Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eve Fisher. Show all posts

20 July 2017

The Moon-Eyed People

by Eve Fisher


Fort Mountain, Murray County, Georgia December 2015.JPG
Fort Mountain
photo from Wikipedia
Fort Mountain lies in the Cohutta Mountains, and on Fort Mountain is Fort Mountain State Park.  It's an eerie place.  I went there with a friend of mine - hi, Richard! - on a cold, almost snowy day in early winter.  Fog.  Lots of fog.  Half the time the visibility was down to 20 yards, sometimes 20 feet, which only added to the general frisson of excitement of an unknown mountain trail.  We didn't know what was going to be around the next bend.  In more ways than one.

Part of the Fort on Fort Mountain
You see, there's a ruined stone fort on Fort Mountain, and not only does it predate the arrival of Europeans, but the Cherokee claim that it predates them.  The ruins are an 885-foot long rock wall which zigzags around the peak. The ruins also contain 19-29 pits (depends on who's counting, I guess), as well as what looks like a gateway.  It may date to 500 AD. It might be older.  It might be newer, but not by much.  It's a very strange place, and there are a few strange stories about it.


Story #1:  European Version 1:  The Welsh Prince.  Madoc, son of Owain Gwynedd, King of Gwynedd in north Wales, had to flee a fight over succession after Owain died in 1170.  He fled to America, (300 years before Columbus), and wandered the continent, building and breeding lavishly wherever he went,  leaving lost tribes of Welsh Indians, white Indians, etc., everywhere he went.  So naturally at some point he arrived in Georgia and built a fort to protect himself from the marauding tribes around him.

Saint brendan german manuscript.jpg
St. Brendan the Navigator, 15th C. ms.
The Madoc legend is based on a medieval tradition - and I mean a tradition, not a story or even a poem - about a Welsh hero's sea voyage.  To be honest, we have more evidence of Brendan the Navigator than Madoc.  Nonetheless, this was a hugely popular legend during the Elizabethan era, because it gave Elizabethan England a foundation for claiming title to North America.  All of it:  after all, Madoc was said to have landed at "Mobile, Alabama; Florida; Newfoundland; Newport, Rhode Island; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia; Virginia; points in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean including the mouth of the Mississippi River; the Yucatan; the isthmus of Tehuantepec, Panama; the Caribbean coast of South America; various islands in the West Indies and the Bahamas along with Bermuda; and the mouth of the Amazon River" (Fritze, Ronald H. (1993). Legend and lore of the Americas before 1492: an encyclopedia of visitors, explorers, and immigrants). Sounds like he conquered the continent, doesn't it?  So of course Madoc was given credit for building everything and anything that Europeans couldn't believe the indigenous peoples built, from natural formations like Devil's Backbone in Kentucky to man-made buildings like Fort Mountain in Georgia and the Pueblos of New Mexico. And he was given credit for fathering every tribe later European settlers liked, from the Mandan to the Zunis, Hopis, and Navajos.

Story #2:  European Version #2:  The Moon-Eyed People are one of the lost tribes of Israel, per the Book of Mormon.

Story #3:  The Cherokee Version:  The Moon-Eyed People.  The Cherokee are an Iroquois-language family tribe, who moved south, slowly from the Great Lakes.  (Why they moved, no one knows.)  Some time after the 1540s, they reached the Appalachian mountains.  When they came to the area around Fort Mountain, they found the moon-eyed people already there, living in the Fort. The moon-eyed people were very small, pale, and couldn't see well by day, so they moved around mostly at night.  (Why that sounded Jewish or Welsh I have no idea.)

BTW:  The Cherokee County Historical Museum in Murphy, North Carolina has what is supposedly an effigy of The Moon-Eyed People.  (I tried to post it, but it just doesn't want to, so check out the link HERE, at Roadside America.


Anyway, the Cherokee and the moon-eyed people fought a great war, and at the end of it, the moon-eyed people were killed and/or dispersed.  (Benjamin Smith Barton, 1797)  The Cherokee may or may not have used the fort.  In any case, the story says that the fort was destroyed in a massive earthquake which shook the whole world - or at least the entire area - and caused the stone walls to collapse.

  • One version of the earthquake says it took place after the Cherokee-moon-eyed people war, because the Cherokee who were living in the fort were killed, while the Cherokee who were living in wooden houses weren't.  
  • Another version is that it was the earthquake that allowed the Cherokee to win the war, and that afterwards, the moon-eyed people went underground and in caves.  

So, we have a pale tribe that couldn't see well at night.  Albinos or Madoc?  Personally, I plump for albinos.  The Kuna people of Panama and Columbia "have a very high incidence rate of albinism. And, whereas in many cultures albinos are subject to everything from ridicule to persecution to murder, in Kuna mythology, albinos (or sipus) were given a special place. Albinos in Kuna culture are considered a special race of people, and have the specific duty of defending the Moon against a dragon which tries to eat it on occasion during a lunar eclipse. Only they are allowed to go outside on the night of a lunar eclipse and to use specially made bows and arrows to shoot down the dragon." (Wikipedia)  And, the Zuni and Hopi nations also have high rates of albinism. It's not Welshmen, it's genetics.

Story #4:  European Version #3:  Reptilians, or David Ickes Strikes Again:  Of course, in this day and age, the moon-eyed people have become part of the whole "Ancient Aliens" mythos. Some people have speculated that the moon-eyed people were actually vampires. The legendary David Ickes has decided they're a sub-species of the reptilians who are dwelling among us (mostly in public office).  Thus the moon-eyed people are still among us (because you can't kill them), and speaking of reptilians, did you know that the TV series "People to Earth" (about a support group for people who claim to have been abducted by aliens) is coming back to TBS on Monday, July 24th?  I, for one, can hardly wait.


Fort mountain, Georgia wall 2016.JPG
Anyway, if you ever get a chance to go to Fort Mountain, go, and hike around it.  Preferably on a day with heavy weather.  Rain or snow, sleet or mist, or just thick fog will do nicely.  And I can tell you that, walking around it in a thick fog on a cold day, those 885 wandering feet seem like a long, long way, and the pits seem like they might hold something, have buried something, that might be waiting for you to pass (or not) in order to come out again...

Walk slowly.  Look around.  With any luck, yours will be the only footsteps, the only breath, the only...

Then again, maybe not.









06 July 2017

Hybristophilia, or How Erik Menendez Got A Girl in Prison

by Eve Fisher

A while back, I was sitting in the chow hall at the pen, talking with a young (early 20s) prisoner who was having relationship problems.  You see, he'd gotten involved with a woman through the mail.  A literal pen-pal.  Nice woman.  Little older than him, but still hot.  And she really liked him.  A month after their first face-to-face visit, she moved to the area so she could see him every week.  Two months later, and she wanted to get married.  Like in a couple of weeks.  He was really flattered, but he was also really kind of freaked out, because things were happening so fast, and what did I think?  I told him "DON'T DO IT!"  Then I brought in another of our outside volunteers, a father-figure to the guys, who heard the story and also said, "DON'T DO IT!"

