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The pocket is political

She's got hands in her pockets ...

Women’s pockets were private spaces they carried into the public with increasing freedom, and during a revolutionary time, this freedom was very, very frightening. The less women could carry, the less freedom they had. Take away pockets happily hidden under garments, and you limit women’s ability to navigate public spaces, to carry seditious (or merely amorous) writing, or to travel unaccompanied.

Normally this is the sort of thing I would just post a link to on the faceplace or the twit, but the person I am almost certain would find this interesting (if they haven't already seen it) has withdrawn from the hurly-gurly of Zuckerealm, if only temporarily.

And so, I commend to your attention the surprising history of pockets and why — if you're a woman — your clothes probably don't have any. None usuful, at least.

The Politics of Pockets.

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On the uneasy satisfaction of prescience

This afternoon, I drove my sweetie to the airport. She's off to Europe for a couple of weeks, scratching her nomad's need to move. As we drove in, she noticed the Canadian flag flying above The MacDonald-Cartier International Airport's welcome sign was at half-mast. "Look at that!" she said, "I wonder who died."

It took me a moment, then I realized. "It's 9/11!"

And of course, that's who died, the special victims, our victims, to be mourned forever, because 15 years on, we are a nation at war. Sort of.

And I remembered that I had written what I thought was a pretty powerful piece of analysis not so long after the fact, and went looking for it when I returned home. Only to realize that, somehow, it was a piece of work no longer attached to my website. Somehow, gone, lord only knows when or how.

Thank god for Archive.org! There were my words (not to mention an even more primitive design than the one "gracing" my site now), preserved for posterity, and for me. Remind me to send them a donation.

In any event, what follows is (but for a half-dozen typos I could not resist correcting) exactly what I posted on October 8, 2001.

It is, if I do say so myself, almost frightening in its prescience. To quote H.G. Wells, writing (if memory serves) on the eve of the Second World War, "I told you so, you damned fools." Click here for my full, depressingly accurate look ahead from October 8, 2011.

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The following is from the Livejournal blogger Sabotabby, one of the best political minds I know. Their thesis is not a happy one, but because of that, is even more worth reading and thinking about that it otherwise would be. Originally posted by Sabotabby at Frog, meet boiling water

While you're at it, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, that Abdul-Jabbar) has written a powerful piece on how Ferguson is less about race and racism than it is about class war. Possibly a little more hopeful than the below, but equally frightening.

People shocked by Ferguson—and a lot of good, intelligent people are—and by the militarization of thuggish local police appear, to my jaded eyes, to lack a certain historical perspective.

There was a blip in North American history, lasting less, I think, than a century, where this sort of atrocity outraged the general population for any length of time. The Lawrence Textile Strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire were horrible but up until the Reagan-Thatcher era, that violence begat basic protections for workers. The war in Vietnam, the first televised war, meant that the US had to tread a bit more carefully internationally. But essentially the armed wing of the state has been beating on marginalized and, in particular, racialized populations, regardless—and this is important, would-be pacifists—of whether they resist or not or resort to violence or not, as long as it's been in existence, to a chorus of shrugs and sighs from those too privileged to be directly affected.

Ferguson dominates the media cycle at the moment, not because it is radically different in content from similar crackdowns in the past, but because it is the first of a thing. The first time many people have seen the active deployment of police outfitted with military gear. (Unless you've been at a protest in the past twenty years. Or you're not white.) The first time it's not just televised, but livestreamed, tweeted, reblogged. The first time people have been able to hold out long enough without being crushed to get it into the news cycle. Among the first times the citizen media has been able to loudly counter the mainstream narrative. But beyond the technological angle, it's not shocking or surprising or any sort of historical aberration; if anything, the aberration is the aforementioned few decades where speaking truth to power actually had an effect.

The next time this happens, the militarized police response, the almost inevitable murder of demonstrators, will be routine. That's how it works. That's why it's happening now, unfolding in the way it is; to pave the way for the new normal. So that next time we can just sigh and remember that getting outraged didn't work last time so why bother now? That's just how things are.

