". . . 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, August 25, 2017

August 25th - Hurricane Harvey

     . . . . When the year cycles around to August, as the month gets closer to the 25th, my anxiety mounts.  Imagine how it is for those who literally lived through and evacuated from Katrina? 

Radar image of Hurricane Harvey at 9:05 am CDT Friday, August 25, 2017; See Dr. Jeff Masters of The Weather Underground, here, for descriptions of what is likely
to happen.

This is the biggest week of the year for hurricanes.  The season kicks into high gear about the second or third week of August and stays at that level at least through early October.  Recall, the official hurricane season for North America runs from June into November.  There's a reason why the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew is this week -- which all the media seemed to comment on.

Today Harvey is barreling into the North American Gulf coast. Meteorologists are saying they've never heard of or seen such an amount of rain in their entire experience, as it appears Texas and the related Gulf regions are going to be drowned by.  (Presumably they are not including natural, annual, cyclical events such as the monsoons of southeast Asia?)

Texas won't recover for years, They Are saying. This is basically, Katrina, all over again, but over there, mostly, perhaps, as opposed to Louisiana's Gulf, which has been, btw, receiving unprecedented amounts of rain within unprecedented short periods of time already for much of the summer.

The one thing we know for certain, whatever money due to Harvey that can be gotten out of the feds that can be got for anything, somebody in Texas aleady rich is going to get it. As anyone who lives in or knows New Orleans well, and as David Simon's Treme showed with those guys coming to grab it in New Orleans, the Texan developers, etc.  already got the experience, the connections and the greed. 

One wonders too if the media will come with the same stories of African American chaos, crime and looting that they did for New Orleans?  After all, the media MUST HAVE LOOTERS. Dang, if those black people ain't looting they got to be made up looting!  We must have looters!  They make the best tv!

At the same time of course, I personally am deeply distressed by what's about to happen, on behalf of very many friends, people I do not know, and the environment.  The cone of the 'cane hitting the Texas coast includes just about all of its refineries, pipe lines, not to mention all those rigs out there off shore.

This is an environmental and economic disaster slamming right into the US and we know what's running the show these days.  The Evil Orange Demon may not get any legislation passed, but he's running the government and EPA is gutted, and what running of it is being done is about further dismantlement by people who don't want any regulation and any justice, just as with the State Department, the DOJ, the FBI, HUD, etc.

If any time soon we get to go to work to clean up these disasters, just in the Gulf it will take years, if not decades, while in the meantime environment and environment and climate continue to deteriorate and become ever more dangerous for ever more people, globally and locally.

Hurricanes are politics too.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Five Best Selling Novels

     . . . . It must be summer all right.  I've read 5 novels already, and August still has 8 more days to go!

The historical fictions first . . . .

Martha Conway. (2017) The Underground River. Touchstone, New York.

Set on the Ohio, 1838, in a Floating Theater, featuring a seamstress, who finds herself by helping enslaved people escape from Kentucky to Ohio. The problem, however, is this is 1838, deep into the Panic of 1837. Van Buren is POTUS, inheriting  the consequences of Andrew Jackson’s ignorant, thus destructive economic policies, which the concentrically related conditions he created plunged the USA into the deepest and longest economic depression in the constant cycle of boom and bust economy of the country until the Great Depression of 1930’s. By 1837 - 38, businesses of all kinds, great and small, in the US and abroad, particularly England, from banks to leather shops are failing and have failed everywhere.  There is no, none, nada, credit to be had by anyone, except the very few richest individuals in the country. 

So then this reader cannot help wondering how these poor people along the Ohio River between Kentucky and Ohio find the bit of coin to pay admission to the Floating Theater, which isn't even a steamboat, but a barge? How in the world does the Floating Theater on such margins already, keep going? 

From the Ohio History Connection -- 
. . . .  In Ohio, many people lost their entire life savings as banks closed. Stores refused to accept currency in payment of debts, as numerous banks printed unsecured (backed by neither gold nor silver) money. Some Ohioans printed their own money, hoping business owners would accept it. Thousands of workers lost their jobs, and many businesses reduced other workers' wages. It took until 1843 before the United States' economy truly began to recover. . . .
IOW, the author did a lot of research into many areas, which show up delightfully in her pages, but missing are the economic milieu of the period, which should be crucial to the story she wants to tell -- slavery is always about economics.