Hybristophilia is defined as a sexual fixation on "a partner known to have committed an outrage, cheating, lying, known infidelities or crime, such as rape, murder, or armed robbery." All right, Wikipedia says its a sexual perversion, but you tell that to the people who are into it.  Plus, there's not a lot of actual sex involved.

(Maximum-security prisons don't allow conjugal visits.  Nor do federal prisons of any level.  And only four states - California, Connecticut, New York, and Washington allow conjugal visits in lesser-security prisons.)

And God knows there's not a lot of money involved, either.  If anything, money is generally going to flow from the outsider to the prisoner.  Money to help pay for the prisoner's phone time, stamps, commissary, odds and ends...  In fact, and forgive me for bursting anyone's bubble out there, but one of the main reasons that a lot of prisoners write to outsiders in a friendly to ever-increasing romantic vein is specifically to get money.  And they're often very successful.
BTW, prisoners also write attorneys, of course, to get help, and they send judges either bogus lawsuits or outright threats.  I remember at the courthouse, whenever something from the pen arrived for the judge, we'd all gather around - judge, court reporter, myself (circuit administrator), state's attorney, bailiff, etc. - and read the latest idiocy.  My favorite was a lawsuit demanding that the sheriff depose each and every officer of the court for high crimes and misdemeanors, listing everyone by name.  Except the judge. Finally, at the very end, there was a little handwritten note saying, "____, sorry I forgot you, asshole!"  You've got to be fairly stupid to send out stuff like that, not to mention "I'm going to take a shotgun to your head" to a judge, when your full name, prisoner number, and cell number is on the envelope...  
So, no sex, no money - why would someone get involved with a prisoner?  Why would someone write love letters to a total stranger?  Want to date them, through a glass/mesh screen?  Want to marry them in the visitors' room?  ???

Well, in some cases, there's the fame factor.  For those who write/wrote to Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, the Menendez brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, part of the charm, apparently, is getting in on the modern obsession with celebrity.  No, it doesn't matter how horrendous the person is, or how heinous their acts, by God if they're famous, they're a celebrity, and by becoming their girlfriend/boyfriend, you become a celebrity, too!  You might get in on the media spotlight, get a book deal, a movie deal, or the body!

CharlesManson2014.jpg
Charles Manson in 2014
  • NOTE:  Not kidding about the body.  Did you know that, in 2015, at 80 years old, Charles Manson cancelled his upcoming penitentiary wedding to 27-year old Afton Elaine Burton, now known as Star, because he found out she was hoping that, after he died, she'd get his corpse, put it on display in a glass case in LA, and charge people to see it?  (Charles Manson has always been a little smarter and saner than he looks.)
  • DOUBLE NOTE:  With regard to my last blog-post, Bullying 101, where I talked about Rush Limbaugh (and others) objecting to Michelle Carter being convicted of manslaughter for texting her boyfriend to suicide, saying that it's a violation of the First Amendment to "start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do":  Let's all remember that Charles Manson got life in prison without parole, for exactly what he said, and nothing that he did.  He was nowhere near either of the murder scenes.  So far, I haven't heard anyone objecting to his sentencing...

Anyway, back to reasons why people want to write to, date, have sex (or not) with, and/or marry prisoners.  According to Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University,
  • "Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer."
  • "Others 'see' the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him."
  • "Then there's the notion of the 'perfect boyfriend'. She knows where he is at all times and she knows he's thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time."   (Wikipedia)
Image result for goldfinger novelBTW, men also write to female prisoners.  I think many of them are also looking for the perfect girlfriend, who requires nothing (but a little money).  I also think that some of them are looking for a future drug mule or sex slave, and a female prison is a good place to recruit:  many female prisoners have already been so abandoned, abused, in every sense of the word, and so many of them have father issues, self-image issues, etc., that they are willing to do just about anything for anyone who seems to care for them.

Of course, there's also the occasional female serial killer, like Aileen Wuornos, who would be perfect for the man who wanted to tell himself that he can nurture the little girl she once was, and/or wants to see if he can change the serial killer the way James Bond changed Pussy Galore on the last page of "Goldfinger". (Even at twelve years old, I knew that was nothing but Ian Fleming's fantasy...)

Meanwhile, I talk to guys up here in South Dakota who are in their 20s and already have anywhere from two to nine children by two or three or four different women, and now have a girlfriend they met while in the pen.  They don't even begin to grasp how much trouble they're in even before they get out.  I understand why they keep having sex whenever they can - it's fun, free, and so far isn't illegal - but why won't they use condoms?  How are they going to support all those children?  How are they going to pay child support, make court-ordered restitution, and pay bills when they'll be lucky to get a minimum-wage job?  Sigh...

Not that our hybristophiliacs necessarily have any idea of the prior commitments their new prison romance has.  After all, it's the rare prisoner who's going to cough up things like ex-wives, current wives, children, and any other financial obligations or debts.  Or their personality flaws.  Or the truth about their crime(s)...   Hybristophilia is somewhere between kinky romance and lion-taming.  Either way, it's dangerous.  Either way, it's unreal.  (You don't really know someone until you've actually lived with them, and even then it helps if you've been together through a bad vacation complete with rain, food poisoning, broken-down car, and a fleabag motel with no heat.)  Yes, there are exceptions, where two people genuinely connect through letters and visits; where the prisoner eventually gets out, and they do marry/live together and it all works out.  Two points:  (1) These are very rare.  (2) None of these have been with serial killers.

But the fantasy lives on.



22 June 2017

Bullying 101

by Eve Fisher

DISCLAIMER: Almost 40 years ago, a dear friend of mine
committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in his running vehicle.
I claim no objectivity in what follows.

Earlier this week, Leigh Lundin posted The Wickedest Woman in the World, a great blog post about the Michelle Carter case. A lot of us chimed in. During the discussions, I agreed that an article about Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome would be valuable, along with a little thing on hybristophilia, but later, later, later… And I will. But after I listened, briefly, to Rush Limbaugh (I try to keep an ear on what the self-proclaimed Doctor of Democracy is up to) and got ticked off, I've decided that the REAL description of Ms. Carter's behavior is bullying.

You see, Rush was defending Michelle Carter, saying that the case against her is nothing but liberal BS, because liberals don't believe in free speech (oh, Rush, if you only knew!). He said, "this woman, Michelle Carter, she may be just downright mean. She may have no heart. She may just be brutal, getting on the phone and telling this guy to kill himself, ’cause he said he was going to, and if he doesn’t now he’s a coward and whatever. But she didn’t kill him. And yet so many people are coming along thinking he didn’t do, he’s a victim, she did it. This is 180 degrees out of phase. If we’re gonna start penalizing people for things they say or things that they think, but don’t actually do — now, I know what some of you think. “But, Rush, you just got through saying that the Democrats turned this Hodgkinson guy into a lunatic.” I do believe that. But..." (See full Transcript for more of the typical Rush twist on how it's different when…)

Well, first off, sorry, Rush, but we already penalize people for things they say. We have freedom of speech, not freedom from consequences of said speech. But more on that later.

Secondly, what Rush presented was the standard bully's defense:
  • "I didn't MAKE them do anything."
  • "It's THEIR fault if they can't take a joke."
  • "Can I help it if they're a loser?"
  • "I didn't do anything wrong."
  • "Hey, 'sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me'. So what's the problem?"
Okay, show of hands, how many people out there have ever been bullied? How many felt helpless? How many felt afraid?

