Friday, May 31, 2013

Remembering Red Cloud

I remember reading about Red Cloud in elementary school.  It was part of a series entitled The Library of American Heroes.  Here's what the book looked like.  It was published in 1965. I hadn't realized there was an autobiography, which I'm sure would be much more telling.

One of my favorite books I read later in high school was Black Elk Speaks, although I've since read reviews that John Neihardt took a lot of liberties in this "oral history."  But, still it was a mesmerizing book especially as Black Elk related his time in London and his out of body experiences, in which he returned to his native land.

Richter noted that it was very difficult to translate native languages into English or any other European language, as the structures were very different, not to mention the lack of comparable words to express what the natives actually felt, especially in regard to John Elliot's Tears of Repentance, noted in the previous post.  At least in later years there was an attempt to try to capture these great chiefs' thoughts with a wider audience in mind.  I also think such books helped immortalize many of these former Indian leaders, for better and for worse, making them an indelible part of the American experience.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Facing East

After a great start on Facing East from Indian Country, I've gotten bogged down in the middle chapter where  Dan Richter obsesses on Tears of Repentance, a narrative by John Elliot in which he tries to capture the confessions of the Christianized natives of Natick.  I think Richter tries a little too hard to read in between the lines of the confessionals provided by 15 former tribesmen who had professed their new faith in Christianity, but were having a hard time overcoming their sins.  Richter sees this as a classic clash of cultures, with the narrative being a rare attempt to capture the voices of the Indians themselves.

I enjoyed the earlier chapters much more as Richter delves into the mythology that has shrouded any real understanding of  the indigenous population before the arrival of English, Dutch and French settlers in North America.  He offers some very interesting interpretations on the folk legends of Pocahontas, Kateri Tekawitha and Metacomb, who inspired "King Philip's War" pictured above, showing in all three cases that their real stories have been for the most part misinterpreted.

In its own way, the book is a "re-imagining" of how native tribes might have felt by the intrusion of European settlers, as Richter readily admits there are few hard sources to draw upon.  But, Richter proves himself very adept at piecing together clues like an anthropologist, more so than an historian, offering a number of intriguing insights into indigenous life.

I was particularly intrigued by the native farming practices, particularly in Virginia, which grew corn, squash and beans together, rather than as separate crops.  Apparently, the squash leaves served to keep unwanted pests away, and the three foods blended together into a very healthy diet, supplemented by wild game.  It was the new settlers' obsession with monocultures that resulted in the intrusion of new pests, that infected the Indian crops as well.  Charles Mann also noted this in 1493.

Look forward to finishing the book once I get past this chapter on "Native Voices in a Colonial World,"   where local Naticks were forced to repent for sins they had a hard time understanding as sins.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No more room for Reagan

Bob Dole is the latest conservative to come out and say that the GOP needs to do some soul searching.  When asked on Fox News Sunday if Reagan would make it in today's Republican party, he said "I doubt it," and further noted that the national committee should put a sign on its door, "Closed for Repairs" and come back next year with new ideas and a new agenda.

Meanwhile, Boehner and Mitch seem to be on cruise control, content to sit it out until 2014, assuming Americans will blame the latest stalemate on Obama and the Democrats, despite most polls showing just the opposite.  Yet, the Tea Party remains very active, and may very well mount insurgent challenges to Republican leaders who have been anything but inspiring.

The Tea Party seems to have gotten a lift from the IRS "unfairly" targeting it for tax audits.  A Northern California Tea Party affiliate has even filed a law suit against the IRS.  Tea Party darlings, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, still get a lot of press, but Bachmann, the TP caucus leader in the House, says she won't run for re-election.  However, Sarah Palin took full advantage of Memorial Day weekend by pitching up at the Indy 500.

The Dems seem to be targeting key House races that could put them in the majority.  Virginia is seen as one pivotal state.  The DNC has to make a stronger effort this year as the mood of the country definitely opens the door to potential big gains in '14, if the DNC invests wisely.

