Quotulatiousness

April 26, 2015

Giovanni Guareschi

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I first read the short stories of Giovanni Guareschi when I was about ten years old. Much of the political content flew right over my head, but I enjoyed the interplay of the two main characters, Don Camillo and Peppone, in their never-ending battles in the un-named tiny Italian village somewhere in the Po valley. From the beginning of this post, you can tell that Sarah Hoyt is also a fan:

Years ago on this blog I talked about “Technique of The Coup D’Etat” by Giovanni Guareschi and I typed the beginning in here. I shall copy that. (Assume typos are mine.)

At ten o’clock on Tuesday evening, the village square was swept with wind and rain, but a crowd had been gathered there for three or four hours to listen to the election news coming out of a radio loudspeaker. Suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into darkness. Someone went to the control box but came back saying there was nothing to be done. The trouble must be up the line or at the power plant, miles away. People hung around for half an hour or so, and then, as the rain began to come down even harder than before, they scattered to their homes, leaving the village silent and deserted. Peppone shut himself up in the People’s Palace, along with Lungo, Brusco, Straziami, and Gigio, the same leader of the “Red Wing” squad from Molinetto. They sat around uneasily by the light of a candle stump and cursed the power and light monopoly as an enemy of the people, until Smilzo burst in. He had gone to Rocca Verde on his motorcycle to see if anyone had news and now his eyes were popping out of his head and he was waving a sheet of paper.

“The Front has won!” he panted. “Fifty-two seats out of a hundred in the senate and fifty-one in the chamber. The other side is done for. We must get hold of our people and have a celebration. If there’s no light, we can set fire to a couple of haystacks nearby.

“Hurrah!” shouted Peppone. But Gigio grabbed hold of Smilzo’s jacket.

“Keep quiet and stay where you are!” he said grimly. It’s too early for anyone to be told. Let’s take care of our little list.”

“List? What list?” asked Peppone in astonishment.

“The list of reactionaries who are to be executed first thing. Let’s see now…”

Peppone stammered that he had made no such list, but the other only laughed.

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve a very complete one here all ready. Let’s look at it together, and once we’ve decided we can get to work.”

Gigio pulled a sheet of paper with some twenty names on it out of his pocket and laid it on the table.

“Looks to me as if al the reactionary pigs were here,” he said. “I put down the worst of them, and we can attend to the rest later.”

Peppone scanned the names and scratched his head.

“Well, what do you say?” Gigio asked him.

“Generally speaking, we agree,” said Peppone. “But what’s the hurry? We have plenty of time to do things in the proper style.”

Gigio brought his fist down on the table.

“We haven’t a minute to lose, that’s what I say,” he shouted harshly. “This is the time to put our hands on them, before they suspect us. If we wait until tomorrow, they may get wind of something and disappear.”

At this point Brusco came into the discussion.

“You must be crazy,” he said. “You can’t start out to kill people before you think it over.”

“I’m not crazy and you’re a very poor Communist, that’s what you are! These are all reactionary pigs; no one can dispute that, and if you don’t take advantage of this golden opportunity then you’re a traitor to the party!”

Brusco shook his head.

“Don’t you believe it! It’s jackasses that are traitors to the Party! And you’ll be a jackass if you make mistakes and slaughter innocent people.”

Gigio raised a threatening finger.

“It’s better to eliminate ten innocents than to spare one individual who may be dangerous to the cause. Dead men can do the party no harm. You’re a very poor Communist, as I’ve said before. In fact, you never were a good one. You’re as weak as a snowball in hell, I say. You’re just a bourgeois in disguise!”

Brusco grew pale, and Peppone intervened.

“That’s enough,” he said. “Comrade Gigio has the right idea and nobody can deny it. It’s part of the groundwork of Communist philosophy. Communism gives us the goal at which to aim and democratic discussion must be confined to the quickest and surest ways to attain it.”

