes of season 3.  Maimie McCoy is pregnant and was't able to join the cast when shooting began for it back in April.

The series even does women and people of color right, and within historical context.  That Constance sees so clearly what the consequences up the line for her would be by running off from her husband to live with d'Artagnan -- and then they were able to get married, but not that fast, because Constance feels guilty about her husband's death, though in truth she wasn't responsible in the least. Though she did not love him she never pretended that it was right to be so passionately involved with someone else while married to him.  It wasn't -- honorable.  Though they marry and d'Artagnan is dazzlingly happy, it doesn't seem that he understands even now why Constance didn't immediately fall into partnership with him when Bonacieux was dead.  He seems to believe she merely saw he was right and she was wrong.

And it's an adult series in which substantive matters are at stake -- though surely non-adults must find much of the program appealing?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

What the British Did During The Blitz

A new book declares the real beginning of the sexual revolution took place in England, with London the epicenter target of the Blitz.

Long article in The Daily Mail:
"Adapted from The Secret History Of The Blitz by Joshua Levine, to be published by Simon & Schuster in partnership with the Imperial War Museum on July 30 at £16.99."
The Blitz intensified sexual desire. A full two decades before the so-called permissive society of the Sixties, a dramatic, if understated, sexual revolution was already taking place — one which would, significantly, prove to be a forerunner of the mores by which Britons live today.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes

Animated graphic depicting the African slave trade, part of Slate's ongoing series. Based on the Eltis and Richardson database, with proportional-size dots for the number of kidnapped people per ship, it depicts the movement of 20,528 voyages in two minutes. Who went where, when, seen as a flow.

This makes clear how few Africans were brought to Colonial and U.S. shores, in proportion to those taken to the Caribbean and Latin America.

By the way, briefly after the end of the War of Independence, and then particularly after the War of 1812, a huge percentage of these captives were brought to the Caribbean and South America on ships flying the U.S. flag and carrying U.S. papers.

3 Entries Included In The American Slave Coast Index

The three entries in The American Slave Coast's index most unlikely to be found within another single book's index are:

1) the Margravate of Azilla;

2) Selim;

3) Salgar.

Happily I'm recovering from whatever knocked me down the last two days. Though still woozy and dizzy, the pains and headache have mostly gone -- well, as much as the pain in my back ever goes away.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prince of Minor Writers: Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm (2015) New York Review of Books.

"There's nothing easier than to be an incendiary. All one needs is a box of matches and a sense of beauty."

Sir Max Beerbohm by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1903)
Ashmoleon Museum of Art and Archeology
One does wish for more of this incisive writing in these days of glib shallowness and over-hopped IPA.

The last of everything has been sent to Publisher. The American Slave Coast goes to print tomorrow. Books in warehouse sometime in September. Published October 1.

 My eyes are dry and itchy. A headache which insists my head is simultaneously falling off and exploding. Sick to my stomach. My left hip is in so much pain I got about 3 hours of sleep. My lower back is screaming.  My neck can't turn. Every part of my body aches.  El V surely feels even worse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Reading Wednesday - Traitor's Blade by Sebastien De Castell

Traitor's Blade (2014) is the first installment of a fantasy series with the serial title, Greatcoats, that is inspired to a degree by Dumas's famous Musketeers.  Nor does one need Dave Duncan's blurb to know that fine Canadian author is also an influence. The second volume, Knight's Shadow, appeared earlier this year.

Traitor's Blade reads like what it is, a first novel.  As a first effort any intelligent reader -- particularly any reader who has also published -- will give the poor proofreading (such as "waste" for "waist") a pass, since genre publishing doesn't usually shell out for professional proofreaders -- or even copy editors.