It is a shame it has come to this.  Like the old Pete Seeger song, Which Side Are You On? we have to choose between one party or the other to effect change, especially with labor issues once again in the fore.   Bipartisanship seems to be a thing of the past.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

When Legends Fail

Flipping through channels last night I fell on Legends of the Fall, a very odd movie to say the least.  It was based on Jim Harrison's novella from a few years before.  It wasn't one of Harrison's best efforts as he seemed to be setting All My Sons during WWI with the patriarch of the family (Anthony Hopikins) oddly resembling Teddy Roosevelt.  A woman (Julia Ormond) gets caught between the three sons (Adrian Quinn, Brad Pitt and Henry Thomas).  You really feel sorry for her in the end.  But, probably the most incongruent part of the film is that it was told from the point of view of one of the old Indian workers on Ludlow's ranch, projecting an iconic family portrait

Many of the scenes looked like something out of a Ralph Lauren commercials, extolling a mythic Americana that never existed.  Brad Pitt even did his best to reprise Jeremiah Johnson as he goes on a "vision quest" to try to restore his balance.  The film followed pretty closely on the heels of A River Runs Through It, which made Pitt a Hollywood sensation, oft compared to a young Robert Redford. Whereas the previous movie held together pretty well, this one started to crumble apart almost from the start.

I wasn't sure what Harrison was after in the book either.  It was part of trio of novellas contained under one title, and I guess some Hollywood producer felt it could be shaped into a movie pretty easily. They had already made an abysmal version of his novel, Wolf, literally making the lead character into a werewolf, whereas the story was a about a young man searching who identified himself with the wolves of the upper peninsula of Michigan, retracing home ground.  At least this time they stuck more closely to the story.  There was also a 1990 movie, Revenge, based on one of the novellas in this collection but I never saw it.  Pretty much mano-a-mano stuff.

Sundog was my personal favorite of Harrison, which fortunately hasn't yet been made into a movie that I know of.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Empire of the Summer Moon

The book came out a couple years ago and is now available in paperback.  It tells the story of the Comanche "empire" and Quanah Parker's role in saving what was left of it.  I came across it when I was looking for titles on the Comanche.  The broad network of tribes seemed more like an amalgam than an empire or nation.  Reminds me of the Seminole in Florida, who like the Comanche were hard to pin down and took decades to finally subdue.  They too had no single cultural identity, but absorbed roaming tribes that had broken off from other Southeast tribes and were seeking refuge from the intrusion of settlers.

I also noted Dee Brown's book on The American West, where he looks at the different Indian nations, including the Comanche, which comprised the American Plains.  One of the things I found amusing about Frankel, was he noting that the Comanche had an egocentric view of themselves by calling themselves "the people."  Actually, most tribes consider themselves "the people," including the Navajo who call themselves Dineh.  Navajo was a term given to them by the Spanish, just as Sioux was a term given to these Plains Indians by the French.  They all derive from the earlier Athabascans, who drifted down from the high plains of Canada in the 16th century, so were relatively new to the region.  They don't have a long settled history like the Pueblo Indians.  Taos Pueblo has been continuously occupied for a millennium.

I picked up a copy of 1491 after enjoying Charles Mann's 1493.  Pre-Columbian America has always been of great fascination to me I proudly hung a National Geographic map of Indians of North America (1972) on my wall for several years.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As I Lay Dying

I was perusing the fashion photos from Cannes when I came upon a photo of James Franco at the premier of As I Lay Dying.  It can't be, I said, but sure enough Franco has taken on Faulkner's classic novel, which I think is virtually unfilmable, and has apparently succeeded to some degree to read reviews.  It is hard to reconcile a guy who just played the leader of a group of bikini-clad thieves, who called himself  "Alien," now serving up one of Faulkner's most difficult novels to an unsuspecting public.  But, stranger things have happened, I guess.

