". . . 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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Reading and Watching History -- Warrior Women

     . . . . A few mornings ago I woke from a dreaming of Warrior Queens.  I was baffled as to why I should have been having such an interesting historically epic dream (no, I wasn't a protagonist in the dream, but an observer).

Archeology and Newspapers

It was the newspapers that caused the dream!

I recalled that the day before, I'd read the Guardian's September 12th's report of a Viking era grave located in Birken, Sweden, which held the remains of a woman, a mare and a stallion, and her weapons.

From the Guardian:
. . . . not just any warrior, but a senior one: she was buried alongside a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields and two horses. Gaming pieces – perhaps from hnefatafl, a sort of precursor to chess – suggest the female warrior from grave Bj581 was a battle strategist.
Since the Guardian became accessible online, it seems to periodically provide coverage of history's powerful women, many of whom, if not most, have been written out of history. (Not a coincidennce one thinks that the Guardian provides a lot of column space to women historians and writers such as Mary Beard -- who are reliably excoriated by the male commentators.) Thus the Guardian followed up the Birken grave and its contents with this story on Friday, September15th:
How the Female Viking Warrior Was Written Out Of History -- "What Bj 581, the ‘female Viking warrior’ tells us about assumed gender roles in archaeological inquiry"
Then, just two days ago:
The recent discovery of female bones in a Viking warrior grave is yet another indication that we’ve only scratched the surface of female history -- "How Many More Warrior Women Are Missing from the History Books?"

Predictably, all three stories were illustrated with images from the History channel's thoroughly non-historical scripted historical drama, Vikings's resident female warrior, Legartha.*

Equally predictable, were the plethora of comments in response to these Guardian stories, so many of which were jeers at the very idea. This way the readers learns that the only reason there were the bones of a woman in a warrior's burial site is because 1) the archeologists lied, don't know what they doing, are mistaken, she's really male; 2) she was the wife of a warrior who is a man, who died somewhere else and thus couldn't be interred in his own grave, or who was removed later; 3) animals put some woman's bones there.

Television's Role in the Warrior Queen Dream

Surely television via netflix streaming also played a role provoking that dream.  I am continuing to watch the Turkish historical 13th century epic of Diriliş: Ertuğrul, the founding ancestor of the Ottoman Turkish empire. As these series are, it's very long, nearly 80 episodes -- I'm barely half way through, though I began watching this before summer.  But by now we're seeing the Kayi's tribe's women training for a battle - assault they are sure will be coming from the Aleppo region's reigning sultan. Aykriz, is in charge of their training.  Trained from birth in the tribe's martial arts, who is the beloved of one of the tribe's most heroic and skilled warriors (alps, they are called), she's the daughter of the blacksmith, who manufactures the tribe's weapons. What Aykriz can do with a bow and sword, whether from the ground or riding a horse at full gallop are some thrilling scenes.

Though the history of Diriliş: Ertuğrul is probably as much fiction as the Icelandic sagas of Ragnar Lodbrok from where Vikings received its inspiration, the details of these nomads' tribal life, clothing and relationships, are more than true to historic life.  There are at least as many women characters as male, and there is no question among either the characters themselves or how they are portrayed in the series that they are equally important and significant to the action, whether dramatic or historic. 

Additionally, the relationships among the humans and their horses is unlike anything I've ever seen in such productions no matter what country they are depicting.  These horses interact with the people who are their 'owners' and 'riders.' Even when they are functioning as scene dressing they pay attention to the action that is centered.  There is prolonged, painful scene in which one of the Heroes, Torgut, beaten and tortured by the order of the Templars' Grand Masters, has a horse tethered in the background. This horse does not belong to Torgut, but during the entire scene the horse's head and neck are turned toward the action, its ears are pricked toward the action.  And there was hay on the ground at the horse's feet.  Whether this is planned or not, nothing else could so honestly tell the viewer that these are above all, people of the horse.

Books - History

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire is a 2010 book by Jack Weatherford, which I just finished, ahem, bookends brilliantly with Diriliş: Ertuğrul. Not least among the reasons this is so, is that it too begins in the 13th century, the same as in which Diriliş: Ertuğrul is located. Weatherford reads and writes Mongolian, and has spent a great deal of time living in Mongolia. The story of warrior queen, Mandukhai, the woman who restored Genghis Khan's ideals for the Mongols, is enthralling -- and she's not the only one.  It also show how easily and quickly such women, even when their rule is the law of the land, can be overthrown and utterly erased from the historical record -- at least the official record.  This includes literally tearing the accounts of their lives out of the official record. 