A good copy editor or line editor though, would have helped Traitor's Blade become the better book that it is trying to be. An editor would have helped the author to smooth out his uneven tone which lurches between what so many mistake as Dumas-style wit and banter, and meaningful yet clumsy metaphysical speculation on the nature of being and nothingness. A good editor would have recognized the author loads too many fight scenes at the front, abruptly introduces magic, then disappears it again for most of the book until suddenly -- magical creatures! An editor would have informed the author that his big reveal is buried. Though Falcio seems to know what this all about, there's so little time provided to the reveal of the big reveal the reader is left scratching her head as to what actually happened and what it means.

The narrative does move quickly, but necessary transitions have been omitted, which screws with pacing and rhythm.

Another way of putting it is that Traitor's Blade needed another revision.

Some of these problems are inevitable with a first person narrator, who emotes like someone who has read the addresses of Vlad Taltos often and uncritically, yet who is admirably attempting to hit those notes of tension, high stakes, peril, courage and justice that combine so pitch perfectly in BBC / America's   

The Musketeers (season 1, 2014; season 2, 2015 -- the very best adventure television ever! with the best coats! horses! leather! and steel!). The voice of the narrator hasn't yet been fine tuned to the story being told, or the voices of the other characters.  Voice is hard!

Doing the Dumas affect effectively in English is also difficult.  The French language tends to lend itself to that affect of effortless ballon that English doesn't -- which perhaps

explains why the language of ballet remains French. English language genre writers often seem to equate the tone of cynicism and sarcasm with the light-footed repartee and wit in which a Dumas veils his concerns with justice, loyalty, honor and courage.

Justice, loyalty, honor and courage are what Traitor's Blade is about.  So much so that Falcio, our narrator and protagonist, informs the reader early on that the great difference between his kind -- the King's Greatcoats (read musketeeers) and knights (read the Red Guards) is that he and the Greatcoats are about justice, which is for all, no matter what class and station, while knights are about honor, which is about themselves. This is the primary reason I am looking to find De Castell's second novel, since its title, Knight's Shadow, suggests in this book the author may be exploring that conflict more deeply. That's interesting, and not something we've seen much of lately in fantasy fiction.

The voice may not be quite as fresh as it will be, and it is not yet trained, but the mind behind the creation isn't going to be satisfied to writing to formulae.

Or so it seems to this reader.

P.S. The jacket copy bio's tone doesn't well serve Sebastien De Castell, who it seems to this reader, is on the brink of having a fine writing career.  Yah, it's a genre thing but really, he is an adult.  His book, which wrestles with adult matters -- and so few do these days --  proves it.

Charoite in rough state.
Charoite polishes up into lovely jewelry and other pretty items.

P.P.S.  The author's choice, to name Greatcoat's quest, the King's Charoites, is a happy one. In New Age parlance, chariotes' energies can promote physical and emotional healing, help overcome obsessions / addictions and channel other positive transformations when worn on the body. Their shades of violet are lovely.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Thomas Jefferson and Greece's Financial Crisis

In 1803 Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to William Henry Harrison:

William Henry Harrison, War of 1812
". . .  as the diplomatic crisis leading to the Louisiana Purchase unfolded, Jefferson suggested that if the various Indian nations could be encouraged to purchase goods on credit, they would likely fall into debt, which they could relieve through the sale of lands to the government.3"
So we see the practice of the well-off ensnaring the less rich in a web of indebtedness out of which they cannot extricate themselves other than losing everything they once owned -- even their bodies in many times and places, as in Rome, which demanded people sell themselves and their entire families into slavery to repay the patriarch's loan -- is ancient and well established.

The contemporary Greeks understand this very well.  Over these last days the media has been speaking with Greeks, Greeks who are the average woman in the street sort: small business owners, people who work in restaurants, teach, and so on.  While speaking in English as a second language, these people are articulate and well-informed.  They, their families, friends and communities have been thinking deeply about their condition relative to the EU and their place in it for a long time.