This is too bad for this reader, let me emphasize, as everyone else who has read and reviewed this novel appear to have never even heard of the Panic of 1837. But for this reader, this knowledge flowed constantly into the story, creating a great deal of interrogation of character and storylines. The book's characters are for the most part are interesting and vivid.  But this lack of inclusion in the story of this crucial event of the 1830's and 1840's showed equally vividly the author's contrivances, which resulted in a sense of the plot becoming almost glib and as nearly as flimsy as the scenery of the plays presented by the Floating Theater.

It also got this reader recollecting Edna Ferber's Showboat (1926). which was anything but flimsy.  It is set during in the post-bellum era of the Gilded Age.  Every shiver in the economy, every part of racism,  affects the people working on the floating theater steam boat, The Cottonblossom, over the three generations of the characters in this substantial work of historical fiction. 

Linnea Hartsuyker. (2017) The Half-Drowned King. HarperCollins, NY.

Cold climate fiction 9th century Norway, which this reader looked forward to, as the perfect book for that very hot, polluted and humid first week of August.  

Enthusiastically positive review in the historical fiction sections.  Multiple foreign rights sales.

This is first of a trilogy set in the same sort of chronotype as Nicola Griffith’s Hild.  This is the author's first novel since retiring from tech and achieving an MFA from NYU, thus the author isn't yet as skilled as Griffith.  The first sections are somewhat muddy slogging, as the reader attempts to locate where, when and why.  This is made more confusing by sudden switches in protagonists and their limited 3rd person point of view.  The novel  improves about half way through, just about where this reader was going to jettison it. 

The novel's titles are different in different countries.  Seeing the title for the Dutch version perhaps explains some of my initial difficulties with the novel, trying to figure out who and what it was about.  We open with the brother, Ragnvald, so one tends to think he’s the ‘real’ protagonist (and nothing changes one’s mind about that as the book progresses).  But the sister, Svanhilde, gets pov as well --  except when they are in scenes together we get them from his pov.  But the title in Dutch is De Legende Van Swanhilde -- so is Svanhilde the actual protagonist?

I’m guessing at least one of these two siblings will be in Iceland in the second volume.

Sarah Perry. (2016) The Essex Serpent. Serpents Tail – UK / HarperCollins, NY.

Set between January through November in a single year of the late Victorian era, this is a 'literary' historical fiction, which received glowing reviews in all the venues that review such fiction. For this reader though, the various parts do not connect thematically, and did not meld via the laborious and labored metaphor of the serpent of the title.  This serpent writhes throughout the text in the guise of several visions: prehistoric, i.e. scientific of the real, material world, superstition of the infernal, mystical vision of the divine, creative impetus of the imagine. These and more meanings of the serpent cycles into the consciousness periodically of the people who live in a village upon the Blackwater River in Essex, close to the sea. 

For someone who has read enormously in the great century of Victorian fiction, the characters felt as lesser shadows of all the Victorian characters we already know -- particularly those out of historical fiction -- rather than original figures in their own right.  Except they are given to thinking as if they are no different from thos who in the 21st century, which is how the author has taken pains to tell her readers they are not.  There is an exception of one of the peripherals, Naomi Banks, a motherless child with a hard drinking fisherman father.  It's her story that is the interesting one, but we don't get much.

This reader got very impatient before the end arrived.  The book felt about 60 pages too long, and it felt as though nothing amounted to much at all -- which is perhaps where it is like so many people alive today?

Contemporary fiction . . . 

Don Winslow. (2017) The Force. HarperCollins, New York.

Police thriller suspense in New York City, glowing reviews, hailed frequently as "the perfect beach read." This reader naturally then expected it to be perfect for hot humid summer nights, of which this month there have been many (with respites, thank goodness!) 

But what it did it feel like was one of those grey and dreary, interspersed with violence of weenie-wag over testosteroned New York City types from the later part of the second decade of the 21st century. However, the protag keeps telling us we're on the mean streets of  present day NYC, though, naturally, mostly we're in the supposedly still Fort Apache neighborhoods of uptown baby and the 'jects and kingpin drug dealers of heroin . . . . 