Scut Farkus
Scut Farkus
Let's use Scut Farkus (of "A Christmas Story") as an example: Scut had all the neighborhood boys terrorized to the point that, when he came up and yelled at them "Come here!" they came. No, he didn't lasso them or hold a gun, he just yelled and they did it. And there's at least one scene where a boy turns around and gives him his arm to twist. They were thoroughly cowed.

But it can get infinitely worse than that.

When we first moved up to South Dakota, I subbed at the high school for a while, and a student there committed suicide because of the constant, non-stop bullying that he received. That was before internet and cellphones. Google bullying and suicide and see the number of hits you come up with. And cyber-bullying, with teens and adolescents, is pushing the number of suicides up.

According to PEW research on teens and cellphones, one in three teens sends 100 text messages a day. 15% send 200 text messages a day. And a certain percentage of that is cyber-bullying. And a certain percentage of that leads to suicides. Michelle Carter exchanged over 1000 text messages with Conrad Roy, encouraging him, telling him, badgering him to commit suicide. What makes it worse is that she knew that he had attempted suicide already, back in 2012, and that he was battling anxiety and depression. After learning that he was planning to kill himself she repeatedly discouraged him from committing suicide in 2012 and 2014 and encouraged him to "get professional help". But then her attitude changed and in July 2014, she started thinking that it would be a "good thing to help him die" (Wikipedia) Thus the 1000 text messages. That's cyber-bullying, and it worked. She even admitted it, in an infamous text to a friend - “I was on the phone with him and he got out of the [truck] because it was working and he got scared and I f***ing told him to get back in."

And why did Michelle Carter want Conrad Roy dead? Because she wanted to receive the sympathy of her classmates as the grieving girlfriend, who only wanted the best for her boyfriend, and the best was that he die.
Defense attorney Joseph Cataldo talks to Michelle Carter in court.
Michelle Carter - from CNN,
"Text Messages Michelle Carter Used
How many of you have been or have known the victim of domestic abuse? There's often more verbal than physical, because it's all about control. Here are some of the many signs of domestic abuse, a/k/a bullying (from the Domestic Violence and Abuse Checklist.):

Does the abuser:
  • humiliate or yell at you?
  • criticize you and put you down?
  • treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your friends or family to see?
  • ignore or put down your opinions or accomplishments?
  • blame you for their own abusive behavior?
  • see you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?
  • act excessively jealous and possessive?
  • control where you go or what you do?
  • keep you from seeing your friends or family?
  • limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • constantly check up on you?
Notice that I did not include any physically violent act. All of the above are verbal, emotional abuse; and they're enough to leave the victim answering "yes" to, Do you:
Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight"
  • feel afraid of your partner much of the time?
  • avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • feel that you can’t do anything right for your partner?
  • believe that you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • feel emotionally numb or helpless?
Domestic abuse is bullying, carried on into adulthood. There's a direct link between bullying in childhood and domestic abuse in adulthood (Psychiatry Online): "Men who had bullied schoolmates once in a while were twice as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner within the previous year as were men who said they had never bullied their school peers. And men who had admitted bullying frequently in school were four times as likely to have done so as were men who had never bullied in school."

On top of that, there's a direct link between domestic abuse and mass shootings (see here and here, too.) Because bullying is all about control and fear. Domestic abuse is all about control and fear. Mass shooting is all about control and fear.

Okay, that was quite a long and winding road. And not every bully, cyber-bully, or just narcissist is going to end up a mass shooter. But I noticed this in the Wikipedia article cited above: This decision "could set legal precedent for whether it's a crime to tell someone to commit suicide." My response?

I CERTAINLY HOPE SO.

Why wouldn't it be a crime to tell someone to kill themselves? Why wouldn't it be a crime to gaslight a person? Why wouldn't it be a crime to do your best to INCREASE someone's mental illness? Or to use their mental illness to your advantage?

Here's the deal, Rush and followers: I believe 100% in free speech. You can say anything you please, anywhere, any time. But I also believe that free speech has consequences. After all,
  • If you yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theater, you're liable for the results.
  • If you threaten the President's life, you're going to get a visit from the Secret Service.
So why, if you badger someone who's battling depression and mental illness with over 1000 texts telling them to kill themselves, and they do it, why wouldn't you be culpable?
Of course, the bullies would totally disagree: to a bully, all the consequences flow one way, onto the victim, who is solely responsible for what happens to her/him. And so we have Michelle Carter, new icon of free speech, who told her boyfriend to "get back in the f*****g truck" so that she could go cry about his death to her friends.

Next time, Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and hybristophilia, or why Erik Menendez has a wife.

08 June 2017

Of Safes and Smoke

by Eve Fisher

Do you remember the South Dakota GEAR UP! scandal?  The one that got started when, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota?  And they were all later found to be shot to death?
Quick Note:  (GEAR UP! is a federal grant program to get financial assistance to low-income students; here in SD it's primary aim was supposed to be helping Native American students.)  
Image result
SD AG Marty Jackley
Now, my regular readers may remember that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on an official combined salary (his and his wife's) from Mid Central Educational Co-Op of $130,000.  Later, it turned out that the Westerhuises had set up a number of shell organizations, and given themselves hefty salaries from them all.

Well, I'm happy to announce that the General Audit of Mid Central and GEAR UP! has finally been released and it shows:

(1) Scott and Nicole Westerhuis took nearly $8 million out of Mid Central's bank account without authorization to cover the salaries of their non-profit organizations. Supposedly most of that money was returned to Mid Central (how, when, where?), but $1.4 million was still missing at the time of the Westerhuis family's deaths.

(2) The Mid Central Board and its director, Dan Guericke, didn't have enough oversight and never addressed the risks created by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis having roles in the non-profits they set up to take the GEAR UP! grant money.

(3) Guericke didn't get approval by the board for 17 contracts and a number of payments made without contracts with the Westerhuises.

Naturally, the blame game has begun:
  • Mid Central's board is blaming the South Dakota Department of Education ("lead partner" in the GEAR UP! grant and responsible for ensuring the project was carried out in accordance to federal rules and regulations).  
  • The SD DOE says it did its job of conducting reviews of grant expenses and tightened up its controls when it began noticing issues in 2014, which is why it cancelled its contract with Mid Central right before the Westerhuis tragedy.  
  • The Mid Central board's responded that, "no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected the complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities conducted by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis."  (Angela Kennecke, KELO TV)  
  • NOTE:  I once put together five years of an organization's accounts from a checking account register.  You can figure out a lot if you just follow the money...
  • Also, Cory's blog Dakota Free Press has all the facts and figures that we have so far, and all the excuses piled up so far.
So, June 30, 2017, Mid Central will shut down. 12 of its 13 members have formed Core Educational Cooperative.  The same staff of Mid Central (those who are not going to trial) are now going to work for Core (at least half of them had to have conflict-of-interest waivers to work for Mid Central, and will now have to have conflict-of-interest waivers to be able to work for Core); the Mid Central Board is liquidating their assets (even though $1.4 million in tax-payer money is still owed to our long-suffering public).  Please see Cory Heidelberger's article at Dakota Free Press for a fuller experience of how deep it's getting piled.  Again...