Giggio nodded his head in satisfaction, while Peppone continued: “Once it’s been decided that these people are or may be dangerous to the cause and therefore we must eliminate them, the next thing is to work out the best method of elimination. Because if by our carelessness, we were to allow a a single reactionary to escape, then we should indeed be traitors to the Party. Is that clear?”

“Absolutely,” the others said in chorus. “You’re dead right.

“There are six of us,” Peppone went on, “And twenty names on that list, among them the Filotti, who has a whole regiment in his house and a cache of arms in the cellar. If we were to attack these people one by one, at the first shot the rest would run away. We must call our forces together and divide them up into twenty squads, each one equipped to deal with a particular objective.”

“Very good,” said Gigio.

“Good, my foot!” shouted Peppone. “That’s not the half of it! We need a twenty first squad, equipped even better than the rest to hold off the police. And mobile squads to cover the roads and the river. If a fellow rushes into action in the way you proposed, without proper precautions, running the risk of botching it completely, then he’s not a good communist, he’s just a damn fool.”

It was Gigio’s turn to pale now, and he bit his lip in anger, while Peppone proceeded to give orders. Smilzo was to transmit word to the cell leaders in the outlying settlements and these were to call their men together. A green rocket would give the signal to meet in appointed places, where Falchetto, Brusco and Straziami would form the squads and assign the targets. A red rocket would bid them go into action. Smilzo went off on his motorcycle while Lungo, Brusco, Straziami and Gigio discussed the composition of the squads.

“You must do a faultless job,” Peppone told them. “I shall hold you personally responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I’ll see if the police are suspicious and find some way to put them off.

Don Camillo, later waiting in vain for the lights to go on and the radio to resume its mumble, decided to get ready for bed. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door and when he drew it open cautiously, he found Peppone before him.

“Get out of here in a hurry!” Peppone panted. “Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river.”

Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.

“Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?”

“Hurry,” said Peppone. “The people’s Front has won and the squads are getting ready. There’s a list of people to be executed and your name is the first one!”

Spoiler alert, though this is not one of the stories that you read for the denouement: by the end of the story, the entire cell except Gigio is crammed in Don Camillo’s closet, as each successive comrade shows up to try to save him and is shoved into the closet as the next one comes along.

Then it is revealed that they didn’t in fact win the election, but more importantly, the entire cell, which had lived in fear of the Stalinist *sshole who pulled book and fervor on them every time and made everyone of them live in terror of being denounced as insufficiently fervent, now knows who the enemy really is. That is, each individual now knows he is not an isolated individual surrounded by good party members who will turn on him, but one in a collection of decent individuals kinda sorta following an ideology but not so far it blunts their humanity and ONE isolated *sshole turning them against each other for the power.

At the end of the story, Peppone finds Gigio proudly waiting to send up the red rocket and kicks him all the way to main street.

Gigio’s power is gone, because he’s revealed to be ONE individual working for himself and only that, and a hateful, little one at that.

If you’d like to know more about Guareschi and his work, you could do worse than to read the entries at The Little Blog of Don Camillo, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated for a few years, but has lots of details both about the Little World and its author.

April 25, 2015

QotD: Political speech and political thinking

Filed under: Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a “party line.” Orthodoxy, of whatever color, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestoes, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946.

April 23, 2015

Adult Wednesday Addams: Job Interview [S1, Ep 2]

Filed under: Business,Humour,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Apr 2015

Wednesday interviews at a cutthroat Hollywood agency.

April 22, 2015

SpaceX Launch You Up (Uptown Funk Parody)

Filed under: Media,Space — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Apr 2015

THIS VIDEO IS A PARODY OF THE ORIGINAL “UPTOWN FUNK” by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars and does not infringe on the copyright of Sony Music Entertainment (SME).

This video was created by fans of SpaceX and does not reflect the views of SpaceX or its partners.

You Elon MUST share this SpaceX music video, and help promote the future of science and space exploration! #GoBold (Lyrics at the bottom!)