So, who is this James Franco, and where does he get the audacity to try to pull off a stunt like this?  Looking at his IMDb profile, there is nothing to suggest he is ready for a project like this.  He not only stars but wrote the adapted screenplay and directs the film.  Seems that Franco is one of those guys who will take on any project, with his private projects lurking in the back of his mind waiting to be brought forward one day.  So, here he is with potentially a breakthrough film that can move him beyond playing Spider Man villains and Spring Break pimps.  Remains to be seen ; )

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Great Escape

With V-E Day earlier this month, I thought it would be interesting to share a relatively recent Time Out poll of the 50 best World War II movies, with guest contributor Quentin Tarantino.  The poll was timed with the release of Inglourious Basterds, which QT notes was loosely based on an earlier Italian production.  Both seemed to be inspired by The Dirty Dozen.

Quite a number of American films, but topping the list was a 1985 Belarus production, Come and See, which surprisingly Mr. Tarantino had no comment on, as I would think this surreal depiction of the ravages of the war in Russia would be right up his alley.  Of course, there are many notable omissions, as there usually are with such lists.  

The poll seems to favor action films over more cerebral ones, and surprisingly has very few Holocaust films.  I thought Agniezka Holland's Europa, Europa was excellent.  It was based on the true story of Solomon Perel.   Also not included are films that dealt with coming home after the war, like William Wyler's classic The Best Years of Our Lives.

But, there are some great films listed, like Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which Tarrantino claims to have seen as a kid.  Yea, right!  My personal favorite is The Great Escape, which I did see as a kid but not its original release.

It seems war movies are generally escapist movies, often romanticizing conflict, but at least The Great Escape had plenty of humor, notably Steve McQueen, "the cooler king," who failed repeatedly during the course of the film.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Here's egg in your face

It looked like it was going to be a tough week for the Big O, but then he pulled off one of his best moves to date by releasing the contentious e-mails from Benghazi, showing that the Republicans had planted the "doctored talking points" story in the news.  Right now, Darryl Issa looks like a total ass.  Yet, as Politics USA reports, Issa isn't backing down, trying to drag no less than the Joint Chiefs of Staff into "Benghazigate," which has even Boehner ducking for cover.

It seems the Republicans are doing everything they can to stall a vote on the immigration bill on the table in the Senate.  GOP co-writer of the bill, Marco Rubio, now wants a biometric tracking system included in it, and former Senator DeMint made the audacious claim that the immigration bill would cost taxpayers $6,3 trillion.  He has apparently been pouring over this cost estimate at the Heritage Foundation, which he now heads.  But, it seems few are buying this report or the attempts by desperate Republicans to derail this bill, which doesn't sit well with their Tea Party constituency.

There appears to be no long game in the GOP playbook, just an endless attempt to create scandals like this recent one over Marines holding umbrellas for Obama and PM Erdogan of Turkey at a press conference at the White House, hoping it will rattle Obama, and deflect public attention away from the real issues.

It is hard to imagine a leader emerging from the GOP during the next 3-1/2 years that can pull this imploding party together, much less appeal to a broad enough cross section of the country to win a national election.  All this political snipe hunting is taking its toll, with Republicans looking more and more like Chicken Little than a serious political party with an agenda for the future.

They seem content to be the political lapdogs of big business pushing through a highly controversial bill through the House that would allow private sector employers the option of offering compensation time (up to 160 hours per year) in lieu of overtime pay.  The bill would also have employees "earn" their annual paid leave rather than receive two weeks automatically.  The bill stands no chance in the Senate, much less on Obama's desk, but shows once again that the GOP has only corporate interests in mind, and continues its attempt to undermine long standing labor laws.

I'm hoping that Americans see through this scandal-mongering and all the subterfuges of the Republicans and return the Democrats to power in the House, so that we can move forward with the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform without these constant attempts to derail the process.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gatsby for the Hip-Hop Generation

It seems that Baz Luhrman's update of The Great Gatsby defied most box expectations and drew a large audience to its opening weekend, despite what had been generally bad reviews.  But, of course Baz and Warner Bros. had covered their bases by giving the show plenty of advance publicity and product tie-ins, insuring that there would be enough curious moviegoers to take in one of America's great romance stories.