Meanwhile, no one's come forward yet to untangle the following mysteries:
(1) Who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire?
(2) Why did Mid Central Educational Co-op, which owned the Westerhuis cell phones, cancel them and wipe the records the next morning, before the ashes from the arson had even cooled?
(3) What did Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke talk about with Scott Westerhuis for an hour on the evening before the tragedy?  (Guericke told the board the two really didn't talk about much at all.)
(4) What happened to the Westerhuis safe, which trotted out of the house like a trained pig right before the house was torched?

Yes, there's going to be a trial of 3 Mid Central employees, including Director Guericke.  Maybe the questions will be answered then...  But I'm not holding my breath.  Will keep you posted.

Cannabis Plant.jpgThe other big news of the week hearkens back to last year, when the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reversed course on opening America's first Tribal Marijuana Coffee Shop, and burned the whole crop in November.  (They had been warned that they were going to be raided by federal officials.)  AG Jackley was suspicious that they hadn't burned it all, and talked about charges.  And he did.  He charged Colorado marijuana industry consultants Eric Hagen and Jonathan Hunt for helping the tribe set up their grow room, etc.  (BTW, State AGs can’t prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations, but Jackley argued that his office had jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.) Hunt rolled over and pled guilty but Hagen went to trial: and was acquitted by a jury. (Hagen testified that he was simply a consultant with experience in the industry who had been hired by the tribe, and apparently the jury agreed with him.) Marty Jackley was restrained, saying that he respected the jury's verdict.  (See the Argus Leader article for more details.)

Many people believe that the reason Jackley pursued this lawsuit was because he and current SD Rep. Kristi Noem (R) are going to duke it out for the South Dakota Governor's Office next year, and he's trying to get out front on the law & order issue. (Most of us think taxes and health care would be more salient...) But, as we move into yet another election year, the questions pile up:
Will GEAR UP! come up?
Will crop insurance?
Will marijuana?
Will riding horses?
Will let you know.

Meanwhile, a friend just told me that a forrmer public works director (no names were named) said that South Dakota doesn't really need federal money for infrastructure, because driving on bumpy roads isn't all that much of an inconvenience. My friend pointed out that tourists might disagree & he said tourism doesn't impact the state economy that much...

Crazy Horse Memorial - Photo by TBennert on Wikipedia
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore - Wikipedia
Badlands National Park - Wikipedia
Black Hills -Needles-31.jpg
The Needles - photo courtesy of
Doug Knuth - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dknuth/7677770944/
Wikipedia

Bear Butte - photo courtesy of
Jsoo1, as English Wikipedia image: en:Image:Bearbutte4.jpg

Main Street Sturgis South Dakota Bike Week.jpg
Sturgis motorcycle rally - Photo courtesy of
Cumulus Clouds, Wikipedia
Are our public officials TRYING to run our economy into the ground, or are they just stupid?

More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 Goodfellas.jpg


25 May 2017

The Paths of Glory...

by Eve Fisher

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG
Arlington Cemetery,
Wikipedia
  • "Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them." -Umberto Eco 
  • “The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those who have the least meaning in their lives, the impoverished refugees in Gaza, the disenfranchised North African immigrants in France, even the legions of young who live in the splendid indolence and safety of the industrialized world, are all susceptible to war's appeal.” Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
Memorial Day is the United States' official holiday to remember all the people who have died serving in our armed forces.  It's also a good day to remember all who have died in war, period.  And not just in the United States.

Now, this may sound strange to you, but one thing I would like to see is happen is the United States reinstate the draft. Personally, I believe EVERYONE should have to serve in the military, men and women alike.  My reasons are many:

(1) When only 1% of the citizenry serve in the military, and all are "volunteer", then the citizenry as a whole seems to be remarkably unconcerned about what wars, "unofficial" wars, etc., we're in.  The Middle East conflicts have seen military personnel - often "part-time" National Guard - serving 3, 4, 5+  tours of duty, and nobody seems to care.  It's someone else's child, someone else's family, and they volunteered.  Let them go where they're told.  Especially since it's somewhere "over there".  I find this unhealthy.

(2) If everyone serves in the military, then maybe certain politicians won't talk patriotism out of one side of their mouth and then yank promised veterans' benefits away with both hands.  And other things...

(3)  If we're going to police the world, then by God I think we should draft everyone, and let everyone in on what it's like to serve.  Training, education, and a greater knowledge of the world around them.  Mark Twain:  “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

(4) Recurring statements from recurring politicians (who do not/ have not/ will not ever serve) that seem to openly want / long for/ plan for war.  Again, going back to #1 - we have to stop taking our military for granted.  We have to recognize that it's real blood that is shed, real lives that are lost, real minds / bodies that are damaged, sometimes irreparably.

(5) The other side of it is that we appear to be developing a certain (small?) percentage of the military that seems to be increasing in disdain, distrust, and dislike for the non-military majority. I've been told that American civilians in general are unfit, immoral, and slothful.  (From the Walrus and the Carpenter: "I deeply sympathize." Sometimes.) As one said to a judge once, "We throw these people over the fence."  The judge replied, "Welcome to the other side of the fence." And this important:  the military is there to defend the BOTH SIDES OF THE FENCE.

Bill O'Reilly at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia (cropped).jpg
Bill O'Reilly - Wikipedia
I do believe that we take war too casually in this country, mainly because (post 1812) our wars have always (with the exception of the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11) been on someone else's soil.  (This includes the "American Indian Wars" which were all fought on what was, at the time, Native American land.)  There is an American tendency to downplay European distaste for war, European steady pursuit for diplomacy, as "liberal", if not downright cowardly. During the buildup to the Iraqi invasion, Richard Perle stated that European nations "do not have the most courageous of instincts," implying that America must intervene in inter-national affairs because Europeans are afraid to.  (Citation on NBC)  Back in December of 2005, Bill O'Reilly said "I understand Europe. They're cowards." He went on to add,
"...by and large, the European population is soft and afraid. ... They won't confront evil on any level. It is anything goes, just leave me alone. Give me my check from the government and leave me alone." (Citation on MMFA)  It's a fairly constant theme on Breitbart as they quote Neil Farage, Geert Wilders, and others among the alt-right.  