H/T to Boing Boing for the link.

QotD: Volunteer armies, conscription, and corporal punishment in Starship Troopers

Filed under: Law,Media,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate conscription. I regard it as human slavery of the vilest sort and do not think it can be justified under any circumstances whatever. To those who say “Yes, but without the draft we could not defend the United States” I answer violently, “Then let the bloody United States go down the drain! Any nation whose citizens will not voluntarily fight and die for her does not deserve to live.”

I despise jails and prisons almost as much, and for the same reasons, and I am contemptuous of punishment by fining because it is basically unjust, being necessarily uneven and discriminatory in application — e.g., there is a reckless driver in this neighbourhood who is quite wealthy. A $500 fine to him is nothing at all, less than nothing. To me it is an annoyance and one which might well cut into my luxuries and spoil my plans. But to my neighbour across the street, a cook with two children, a $500 fine would be a major disaster.

Yet $500 is what our local courts would charge any of the three of us for drunken driving.

I suggest that ten lashes would be equally rough on each of us — and would do far more to deter homicide-by-automobile.

Both of these ideas, opposition on moral grounds to conscription and to imprisonment, are essential parts of Starship Troopers. So far as I know, no reviewer noticed either idea.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

April 21, 2015

QotD: The decadence of the English language

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.

George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”, 1946.

April 19, 2015

When comics met “pedantic didacticism”

Filed under: Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

I haven’t read comics since I was a young teen, so I really have no idea what the current state of the comic industry might be. I didn’t expect the rise of pedantic didacticism, however:

I would like to expand upon the point that seems to have annoyed her the most: Bitch Planet is really, really dreadful, you guys.

I’ll confess: I only read the first issue. I can’t imagine purchasing another issue, except maybe to see how dumb the series gets. (That might actually be kind of a fun monthly feature, now that I think about it.) Of the recommendations I received at Fantom Comics, this was by far the most disappointing. Unintentionally hilarious, sure. But disappointing nevertheless.

As I noted in the Post, it’s a comic about women who are sent to an intergalactic prison because they’re uppity. One of the women is then murdered while in this prison so her husband can marry a younger, hotter woman. Because patriarchy!

What I didn’t really get into was the essay at the end of the book by Danielle Henderson,* which drives home all of the lessons from the previous 20-or-so pages.

    No matter how many examples of misogyny I provided, no matter how many times we talked about gender being a social construct, or how many times I asked them to question what, precisely, was natural about male leadership other than the fact that they said it was natural, one person always held out, one person refused to believe that women were culturally oppressed. … The striking thing about Bitch Planet is that we’re already on it. We don’t have to get thrown on a shuttle to be judged non-compliant—be a little overweight, talk too loud, have an opinion on the Internet.

This is a bit like following up John Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged with a chapter-long discourse from a Cato fellow about the evils of government handouts. Or like letting Benny Hinn preach over the credits at the end of Heaven Is for Real. Or like including an essay from Chuck Norris on American exceptionalism in the liner notes of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red White and Blue.” God we get it.

Frankly, I was being nice by sticking to “pedantic didacticism.” As my friend Jonathan V. Last, a relatively avid collector of comics, said when I emailed him,

    Bitch Planet is so obvious and on the nose I was actually angry at myself for spending money on it. The least artful piece of fiction I’ve read in years.

And that’s the rub: there’s just no art to being a pedantic bore. I’m certainly not arguing that art should be devoid of politics. Just that it should be done interestingly.

April 18, 2015

BBC radio finds two of the only people who have never seen Star Wars

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

… and one of them is Godfrey Elfwick, who runs a parody Social Justice Warrior twitter account:

Listeners of the BBC World Service’s World Have Your Say programme were treated to a bizarre analysis of the Star Wars franchise today by a caller who claimed that “Dark Raider” was a “racial stereotype” who listened to rap music and “the only female character ends up in a gold space bikini chained to a horny space slug.”

