". . . 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, August 10, 2022

The First Act Of Transition Often Is Farcical -- As Well As Bloody Hell

      . . . . "The first act of history is often farce,” Kyle Harper muses in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire (2017), regarding the ascension and fall of emperor Maximinus in the 3rd C.

This emperor was the first of the "barracks emperors", those put in power by the army (paying off the army).  This particular guy was such a clown that the army that put him there, took him outta there, not that long after.

In other words, people breathed a sigh of relief that this fool was gone -- the creator of the farce he was making of Rome, to those of the Empire, and those outside of it, by his behaviors and stupidity -- only to be succeeded by worse and more competent usurpers, opening that long period that essentially led to the first partitioning of the empire, as so much of what Romans had been used to for hundreds if not thousands of years, began to disappear, along with population and institutions.

[Or, as Dr, Jeet Heer muses, romperisto is not the Mussolini, he's the Gabriel d'Annunzio who heralds the arrival of fascism.]

Endemic pandemic is inevitable for cultures as the Empire was in that century, dense, urban and widely connected -- and are experiencing climate change, all of which happened at the end of the Roman Warm Period, or Roman Climatic Optimum (RCO). This period ran from approximately 250 BC to AD 4, so much so that Theophrastus (371 – c. 287 BCE) wrote that date trees could grow in Greece if they were planted but that they could not set fruit there.

The Antonine Plague Decimates Rome

These beneficent conditions change for good in the mid 3rd century as the empire transitioned into late antiquity, losing its resilience to recover from various crises due to the pressure of pandemic diseases and climate change.  

The Fate of Rome is astoundingly good, with all sorts of pointers as to what we're facing and up against, the same now as then (differences being mainly germ theory and vaccines, as well as being able to study the past with technology beyond even Roman imagination) as he traces the combination of pandemic and climate change's effects on the Roman empire -- and the whole world for that matter, since the world's connectivity had NEVER had such global through lines before, and there had never been so many cities, not only in this empire, but in the Asian empires too.  With those cities came relentless push into the habitats of the wild -- and so, pandemic.  There hadn't been any, previously, at least in the west before the 3rd C, as any evidence for same is missing from both recorded records and forensic archaeology.  The West and the East seemed to mirror each other during the era of the third Century - 6th-7th Centuries C.E., as Michael Wood observes in his The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream  (2020). Coincidentally Wood's book is enthusiastically blurbed by Tom Holland, author of Persian Fire (2005), which thoroughly enthralled me as well.

Harper's latest, Plagues upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History (2021), is likely just as good Fate of Rome -- and contains some of the same material one would guess. shows that the story of disease is entangled with the history of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism. He is particularly concerned in this books with the relationship between poverty and health. Perhaps, partly, because as good as The Fate of Rome is, it got no attention in the media, whereas, of course, this later one, while we are in our own era's pandemic, has.

Harper is professor of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of Slavery in the Late Roman World, AD 275-425 and From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Postmambo Rides, While I Do Face Splat and Then Watch 1930's Shanghai

       . . . .  Tomorrow, Thursday, August 4, 2022, at 8 pm Eastern, Postmambo Sessions presents a Zoom conversation with T.J. English about his just-published book Dangerous Rhythms: Jazz and the Underworld.

T.J.'s many books -- all of them about organized crime -- include The Westies, Paddy Whacked, The Savage CityThe Corporation, and of course the best-selling Havana Nocturne, which was the basis for an unforgettable Postmambo Cuban Music Seminar live in Havana in February 2019. Collectively, they offer a vision of America as compelling as any novelist's. He's also a well-known music head: Dangerous Rhythms was previously the title of the series he curated at Manhattan's Zinc Bar. He and I can talk up a storm, and we have many times, but this is also your chance to jump in and ask him whatever you want -- within reason and the bounds of legality.The Zoom link will go out two hours before start time on Thursday. You need to be on the [seminar] mailing list to receive it (this is [nedslist].) So if you're not on [seminar], shoot me an e-mail at and put [seminar] in the subject line.Our next Postmambo Movie Night (title and guest TBA) will be August 25. In September we return to our regular schedule of the second and third Thursday of each month.* * *Reading: "Soon the world will be unrecognizable," Robin McKie, Guardian: "The publication of Bill McGuire’s latest book, Hothouse Earth, could not be more timely . . . The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic."

Watching: Judge Maya Guerra Gamble rebukes Alex Jones: "Your beliefs do not make something true."

Watching: Reefer Madness (1936) colorized clip (musical!): The pastel smoke!

Music in NYC: Miguel Zenón Quartet, Village Vanguard, Aug. 23-28. Their concert at Columbia's Miller Theater in May was a serious contender for best of year, if there ever could be such a thing as "best." Tour schedule here:

* * *

UPCOMING POSTMAMBO MUSIC SEMINARSAug. 11-18: Cali and Buenaventura, Colombia.Feb. 1-6, 2023: New Orleans: For the Funk of It.More to come in 2023. 


     . . . .  I have a chin so purple it could be black, same with right knee, scratched up right side of nose, smashed mouth, and a bruised right frontal bone.  Monday morning tripped on a sidewalk bump I could not see, due to color and the damaged optical nerve of my right eyes that severely impairs at best looking down. I came out of this far, far better than a woman of my age -- and my back and multiple previous injuries -- has any reason to expect, No broken teeth or bones or blood. 

Giving the credit to my constant quest to improve back strength and reduce pain via exercise, stretch, vitamins, diet and medicinal cannabis.


     . . . . What to Watch when a mess: Miss S. (2020 China, 2022 HBO). Shanghai remake of Miss Fisher’s Mysteries, in great detail, except in Chinese, and in Shanghai, not Australia.  The clothes and jewels are equally exquisite too. Purrfect escape viewing. The principals have nailed down the elegant yet sexy sit-and-lean-into-each-other on the office desktop, such a signature move in Hollywood Tracy-Hepburn flix of the 1930’s.

The ladies in Miss S are so pretty, as pretty as their clothes, though oddly, one cannot miss, that though this is supposedly Shanghai in the 1930's, the elite women such as Miss Su dress in couture from the late 1940's - early - mid 1950's. Which strikes me, at least, as, odd.  Of course their shoes are pure 2020, not at all 1930's either.  But all are beautiful, and exquisitely fabricated. Miss S follows the Miss Fisher laudable practice of repeating the wearing of the fabulously expensive, hand-made gowns and jewelry throughout. We see new outfits created and purchased, but then they move into the rotation.  Miss Su repeats wearing her beautiful chemsongs, as well as her Western gowns.

The actress who plays Miss Su has terrific comic timing.  The whole cast is very good.

The major difference between the Australian production of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries and the Shanghai-Netflix production of Miss S is there are chase scenes and fights of the sorts seldom, if ever, in the Australian version. Since Miss S is 2020?, and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is 2012-2015, which isn't that much of time difference, this seems a deliberate decision to have more 'action' than the Australian version. As the series progresses, it gets a bit more dark too, in a way that Miss Fisher did not.

Another major difference revealed as the series roll on – emphasis on not having children as a good choice that women naturally shall want to make. Early on there’s an ep in which Su’s assistant poses as a woman desperate for an abortion – it’s not the abortion that’s criminal or wrong, but the men making money from providing dangerous and toxic conditions, at great expense.

A darker dimension is with us as we realize that soon China will be invaded by Japan, and WWII comes early to Shanghai.