Thursday, 22 November 2018

Reading Michael Palin's "Erebus". It is a novel about the successful Antartic expedition under Ross  (1841) and the unsuccessful Arctic expedition under Franklin (1845). He tends to focus on the personalities and absurdities of the situation, which thanks to daguerreotying and the naval penchant for journals Palin has been able to research from the records of the time, it is quite detailed. The Arctic expedition under Franklin was significantly covered by the Victorian Press and became a national tragedy. It isn't written as a comedy but Palin does have the advantage of hindsight and so the facts have Palin's voice, so to speak.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Peter Ackroyds (2018) The History of England : Volume 5, "Dominion"

Reading  Peter Ackroyds (2018) The History of England : Volume 5, "Dominion" as a way to pick up the thread where Mike Rappaports " Rebel Cities : Paris, London & New York in the Age of Revolution "ends.

The French Revolution left its mark on reform and radical movements within Britain during the early half of the 18th century. In March 1815, a Corn Law was enacted, prohibiting the import of foreign Corn until the domestic product reached 80 shillings per bushel, it was enacted at the behest of wealthy land owners and did not reflect an adequate understanding of economics and the price of Corn overshot, it was protested in legislation and riots in the streets of London in the 1830s & 1840s. It took the the Irish Potato Famine, which can be likened to a genocide and adoption of a free trade ideology to suspend and repeal the Corn Laws in November 1845 by Robert Peel. It cost Robert Peel his career but once through any remaining talk of revolution according to the French model was put aside. Reform and the liberties that we take for granted were gained during this period and were generally opposed by the landed gentry. The terms we use to describe eras of time are problematic, they mean different things to us than to the people described. The people we describe as "the Victorians" started to call themselves Victorian around 1851 with the Great Exhibition, as the name suggests, an exhibition of technology and art to show the British Empire's material progress, it was a kind of looking glass, allowing them to see their difference from the past, Victorian meant progress in natural philosophy, technology and morality, the term scientist was first used in 1833, an adaptation from the word artist. It was describing an awareness of something new and probably meant something similar to the term "modern". Revolution along the French model was not going to happen because the middle class concerns were addressed, they were "in times when reform bills, steam boats, rail roads, penny postage and free trade, to say nothing of the ratification of civil and religious liberties have been possible facts" (147 : 2017). It is significant to remember how quickly the radical utopian ideological factions of the French Revolution became subsumed by the emerging professional middle class, Robsperrie's faction managed to send the radical Herbertists to the guillotine and the Jacobins, for all their use of capital punishment as a means to maintain a constant state of revolution did, compared to the Herbertists represent a less radical government. At least this is how the histories read anyway.

The initial attempt by the French to form a constitutional monarchy with Louis XVI as represented by the Legislative Assembly was viewed with sympathetically, after all, Britain had already gone through its "Glorious Revolution of 1688" and came out with a Parlimentary system, but with the breakdown of diplomatic relations and the bloodthirsty radicalism of the Convention the government of William Pit and the National Convention were at war. Indigenous British attempts at reform became unpatriotic.

The authorities tolerated Thomas Paine's Rights of Man in 1791 which was surprising given the role his book Common Sense (1776) played in inspiring the American Revolution. The Rights of Man  became a best seller but with the publication of part 2 in May 1792,  Louis XVI had been executed in September 1971, the reaction of conservatives was more pronounced. A royal proclamation against seditious  writings was issued on the 21 of May 1792, which held that loyal subjects were to resist subversion and magistrates were to uncover all who wrote, published and distributed seditious works (304 : 2017). Consequently Thomas Paine fled to France on the 14 of September 1792, to be welcomed by Girondists and elected into the National Convention, which had its own subsequent political consequences as the Jacobins gained ascendancy.

By the 6th of December 1792 a loyalist organization called the "Association for the Preservation of Liberty and Property Against Republicans and Levellers" had been endorsed by the Lord mayor of London and associated livery companies. It had been established by John Reeves (306 : 2017) and with the endorsement of the authorities had spread into taverns and overtime became a nation wide network, disseminating antiradical propaganda including Hannah Mores work Village Politics (1792), a journal that appealed to peoples religious attachments and ideas of Britishness (309 : 2017).