Godfrey Elfwick is a student from Sheffield who regularly fools observers with his parody Twitter account, an off-the-deep-end “social justice warrior” persona that tweets bizarrely and hilariously about racism, sexism, misogyny and other favoured topics of the political Left.

Elfwick attracted the attention of the BBC World Service today, when he tweeted that he had never seen Star Wars. A World Service presenter who was producing a segment in the wake of the recently-released trailer for Star Wars Episode VIII: The Force Awakens took the bait, inviting him onto the programme.

Because of course the BBC can’t tell the difference between an outlandish, obviously fake social-justice obsessed parody account and a normal member of the public.

Moral panics and “Shaken Baby Syndrome”

Filed under: Health,Law,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In L.A. Weekly, Amy Nicholson looks at a new documentary:

It’s never simple when science suffers a shakeup. The road to the truth is littered with fallen experts who were disgraced when they tried to disprove — or prove — the common wisdom, be it that the earth revolves around the sun or that witches float. Today’s researchers are fighting to restore logic in the debate over vaccinations, global warming, and the increasingly hazy medical condition called Shaken Baby Syndrome, whose adherents accuse, pursue and prosecute an estimated 250 parents, babysitters and other caretakers each year.

Veteran investigative journalist Susan Goldsmith has spent years examining the medical and legal industry that has arisen to promote its belief that vicious baby-shaking by enraged adults has killed thousands of infants, the subject of the new documentary, The Syndrome, researched by Goldsmith and directed by her cousin Meryl Goldsmith.

“I made a career writing about child abuse,” she says. Her child abuse investigations as a reporter for The Oregonian led to two new laws designed to better protect kids in foster care. Yet, she also sees extreme, unfounded reactions by well-meaning people when children are involved. Says Goldsmith, “When people hear ‘child abuse,’ all thinking just goes into shutdown mode.”

A diagnosis of Shaken Baby Syndrome was supposed to explain mysterious deaths in babies without bone fractures, bumps, bruises or neck injuries. How did they die? A theory arose that babies were under attack by loved ones. For decades, doctors in the U.S., and dozens of other countries were trained to look for three internal symptoms that experts claimed were proof of a powerful shaking assault on a tiny child: brain swelling, blood on the surface of the brain, and blood behind the eyes. Well-meaning doctors were instructed that these symptoms could only occur due to intense shaking — if a parent or babysitter said the child had fallen or suddenly fell ill, that was a lie.

Proponents of the theory grew so powerful in political circles, where elected officials were keen to show they supported helpless children, that laws were passed across the U.S. requiring a doctor who spotted any of the three symptom to alert authorities. Failure to report symptoms, even if a doctor found the parents’ explanation made sense, could result in fines, civil lawsuits, or even jail time.

We’ve been here before. The Syndrome rewinds back to the 1980s when the big public panic on behalf of children was Satanic Ritual Abuse, a Salem-like national frenzy in which prosecutors and juries in big cities and small towns sent daycare employees to jail for years for crimes as implausible as cutting off a gorilla’s finger while at the zoo, then flying the children over Mexico to molest them.

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

How the Hugo Awards became the latest front in the Culture Wars(TM)

Filed under: Gaming,Media,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At The Federalist, Robert Tracinski talks about the expansion of the ongoing culture wars into the SF and Fantasy communities:

This is the era in which we are all being drafted in the Culture War. It doesn’t matter if you’re secular or religious, political or apolitical, frat boys or geeks, hipsters or bros. Nobody gets to be neutral or sit on the sidelines, because we’ll all be expected to make our obeisance to the latest politically correct opinion handed down to us by a Twitter mob.

By now, we know the basic ingredients of a typical skirmish in Culture War 4.0. It goes something like this: a) a leftist claque starts loudly pushing the “correct” Culture War position onto b) a field previously considered fun, innocuous, apolitical, purely personal, or recreational, and c) accusing anyone who opposes them of being a racist, sexist, bigot who relies on oppressive “privilege” to push everyone else down, while these claims are d) backed up by a biased press that swallows the line of attack uncritically and repeats it.