But as one response put it, "Europeans are not cowards - It's that we know war."  And they do.  The following is a list of European wars over the last 200 years:

1789-1795 - The French Revolution (the real beginning of the 19th century)
1802-1815 - The Napoleonic Wars (fought both in every country in Europe and around the world - the War of 1812 was a subset of these)
1819 - August 16 - Great Britain - "The Peterloo Massacre"
1820 - Revolts in Spain and Naples.  Crushed.
1825 - Decembrist Revolt in Moscow.  Crushed
1824-1830 - The Greek Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1830 - Serbian Revolt v. Ottoman Empire.  Won (because the Congress of Vienna backed it)
1848:  Europe went NUTS in 1848.  Some of the major armed conflicts were:
  • Revolt in France; king flees; Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is elected, then becomes Napoleon III in 1852, & launches a series of imperial wars on the continent...
  • Berlin revolt.  Crushed.
  • Viennese workers & students revolt in Austria.  Crushed.
  • Czechs revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • Milan & Venice revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed.
  • France invades & occupies Rome at the request of the Pope (they stay until 1870)
1849 - Magyars of Hungary revolt vs. Austrian Empire.  Crushed
1853-1856 - Crimean War.  Russia v. Ottoman Empire, France & Britain.
1854 - Spanish Revolution
1859 - Piedmont (Italy) v. Austrian Empire.  France joins Italy and beats Austria.
WWImontage.jpg
WW1 Montage - Wikipedia
1864 - Danish War (Prussia v. Denmark).  Prussia wins.
1866 - Austro-Prussian War (Austrian Empire v. Prussia).  Prussia wins.
1868 - Spanish Revolution (Italian king put on Spanish throne)
1870 - Franco-Prussian War (French lost; Napoleon III deposed)
1871 - Communard revolt in France.  Crushed.
1876-1878 - series of Serbian-Ottoman (Turkish) wars
1899-1902 - Boer War (Great Britain v. South African Boers).  Britain wins.
1905 - Bloody Sunday Massacre in Russia.
1912-1913 - Balkan Wars.  (sort of a preview of WW1)
1914-1918 - World War I ("The war to end all wars"...  but it wasn't).
1936-1939 - Spanish Civil War (a definite preview of WW2)
1939-1945 - World War II

Infobox collage for WWII.PNG
WW2 Montage - Wikipedia
There are reasons to pursue diplomacy when you have seen war on your home soil at least every decade for over 150 years.  There are reasons to want peace and unification when entire generations of young men have been wiped out time and again (see the list above). When cities have been bombed to rubble, and refugees have numbered in the tens of millions (WW2).  There are reasons to try to figure out what acceptable risks are when you have seen an entire continent explode, and 38 million people killed (civilian and military), over the shooting of one man in Sarajevo (WW1).  And to pursue civil accord, liberties, and responsibility when you've seen an entire continent almost drown in darkness, and almost get destroyed by war, after racist fanatics took over a government and then decided it was time to take over the earth (WW2).

Warsaw, post WW2
Wikipedia
And wars don't just end with everyone going home to a wonderful family reunion.  The scars last a long, long, long time. (Trust me on this: I lived in the South for years, and my mother was Southern.  The Civil War has not yet been forgotten and forgiven, on either side, and that was over 150 years ago. And don't even get me going on the Greeks and the Turks:  my grandfather was still furious at the Turkish invasion of Constantinople... Which happened in 1453...)

WW2 left 20 million military dead and 40 million civilian dead, and God only knows how many wounded.  There were also 60 million refugees.  Of those refugees, at least a million still hadn't found homes by 1951. And millions more weren't refugees, but were simply homeless, as whole cities were bombed into rubble, and much of the European industrial infrastructure destroyed.  And this brings up another unpleasant truth:

World War 2 is the reason why the United States became the leader of the free world and sailed into the 1950s on the biggest wave of prosperity we ever saw:  we hadn't been bombed into rubble, we hadn't lost our infrastructure, we didn't have a huge refugee population to resettle.  Our factories were at top production, when there were barely any left running anywhere else on the planet.  For years, we were the sole supplier of almost everything, and we grew very very rich.  That specific kind of economic boom will never happen again, no matter what any politician tells you, and thank God for it:   it was based on the absolute misery of most of the rest of the world.

Sadly, these lessons may have to be relearned, especially if certain parties in Europe and elsewhere have their way.  But maybe they will continue to remember, even if we do not.  They know how bad it can get.  We can only imagine.  Thank God. May it always stay that way.







16 March 2017

A House is Always Interesting

by Eve Fisher

For a variety of reasons (AVP, amenities, doctors, and the fact that we go down twice a week minimum) my husband and I are moving from our small town to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 50 miles down the road.

Sioux Falls, photo courtesy Wikipedia
Sioux Falls is growing by leaps and bounds.  There are whole villages of suburbs stretching south and west (mainly because our airport is in the northeast, btw).  Condos have grown up around the interstates.  However, we don't like suburbs much, and all the condos we saw were too small, and we wanted to live central Sioux Falls, which is a hot, hot, hot! market.  There were at least 3 houses that we wanted to see but couldn't even get in to view - they were no sooner on the market than bought. We put in offers on three, yes, three different places:  the first one turned our bid down, and upon reconsidering, we didn't rebid.  The second one failed inspection (huge foundation problems).  But the third, hopefully, is the charm!  I am working on the mortgage papers (everything's on-line these days, dammit!) probably as you read this.

House shopping is interesting and exhausting.  I remember back when we first house-shopped in 1991 (we'd rented the place we were living over the phone), and it was an educational experience. One memorable house had a room with bright orange and green plaid vinyl wallpaper, with orange shag carpet, and, in the kitchen, vintage orange appliances.  No, we did not buy it. Another place was beautifully done, until you opened the basement door and the reek of mold and mildew was enough to knock you down.  Another place was obviously the future home of someone who would formally entertain at the drop of a hat.  (We're the pot-luck or pizza types.)

Old houses are fun.  The history, the charm, the leftover stuff.  In our last house, we found an old-fashioned cream-skimmer that dropped behind the kitchen sink in the summer kitchen out back, decades ago.  I remember once I visited a friend in Chicago, who was remodeling an old house into apartments, and found 4 old books tucked away in the attic, including a first edition Harriet Beecher Stowe's "The Mayflower".  He was going to throw them away, so I leaped up and claimed them. They've had a good home ever since. And I remember living in an urban neighborhood in Atlanta, decades ago, with a bunch of roommates (starving artists all), and visiting with the little old lady who lived in the bungalow next door - turned out she'd been born in that house, and had never moved in all her 81 years.  I remember being gob-smacked by that.  I couldn't imagine staying anywhere 81 years.  I still can't.

Roderick Usher,
by Aubrey Beardsley
(note - not creepy enough)
Old houses can also be creepy.  I know of two houses in our small town that have had suicides, and at least one with a murder.  One of the original morticians' houses was bought and transformed into a family dwelling, and the owners put their master bedroom where the viewing room used to be.  There are also a couple of houses that just look WEIRD:  you know, the kind where you get the feeling that Roderick Usher uses it as his summer home.   I remember one house we looked at in Tennessee:  we walked into the back room, I turned to Allan and said, "Redrum", and we walked out. Quickly.

A lot of mysteries and thrillers have been written about what happens after the house is bought and/or inherited.  One of the great disappointments of such novels is Agatha Christie's "Postern of Fate", which is - well, the only way I can put it is that it's a real mess.  The Beresfords are too old, as was, sadly, Ms. Christie.  On the other hand, I love Christie's "Sleeping Murder" - which is NOT Miss Marple's last case by a long shot. The slow reveal of the fact that Gwenda Halliday Reed actually lived, as a child, in the house she bought in case of love at first sight still makes the hair stand up on the back of my head. Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" has the house itself as a central character, and God help all who stay in it.  And, speaking of Roderick Usher, the House of Usher went down with a pretty spectacular crash, didn't it?