Among the many elements of his book that I appreciated is how much of the cultural practices, from religious to jewelry and clothing of these tribes who populated such a vast region of central Asia for millennia, are found all across eras and regions -- from the Hittites and Scythians, China (the interactions between the kingdoms that became China are ancient, and the Mongols supposedly ruled a large part for a while), to the Tartars of Russia and the tribes that became the Ottomans. One can see it most particularly in the headdresses of the women.  Why these are they way they are, Weatherman explains.  These connections and continuities I've always felt, but never knew how or why. Nomadic pressures and conquest were the driving forces for all of it -- and smart, fighting and ruling women were always integral.

Weatherford's The Secret History is the source for the counterpart novels in recent days with  Mongol settings and characters, which includes The Tiger's Daughter (which is the title for one of the sections in scholar Weatherford's history) and even parts of Guy Gavriel Kay's China duology, Under Heaven and River of Stars and even for the Netflix original two seasons of Marco Polo. This series had more than one warrior woman based on historical figure in Secret History, which, judging by their sneers of disbelief and dislike of these characters on discussion forum I visit, male viewers hated.

The first biography of 16th - 17th century African warrior queen, Njinga of Angola,by our friend Prof. Linda Heywood, has just been published by Harvard University Press,   It's hard to describe how thrilling it is to read a book bout such a fierce and successful woman, faced with such terrible odds, written by another fierce and successful woman -- whom I actually know!  Moreover, this is set in the same era as the last sections of Weatherford's history of the Mongol Queens, which feature the brilliant fighting woman, general and ruler, Mandukhai.   (Let us not forget another great, powerful and successful ruler of the era, Queen Elizabeth!)

Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro Creole Consciousness 1570 - 1640 (2003) by Herman L. Bennett is helping prepare for the October Veracruz American Slave Coast Jazz Festival.  As one can see from the dates covered, this is a pair with Njinga of Angola. 

These colonial Mexican Africans were brought as slaves from Njinga's region by her enemies, the Portuguese.  This is also the period of the Iberian Union, the peak of Spain's power, when Spain and Portugal were under the same crown. 

The other two new books we have here are Hillary's What Happened (there are more than one way that a woman can be a warrior queen) and Le Carré's Legacy of Spies (more fictionalized history).

Reading and watching are so rich these days, no wonder I am having action adventure epic dreams of Warrior Queens.


*  Alas, after about two and a half seasons Vikings devolved into preposterosity, lacking even a pretense of plot plausibility, characters behaving like idiots for not reason, and a distinct lack of Lagertha, showing that men (meaning in this instance the guy who show runner, writer and director) have no idea what to do with a female character who can take care of herself.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Leslie Jones Most Glamorous of 2017 Emmys!

     . . . . My one and only Emmy vote goes to Leslie Jones, for the most stunning and glamorous at the Emmys of 2017.

Here is why:

Few could carry this, but O Lordessa, can Leslie Jones ever!

Runner-up, Jane Fonda:






Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Primary Day + Irma + Cuba

     . . . .  El V says voting together makes him feel all warm and fuzzy.  It makes me feel like we're part of the community.  Our polling place is in the basement of St. Anthony's Church.  The elections workers are neighborhood people we interact with on a regular basis for a variety of reasons.  One of the poll watchers is a Cuban, now a citizen, who also happens to be a splendid musician (piano), whom el V has hired and gotten hired by others often.  That was fun.

We vote in the basement of this church, which  for generations has been the anchor of the neighborhood, as community and neighborhood, providing a sense of place and safety. It has been providing this and other services since long before we arrived, and I would guess will be doing so long after we are gone, as long as there remains a Manhattan anyway, that can support human life.
Voting is still the easiest way to get a happy buzz, one of participating with one's neighbors and as well as the civic duty.  It isn't fattening or in any way bad for one!

But -- I do wish we had better choices for mayor.  I don't like any of them, including the present mayor.  At least our district had some excellent young, committed candidates, who are working hard on the local level to protect our neighborhoods from being completely eaten by the global oligarchy of the obscenely wealthy global corrupt criminals.

El V will bring back cigars for the Church staff from his quick Cuban trip next week.  The Jose Martí Airport re-opened today.