Any of that sound familiar? It’s just daily life for anyone on the Right, and it’s slowly becoming daily life for everybody else. Ask Comet Guy.

The innocuous field in which the personal is suddenly discovered to be very political might be fashion, music, toys, sports, or sex, not to mention weddings, flowers, cake-baking, and pizza.

Or video games. Or science fiction.

Which explains the latest, wide new front of the Great Social Justice War: Gamergate*, and the battle over the Hugo Awards, a prestigious annual fiction award for science fiction and fantasy writers.

Hugo nominations are not made by a cloistered group of experts. They are voted on by anyone who becomes a “supporting or attending member” of the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon. This has usually meant that the voting is limited to a small pool of a few thousand die-hard science fiction fans. But in practice it means that anyone willing to shell out $40 can cast a ballot.

Science fiction has always been a fertile arena for exploration of big ideas — much more so, these days, than highbrow “literary” fiction. The use of fantastical science fiction premises allows authors to project a future in which everything is done differently, or in which human nature itself has been altered, and this leads them to ask questions about what is really natural, necessary, or essential to human life and what is merely conventional, artificial, and unnecessary. It has been remarked that “big-idea novels are more likely to have an embossed foil dragon on the cover than a Booker Prize badge.”

Clearly, all of this freewheeling exploration of ideas has got to stop.

Correlation, causation, and lobby money

Filed under: Business,Health,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tim Harford‘s latest column on tobacco, research, and lobby money:

It is said that there is a correlation between the number of storks’ nests found on Danish houses and the number of children born in those houses. Could the old story about babies being delivered by storks really be true? No. Correlation is not causation. Storks do not deliver children but larger houses have more room both for children and for storks.

This much-loved statistical anecdote seems less amusing when you consider how it was used in a US Senate committee hearing in 1965. The expert witness giving testimony was arguing that while smoking may be correlated with lung cancer, a causal relationship was unproven and implausible. Pressed on the statistical parallels between storks and cigarettes, he replied that they “seem to me the same”.

The witness’s name was Darrell Huff, a freelance journalist beloved by generations of geeks for his wonderful and hugely successful 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics. His reputation today might be rather different had the proposed sequel made it to print. How to Lie with Smoking Statistics used a variety of stork-style arguments to throw doubt on the connection between smoking and cancer, and it was supported by a grant from the Tobacco Institute. It was never published, for reasons that remain unclear. (The story of Huff’s career as a tobacco consultant was brought to the attention of statisticians in articles by Andrew Gelman in Chance in 2012 and by Alex Reinhart in Significance in 2014.)

Indisputably, smoking causes lung cancer and various other deadly conditions. But the problematic relationship between correlation and causation in general remains an active area of debate and confusion. The “spurious correlations” compiled by Harvard law student Tyler Vigen and displayed on his website (tylervigen.com) should be a warning. Did you realise that consumption of margarine is strongly correlated with the divorce rate in Maine?

QotD: The danger of the “deadly genius” in art

Filed under: Media,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There are entire genres of art that have self-destructed in the last hundred years — become drained of vitality, driven their audiences away to the point where they become nothing more than museum exhibits or hobby-horses for snobs and antiquarians.

The three most obvious examples are painting, the literary novel and classical music. After about 1910 all three of these art forms determinedly severed the connections with popular culture that had made them relevant over the previous 250 years. Their departure left vacuums to be filled; we got modern genre literature, rock music, and art photography.

Other art forms underwent near-death experiences and survived only in severely compromised forms. Jazz, running away from its roots in honky tonks and dance halls, all but strangled on its own sophistication between 1960 and 1980; it survives today primarily as smoothed-out elevator music. Sculpture, having spent a century losing itself in increasingly meaningless abstraction, is only now feeling its way back towards a figurative vocabulary; the most interesting action there is not yet in the revival of mimetic forms but in artists who speak the vocabulary of mathematics and machine technology.