A.O. Scott was one of the few critics to give Baz a relatively favorable review.  Baz is known for dazzle, and he uses three dimensional effects and hip-hop music to create a rip-roaring good time during America's most opulent and decadent era, much like he did with Paris in Moulin Rouge.  Nuance was never Baz's thing, made abundantly clear in his Australian epic, which used just about every scene to bludgeon you over the head.

This is why few critics liked Baz's 3-D Gatsby, preferring Jack Clayton's much more nuanced 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.  This is the fifth adaptation of the novel.  The first was a silent film that came out a year after the novel had been published.  There was also a 1949 version with Alan Ladd and Shelly Winters.  A very forgettable attempt was made in 2000.  I suppose each generation needs its own version, and in its own odd way, Baz's Gatsby fits with the times.

Take your pick!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Will it ever end?

I couldn't resist this image from facebook, as once again the Republicans try to drag Obama through the mud on Benghazi.  It seems that with the immigration bill virtually a done deal and the gun bill that would call for tighter background checks coming around for a second time, the Repugs have to find some way to distract the public's attention from their failures, jumping all over a puff piece "reported" by ABC that the Obama administration doctored the "talking point," on Benghazi, covering up warnings of an imminent attack.

Since this story broke, it has widely been discredited, as has Boehner's call for the White House to release unclassified e-mails which he and fellow House members were made privy to months ago, but weren't allowed to keep a record of.  The White House staff was similarly not allowed to keep any hard copies.  So far, the White House has done a pretty good job of deflecting this latest broadside from the Republicans, who simply refuse to give up on Benghazi, determined to make this into a "security issue" they can exploit in the midterms and in 2016 should Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden decide to run again for President.

The childishness of the Republicans never ceases to amaze me.  I don't recall the House Republicans launching any such investigation following the 911 attacks, or anyone of the embassy attacks that occurred during Bush's term, or Clinton's term for that matter.  The highly criticized 911 commission was called by the White House.  The attempt to discredit the Obama administration appears to know no bounds.

Friday, May 10, 2013


A lot of advance publicity for Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit, which sounds like it will make for a good Fall read.  I also noted John Ferling has a new book on the Jefferson-Hamilton rivalry due out in October.  And, there's A. Scott Berg's mammoth biography of Wilson due out in September.  Bully!

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Searchers

You are invited to join us in a discussion of The Searchers, a new book on John Ford's boldest Western, which cast John Wayne against type as the vengeful Ethan Edwards who spends eight years tracking down a notorious Comanche warrior, who had killed his cousins and abducted a 9 year old girl.  The film has had its fair share of detractors as well as fans over the years, but is consistently ranked in most critics' Top Ten Greatest Films.

Glenn Frankel examines the origins of the story as well as the film itself, breaking his book down into four parts.  The first two parts deal with Cynthia Ann Parker and her son Quanah, perhaps the most famous of the 19th century abduction stories.  The short third part focuses on the author of the novel, Alan Le May, and how he came to write The Searchers. The final part is about Pappy and the Duke and the making of the film.

Frankel noted that Le May researched 60+ abduction stories, fusing them together into a narrative that focused on Edwards, as told by Martin Pawley, a half-Indian, who joined him on the search for the lone surviving girl from a Comanche raid on a Texas homestead.  For Le May this was native turf, and he was a little disappointed that Ford chose to cast the film largely in Monument Valley, which was outside the Comancheria at the time.  But, Ford had used Monument Valley before and liked working with the Navajo, who he used as extras.  It suited his artistic vision.

Read along with us, or offer your own thoughts on the film, the early abduction stories or the Western film genre, which in many ways Ford redefined with this film.

Here's a link to the opening discussion we had on the film.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Take me back to the days of the Wild West

The NRA is flying high these days, fresh off their "victory" in defeating a Senate bill that called for tighter background checks and gun registration.  Apparently, gun rights has become a civil rights issue in their minds, feeling that "law-abiding gun owners" are under attack, waving around the second amendment as their "red badge of courage."

If you thought Wayne La Pierre wasn't bad enough,  meet their president, a tough talking SOB who takes the NRA to the outer limits of the Far Right with his incendiary comments.  I suppose in some way this is good, because it helps to illustrate what a bunch of lunatics the NRA has become.