Reform became a reality in Britain during the 1830s and 1840s, it was a back and forth process, Tories such as Robert Peel became reformers and Whigs sometimes opposed reform till in the end the terms became meaningless, there were factions and from the 1870s people started using the terms conservative and liberal. Peter Ackroyds (2018) The History of England : Volume 5, "Dominion" covers the period from the end of the Regency to the end of the Victorian period, starting with the Tory government of Lord Liverpool with George IV as monarch in 1815 to the end of the Victorian era, January 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria and in power a Conservative government lead by Robert Gascoyne-Cecil. It is a time where government was done by "pen & ink" (115 : 2018) and the names of the elite and powerful  are etched on the maps of the English Commonwealth. Ackroyd manages to impart some personality to these figures while giving a sense of the volatility of the cabinets formed. Examples of esteemed personages of this period include Arthur Wellesley who had a Tory political career post Field Marshal at the Battle of Waterloo (1815) or Viscount Palmerston who as a Whig/ Liberal influenced British foreign policy, was involved in ending the Crimean War, oversaw the execution of gunboat diplomacy in the Second Opium War, passed the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 and is considered the first Liberal Prime Minister from 1859. The books last chapter describes the significance of Oscar Wilde, the author of those occasional risque plays and books that one would find in university libraries and the book examines the virtues and hypocrisies of the period. The book ends on a small sombre page describing the death of Queen Victoria (1901) and the passing of an age.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Review of Max Hastings "Vietnam : An Epic Tragedy 1945 - 1975"

October 2018.(22/10/2018)

Finished Reading Max Hastings "Vietnam : An Epic Tragedy 1945 - 1975". The Cold War was a curious time, an interventionist conflict between superpowers, I was a kid during its last decade and had internalized its assumptions and world view. In the 1960's the American political leaders and their advisers had the recent experience of the Korean War (1950 - 1953) and many had personal experience in World War II and these experiences guided their thinking and presented scenarios that they wanted to avoid. The Korean War had demonstrated the strategic effectiveness of Communist China's military and an initial comparative operational weaknesses in the American military and established the idea of a limited war to the United States military, government and people. These terms reflect a very reasonable fear concerning the use of  nuclear arms in military conflict, which during the Cold War period would have been part of the escalation in a conventional war between the superpowers. It was a spectre. Thus alternative solutions for issues were sought to avoid outright conventional war, yet the tools of state remained the various branches of the military and the intelligence services. Also I am not that sure to what degree things are better now. Feel free to explain that to me, I guess. Generally the CIA, as a intelligence service, had a better track record for actual intelligence than branches of the military but with the benefit of hind sight, was involved in projects and solutions that you only get with a faith in the ideal of modernity and "the American Way", but to really understand something like that you would have to have lived it, I guess. Symptoms of this search and faith lead to John F Kennedy in the 1960's authorizing the Bay of Pigs and an escalating involvement in Vietnam. Involvement in Vietnam was argued as a way of avoiding a conventional war. Avoiding outright conventional war with China was one of the reasons why the United States and its allies did not conduct ground operations in North Vietnam and chose instead to engage in strategic bombing. A decision Max Hastings discusses as having unintended consequences that included stablising the Hanoi regime through increased militarization of North Vietnamese society and  built increased active defenses such as MIG fighters and Soviet trained SAM installations. This logic was discussed in the highest echelons of power with various degrees of sincerity and used to garner support for the "police action" to the general American public. The book refers to presidential discussions from Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson to Robert Nixon with advisors such as Robert McNamara which established the official aims of American involvement in Vietnam. The book also provides a number of narratives at various levels of involvement, the experience of Soviet SAM advisor crews in North Vietnam is particularly interesting, with geopolitical maps, tactical maps and photos of events of the time, including the classic images that have come to represent America and its allies involvement in the Vietnam War 1961 to 1975 (2nd Indochine War).