Narrated from the strictly limited point of view of the leader of the narcotics special forces protagonist, it sounds like something written no later than the last decades of the 20th century, with that hardboiled consciousness and narrative tone that was common for such fictions.  Never fear, however, the pages are well laced with whinings about how unfairly the cops are regarded and treated by those they keep safe -- while they, particularly the protag -- committing one hideous crime after another from stealing and dealing and getting big moola by selling the drugs they take from the criminals -- not to mention spending sprees with the most expensive hookers going, and other infidelities to wives and families who are too protected and selfish to understand their special pressures. 

This reader did not like this book, so skimmed from the middle to the end.  At least protag dies. He dies, moaning, "All he ever wanted to be was a good cop."

Julia Glass. (2017) A House Among the Trees. Pantheon – Penguin USA / Random House. New York.

Ta -Dah!

This one is by far the winner of  this reader's August's fiction reading. Despite the NY Times's snarky review by David Levitt, this reader gobbled Glass's novel down in two long nights of reading, from first word to the last word.  Levitt does concede that though he despised the novel yet it was pleasing enough that one reads happily to the end -- and yes, not only does this novel provide a happy ending, but it provides several happy endings, all skillfully and plausibly wrapped together, rising out of who the multiple characters are. 

Other reviewers have observed that if one likes Australian novelist, Liane Moriarty's books, and I do (the recent HBO series, Big Little Lies, was adapted to Malibu from one of her books) one might well like this novel too.  But ultimately this reader doesn't see that they have much in common. For one thing, it's about the world of children's publishing.  But Glass gets in so many threads of our current entertainment media, including computer games, movies and television, biking, and even museums. 

It was almost like having another of Sue Miller’s splendid novels from the 90’s, (her first novel, The Good Mother, was published in 1986) when she was at the top of her form. Miller's the more graceful writer by several percentage points, but Glass's novel moves even more effortlessly than Miller's, which means I shall look out for Glass's previous novels.

Will I get in another novel before August melts into September and the fall's crazy schedule, including traveling to Cuba and to Mexico, kicks in? These last few weeks, as hot and unpleasant in some ways as they've been, have been the most relaxing I've experienced in years. It's kind of like being on vacation.  Books are good for that too.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thinking About Charlottesville

     . . . . No illustrations to this as such gross, contemptible, ugly hatred should be left to the starkness of unadorned language.

It's a miracle there wasn't a full shoot out this weekend this weekend in Charlottesville. 

First -- the people that romperitler says are just the same as the white nationalist neo nazi, neo confederates, white supremacists, etc. were not, surely by choice, not armed with military weapons. They did not bring the violence.  The above named groups came deliberately into someone else's home and brought it.

Second, one guesses an armed shoot-out didn't happen because the intimidation of those who brought being so heavily armed worked. The cops were afraid of the nazis and confederates (though the chief? superintendent? of Charlottesville police later walked back from that implication which he'd put out in his first comments).

But just barely did the shoot-out not happen. The itchy fingers of those white men standing fully armed in front of the Charlottesville synagogue on Saturday during Sabbath services -- terrifying, as the night before of those gangs of armed white men carrying torches marching past, and yelling, "There's the synagogue!"

Ultimately one thinks, however, that the confederate nazis were still, barely, sane enough to realize if they really did start shooting it would go all over the world and they'd lose the pr war that they were hoping this would be, i.e. capturing hearts and minds of we 'norms.' OTOH, however, these guys are now insisting that they were the victims of violence, so if shooting happened it would be the fault of liberals and black lives matter. 

But for the weekened they feasted adequately upon their armed, infantile cosplay. They LOVE rolling around, doing a public strut and fondle of their guns, where all eyes are forced to see their circle jerks, like the guys who masturbate on the subways where little girls are forced to see “it." *

So maybe that was enough for them, barely, at the synagogue, for instance, to keep them from opening fire. 

As well, Virginia has legal open carry, unlike Massachusetts and Boston (which demo for Saturday, isn't supposed to be the same people as in Charlottesville, They Say -- and we'll see), so the authorities in Charlottesville weren't obligated to challenge them. Yes, as many have described, this event was very well organized and their target location for the opening of Act 2 of the take-over of Us All was carefully, consciously chosen. This demonstration could not legally have gone on in a non open carry state. 