One of their ways of describing what they are subjected to is to compare their situation as a small, poor nation within the Eurozone with that of being Mississippi (the poorest state) in the United States.  To paraphrase generally:

[the United States, a big and powerful single entity includes poor states.  All the states pay taxes to the federal government but the richer ones pay more.  The poorer states receive more benefits in taxes, rather than having everything taxed and taken away from them.  But in the EU, controlled by very a coalition of very rich and powerful nations, with deep ties to the IMF and other international financial interests, the weak and poor are taxed of everything for their own benefit.  We see nothing in return.  it's that the U.S. takes and gives according to need not power that makes it a single nation, in which the people see themselves as citizens of the United States first and citizens of their states second. This allows the system to flourish.  The EU is composed of nations who see themselves first as citizens of their nations and citizens of the EU only as they can benefit from it.  This is not a whole, but a set of conflicting powers, in which the poor are preyed upon by the rich. The rich are not interested in helping the poor but only in exploiting us.  Thus the EU is not a single entity and cannot be, unlike the U.S.]

As things are now in the U.S. and always have been I might takes some issue about the U.S. being a single entity working for the benefit of all.  But I get the point they're making.

One of the primary themes in The American Slave Coast is the division of the colonies, first, during the Constitutional Convention second, and then third in the antebellum era.  The argument, which is not an original one exactly, is that the U.S. could never become a single nation until slavery was taken out.  There were two parallel economies at play all during our history, always in conflict with each other.  A credit, not cash economy, most of the slavery states' wealth was calculated in African American captives -- in whose bodies their credit was calculated.

It was a closed economic system, one in which its wealth could not be used outside itself, i.e. an African American could not be exchanged up north directly for a carriage, but one could do that very thing in the South, including paying one's gambling debts. Thus as a particular form of capitalism, it had to expand or die. It was an enormous drag on the economy and financial systems of the the free soil states, just starting with the stark obstacle that there could be no national system of money.

The first thing Lincoln did when Fort Sumter was fired upon -- after calling for volunteers for the army -- was commission Secretary of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, to create a national currency.  Recall also that Buchanan's southern planter cabinet members and their appointees, as well as the southern senators and representatives stole every bit of specie -- and everything else they could -- from the federal government, even unto an office's petty cash, before decamping to TraitorLandia, where they then competed to become president of the CSA. There was no money at all to run the federal government.

Chase's greenback was the first national currency and it worked.  Even by the end of the war it still retained a bit more than 61% of its value.  We all know what happened with the CSA currency, backed by the wealth contained in the bodies of the captive African Americans . . . .

After the war, the U.S. did have a single currency, and then only was able to become a single nation.* The Greeks understand this, but they feel the EU isn't treating them fairly, which is how the U.S. treats Mississippi.  Recall, Mississippi went from the wealthiest state in the union in 1860, with the largest number of millionaires, to the poorest in 1865.

Will the EU survive?  As we are experiencing yet again in the U.S., we are questioning whether or not we can survive as a single entity, even with our common currency.


* The Southern slaveocracy was anti-paper and banks, as well as anti-city and public improvements, and certainly anti-tax -- and paying fair wages for labor -- and still is, for that matter!

BTW, a former Virginia governor is a blurber for The American Slave Coast!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Touché - The Literary History of the Duel

Touché: The Duel in Literature (2015) by John Leigh; Harvard University Press is the latest addition to the ever-popular histories of dueling. Among others, see: Dueling in the Old South: Vignettes of Social History ( 2000) by Jack K. Williams;  Dueling in Charleston: Violence Refined in the Holy City (2012) by J. Grahame Long;  Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South (1983) by Bertram Wyatt-Brown; The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy (1989) by Victor Gordon Kiernan;  Gentlemen's Blood: A History of Dueling From Swords at Dawn to Pistols at Dusk (2008) Barbara Holland.

But this may be the first literary history of the practice.