Their recent summit included Senate bad boy, Ted Cruz, and that famous pitbull with lipstick, Sarah Palin.  Rick Perry was there too, pitching in his two cents at the event dubbed a "leadership forum."  No one likes gun violence, Perry said, while trying to lure gun manufacturers to come to Texas to avoid all those pesky regulations.  All part of his great business plan to take Texas back to the days of the Wild West.

You just have to wonder when Americans are going to say enough is enough and vote these buffoons out of his, severely limiting the clout the NRA carries in state legislatures and Capitol Hill.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Pete!

Bill Moyers alerted me to Pete Seeger's birthday today.  Pete turns 94.  I couldn't resist sharing this great moment -- Johnny Cash hosting Pete Seeger, or is it the other way around as Pete takes over the show.  Great performance of "It Takes a Worried Man!"

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Penny for Your Thoughts

I picked up Susan Jacoby's book, The Age of American Unreason, for a pence, and so far that's about how much I think this book is worth.  Jacoby tries (so far in vain) to describe the anti-intellectualism that has grown out of all proportion in America.  She starts by chastising politicians for the use of "folks," which she sees as a dumbing down of the electorate.  She claims this term was rarely if ever used before Reagan in addressing the people of the United States, but since 1980 has become a favorite term.  Surprisingly, she does make an effort to equate folk with German "volk," which Hitler used widely.  Instead, she takes the tone of a schoolmarm in questioning other terms, such as "troop," which is now used widely in the place of "soldier."

But, her biggest peave is the refusal to accept evolution and other scientific theories by a large cross-section of Americans, which she blames on the rise of "Fundamentalism" in America.  She cites the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, where Clarence Darrow may have won the battle, but William Jennings Bryan won the war, as states continue to make it difficult to teach evolution in the classroom, and several states have tried to introduce "intelligent design" as an alternate "theory."  She says this refusal to accept basic scientific theories puts us behind the learning curve of other developed countries and impedes our ability as a nation to come to terms with the technological society we live in.

But, scientists themselves can be held to blame, as Randy Olson engagingly pointed out in Flock of Dodos. They haven't made much effort to make science accessible to a broader cross section of the country.  Alan Alda has made it his task to push scientists to cut out the jargon and find better ways of explaining complex theories and processes so that a greater percentage of Americans can understand them.  Scientists could take a few pointers from Larry Gonick.

Jacoby  fails to mention that many of those who do accept Darwin's theory of natural selection do so largely on faith, as few have made the effort to read his seminal The Origin of Species, much less the other more accessible books that have been published over the years on Evolution.  Science has become an increasingly complex subject that has broken off into a myriad of disciplines.  It is a far cry from the study of Naturalism prevalent during Darwin's day.  We marvel at the breakthroughs, often viewing them as miracles because it simply takes too much effort to understand them.

Instead, Jacoby vents her anger on religion, claiming it has stultified the American mind and made society increasingly crass and unreasonable.  She also doesn't have very much positive to say about the media, which has played into debates like the evolution v. intelligent design debate in an effort to create stories rather than provide necessary background information.  I guess it depends largely on what you watch.

Remembering May Day

I found myself thinking of the Haymarket Affair this May Day.  It was one of our better reading groups at Melba.  As I recall, the strike was held on the First of May to mark a national day of labor.  After the  horrible massacre, the Second International established May Day as an international day of labor in commemoration of those accused of the massacre, who were for the most part innocent of the crimes brought against them.

Seems the United States couldn't accept a holiday marked by Socialists around the world and eventually established its own labor day in September, whose origins apparently date back to the Knights of Labor, a tailor's organization, although the holiday was not recognized by Congress until 1894, five years after the Second International established May Day as Labor Day.

May Day is still celebrated throughout Europe, although it is largely associated with the former Soviet Union, but the US still holds onto such remnants of the celebration in the Maypole.  Here are children doing a Maypole dance in Dover, Delaware,