Murdering by vehicle was not in the planning. It did set off an aghast, horrified fire storm world-wide, fanned by the romperitler a$$holery. They have attempted to pretend otherwise. Living in their bubbles one suspects they'd over-estimated the support in the US for genocide and slavery.

One rather suspectls that Car Murder Guy couldn't afford the guns and outfits that so many publicly masturbated with in Charlottesville's public and not so public spaces -- they are expensive. He evidently couldn't even afford the shirt that neo-nazi group, Vanguard America wore with their spears and shields, so a shirt was donated to him. Car Murder Guy had to do something to show he was worthy to be one of them. And this, with all the pumped adrenaline sent him ramming into the protesters -- no doubt howling Yeeee Haw! Until he saw what he had really done and then, like every other bully, shyte himself.

But the shooting will come unless these armed demonstrations of hatred, racism and ignorance are shut down by the authorities, right now! Open carry laws are making it inevitable, one thinks. But then, that was a big part of the objective in the push for open carry laws by the ugly white politicos in the first place.

* The photo of Car Murder Guy even looks like the pervert that during one period in my life when on my way to work in the mornings would hide in the men's toilet on the subway platform (the toilets were still unlocked an available then -- no longer).  He'd run up to me, masturbating.  If he hadn't infuriated me so much, for interrupting my reading, I would have fallen down laughing at how he looked, trying to jerk off and hold on to his pants at the same time. But I got more and more infuriated because, you know, my privacy, my precious moments of reading before getting to work, and thinking about what I was trying to write

This went on for most of the fall, at least three mornings a week.  The MTA attendant wouldn't bother calling the cops. The cops didn't care when I called them myself (no cell phones yet!)  It didn't stop until the morning I was ready and waiting with a barely screwed closed thermos of very hot coffee which ooops, I poured all over his ugly member.

This was in the days when nobody in my neighborhood of retirees and artists, musicians, and musicians, except me) had 9-5 jobs, there were no kids and parents taking them to school, and tourists never came here -- too scared -- so the platforms were always empty at rush hours.  I was always there by myself.  Almost impossible to remember that now, when the whole world is always on the platform at all times of the day and night, all year 'round.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Black Nerd Problems GOT + Slavery Fanfic - Make Alternative America Great Again!

     . . . . This recap of Got's season 7, episode 4 is wonderfully funny. It goes beautifully with Leslie Jones's hilarious "Game of Jones Thrones" with Seth Meyer.

 Link to Jones Thrones -- The G-OT- Is MEEE is here.
Brienne asked her how she learned that shit, and Arya hit her with “No One.” I wasn’t ready, fam. I just wasn’t. Also, NEITHER WAS SANSA. My god, Sansa look like she just showed up to the city wide science fair with a potato clock. That shit was rouuuuugh. Jon got fucking murdered, but became King in the North. Bran got paralyzed, but became an Omega Level Mutant. Arya has had to run to every corner of the continent and lost her sight to become Agent 47. And Sansa was betrothed to not one but two monsters, got brutally assaulted, and gained a stalker so that she could fill out TPS reports on grain inventory. That’s fucked up man. Everybody else went away to college and became experts in their field while Sansa rotted away at a terrible MFA program and left with a degree she ain’t gonna do shit with and even more student debt. Life ain’t fair, yo.

What Black Nerd says about D&D's HBO slavery fanfic is penetratingly wise, rather than comic.  It goes well with Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece on Confederate in the Atlantic and the radio interview with the #noconfederate activists -- links to both these are here. 