From the catalog copy:

Many of the greatest names in Western literature wrote about or even fought in duels, among them Corneille, Molière, Richardson, Rousseau, Pushkin, Dickens, Hugo, Dumas, Twain, Conrad, Chekhov, and Mann. As John Leigh explains, the duel was a gift as a plot device. But writers also sought to discover in duels something more fundamental about human conflict and how we face our fears of humiliation, pain, and death. The duel was, for some, a social cause, a scourge to be mocked or lamented; yet even its critics could be seduced by its risk and glamour. Some conservatives defended dueling by arguing that the man of noble bearing who cared less about living than living with honor was everything that the contemporary bourgeois was not. The literary history of the duel, as Touché makes clear, illuminates the tensions that attended the birth of the modern world.
Review here.

It's Coming Down

That flag.  That flag that used to fly from the South Carolina State House, starting in 1961 in the Civil Rights Struggle, then moved to the grounds next to, in front of, the State House.  That flag.  It's going to be taken down and put away. The South Carolina Senate, and now the South Carolina House, has so voted it done.

I can hardly believe it.

It's long past time. Indeed, the time never was that that flag should be displayed in any honorary, public place.

Greg Grandin has published this month a couple of very thought-provoking essays that examine that flag's continuing relationship with our military, that flag of traitors to the nation.

Here is the one published in the Nation:
What Was the Confederate Flag Doing in Cuba, Vietnam, and Iraq?
The Confederate flag’s military tenure continued long after the Civil War ended.
To that list of places where the flag was displayed, though Greg doesn't mention it, is Haiti, during the U.S. military invasion and occupation, 1915 - 1934, ordered by Woodrow Wilson. The U.S. marines' commander, Colonel Smedley Butler, appears to be a descendant of the infamous Butler who created the largest slave auction in history, selling off long established families from his low country rice plantations to recover a fortune that he'd dissipated in drink and gambling.  Like Cuba, Haiti, was always a preoccupation and obsession of the antebellum southern slave power.  As was, even Central America, where Butler and the U.S. marines were part of many invasions and occupations on behalf of U.S. corporate interests.

In fact the U.S. flag and that other flag went with the U.S. occupation of most of the Spanish Caribbean, Central America and the Philippines. Many of the commanding officers were the sons and grandsons of officers of the Army of Rebellion, who carried their firm conviction of white supremacy with them, and which had strong effect on their decisions and choices.  Recall that Cuba was "won" for democracy by Theodore Roosevelt, whose mother was a planter's daughter from Georgia and whose uncles were infamously deep in the Trent Affair of Mason and Slidell, as well as very successful privateers preying upon Union merchant and naval ships.

Charles Francis Adams, Sr. (1807- 1886)
This is the affair that kept Charles Francis Adams, Henry Adams's father, U.S. minister to the Court of St. James awake for many nights -- as well as his son, since he was the minister's private secretary.

The second essay by Greg Grandin   that flag is here:

Greg Grandin
 Greg Grandin, How Endless War Helps Old Dixie Stay New

Union Troops, U.S. Civil War

What else is significant about this decision is that a woman, a Southern woman, a woman who is descended from the Jefferson Davis family, Jenny Horne, was instrumental in getting the vote to haul down that flag.

Southern women have played an enormous role in keeping alive the mythology of the glorious lost cause.

Now a Southern woman's voice, hoarse and broken from hours of debate, has pushed that flag into the past of Southern public, ceremonial, celebratory, political spaces.  Finally.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Reading Wednesday - The Siege Winter

It is sad that Ariana Franklin, author of the popular English medieval mystery Mistress of Death series, died in 2011 before she was able to finish writing The Siege Winter (2015).

Her daughter, Samantha Norman, took on the task turn Franklin's drafts into a finished novel.

  Not a part of Franklin's Mistress series, The Siege Winter takes place during the terrible time known in English history as "Christ and his saints slept":

Empress Matilda
Empress Matilda (mother of he who becomes Henry II) and Stephen, Henry I's nephew, fighting for the crown of England over a period of years, each employing rapacious mercenaries.  Order in the kingdom broke down, nothing and no one was safe from predators, whether four-legged or two.