More to the point, what he's taking down there -- everything he can pack into a single piece of luggage.  People need everything.  As with all the other islands damaged and / or destroyed -- it's really hard right now to get things in or even impossible to get to them, or to get off them.

We're trying to figure out an agenda and call a meeting very soon among some of our friends, as to how to begin ramping up donation efforts.  For people here in the US just providing money into the hand is the very best thing to do. W have the the entry and connections to do that, meaning that the money goes to those who need it and the person bringing it won't be keeping or skimming.

Remember -- the last place anyone should be donating to is the Red Cross.  They keep the largest percentage for themselves -- and sometimes all of it.  That actually hasn't changed since the scandals of Katrina.  The reality is that the Red Cross is in the business of selling your blood for their profit.  They may not have started off that way, but that is what they have become.

     . . . .UPDATE:  The Havana Music Conference has been postponed, we have just learned, due to the extensive flood and wind damage and all the rest of the damage in Havana and other parts of of Cuba.  El V will probably go to Havana next week, even so.  Lots of things to bring, and a general survey in terms of the Cuba group visits should be accomplished.

Monday, September 11, 2017

9/11 On the Heels of 9/11 + TASC On Television

     . . . . This is a weekend I would like not to experience again.  My stomach is just starting to unclench.  Mostly, relatively, the news is good about our friends in the Caribbean and Florida.  The people who have had it hardest in our circles are the Cubans.  This includes Havana, in which swathes were pummeled by the wind and flooded.  For some time el Malecon entirely disappeared under water, lashed by waves over 36 feet high. This doesn't usually happen to Havana, which is on the north, the Atlantic side of the island.  The juracan usually loses power and / or goes around Havana after hitting the unpopulated  southern, Caribbean coast -- unpopulated for this reason, because this where the storms make Cuban landfall

Today, after spending so much of the previous four days glued to my computer, trawling constantly for updates and news I have a headache, and my skin feels too tight, as if I have a bout of flu coming on. And it is the anniversary of 9/11, which does not help matters.  Gads, I hate this time of the year.  So many anniversaries of catastrophes.

But, for pete's sake, Fox, come on! This is nothing compared to what the people who really went through all this and are now facing trying to put their lives and homes and communities back together.

Still, even though none of this is about me -- who was spared this bullet from barreling right up the Atlantic Coast and hitting my home -- this was welcome news --

     . . . . From CRP's marketing manager:

In the fourth episode of the second season of Tig Notaro’s show, One Mississippi, Tig’s step-father, Bill, has a collection of books he's reading to educate himself more about race in America. Included in the stack of books is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World and Me, and Ned and Constance Sublette’s The American Slave Coast.
The book isn’t mentioned by name — he’s listening to the audiobook for The New Jim Crow when the scene happens—but the TASC spine is very easy to spot in the picture I took below.

The American Slave Coast in a scene from the television series, One Mississippi.

We can see it's a recent purchase, because The American Slave Coast is this year's trade paper edition.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hurricane Irma - Hurricane Jose On Her Heels + Reading Wednesday

     . . . . Hurricane evacuation looks to be in our (near) future.  This morning's models show the trajectory of Category 5  Hurricane Irma has again changed eastward, to head straight up the Atlantic coast.  This could very well include us.  But it's too early to know.

Computer models showing Hurricane Irma's projected path on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. (Photo: tropicaltidbitscom)

This is the strongest Atlantic hurricane in the history of tracking Atlantic hurricanes.

Cuba is in the middle of the Caribbean portion, but they know how to do hurricanes there. (El V is supposed to be in Havana 9/20 through 9/24 for the WOMEX Etc. Cuba Conference.)

Maybe Hispaniola  will be just further enough on the northern side to not get creamed.

But Puerto Rico, dear, battered, broke Puerto Rico . . . . 

As with Florida (and Houston) we have so many friends about whom we are intensely worried. E-mails and phone calls have been flying back and forth, particularly among friends who have children who recently graduated and have begun their first jobs, have just moved, to say, for instance, Miami and Orlando.  Some have moved back to Cuba.  Others have joined other relatives in Puerto Rico.  To one and all, el V says, "Get them out of there, NOW!"

Everybody within the Atlantic coastal regions should be thinking of their own hurricane plans right now, not next week.

I wonder where we will go, if / when we need to leave.  We've been discussing possibilities for several days already -- and that was when Irma was still small, though already strong.  Now she's grown, and is stronger too.  Needed to take into consideration as to whether to go or not, is that NYU's classes began yesterday.  So -- cancel class or stay with the idea that we get only a glancing blow and the university as a whole will remain open?