"Northanger Abbey" -
1986 BBC production 
But that's often the point.  Gothic fiction, whether classics from the 18th century, like "The Mysteries of Udolpho", "Otranto", "The Monk", etc., all the way down to modern Gothic romances, all revolve around mysterious old houses.  Some are spookier than others:  the whole point of Catherine Morland's joy in being invited to the eponymous "Northanger Abbey" is that, to her eyes, it looked likely to have had a murder or two done in it, and she could hardly wait to find the body.  God knows her reading literature had taught her that if you can't find a dead body, or a hidden tunnel with an instrument of torture or two, or the remains of the missing first wife in an old ruin, where can you find one? Instead, being Jane Austen's creation, she found a husband, and the main mystery turns out to be the laundry bills left behind by Eleanor Tilney's secret love.


In true Gothic fiction there are always dark castles, dungeons, tunnels, empty graves, full graves, murders, rumors of murders, supernatural events, monsters, and sometimes all of the above.  ("Dark Shadows" captured all of these in one magnificently campy afternoon soap opera from my early teen years:  click on the picture above to see Barnabas Collins finally set free from his coffin...)

There is always a young, virginal heroine (even in modern Gothic romances) with a mysterious past, who is often revealed to have been born noble.  The hero is always courageous, although he is often a suspect (at least for a while) in the shenanigans going on around the place.  The villain of the piece is a control freak tyrant who will have things his own way no matter what (calling Mrs. Danvers...).  If the villain is married, his wife is completely under his thumb (Countess Fosco in "The Woman in White").  There is often a crazy relative, usually locked up. There is always a mystery.  And the heroine always feels that there's something seriously wrong, then that something's wrong with her, then that she's under threat, and, at various stages, worries about her own mental health...

How the heroine gets to her location varies.  Sometimes the heroine is a relative (Maud is practically willed by her father to Uncle Silas), sometimes she's the governess ("Jane Eyre", "Nine Coaches Waiting"), sometimes she's an invited guest (Catherine Morland).  But I believe - although I could be wrong - that "Rebecca" is the only one where the heroine marries the owner BEFORE she arrives at the house.  

But it's always about the house.  As Jo Walton says, "The essential moment every gothic must contain is the young protagonist standing alone in a strange house. The gothic is at heart a romance between a girl and a house."

So, the next time you go house-hunting, consider...  you might be looking at your next mystery, your next ghost story, or your next romance.

Will keep you posted on our move.







02 March 2017

"L'Etat, C'est Moi"

by Eve Fisher

Louis XIV of France.jpg
Louis XIV, in his glory
Years ago, I used to teach a class on the Age of Louis XIV, which basically became a class on the man himself.  He may or may not have said "L'etat, c'est moi" ("I am the state), but he certainly lived it.  He was the first, and greatest, of the absolute monarchs of post-Reformation Europe, and during much of his 72 year reign, if someone - anywhere in Europe, not just France - said something about "the King", it was assumed they meant Louis.

Louis XIV (1638-1715) became king when he was five years old.  Of course, they didn't let him actually rule at that age - he had a minister, Cardinal Mazarin.  (Suspected by some of being his mother's lover and/or husband.  But not by me:  Anne of Austria was a true European aristocrat, who would sooner have eaten merde as have anything physical to do with a jumped-up Italian.)  Mazarin, according to Louis XIV, kept him living in poverty, barely educated.  It could be true.
NOTE:  Children, even royal children, weren't as prized back in the day as they are now. Classic example, Charles Maurice Talleyrand-Perigord, the eldest son of his house, who was put out to nurse in the countryside for his first few years.  He returned lame.  His parents then made his younger brother the heir, and put our boy into the Church, where he became the most dissolute, loose-living, atheistic Bishop of Autun since...  who knows when. (Eventually, he joined the French Revolution, managed to switch sides with such persistent effectiveness that he survived everything, from the Reign of Terror to Napoleon to the Bourbon Restoration...)  
SECOND NOTE:  Louis XIV's only sibling, his younger brother Philippe, who was universally called Monsieur, had a VERY interesting upbringing.  He was deliberately raised to be a homosexual, or at the very least a transvestite; his mother and her ladies encouraged him to dress up in women's clothing, make-up, jewelry and hairstyles.  He was deliberately kept from any formal education other than the 3 r's, and any knowledge of statecraft.  All of these were so that he'd never be a rival for his brother.  The result was a man who was bisexual, surprisingly martial, and through his two marriages, became the "grandfather of Europe", ancestor of every Roman Catholic royal house in Europe.  You never know...
Back to Louis, who would have been infuriated by that digression.  Louis' childhood influenced him in many ways, but it was the Fronde (1648-1653) that created his ruling style.  The Fronde was a multiplicity of rebellions that had no order, rhyme, or reason to any of it.  Of, by, and for the nobility, the Fronde's goal was to return to the good old days when a nobleman could rule his lands and provinces as a petty king, with absolute power.  And there had been no jumped-up clergymen (Richelieu and Mazarin) to try and make them knuckle under to some Bourbon king.
NOTE:  Part of the problem was that in class-ridden pre-modern Europe, the Bourbons weren't that old a family.  One of Louis' mistresses, Madame de Montespan, often bragged to his face that her family, the House of Rochechouart was MUCH older than his, and it was.  Hers went back to the 800s; his only to the 1200s.  
Episode of the Fronde at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine by the Walls of the Bastille.png
Episode of the Fronde at the Faubourg Saint-Antoine by the Walls of the Bastille
(i.e., when the royal family had to flee Paris.  See below)
The Fronde failed, because they really had no goal, no organization, no leadership, and kept bickering.  But Louis would never forget it.  At one point the Fronde made the whole royal family flee Paris, which was probably THE major humiliation of Louis' life.  He decided that the nobility was untrustworthy, Paris was rotten, and came up with the following maxims of government:
  • The nobility will have no role in government at all.
  • All non-military government roles, positions, and titles will be given to the bourgeoisie (that way, Louis can fire them whenever he wants).
  • Parlement's only role will be to rubber-stamp his decisions.
  • Paris can rot.
  • He, Louis XIV, will rule personally, absolutely, with no prime minister, all his life.
Nobody believed any of this.  For one thing, Louis, who was always a master of etiquette, waited politely until after Mazarin's death in 1661 to take the reins of power.  And by then there had been 50 years of Prime Ministers ruling France while the kings played.  Louis played, and he played hard - but he also did exactly what he said he would.

And the key to doing that, successfully, was:
  • to appoint good bourgeois officers (Jean-Baptist Colbert, Comptroller-General; Michel le Tellier, and his son, Louvois, both Ministers of War and Chancellor, among others).  
  • to personally work like a horse, non-stop, day in and day out
  • to distract the nobility with endless perks, entertainment, prizes, all dependent upon HIS favor. 
Welcome to Versailles.  


Versailles was the old hunting lodge of Louis XIII, 12 miles south of Paris.  Louis XIV loved it, despite the fact that it was in the middle of a swamp.  He had it remodeled - in fact, it was being remodeled for his entire reign, and some say that the construction is still on-going - and announced, early on, that Versailles was the seat of government.  If you wanted to be close to the king (and who didn't?) you went to Versailles.  And everyone who could went.