The novel has two plots that converge, then diverge, neither of which have that much to do with each other, partially due to the differences in rank of the characters, and partially due to uncertainty of plotting. There is also an uncertainty as to just what sort of book Siege Winter is intended to be: medieval mystery like those that make up the Mistress of Death novels? [check the Cadfael mysteries] straight-up historical novel? medieval] romance?

One converging plot stream concerns a monk-serial rapist-torturer-killer of young girls with red hair, and the other is of a young girl who comes to power as the chatelaine of an out-of-the way small castle.

The novel is filled with anachronistic usage, such as –  opening a paragraph describing scorn for something-or-other, with a single word, “Hello?”  That contemporary adolescent sneer-tone is particularly jarring because we are in the midst of extended scene in which a young girl (one of our several protagonists) is run down, horrifically tortured, gang raped, and left for dead.

There's a lot of that in this book, meaning the grisly, inappropriate tone and anachronism.

Among such is in the other plot, which has Kenniford castle always serving brandy . . . in 1141.  Well, this is barely possible, as the distillation process long pre-dates the “Burned Wine” /  brandewijn, which was introduced and spread widely across northern Europe by the Dutch in the 16th century, who learned of it in Spain.  In the 8th century, Irish monks learned of it in Spain as well, where it was introduced by the Moors; the monks brought the process back to Ireland.  But still, this “brandy” is highly unlikely in a mid-12th century domain that is a small castle belonging to a family of middling sort of rank.

Recommendation: read Sharon Kay Penman's When Christ and His Saints Slept (1995)  instead.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"The Subversive Science Fiction of Hip-Hop" by Rose Eveleth

"The Subversive Science Fiction of Hip-Hop" by Rose Eveleth

on Motherboard - Vice Media is interesting for all sorts of reasons. Because of The American Slave Coast's subject, this section of the article stood out particularly:

In fact, as Junot Díaz pointed out on an episode of the Fan Bros podcast back in 2013, many of the themes in science fiction don’t even make sense without living in a world with marginalized people. He said it best:
Look. Without our stories, without the true nature and reality of who we are as people of color, nothing about fanboy and fangirl culture makes sense. What I mean by that is, if it wasn’t for race, X-Men doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of breeding human beings through chattel slavery, Dune doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the history of colonialism and imperialism, Star Wars doesn’t make sense; if it wasn’t for the extermination of so many indigenous nations, most of what we call “first contact” stories don’t make sense. Without us as the secret sauce, none of this works, and it is about time that we understand that we are the Force that holds the Star Wars universe together. We’re the Prime Directive that makes Star Trek possible. We are… in the Green Lantern Corps? We are the Oath. We are all of those things. Erased, and yet without us? We’re essential.
The sections of the essay are divided into the traditional sfnal tropes, such as transformation, the replicant, alien and revolution. The sections are illustrated with references to well-known sfnal writers and music videos.  It's pretty darned interesting.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gertrude Bell - Werner Herzog - Nicole Kidman - Jane Digby

Werner Hertzog is in the process of shooting an historical made from the life of Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert, with Nicole Kidman as Bell.  This could be . . .  awful.  For one thing, Bell wasn't remotely as young and beautiful as Kidman  in this era, or even previously.  Second, it looks from the trailer as though the writers have taken a great deal out of the biography of an earlier English woman who concluded her life in the Middle East, Jane Digby.

For those who are unfamiliar with why anyone would wish to make a film about someone named Gertrude Bell, go here.  She had a great deal to do with Europe's arbitrary drawing of national boundaries out of the Middle East's ancient kingdoms and tribes, including those of Iraq. Many books have been written about her, while she wrote books about herself by herself as well.