There are a number of themes Hastings discusses with the increasing involvement of American military advisers under John  F Kennedy's (1961 - 1963 November) and Lyndon Johnson's (1963 to 1969) presidencies and continuing involvement and withdrawal under Nixon (1969 to 1974) which has been covered by a considerable amount of literature. The bulk of the books argument is practically a classical statement about the failure of American policy of "Vietnamisation" due to a lack of credibility of the governments backed by the American military. The books point of difference from the mass of other literature on the subject is that it discusses the dominant figures in North Vietnam such as  Ho Chi Min and Le Duan and argues that the lack of transparency and increased control of information in Communist Vietnam obscures the misuse of the Vietcong by the North Vietnamese military and the cost of victory to the  Vietnamese people. The society that was formed after the war was not the utopia they had hoped for although there is a quote that "any dirty peace is better than a war". Hastings conjectures that the values represented by the idea of a communist society were more comparable to the  Buddhist village in an agricultural setting and familial networks of traditional Vietnamese society, as compared to the ideals of an modern urbanised American democracy. This is a satisfying statement that can be made only in hindsight, and anyway, the Diem government wasn't too thrilled with voting when it was apparent that most of the South Vietnamese would vote for a communist government. But even that conjecture is not without apriori criticism after all the Korean War (1950 - 1953) produced a military junta that increasingly adopted democratic features, South Korea, referring to South Korea here, if there are any misunderstandings. Experience is useful to operational success, the Americans were not going to repeat the mistake of Dien Bien Phu (1954), helicopters were extremely mobile and facilitated rapid deployment and concentration of artillery, the Americans could "leapfrog" over valleys. So you know, there was evidence they had learned some things. One of the themes running through the book was that the failure of the American military in Vietnam was to not associate itself with a credible political and social order, believing operational success would compensate for lack of political credibility. The books description of the assassination of Diem and the Tonkin incident were quite frank compared to other sources. There was a horrible symmetry to the assassination of Diem and then Kennedy weeks later in 1963. To his credit Kennedy rescinded the order but it got carried out anyway. Vietnam cost America a lot in terms of its moral and political  leadership during the Cold War. Then again.

As a New Zealander, thus not an American, what I find interesting, and it appeals to my luke warm  patriotism, is that the book describes the involvement of the Australian and New Zealand governments in the Vietnam War. At the peak of ANZAC involvement (1969) there were 8000 Australian and 543 New Zealand military personnel in Phouc Thy province, which comprised 3 battalions, support staff and special forces units. Max Hastings describes in big strokes the successes and failures of ANZAC operations. Apparently they were quiet, professional, with an emphasis on field craft and did not tend to shoot bystanders (460 : 2018), which I find comforting. There were cultural differences in terms of operational differences and the nature of the successes and failures were interesting. Hastings considers whether or not, if the American forces had adopted ANZAC practices, would this have altered the outcome of the Vietnam War. His conclusion is that the issue wasn't operational, it was the belief that operational success could compensate for a lack of credibility of the South Vietnamese government in the eyes of its people that lead to failure of the overall strategic goals. This is described as the failure of "Vietnamization" and there is a Rodney Dangerfield screwball comedy from the 1980's that features a scene with Sam Kinison that frankly summarizes this issue. In the context of the movie, what it is doing is a little complex, as humour tends to be, it tends to scour issues in the subconscious, some kind of discourse analysis could be done here, preferably by someone else.

The book vaguely complements the TV documentary series The Vietnam War, which is available on line. It is interesting the points of difference, the book specifically has more tactical information and goes out of its way to feature narratives from both American and South Vietnam sources but also North Vietnamese, British spies in Hanoi, Russian and Chinese Advisors. The TV documentary presents the cities, environment and historical figures in detail "A picture is worth a thousand words" but is light on the tactics and the political processes behind the decisions made, but it does have a great soundtrack from music of the era.

December 2018 (27/12/18)

One of the points of this book was the lack of transparency and mendacity of both the American and North Vietnamese governments, where the Vietcong  despite the brutality of their methods fought for a more credible government. Currently there is an article in "Foreign Policy" dated September 2018 by Ashley Jackson that describes the Taliban becoming a more credible government in Afghanistan, the article is called "The Talbians Fight for Hearts and Minds" (2018). What do I actually think? Well I know I don't know, having read about the process of the unification of Vietnam under the North Vietnamese government, which in the 1970's I know I would not have supported with my 2018 values, but if I was a guy in the 1970's and didn't know any better I probably would have. If Jane Fonda told me to support North Vietnam then I probably would have. Fortunately I am a sophisticated pseudo intellectual 2018 guy so now I would only believe what Pamela Anderson tells me instead. God help me, I don't think I am particularly smart..