Let’s not stand on ceremony here: as great as Benioff and Weiss are as visionaries, their blind spots as two cis white men shows up too often for me to be comfortable for a show with slavery as a major component of the story. The gratuitous display of sexual assault (well past showing how brutal the world is), and the reluctance of having any pivotal POC character or venturing into the very natural lines they have drawn around color (the Unsullied army is almost, if not all, POC as former slaves, but is only explored as a class differentiation) gives me little confidence that this will be a new awareness taken on with this new venture. There aren’t many scenarios I see this working: 
- Slavery is minimized and a smaller part of the plot: So… we minimizing slavery now? Yeah, no.
- Slavery is more than just Black people in this alternative world: So… we just minimizing Black slaves as a narrative on some all slaves matter stuff? Nah.
- The flip of that being Black people or other POC own slaves as well: Sigh, come on, man.
These are all alternatives to the possibility that it’s not just a continuation of slavery from the very real world brought into a modern era. Even if these cats have the tools to do this, then Game of Thrones has been a terrible dress rehearsal because we haven’t seen it.
The only way this holds any significant interest for me is if there is a slave revolt in the first episode and the third civil war is about the Black people taking over the America. Das it
. Make Alternative America Great Again. 
. . . . this has a lot to do with agency. About who gets to tell who’s stories. Would I feel differently if Black creators were behind this show? Probably. Not like, Lee Daniels though, but still. These stories can exist in the world, either based on real life narratives or alternate universes, but the voice and the trust in the identification of the producer counts for something. Handmaiden’s Tale, Underground, shows like those, where the writer reflected the identity of the marginalized people in those stories, relays a faith that those characters will be handled with a caring and understanding befitting the human portrayal we expect. Game of Thrones is excellently written and thematically beautiful, but it is also spectacle. It is decapitations and rape and little girls burned alive. I’m fatigued on stories of a time period (or time period carried over, in this case) that attempts to justify racism and racial violence as a tool of the day, but I’m also fatigued on the spectacle of “back in the day” racism. There’s no reason to have confidence this won’t continue under Benioff and Weiss, and they have had several years with the highest visibility prove otherwise.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Words From Me Not Needed

     . . . . From Ava DeVernay's twitter feed, August 5th, 2017,   

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I Read Books, Wednesday, Thursday, Who Cares? + The American Slave Coast

     . . . .  As I'd hoped, I did manage before July finished, to have read the 18th century Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York. (2016; published in US in 2017 )set in post Dutch, pre-Independence  1746 NYC, by the Brit author, Francis Spufford. The novel has been praised by literary lights and is --


I should have liked Golden Hill better than I did, it having so much of my stuff in it, from colonial NYC, politics, class, finance, race, slavery.  Not to mention that there is more than a little modeling of the novel from the famed 18th century fictions of  Fielding, and the set piece illos of Hogarth. 

However, the stumbling block for this reader was that Tabitha, an obligatory female interest - conflict was unnecessarily unpleasant, mean and nasty, though very smart and competent.  Why was capable, talented Tabitha such a bitch, hmmm?  Just so she can be the narrator decades after the adventures, regretting and opining upon the events of the in her early life when this stranger, Mr. Smith, from London shows up in York (not yet called 'New' York, but York City) with an order that he be paid a thousand pounds in cash (cash hardly exists in the colonies, even among merchants and money changers). The author's choice entirely, to make her mean. It's his imagination.  Argh.  There is a twist, of course, for the picaresque Mr. Smith, which I shall not reveal -- despite me not necessarily buying into it.  Again, this is all the author's choices, which feel arbitrary, not imaginative.  But maybe this is just me.

     . . . . Golden Hill made a whole six novels read last month, more fiction than in a long time.  I do confess, however, that more nights than not while reading Golden Hill I put it down in favor of my re-read of amigo Ted Widmer's biography, Martin Van Buren (2003)  (my goodness, I just recall it was either July or August 2003 when we attended the publication party for it on the upper West Side, and our hosts' daughter was not able to partake of the festivities, but had to stay mostly in her room, having been discovered recently infected with Lyme Disease), from The American Presidents Series, General Ed., Arthud M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Martin Van Buren's birthplace. 1782, outside Kinderhood, NY.

As seen on this map, Kinderhook was a splendid spot in which to have a tavern, located on the post road to Albany.  So, though Van Buren's father wasn't a wealthy man (particularly compared to the old Dutch patroons), he was doing far better than those who weren't patroon, which included owning  nine slaves.

The astonishing life of Mr. Van Buren, born to a Dutch family in New York, in the middle of the War for Independence, the first President of the United States not to have ever been a British subject, really happened, and ultimately felt so much more interesting than those fictional figures of an imaginary "old New York."

     . . . . In the meantime, in the midst of mind-boggling cascades of derangement out of D.C. and across the country, we were informed that the audio CD package of The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-breeding Industry, had not only earned out, but earned royalties!  Boggled again, but this time in a good way.  It was only made about a year ago, and out some time after that.  As it is not inexpensive and it's a lot of hours, one rather presumes these were mostly library sales?