Left to Right: Winston Churchill, Bell, T.E. Lawrence
Robert Pattinson, whose only equal as actor made of wood is Kristen Stewart, plays T.E. Lawrence in Queen of the Desert.

Trailer here:

Myself, while recognizing. Bell's accomplishments, which, like those of Lawrence, her friend and contemporary, contributed much to the strong current in British society and politics that admires the desert, the Bedouin and pro-Arab interest, I continue to admire more this other English woman who much earlier, forged a life for herself in the Middle East, Jane Digby 1807 - 1881).

Digby, as commissioned by the King of Bavaria for his Hall of Beauties.

Painting of Jane Digby by C. Haag, 1859, in Palmyra
I initially learned of Digby from reading back in 1996, when it was published (presented to me by my still dearly missed first editor, who thought this would inspire me) Mary Lovell's biography, A Scandalous Life : The Biography of Jane Digby el Mezrab.  It's still worth reading.  Also, Jane Digby, until late in life, was reputed by all who saw her as one of the most beautiful women in Europe.  Jane Digby refused to allow that designation to define or rule her life.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Cherries - The Hermione - The Shepherd's Life

I'm currently eating cherries.

Going down to the South Street Seaport and try to tour the Hermione this afternoon.

Tonight will hear Telmary, "Queen of Cuban Rap" -- there are many Afro-latin elements in her music, including jazz --  at Subrosa

A British title I've wanted since reading about it on the Guardian has recently appeared in the U.S. and I have it: The Shepherd's Life -- the subtitle is different from the British edition's A Tale of the Lake District -- here it's Modern Dispatches From An Ancient Landscape, by James Rebanks.

The author and his family have farmed and raised sheep in the Lake District since the days of the Viking takeover of the region. Despite certain modern equipment, they are still doing basically what their distant ancestors have done. Nor do deep-rooted people want to do anything else. Rebanks found school a complete waste of his time as a kid and left as soon he legally could leave.

But -- at some point he went to Oxford and got a degree and became a writer -- though he's still a farmer and sheep raiser, and identifies himself to himself and everyone else as that. To a great extent publishing his writing and his other activities are driven by his passion to keep farming, retaining his land and remaining on it, and his books, twitter account, directorship of various agencies are the means to do that.

Having grown up in an isolated rural world myself, these matters are of great interest to me, and much of it is entirely familiar and recognizable.

What is vastly different is the place where he, his family and the other families that are farming in the Lake District, who arrived when his did, are farming in a place that is flooded with millions of strangers -- tourists -- who carry on a relationship with the topography entirely divorced from that of the farmers.  This is fascinating material, as he describes and discusses what it means to the future of retaining any ownership themselves of their ancestral homelands. Our part of the world was of no interest to anybody elsewhere, except, perhaps, a few hunters, as we're a principle flyway for migrating birds including geese, and a great producer of ground game birds such as pheasant and grouse.

However, here, where I've been living my adult life, I've seen first hand the deleterious affects of having millions of people flooding into the place where you are struggling to stay and continue the work you love. I've observed it in the Caribbean and all over the U.S., as on the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi Delta, where conglomerate gambling corporations' casino and development complexes destroy all the local business from fishing and farming to hotels to cafes and restaurants and even live music venues, and obscenely wealthy outsiders gobble up the houses and real estate as in New Orleans. None of these people coming in have any relationship to the place or the people who live there. They don't even see the residents, and they sure as hell don't give a damn about them or their homes, where their interlocking family and community roots descend deep into the mud of the place going back to almost the beginning.

What's odd is in the last ten years I've slowly been changing my opinion about sheep, including understanding that the long held idea that sheep are stupid is not only wrong, but propaganda from this country's cattlemen. Where I grew up bought into this mythology of the Western entirely. Cows good / raised by real men / beef is real food. Sheep bad stupid dirty / raised by dirty foreigners / lamb mutton not real food.