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Ghost Empire.

Currently Reading "Ghost Empire" (2016) by Richard Fidler, the book is a collection of chronologically ordered histories, legends and cultural observations  on the Byzantine Empire, Byzantine as a term being used in the works of Edward Gibbon and Voltaire to refer to the superstitious medieval world represented by remains of the Eastern Roman Empire, a kind of straw tiger as a subject of repudiation for the Enlightenment project. This is told ostensibly in the context of a father talking to his son as they visit historical sites in modern Istanbul. Despite the narratives chronological order (since when did you last manage to visit historical sites in chronological order while traveling through a modern city) this aspect at least feels like it contains authentic conjectures and the points of catharsis are natural tourist experiences (284 : 2017) (or at least what I imagine natural tourist experiences to be).


Its chapters cover the major points of Byzantine history, at a superficial reading, following a familiar thread (XI : 2017) to someone who has read versions of many of the histories previously. I was making mental comparisons to Bettany Hughes  "A Tale of Three Cities : Istanbul" which to my mind was covering new material. Later, I returned to reading "Ghost Empire" in depth and became aware of its detail and the fact that it managed to answer some questions I had from previous reading. It's the kind of book you get when written by a "history enthusiast" (XII : 2017) and Fidler hits those topics in a conversational manner, in my opinion. In his authors note, Fidler describes his personal reactions to reading about the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204 AD, which he describes as "a perfect storm of bad planning, low cunning and greed masked as high principle" and asks "Why don't more people know about this?" (XI : 2017). Reading the chapter that covers the Fourth Crusade (Chapter Eight), it is a cathartic moment in the historical narrative told by the book. The Fourth Crusades amphibious assault on the Walls of Constantinople is compelling and features the scene of Doge (Duke) Enrico Dandolo, a blind 97 year old man dressed in battle armour, standing on the prow of his vermilion ship (343 : 2017) rallying his men. The Doge Enrico Dandolo's role in turning the destructive force of the Fourth Crusade onto the Byzantine Empire makes you wonder about his motivations, was it a combination of patriotism towards the city state of the Venetian Republic, hatred towards Constantinople, a premodern faith based decision making process akin to group think  or something else? Perhaps what history records as one man, was a group or faction with the leader or figure head of Doge Enrico Dandolo. There are many interesting narratives to this "colourful thousand year story" (XI : 2017).

One of the more familiar narratives, returning to the first Crusades, is Anna Comnena's Alexiad, a history of a reign and observations of its world, conceived as an act of devotion to her father (286 : 2017) which included her commentary on Pope Urban II and her description of the physical appearance of Bohemond (294 : 2017) and the armies of the first crusade over November 1096 to April 1097. The ninth and tenth chapters of the book cover the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, and it is interesting because it describes a kind of cultural, political and diplomatic coexistence that eventually broke down. Murad II (1404 - April 1451) had attempted the conquest of Constantinople earlier in his reign but by 1451 the city functioned in an  institutional role of political asylum to fractitious family members of the Ottoman line, the Byzantine court was paid for the exiles upkeep. With the succession of Mehmed II at Edirne the Byzantine court attempted to the play the game it had for centuries, turning the power of the enemy upon itself (383 : 2017) but this time they overplayed their hand and burnt their diplomatic presence at the court of Mehmed II and the Ottoman response was slow and inexorable. After the disaster of the Battle of Manzikert, it was probably only a matter of time, but of course these things are easy to say in retrospect.

The book is interspliced with legends and myths as a way of representing the mind and nature of truth of the periods covered, Fidler at the expense of Richard Dawkins makes the point that knowledge can be apprehended through either reason or faith (182 : 2017), it is a defense that echoes the criticism of use of the Byzantine Empire as a straw tiger by the writers of the Enlightenment project, but the validity of that statement is up for debate really. The legends and myths include the Legend of the Seven Sleepers (61 : 2017), the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius (217 : 2017) a prophecy based on the Bible that the Romans used to make sense of the world post Arabian conquest, the legend of Melusine  (250 : 2017) which gave Star Bucks its symbol, the legend of Prester John (300 : 2017), the myth of the Gylo (309 : 2017), the Venetian in the suit of Armour (352 : 2017) and the Orb and Cross on the bronze statue of the Emperor Justinian, described as kizil elma, the Red Apple (371 : 2017), which to the Ottoman Turks symbolized global domination. Sounds similar to the description of New York as the Big Apple, but that could just be the general metaphor for a city. The book has a neat story about forks appearing in the West (268 : 2017) at least in my opinion. It may surprise you that I can bore people sometimes.