Tropical storm Katia on the far left, Irma in the center, followed by Jose on the right.

Hurricane Jose is on her heels, likely to follow the same track as Irma.

And Katia is clobbering Veracruz and eastern Mexico, where we are supposed to be in a few weeks.

     . . . . I did read two more novels.

First, Brian Freeman's appropriately titled Season of Fear (2014) (and appropriately read while again experiencing the Season of Fear myself), set primarily in the present of Tampa, on Florida's Gulf Coast -- during a the approach and hit of a hurricane.  It features cops, investigators, thugs, politicians and their dirty tricks, oppo research and old murders. It moves as a fast as an approaching storm for which one is not prepared. It's also a joy to read fiction (and watch television and films) set in such a location in which there are a variety of latinos in prominent roles -- and not all of them Cubans --  with nothing made of these matters of fact. This is the second of Freeman's books to feature detective Cab Bolton: extra-ordinarily tall and attractive, and very well off because his mom, recently retired, was a very successful film star of the old-school sort.

The second novel read happens to have been the second Vera Stanhope in the crime series by Ann Cleeves, Telling Tales (2005). Unlike Cab Bolton, however, as we all know, while Inspeactor Vera Stanhope isn't the child of a glamorous movie star, her series has become a television star., one that I very much enjoy.  In her second vehicle, as in the first, Vera doesn't show up until quite some after the narrative gets going, and again, as in the first, she is introduced to the reader through the eyes of one of the several protagonist - narrators for the first time. Unless the reader is already in the know, the reader knows no more than the novel's characters who Vera is at that time -- but they will learn, up close and personal.  Whereas this is only the 4th Vera Stanhope I've read, I have read all her Shetland murder mysteries featuring Detective Jimmy Perez (also an excellent television series).  In both series Cleeves pulls off what cannot be easy -- several pov-protag-narrators -- including Vera herself.  However, these early Veras faintly show the signs of what becomes Cleeves the writer's besetting sin, which is most visible in the later Veras and too many of the Shetlands: she takes far too long to set-up, and this reader anyway, starts to grumble about how dull looking at peat under grass and wind and sky for 20 pages can be. However, in these first two Veras, things move along briskly from the first paragraph until the last.  And what one will appreciate most in these, as with all of Cleeves's novels, the reader will not guess who did it until Vera does.

     . . . . Non-fiction

I am engrossed by Stark Mad Abolitionists: Lawrence, Kansas, and the Battle Over Slavery in the Civil War Era (2017) by Robert K Sutton, former chief historian of the National Park Service.  This is the first historical study I've read of the Kansas-Nebraska battles, that is dedicated only to the who, what and why in this long trajectory of violent terrorism that opens the War of the Rebellion.  The anti-slavery actors in these years, other than the martyr, John Brown, or the CSA-abetted criminals, Quantrill, Colter and the James brothers, tend to be forgotten.  But figures such as Amos Adams Lawrence and Eli Thayer are more than worthy to be remembered for their own heroic dedication to making anti-slavery the fact of the Territory.  Not only did they sacrifice their health -- they gave up their fortunes to make Kansas a free soil state.  As the pro-slavery actors were who they were, this is also a shoot 'em up, which the bad actors such as Quantrill and Jesse James did not give up even once the War of Southern Aggression was over, so to speak, making this another memo showing us that even the shooting part of that war was not really over when 'peace' was declared.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Male Blockheads To Gender Flip the Script of Lord of the Flies

     . . . . People have rightly been snarking the idiotic idea some Hollywood GUYS have announced to the world, that they wish to remake Golding's novel, The Lord of the Flies, into yet another film, Why is theirs so special? Theirs is going to be all mostly naked girls instead of all mostly naked boys on an island without grups. 

Themyscira, where girls eat well, without killing each other.

Come on guys! Surely you know this has just been done, within these summer months even?  Fellas, I hate to break it to ya, but remember where Wonder Woman Diana and her all lady fam live, on that island of Themyscira, without any males?  

Silly me! O of course you don't remember, -- even though it was the only summer action comics blockbuster (or any of the tentpole blockbusters for that matter), to actually make a profit and be a blockbuster.  Coz it was a woman director and action protagonist.

There really is No End to male arrogance, ignorance and blockheadedness in entertainment and media --  And Elsewheres, for that matter, ya, D.C. we are lookin' atchu.