Louis de Rouvroy duc de Saint-Simon.jpg
The Duc de Saint-Simon
It was a desperately uncomfortable place to live.  It was so huge that people could and did get lost in it; only the extremely important people - Louis, his Queen, his mistresses, his endless children, and Monsieur and his wife and children - had beautiful apartments.  Most people were crammed into very small rooms, often without windows.  The Duc de Saint-Simon, the most celebrated diarist of the period, had three small rooms, one looking out the stables (which stank), the other two of which were the size of walk-in closets without have windows.  And these were considered the best suite in Versailles.

But things were different then.  Comfort, so important to us today, was held in contempt.  The mark of a man of quality was "indifference to heat, cold, hunger and thirst."  Magnificence was the order of the day. The nobility lived in chateaus that were drafty, cold, smoky, and reeked of human and animal waste (there was no indoor plumbing).  But the rooms looked beautiful.  The nobility wore velvets and satins and brocades in summer as well as winter, and the clothes always stank because they couldn't be washed, and people generally stank because they didn't bathe, just kept pouring on the perfume.  Louis himself just got rubbed down with scented alcohol every day.  But by God they looked marvelous.

Versailles almost bankrupted Paris.  Louis never went there.  He frowned on any nobility who went there.  When the court needed a change of air, they went to Fontainebleau and Marly.  Paris was ignored.  For decades.  But their revenge would come in 1789...

Versailles almost bankrupted Louis (although he never admitted it, and burned the receipts)...

Versailles bankrupted the nobility.
  • Living at Versailles meant, for one thing, that the country estates (and in France, being noble meant you had a large country estate that supplied you with an income) were managed by someone else, who certainly wasn't going to send you all the money.  
  • The King expected his nobles to be well-dressed, and the velvets, silks, and satins, with gold and silver embroidery did not come cheap.  And he expected to see new outfits for weddings, births, Feast Days, parties, etc.  The Duc de Saint-Simon spent 800 louis d'or for new outfits for himself and his wife for the Duc de Bourgogne's wedding - that was equivalent of $96,000.00 in today's money.  
  • While much of the constant entertainment at Versailles was free (watching Louis was the major entertainment, from his morning rub to his official coucher with the Queen), including hunting, music, plays, concerts, dances, and the usual amount of drink, drugs, and sex (all right, sometimes more than the usual amount) there was also gambling almost every night.  They played vingt-et-un, which is blackjack, as well as roulette and dice.  (The King preferred billiards.  He generally won.) The stakes could run exceedingly high:  Madame de Montespan (of the excellent bloodline) lost 3 million francs in one evening.  
  • You have to have servants, sedans, dogs, horses, hunting equipment, stable rent, bribes, and... let's put it this way, books of the day said that a single man of wealth and nobility should have at least 36 servants, 30 horses, etc....  Of course, if you married, expenses doubled, and if you had children...  
So how did the nobility afford all this?  They went into debt.  And when they were broke, they ran to Louis, who was usually happy to help them out with a little something, enough to keep them in Versailles.  He kept them poor and completely dependent on him and his favor.  And his favor wasn't given to anyone who wasn't regularly at Versailles, waiting on him, watching him, being present.

And Louis was always present.  How he lived his life I do not know.  Louis spent his entire day, from 7:45 a.m. to midnight, in public.  (We know where he was every second of every day, because he followed a time-table as rigid as that of a German railroad.)  He had an iron constitution, an iron will, an iron work ethic, and he was always on stage.  He was never alone, even when he was sleeping, using the toilet or having sex. Not only was someone there, there were a lot of people there, perhaps discreetly looking away. (Probably not.)  This was rule by King as rock star, the first total celebrity, the first reality TV show. To see him, to be seen by him, to watch him eat, drink, dress, dance, walk, ride, hunt, etc., was everyone's obsession.  And it was considered as much of an honor, if not more, to attend him while he was using the bathroom as when he was holding full court.
NOTE:  To show how great the obsession with Louis was - and how tough a bird he was - in 1686, he underwent an operation, without anesthesia, on an anal fistula.  In public.  Amazingly, he survived. Even more amazingly, a huge number of nobles went to the doctor to be checked to see if they had an anal fistula, and those who did boasted about it!  Now THAT's toadying.  
Portrait sculpture of 18th  C.
French peasants, by
artist George S. Stuart
Museum of Ventura County
Louis had a few weaknesses.  Women.  Food.  (He ate like a horse.)  But his chief weakness was the pursuit of personal glory (la gloire) through building (Versailles, Marly), personal magnificence (clothing, furniture, jewels, etc.), his court's constant magnificence, and on war.  Endless war.

In case you're wondering, this was an age in which it was assumed, by everyone, that government had nothing to do with and no obligations towards the common people (peasants and artisans, who made up 95% of the population, along with a smattering of merchants), other than to collect taxes from them.  The wealthy paid no taxes at all.  Neither did the Church.  The peasants paid for everything.  They got nothing.  Any improvements, in roads, bridges, canals, etc., were paid for either by the goodness of the local lord or a whim on the part of the king.  There were no social services, no pensions, no health care, nothing.  Peasants worked until they dropped, and then died. Government was there to support the king, the nobility, the Church, and to wage war.

William of Orange defeating
Louis XIV at Naarden
And war was expensive, then as now.  Louis XIV fought many wars because everyone knew that that was what powerful kings did:  fight and win wars.  The trouble is, none of them were winnable, none of them mattered, and Louis himself was a lousy general.  He didn't get anything out of them except a tremendous load of debt, a couple of minor victories, and a lot of dead soldiers.  He fought three wars alone trying to conquer the Netherlands.  He lost every time, and only succeeded in making William of Orange, the prince of the Netherlands, his enemy for life. When William became king of England in 1689 (William was married to Mary, daughter of James II of England, who was booted out during the Glorious Revolution to make room for her - history is so messy...)  Anyway, when William became King of England, it meant that England and France would be at almost perpetual war (simmering or boiling) for the next 150 years.  Including a couple that involved the American Colonies, The Nine Years War a/k/a King Williams' War (1689-1697), and the War of the Spanish Succession a/k/a Queen Anne's War (1701-1714).

Louis succeeded in what he wanted to do.  He kept the nobility powerless and he kept himself absolute monarch for 72 years.  But he almost destroyed France in the process.  He came to the throne of the most powerful, most populous, most wealthy country in Europe, and left it in debt, surrounded by enemies, crippled by a tax system that, depending as it did entirely on the poor, was so bad that in, 70 years, it would spark a revolution.

Much the same results came from all the absolute monarchs of the 17th and 18th centuries - endless wars, fighting over and over and over again over the same territories, bankrupting entire countries, and leading, finally, to the almost constant revolutions of the late 18th and 19th centuries.  The pursuit of war and glory - by leaders who cannot be told "No" - and its results can be summed up by Thomas Gray:
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow'r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike th' inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
                - Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, 1751



03 October 2016

Blood and Gore

by Janice Law

Some time ago, our SleuthSayers colleague Eve Fisher wrote a good piece on why she hated (fictional) serial killers. I had to agree that too often the serial killer is a convenient, if callous, way to hype up the tension and excitement of a book and not always just in horror fiction or low level pulp. There are some really good writers like Jo Nesbo and Jussi Adler-Olsen, whose style and characterizations I otherwise admire, whose fondness for killers commiting ingenious and torturous murders strikes me as dubious both ethically and aesthetically.