The last chapter of the book describes the sack of Constantinople by Mehmed II's soldiers and the beginning of its next incarnation as Istanbul, with observations about its role in the creation of the Renaissance and the Age of Exploration, some observations on modernity and an end description of his son, who as a 16 year old in August 2015 likes the "Pixies and the Strokes and Nirvana and Japanese noodles and Chinese barbecue duck and comedians on YouTube." (452 : 2017) who surely must be a literary creation at this point? It is a pleasant conceit anyway.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Read "Altered Carbon" (2002) by Richard K Morgan, which is now a TV Series and apparently won the Phillip K Dick award in 2003. Its premise is a near future society where human consciousness can be digitalized.

Initially reading it feels very much like a book version of Blade Runner, unsurprising given its science fiction Noir setting that continues a lineage that could be traced to Phillip K Dick. Could listen to a Vangelis sound track while reading it, perhaps M83 is the more contemporary version of this. It also has femme fatal characters, that kind of give credence to the New Yorker article "How Women See Male Authors See Them" (2018), but I know 13 to 35 year old me would have liked it. A decade and a half later and different times.  The protagonist channels the type written by Raymond Chandler or perhaps Micky Spillane and has some interesting ideas on human psychology that probably in real life would result in a Phineas Gage level of functionality, but it is science fiction.

Will probably watch the TV series.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Reading "A Tale of Three Cities : Istanbul" by Bettany Hughes

Currently reading "Istanbul : A Tale of Three Cities " by Bettany Hughes (2017).

So far it has hit most of the major historical points of the city once known as Constantinople but now knowed as Istanbul, as per the They Might be Giants Song.

Hughes starts of with the archaeology of the site which builds up to its settlement by Megaran Greeks, of a predominantly Dorian culture in the 7th century BC,  Byzantos (Ox-ford) became part of the Via Egnatia under Roman rule, which consolidated its economic importance. This economic importance is discussed as one of the main reasons Roman Emperor Constantine I in 330 AD made it his imperial capital and Bettany Hughes describes its consequent accretion of Holy Relics to make it a symbolic center of a Christian Roman Government. Interestingly after it was conquered by Ottoman Turks in 1453 AD around Constantinople a site of Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī was "discovered", one of the companions of Muhammad (Sahaba).

Although military campaigns and conquests are discussed, it is not a book about military activity but a discussion of the culture and experience (lives) of the occupants of the city that came sequentially to be known as Byzantos, then Konstantinoupolis and then ultimately Istanbul ("Eis tin polin" to the city) through this she supplies cultural information and conjecture on things ranging from the predominance of star and crescent moon symbols in the city under pagan Roman rule as part of the cult of Hecate, the importance of the Illiad to the citizens of Constantiople and the role of the Harem in economic development of Renaissance Istanbul.She tends to conjecture on the hidden lives that are not recorded in history, the woman, slaves, serfs and the existence of diasporas within the city reflecting its cosmopolitan nature. She devotes a whole chapter (and really who wouldn't?) to Justinian  and Theodora (6th century AD) and conjectures that Procopius's description of Theodora's determined speech during the Nika riots was an insult because it challenged gender roles and portrayed Justinian as being more cowardly than his wife. Where possible Hughes's conjecture is backed up with historical and archaeological evidence, but the tone of the book is less academic and more casual, chatty, the book is meant to be entertaining and I think for the most part it is.

Really, the "Istanbul : A Tale of Three Cities" (2017) is a great source of  cultural material that I haven't come across in the academic sources I have read, possibly reflecting how scanty my reading probably is and can be argued to provide a summarizing of the subject. You won't find a detailed analysis of the political machinations of Empress Irene (752- 803 AD), as an example of real life "Game of Thrones" but you will find a description of the Prince Islands where royalty was exiled to and the mention of the practice of rhinotomy and the sense of what life in the Imperial court may have been like.