The other day on the radio, I was listening to an interview with Ken Jarecke, the photographer who, in 1991, took a picture of an incinerated Iraqi soldier just before the Gulf War ceasefire (this is the photo, if you need to see it; here is an interview—with the man's face blurred out—about the photo's significance). The photo was suppressed in the North American press; at the time, the trend in news reporting was to sanitize the war, to make it look like there were really no casualties at all on either side. I was 12 in 1991; I knew what war was, that obviously people were dying, but the essential truth of it, the genuine outrage and the horrific human cost, didn't hit me until several years later, when I came across that photo. Nowadays, such images are commonplace, and Jarecke was speaking about how photos of dead bodies from war zones had completely lost their power to shock. I think he's mostly right; the photos of dead kids in Syria and Gaza splashed all over my Facebook feed have never changed a single person's mind on the issues at hand. In 1991, the AP felt the need to suppress that photo for no reason I can see other than that it might make people question the war, might make them not go along so readily with the next one, might—and this would have been the worst thing—recognize the humanity of the enemy. It had power, back then. Now, we understand that the Other is human, suffers horribly as the result of our actions, and we don't give a fuck.

We are able to briefly give a fuck about Ferguson because it still has the power to shock—this time, and not completely; open racism is socially acceptable again in the US, and so the KKK can raise money to smear the reputation of the murdered child in question. When it happens again—and make no mistake, Ferguson is the future of policing—we will all understand the collective truth that this is the way it always happens, the way it's always been done.

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On the inter-connectedness of some things

The MacKenzie-Papineau Monument in Ottawa
The MacKenzie-Papineau Monument in Ottawa. Photo by The Phantom Photographer.

The past couple of weeks have offered some stark reminders of how small the world can seem.

I attended a ceremony at the Spanish embassy on the 20th, and a funeral in the south end of Ottawa on the 22nd. Both events involved family.

I could not help but be reminded of just deep are my own roots into the past. For instance, I am but a single "degree of separation" from the 19th century; my father's father, who lived until 1996, was born in 1899 and fought in the Russian Revolution.

Almost two weeks ago now, my father's last remaining aunt, his mother's sister, passed away (though her funeral was not held until this past Saturday).

I didn't know her well; she had been more of an occasional, if benevolent, presence than a person to me, but the elegies I heard made me wish I had known her much better.

Mother of five, whose husband ran out shortly after the last baby was born, Auntie Pearl raised her children on her own. By all reports, she did so with a generosity and love that spread far beyond her blood-ties; I think close to a hundred people turned out to say goodbye, many of them friends, not family.

Coincidentally and on a much happier note, on my mother's side of the family, my great uncle Jules was in town last week, the last living Canadian veteran of the Spanish Civil War.

Uncle Jules was here at the request of the government of Spain which, finally, was to follow through on a promise made 15 years ago to those who had volunteered to fight against Franco's fascists in the dark days before the Second World War.

Entirely by accident, during a ceremony at the Spanish Embassy, I learned that the man who designed Ottawa's memorial to the "Mac-Paps" lives in Sudbury and knows my mother, as does his wife, who is the editor of Sudbury Living, a magazine for which my mother has been writing recently.

The world can sometimes seem very close indeed. And history too is often not nearly so far away as it seems.

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"I wouldn't even mind the lack of originality if they weren't so heavy-handed about it. Apparently we're supposed to believe that in the middle of the war the Germans attacked their allies the Russians, starting an unwinnable conflict on two fronts, just to show how sneaky and untrustworthy they could be? And that they diverted all their resources to use in making ever bigger and scarier death camps, even in the middle of a huge war? Real people just aren't that evil. And that's not even counting the part where as soon as the plot requires it, they instantly forget about all the racism nonsense and become best buddies with the definitely non-Aryan Japanese."

Someone called called Scott has reviewed history as if it was fiction." Very much worth your attention.

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"One small step ..."

Pondering Apollo 11, 40 years later



Magicians and astronauts



Some time in 1969 or 1970 — I was about five years old — my maternal grandparents paid a visit to our small 2-floor apartment, where we lived above my aunt and uncle and three cousins.



Naturally (I was only five after all!), I don't remember a great deal about that visit — in truth, since Grandpa Hart died in 1975, I don't remember all that much about him at all, at least not memories uncontaminated by the memories and stories of others.



He was a small, compact man (though of course he did not then seem small to me; nor would he now, come to think of it, since he was probably an inch or so taller than I am as an adult), with a thinning but full head of hair and a small, neat mustache.



Family lore has it that he was a man burdoned with a great deal of anger, of rage and of disappointment in himself. An American child of Finnish immigrants, socialists, he had nevertheless bought fully into the American Dream and, apparently, he went to his grave a disappointment to himself. He had never made a million dollars.