What makes an art-form self-destruct like this? Many things can contribute — hankerings for bourgeois respectability, corruption by politics, clumsy response to a competing genre. But the one we see over and over again is deadly genius.

A deadly genius is a talent so impressive that he can break and remake all the rules of the form, and seduce others into trying to emulate his disruptive brilliance — even when those followers lack the raw ability or grounding to make art in the new idiom the the genius has defined.

Arnold Schoenberg (classical music). James Joyce (literary novels). John Coltrane (jazz). Pablo Picasso (painting). Konstantin Brancusi (sculpture). These men had the knack of inventing radical new forms that made the preexisting conventions of their arts seem stale and outworn. They produced works of brilliance, taught their followers to value disruptive brillance over tradition, and in doing so all but destroyed their arts.

Eric S. Raymond, “Deadly Genius and the Back-To-Zero Problem”, Armed and Dangerous, 2004-09-24.

April 12, 2015

Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

April 11, 2015

Robert E. Lee

Filed under: History,Media,Military,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In City Journal, Ryan L. Cole reviews a recent book on one of America’s most famous generals:

America’s Civil War presents a set of forever ponderable “what ifs.” What if a Union soldier hadn’t discovered plans for the Confederate invasion of Maryland in 1862? What if Stonewall Jackson hadn’t been hit by friendly fire after the Battle of Chancellorsville? What if George Meade had pursued the wounded Army of Northern Virginia in the wake of Gettysburg? The list goes on.

But perhaps the most vexing hypothetical has always been: What if Robert E. Lee had accepted Abraham Lincoln’s offer to command Union forces at the outset of the conflict? This would have likely robbed the Confederacy of its greatest military mind. It may have also robbed the South of its fleeting glories, dramatically shortened the war, and made Lee — not Ulysses S. Grant or even Abraham Lincoln — the savior of the Union. It could even have made Lee a second George Washington.

This decision and its ramifications are the basis of The Man Who Would Not Be Washington, Jonathan Horn’s thoughtful new life of the Confederate general. It would be wrong to call this a biography. Though Horn, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, assays Lee’s life from birth to death, the book is built around the premise that Lee was practically destined to become the second coming of Washington. Yet he declined, and the consequences of his refusal altered the course of the nation.

Lee had familial and professional connections to Washington. His father, Henry Lee III, better known as “Light-Horse” Harry Lee, was a dashing cavalry officer in the Continental Army. General Washington was impressed by Lee’s bravery and invited the young Virginian to join his personal staff. When Lee begged off, Washington asked Congress to give him an independent command. Like some other young officers, Lee found a mentor in Washington, who had no biological children of his own. He did, however, adopt and raise Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, as his own son. Custis’s daughter, Mary, wed Robert E. Lee. Their children, by birth and marriage, were direct descendants of America’s original first lady.

The Lees lived in Arlington House, a Potomac mansion overlooking Washington, built by Custis as a shrine to his adoptive father and a repository for his relics. Through marriage, Lee was heir to the tactile remains of Washington’s legacy; even the slaves he inherited from his father-in-law were descendants of those who had toiled at Mount Vernon. In his opening chapters, Horn carefully draws the connections between the two titular subjects and plots Lee’s rise to military distinction in the years leading up to the Civil War. The history is simply fascinating. Horn is a graceful writer, and when the occasion warrants, has a suitable flair for the dramatic. The pages blaze by.

April 10, 2015

The Jailer’s Daughter on the CBC

Filed under: Cancon,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Well, technically it’s the CBC’s website, but still it’s nice to see the band getting a bit of exposure:

Click to go to the CBC artist page for The Jailer's Daughter

Click to go to the CBC artist page for The Jailer’s Daughter

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