The following is a link to a lecture titled "Istanbul: The Worlds Desire", which is a title of a chapter in the book, which among other things, details the exchange of Constantinoples silk products as a prestige commodity during the early middle ages.

Reading "Mythos : The Greek Myths Retold" By Stephen Fry (2017)

Have read Stephen Fry's (2017) "Mythos" published by Michael Joseph : Penguin Book.
His writing has his voice and although the anthropology is a bit suspect, it is imbued with his characteristic wit, his conjectures on language as he describes the myths he has chosen are fascinating. Such as,

"Our word for "hearth" shares its ancestry with heart, just as the modern greek word for hearth is "kardia". In ancient  Greece the wider concept of hearth and home was expressed by "oikos", which lives on for us today in words like "economics" and "ecology". The Latin for hearth is "focus" - which speaks for itself. It is a strange and wonderful thing that out of words for a fire place we have spun "cardiologist", "deep focus" and "eco-warrior" (page 58 : 2017)".

Some of the tales (myths), in terms of entertainment value, are better than others, the cosmology can be a bit dry in the middle but it does convey the logic behind a prescientific cosmology, the tales are saturated with Stephen Fry's commentary, I particularly liked the tale of the bees. Take my opinion as you will.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Read “The Tangled lands.” (February 2018). Authored by Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S Buckell 

I read it in one day, for the price of a movie ticket. It is a book containing four sequential short stories that elaborate a particular niche and theme within the grim dark fantasy setting of Khaim, The Blue City and its ecologically devastated environs, ruled by The Jolly Mayor and assisted by Majister Scacz.  Khaim was once part of a grand (Jhandpara) Empire built and connected by magic as the dominant technology but the fallout to this excessive magic use was the spread of toxic bramble feeding on magic use, that overtime has led to the settings devastation of ecological proportions. 

Individuals in the setting are faced with a game theory dilemma of not using magic to solve unique issues, thus sacrificing their needs (sometimes a choice of life or death) for the greater good versus using magic to solve an otherwise insurmountable problem, ranging from a bit of magic (“really such a small amount of magic”) to the power mad aspirations of the official Majister, either use adds in a quantitative way to the spread of the bramble. It is an obvious environmental catastrophe metaphor which dwells on its cause and outcomes. In an effort to control this ecological disaster magic use by non approved sources is outlawed by death, enforced by The Jolly Mayor.

The toxic bramble is held back by bramble crews in leather hoods and masks wielding fire, scythe and sickle with children collecting the pods and seeds, trying not to be stung by the brambles toxic thorns. These crews and the lower echelons of society pay the diffused price, there is an obvious hierarchy and bitter economy to the fantasy setting.

Paolo Bacigalpi wrote “The Alchemist” that establishes the world setting and “The Children of Khaim” that explores a sinister shadow economy while Tobias S Buckell wrote the “The Executioness” which explores the wider hinterland and other solutions to the issue of the Bramble and the last story “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” which I feel is an interesting exploration of the circumstances of the protagonist and feels to me like a grim western in a fantasy setting, which may not be a fair description. Each of the four stories is a kind of snapshot in time of the progression of the setting and features reoccurring characters to convey a sense of their careers and the consequences of the preceding stories. Apparently the two authors collaborated over skype and much drinking was involved (Hendrickson 2018). Of course there is a drunk review of this book, because why not.

Currently I am now reading Bettany Hughes “A Tale of Three Cities : Istanbul” (January, 2017), in it she speculates that the general ecological cooling in 535-536 AD may have led to the emergence of the (Yersinia) Plague of Justinian, increased mobility of Turkic tribes and an increased acceptance of marginalization of the female roles in Christianity, argued in terms of the writing of Saint Augustine of Hippo. It is generally agreed that early Christianity featured more equal status religious roles for women than Christianity as the official state religion after the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, the conversion rates for early Christianity are similar to 20th century Mormon conversion rates, occurring exogenously through family units through the primary female members (Stark 230 : 1995).  Of course a counter argument is that incorporation of Christianity into the Roman systems of power would increase its patriarchical features as traditional (pagan) Roman society was organized around patriarchical roles.  