Major Matt Mason - my spaceman doll, probably not exactly as shown.
Major Matt Mason - my spaceman doll?

Probably not exactly as shown.


Nevertheless, he was no disappointment to me. Far from it. In his younger days he had been an acrobat and an escape artist. He had been a professional magician and hypnotist (he had been good friends with Harry Blackstone!). I thought he was, as I might have said today, cool. And he seemed to take great pleasure in pulling a coin from my ear, performing card tricks or — best of all! — in making objects vanish or appear from nothing more than a blanket draped across his forearm.



One day during that visit, what he pulled from that blanket was (or so I believed) an exact duplicate of what was then my favourite toy, an astronaut doll (I'd never heard the term action figure in those days), quite possibly the same model that pictured at left.



I was properly impressed as I held the figure in my hands. I examined it closely and could see no obvious differences between this doll and my doll. Which, I soon discovered, had mysteriously disappeared (you can probably guess where this is going).



It was only some days after my grandparents had left — gone home to Detroit — that I gave up the search. I think I first believed the "original" doll was simply and finally lost; I don't remember when it was I realized, or perhaps had it explained to me, that Grampa didn't really create something out of nothing beneath that blanket, but that it was only a trick.



Grampa and Grandma retired to Sudbury during my 10th year, where we now also lived. Grampa then began to teach me magic, only a few simple illusions, before he died in his sleep, less than a year following his retirement.



Mission insignia, Apollo 17
Apollo 17

Mission insignia


But he had, despite the apparent unhappiness that had dogged his life, left a legacy of mystery and love in the heart of at least one of his grandchildren — and whether he appreciated it or not, he had been born only a scant three or so years after the world's very first recorded powered flight and died three years after the last time any human being has set foot upon the surface of any other world but our own.



One giant leap



I am fairly certain I watched the first moon-landing when it happened, but I can't be certain of it. I know I remember watching one of them, but so many years later, who knows which one leaves a vague, original impression in my mind's cluttered archives?



At any rate, I was four and a half years old when, a mere 66 years after the Wright Brothers managed humanity's very first powered flight (not so much longer between Kitty Hawk and Tranquility Base than there is between the moon and now, is there?) and I obviously didn't then have the historical perspective to understand just how momentous an event — in fact, a series of events — it was that I was privileged to witness.





Yes, "momentous". In the space of 66 years, we changed from a species that took its first, fumbling leaps into the air, to one that had set foot on another world.



I ask you to take a moment and simply think about that accomplishment, that triumph of imagination, of courage, of will.



66 years! 66 years from Kitty Hawk to Luna! If we can accomplish that in so short a time, what can't we manage if only we put our minds to it!



That we have not been back there for 35 years, is sad; if we never go back, it will be a tragedy. If we block our collective vision so that low-Earth orbit is as high as we can aspire to, we will eventually leave that space as well, and sooner or later, a great rock will fall from the sky, or some other disaster will put an end to our species; not only our past will be erased, but every possible future will gone as well.



On a marche sur la lune
On a marché sur la lune.


We might as well never have been at all. In a million years, our arts and culture, our loves and hates, will have been erased from the surface of the Earth, our only memorial, the slowly-eroding footprints left upon the Lunar surface.



Prognosis: Negative?



Even 20 years ago, I thought there was a realistic possibility that I might personally live long enough to, in my dotage, set foot upon the surface of Mars as a paying passenger, a tourist. I wasn't naive enough to think there was a good chance I would have the opportunity, but I thought it significantly better than zero.



Barring some completely unexpect developments — either in space travel or some kind of life-extension technology — I now believe the odds that I will have a chance to even set foot upon the moon is very close to zero. Time marches on and hurries us along with it.



In another 40 years I will be 84 and though we are a long-lived bunch (my maternal grand-father notwithstanding), I don't expect regular flights from here to there between then and now. We could do it, of course — Apollo proved we can do just about anything, at least to my satisfaction — but I don't expect any nation to bring the necessary resources to bear, nor that private industry will find a sufficient source of potential (short-term) profit to be able to command the necessary investment.



And yet. And yet ...



Despite my admitedly elegiac tone, and despite signs that NASA will not getting the necessary funding for the (sort of) planned return in 2020, I take some comfort in a couple of facts worth keeping in mind.