Elkhorn, on the Missouri River, in the North Dakota Badlands
This attitude can be seen, for instance in Theodore Roosevelt's Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, written about the state in which I was born, where he bought a spread he called Elkhorn, and was a cattleman for some time. He was vehement about the distinction between a cattleman, or stockman, and the run-of-the mill fellow attempting to make a living out of the ground: In Ranch Life he stated that for the sheer, intense pleasure and satisfaction of being the boss of many and much, the king of all he surveys, the only life to rival that of a cattleman's, was that of the plantation owner in the antebellum south. Indeed, he could say that the modern cattle ranching spreads were the new plantations.

This is about as far from the satisfactions and passion of Rebanks and his people as one can get.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


The Hermione, a replica of the three-masted frigate that returned Lafayette to the colonies in 1780, to fight against England and to assist General Washington with the French Navy he'd persuaded the king to send, sailed into NY Harbor yesterday, all 32 cannon firing. She's currently achored at the South Street Seaport, with free tours.

 "Yo! George!  I gotcha the King's navy!  Who's your boy, George?  Who's your very best boy? Ha!"

The Hermione is doing an Atlantic coast tour, so others will also see her.

After the war, alas, by 1824 when the Marquis de Lafayette was able to get to America again, much had happened including Lafayette's downfall by the French Revolution and the Terrorist era. Washington had long been moldering in the Washington family tomb. The older and younger men had been very dear friends and comrades. Lafayette was one of several worthy younger men, including Alexander Hamilton, with whom Washington developed strong surrogate father-son relationships.

The very young, handsome, charming, brave, loyal Marquis de Lafayette
The Marquis, on a year's return to France, welcomed his son into the world, naming him in honor of his American military father: Georges Washington Motier de Lafayette. Washington did what he could as president to get Lafayette out of the Austrian prison where the French Revolution landed him*, got money for his wife to live on in Europe during those wars and paid the fees for Georges at Columbia, I think, and gave him an introduction to Alexander Hamilton, who had him to stay in his house. Hamilton's behavior with Georges rather puts a lie to the widely held belief that during the War of Independence Hamilton was jealous of Lafayette.

Later, when public opinion had turned against France, Washington brought Georges to the President's House in Philadelphia, and then to Mount Vernon.

The Lafayette issue was a very delicate diplomatic situation for the President to deal with, as Jefferson, and for a while the people of the new U.S. wanted to side with France, Washington and the Federalists did not want to -- distrusting the French Revolution and believing France was attempting to manipulate the young, weak United States into another war with England. During that period of enthusiastic Jacobin Clubs violence erupted in the colonies -- for and against France --, including Philadelphia, via the clandestine, anonymous help and encouragement of Jefferson, as part of his war on the Federalists including undermining Washington. (Ultimately this led to a breach between the two; Washington refused to have anything more to do with the man who betrayed him in so many ways, and continued to lie to his face about doing so.)

Fun Fact: the famous Freemason apron in which Washington was often painted, that he wore when dedicating the corner stone of Washington D.C. in a 100% Free Mason ritual, and in which he was buried, had been embroidered by Lafayette's wife, Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, Marquise de La Fayette, as a gift to General Washington.

The Hermione will lead a flotilla around the Statue of Liberty (gift of France!) and then up the Hudson to where the Intrepid is anchored.  It's supposed to go around Lady Liberty at 10:30 AM.  I'd love to see this, but I'm sure the crowds will be so dense that I, with the bad back, who can't stand long, will not be able to view the spectacle, that, in reality, after all this time swimming in American History, means something very large to me.


*  Lafayette and his family were attempting to leave Paris and France at the height of the Terror, get to England and from there to the young U.S. and buy a farm close to Mount Vernon.  He was very fortunate to have been arrested outside of France, otherwise he and his family would surely have been executed as were other members of his family.  As it was, he spent most of his five-year imprisonment in dreadful conditions and barely survived.