There is an idea that the experience of environmental catastrophe can influence the formation and nature of a religion, which underlies the story of  "The Executioness" and influences the game theory choices that people make in the fantasy setting of the story.


  • Hendrickson, Eric. (March, 2018). Overgrown Empire: Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobas S. Buckell's The Tangled Lands. @ https:// Last accessed 16/4/2018.

  • Stark, Rodney (1995). Reconstructing the Rise of Christianity: The Role of Women. From Sociology of Religion Volume 56, Number 3. Pages 229 -244.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Review of " Rebel Cities : Paris, London & New York in the Age of Revolution " (May, 2017) Authored by Mike Rappaport.

This book describes the lived in evidence of political life of 18th century Paris, London
and New York, arguably the major urban centers of a European civilization stradling the Atlantic Sea and interconnected economically and culturally in a manner that had political implications. The books arguments concerning history are dense and having read it, I am still rereading it and making salient notes that perhaps over time I will be able to criticize instead of simply relaying. It is interesting reading and a great source of detail from documents, diaries, letters and images of the time.

One of the central ideas of this book is that the formation and activity of social movements can be related to the geography of cities, and perhaps in a early industrial society without methods of mass communication such as cell phones and the internet, this approach has merit. Rappaport (2017) applies this approach to 18th century politics and social revolutions. These were secular revolutionary and counter revolutionary movements that used the Enlightenment ideas of their day and tended to be focused in the political and economic centers, the capital cities and they were expressed in terms of physical control of space. It is an interesting idea that the geography of a city can be used to interpret the behaviour of people in terms of political movements, something that really can only be written about from the position of hindsight, but it does facilitate an interesting amount of detail that would be otherwise lost and it does give a sense of time and place to the events dryly described in the history books. Rappaport (358 : 2017) describes the French and American Revolutions in terms of "the hopes, fears, aspirations, hatreds expressed in politics and cultural displays, exhibitions and processions, symbols, banners, slogans, flags, music, pamphlets, prints, engravings, playing cards, clothing, furniture and hairstyles", and also details the political activity in London during these periods.

Each chapter provides a narrative history on either London, New York or Paris in a particular phase, prior to, during and after the American War of Independence (1775-1783), and reacting to the process and radical activity of the French Revolution (1789-1799). The books subject matter is not militaristic but does include descriptions of military action when involving the experience of the 18th century cities described, such as the description of General William Howe's amphibious landing operation onto Long Island, New York (99 : 2017). I was reading predominantly about the history of the French Revolution, its early phase within the attempt to form a constitutional monarchy and its accelerated radical phase from August 1972 due to the pressures of wartime. The experience of London during these phases provides a contrast to radicalism and supports the idea of social stability by facilitating incremental improvement through legal changes and a representative government, (perhaps reflecting the authors opinion).

The narratives concerning the local London response to the French Revolution are interesting, Rappaport provides a narrative of the English political response by the activities of the London Corresponding Society which had the objective of political reformation (300 : 2017). This activity during the Napoleonic Period was overwhelmed with counter revolutionary movements fulled by British urban patriotism. It can be contrasted with the earlier anti catholic Gordon Riots in London due to the "Papists Act of 1778" which was trying to ease anti catholic laws due to pressures put on the crown by the American War of Independence (1775 -1780). Rappaport manages to tie narratives of social change and action as reactions to events in the three major urban centers discussed.

The dispersal of the London Corresponding Society was in someways akin to a movement comparable to using mass social communication, because although it met in taverns, it was able to span the breadth of the London Metropolis and beyond through the use of letters and pamphlets. Ultimately its reach did not show the breadth and depth of the French & American Revolutions, because it did not reach into the homes and workplaces of the common citizen, which its object was to represent and it did not have revolutionary objectives but more reformation, working within the existing legal frame work of the British Parliamentary system. This can be contrasted to the Paris Cordeliers Club that saw itself as a kind of political school for men and women of the working population and middle class, which by April 1791, spanned all the sections of Paris (225 : 2017). For the London Corresponding Society, taverns were important meeting sites where they could reach the common (male middle class) London citizen. Consequently taverns became sites of competition, first with the magistrates and then with the massive grassroots patriotic organizations formed during the Napoleonic Wars, such as local voluntary militia. The magistrates were able to force the publicans to deny access to the London Corresponding Society and force the reporting of suspected seditious tendencies occurring in said taverns. The publicans faced having their licenses revoked if they were suspected of not cooperating with the magistrates.