Recently, a couple of writers new to me have got me thinking about serial killers again and even more, about the strain of ingenious sadism which so often accompanies their fictional arrival. John Hart’s The Last Child and Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, one tangentially about a serial killer, the other, about a sadistic serial avenger, take radically different approaches.

Hart’s The Last Child throws a whole lot into the hopper: a young girl’s disappearance, a heroic boy out to find her, possible police corruption, a big helping of dismal history, and a touch of supernatural Southern Gothic. A synopsis of the plot practically screams exploitive melodrama, but the skeleton of the story proves deceptive because Hart is a careful and sensitive writer.

Yes, there is something bad happening out in the North Carolina backcountry, but The Last Child focuses always on the people affected by the disappearance of Alyssa Merrimon and the catastrophic effect of her loss on her twin, Johnny, on her distraught mother, and on the weary Clyde Hunt, the detective in charge of the initial investigation.

The portrait of brave, troubled Johnny is particularly well done, as is the companion portrait of his unhappy friend, Jack, but even minor characters like Mrs. Merrimon’s dangerous lover and the mysterious giant Levi Freemantle are well handled. Evil is present, but it’s not around for cheap thrills. Indeed, the book ends in a sadder, more plausible, way that one is likely to anticipate.

Miloszewski’s Rage is another matter altogether. I like mysteries set in foreign countries, and Olsztyn, a Polish resort town with a multitude of lakes and seemingly wretched weather, is a locale ripe for mystery and mayhem. The investigator, Prosecutor Teodor Szacki, is cranky and over worked. He is often difficult with both his lover and his teen-aged daughter and inclined to be abrupt with innocent members of the public.

Harried by the investigation of an exceptionally cruel, if equally exceptionally creative, murder, he fails to pick up hints of serious domestic abuse and finds himself not only in bureaucratic hot water but in true physical danger. This interest in domestic violence apparently represents something new in Polish crime fiction, but that alone probably does not account for the inventively gruesome revenge plot.

The lack of nuance in Rage is too bad, because both the settling and admittedly crusty but not entirely close-minded Prosecutor Szacki are intriguing. But a strain of zestful cruelty runs throughout the novel, and to my mind, at least, too much of the momentum and impact of Rage relies on gruesome ingenuity as opposed to intelligent characterization or to a real exploration of the ethical and social issues raised by the plot.

Oddly enough, in this case, The Last Child, a novel with a bona fide serial killer, if one kept mostly off stage, turns out to be a moving and subtle character study. Rage, with a much lower body count, sadly relies more on gore and sadism than on its distinctive investigator.

I wonder if I am alone in this sort of reaction or if there are other folk out there who find madly inventive and sadistic murders a dubious literary resource?

25 November 2015

America First

David Edgerley Gates


Couple of things led to this week's musing. After my speculations about the Duke of Windsor's political sympathies. Eve Fisher suggested John Gunther's INSIDE EUROPE (1938) for a good picture of the rise of fascism, and then she wrote wrote a column about anarchist history - how none of it develops in a vacuum. This was followed by Jan Grape's piece on terrorism, and then there was Donald Trump's widely-reported prescription for a register of Syrian refugees, and bringing back waterboarding. It doesn't matter what you or I think of Trump, or what we think about torture, for that matter, or immigration policy, or radical salafist Islam. Certainly there's a debate to be had about national security, but that's another conversation. Right now, let's talk about the hysteria index. This doesn't exist in a vacuum, either, or outside historical context.


We've got a long track record in this country of what Harry Truman once called Creeping Meatballism. Examples go back to the Know-Nothings, a nativist, anti-Catholic political party of the 1850's. One constant is fear of the Other, as in the captive narratives that were popular after the Deerfield Raid in 1704, white women and children carried off by Indians, and much the same sentiment as No Irish Need Apply or the Chinese Exclusion Act or Jim Crow laws, or various incarnations of the Red Scare. It boils down to marketing skills, and the lowest common denominator.

Charles Lindbergh got famous three times. First, for his solo flight across the Atlantic, then when his son was kidnapped, and last, for his active engagement with the America First Committee, established in 1940 to keep the U.S. out of any European war. Although there was plenty of isolationist feeling in the country, or at least a strong bent toward neutrality, in the end America First damaged Lindbergh's reputation and later legacy, because he was not only an admirer of Germany and an apologist for Hitler's rearmament policies, but he ascribed support for the war to the Jewish influence. This echoed the anti-Semitism of the more notorious America Firsters - one, Laura Ingalls (not the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE writer) went to jail for sedition after Pearl Harbor, because she'd taken money from Nazi spymasters.

Joe McCarthy might seem a little obvious, and more than a little below the salt, which is why he was written off as a blowhard at first, but there was nothing ridiculous about him, not if you got tarred with the Commie brush. The blacklist was used to settle a lot of scores, and nobody's motives were pure, so you wonder how come it provoked so much fevered melodrama. What gets lost, or eroded over time, is the actual experience people lived through, the climate of paranoia and lynch law. That's why survivors on both sides of the quarrel still hold a grudge.  

Generally speaking, I'd guess you could make a pretty good case that this kind of phenomenon arises in times of uncertainty. As a friend of mine once remarked, people don't have much tolerance for ambiguity. The more complicated and intractable the problem, the more likely it appears to encourage simple-minded posturing and wishful thinking. "The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter," Spade says, which holds true for any unserious argument.

The world, which seems to lie before us like a land of dreams, is in fact an increasingly ambiguous and treacherous place, and we don't have too many navigational aids. Is there any such animal as True North? I can't say. The difficulty with taking refuge or comfort in
certitude, is that the goalposts are gonna move. There's no sure thing. Orthodoxy is snake oil. The received wisdom is a high-mileage trade-in with too many previous owners. The evidence of your own senses is open to question. It depends what's in the drinking water. In other words, we've got a trust issue. Somebody comes down from the mountaintop, you have reason to wonder whether the air up there's too thin to breathe.

We prefer to imagine it's all those other guys who are so gullible, and open to suggestion. Truth is, there's probably a closet jihadi in each of us - not in the literal sense, the Islamist moral midgets, but in the sense that each of us harbors a need to be protected, inside the mouth of the cave, safe from predators. Told it's okay. Better perhaps to know too little than too much, and not to be challenged by a world that doesn't conform to our hermetic comforts. The jihadi is sealed off, at a remove. I'm sure there's a psychological term for it. Inversion? It's reassuring, and self-contained. It feeds off its own inner heat, it has no outside frame of reference.

We're talking, I believe, about a defense mechanism. A reaction to uncertainty and confusion, and the loss of confidence. An arrested mania, a retreat. Why not call it a pathology? There's a fascinating book called EXTRAORDINARY POPULAR DELUSIONS AND THE MADNESS OF CROWDS. We might reflect on this, in our fortress mentality. These are uneasy times. They conjure up bafflement.

DavidEdgerleyGates.com