The places of social action for the American Revolution as occurring in New York and the French Revolution in Paris involved particular segments of society and localities and the books idea of tying urban geography to social movement is most successful when describing the French Revolution because Paris had suburbs and parks that featured concentrations of social economic groups. In Paris, prior to the French Revolution, the places of concentration of the popular Enlightenment movements were around the "Palais Royal", as it provided a location facilitating intellectual liberty and the distribution of literature in bookshops and parks. The "Les Halles" markets were the backdrop to the early phase because they were locations where the real economic issues were exposed, discussed and connected to the greater city of Paris. The nature of this connection is interesting, which I will subsequently parrot.

The market of "Les Halles" is described by the book as the largest and most popular market of Paris at the time (Rappaport 209 : 2017 ), it had a social space for working Parisians with all night dances, wine shops and cafes and was the center of the 5th of October 1789 insurrection because it was an economic centre that connected to the household economies of the surrounding suburbs. Rappaport describes the role of women during the early phases of the French revolution and the logic of their role.

Women were an important part of this insurrection because their economic contribution was not only their labour but their economic and social connections (210 : 2017). They had social relationships with the market sellers, bakers and parish priest in times of crisis. When there was no bread in the markets, Rappaport describes a hierarchy of hunger, where the first people aware were the women in families and it appears logical that women were at the forefront of bread riots in the eighteenth century and were necessity of mobilizing their family behind them.

The hardworking female fishmongers (fishwives) of the markets had a notorious reputation as hard and foul mouthed (210 : 2017) , who apparently have given French its slang terminology of Poissardes and were at the forefront of the 5th of October 1789 march on Versailles, which eventually forced King Louis XVI to move into Paris from Versailles. Apparently there were hard realities behind the patriotic images of the sans culotte wearing pants and Phyrgian caps.

The storming of the Bastile was by "Foubouriens" from around the Foubourg Saint-Antoine suburb (foubourg is french for suburb so perhaps this is a pleonasm), a suburb composed of around 87% of skilled trades, including the famous (?) ebenistes (furniture and cabinet makers) (159 : 2017).  These places represented concentrations of particular forms of relationship and socio-economic groups. Both the Palais-Royal and the Faubourg Saint-Antoine are described by Rappaport as "sites where independent action were habitual" (169 : 2017). The book describes the suburbs and the markets of Paris, including the Cordelier district (217 : 2017), (which I probably should have described), in a methodical manner that differs from the usual broad stroke of vicious mobs that one would get, arguably justified, from other sources describing the Paris commune during the Terror (1793 -1794). Perhaps trying to approach the subject matter from both ways has the greatest utility.

Military action was encouraged by radical factions, that included the Girondins, who wanted war and Louis XVI and loyalists, who were expecting the Austrian and Prussian military to live up to their reputations of iron discipline. The subsequent pressures brought on by the invading Austrians and Prussians ramped up the Convention replacing the Legislative Assembly and the adoption of the Terror (1973 - 1794) as a state program. Louis XVI was beheaded on the 21st of January 1793 and the Girondins followed soon after (well October 1793). The Terror entered its most radical phase between March and September 1793. The book emphasizes the changes to the city due to the war (278 : 2017), it becoming an enormous wartime factory and provides a description of the factions and politics during 1793 -1794. The books examination of the geography of the Paris commune features an interesting description of the lifestyle and solidly middle class dwellings of Maximillian Robsperrie at No 366 Rue Saint Honore (289 : 2017), which ties to his ideology, stresses and perhaps what we would now call virtue signalling and do suggest a sincerity to his beliefs. These narratives are backed up with maps, documents and denoted imagery, the book is without a complete map of Paris circa 1793, but this can be readily obtained here

The subject matter of the book is quite wide ranging and provides a compelling narrative of three major urban centers of the 18th century transitioning from medieval cities to cities with recognizably modern institutions and diverse forms of representative government that express a consciousness more recognizably similar to our own.

Monday, 12 March 2018


By Matthew Foltz-Grayat