First, that history takes its own course and its own time. It took Europeans hundreds of years to fully conquer North America. I use the analogy not because I expect there to be native Martians which we will then exterminate, or try to, but to remind myself simply that it took a long time to get from Columbus' first contact in 1492 to the world we know today.



It is easy to forget, from the eternal now just how many small steps it takes to create history, how many tentative missions, how many failures, it took to get from there to here.



It may not be the Americans or Russians, or even the Chinese or Brazilians. In my heart of hearts I'd like the first human on Mars to sport a maple leaf on her shoulder, but in my mind of minds I imagine it will be some sort of international project — or else many projects, some private, some state-sponsored, slowly moving outward from this "small blue dot", spreading veriditas from our blooming blue world to her silent sisters.



So. Here's to 1969, and to the men and women who even now circle above our heads and so keep our future alive.



Earthrise, as seen by Apollo 17 in 1972.

Earthrise, as seen by Apollo 17 in 1972.


Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

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"One small step ..."
Pondering Apollo 11, 40 years later

Magicians and astronauts

Some time in 1969 or 1970 — I was about five years old — my maternal grandparents paid a visit to our small 2-floor apartment, where we lived above my aunt and uncle and three cousins.

Naturally (I was only five after all!), I don't remember a great deal about that visit — in truth, since Grandpa Hart died in 1975, I don't remember all that much about him at all, at least not memories uncontaminated by the memories and stories of others.

He was a small, compact man (though of course he did not then seem small to me; nor would he now, come to think of it, since he was probably an inch or so taller than I am as an adult), with a thinning but full head of hair and a small, neat mustache.

Family lore has it that he was a man burdoned with a great deal of anger, of rage and of disappointment in himself. An American child of Finnish immigrants, socialists, he had nevertheless bought fully into the American Dream and, apparently, he went to his grave a disappointment to himself. He had never made a million dollars.

Major Matt Mason - my spaceman doll, probably not exactly as shown.
Major Matt Mason - my spaceman doll?
Probably not exactly as shown.

Nevertheless, he was no disappointment to me. Far from it. In his younger days he had been an acrobat and an escape artist. He had been a professional magician and hypnotist (he had been good friends with Harry Blackstone!). I thought he was, as I might have said today, cool. And he seemed to take great pleasure in pulling a coin from my ear, performing card tricks or — best of all! — in making objects vanish or appear from nothing more than a blanket draped across his forearm.

One day during that visit, what he pulled from that blanket was (or so I believed) an exact duplicate of what was then my favourite toy, an astronaut doll (I'd never heard the term action figure in those days), quite possibly the same model that pictured at left.

I was properly impressed as I held the figure in my hands. I examined it closely and could see no obvious differences between this doll and my doll. Which, I soon discovered, had mysteriously disappeared (you can probably guess where this is going).

It was only some days after my grandparents had left — gone home to Detroit — that I gave up the search. I think I first believed the "original" doll was simply and finally lost; I don't remember when it was I realized, or perhaps had it explained to me, that Grampa didn't really create something out of nothing beneath that blanket, but that it was only a trick.

Grampa and Grandma retired to Sudbury during my 10th year, where we now also lived. Grampa then began to teach me magic, only a few simple illusions, before he died in his sleep, less than a year following his retirement.

Mission insignia, Apollo 17
Apollo 17
Mission insignia

But he had, despite the apparent unhappiness that had dogged his life, left a legacy of mystery and love in the heart of at least one of his grandchildren — and whether he appreciated it or not, he had been born only a scant three or so years after the world's very first recorded powered flight and died three years after the last time any human being has set foot upon the surface of any other world but our own.

One giant leap

I am fairly certain I watched the first moon-landing when it happened, but I can't be certain of it. I know I remember watching one of them, but so many years later, who knows which one leaves a vague, original impression in my mind's cluttered archives?

At any rate, I was four and a half years old when, a mere 66 years after the Wright Brothers managed humanity's very first powered flight (not so much longer between Kitty Hawk and Tranquility Base than there is between the moon and now, is there?) and I obviously didn't then have the historical perspective to understand just how momentous an event — in fact, a series of events — it was that I was privileged to witness.

Yes, "momentous". In the space of 66 years, we changed from a species that took its first, fumbling leaps into the air, to one that had set foot on another world.

I ask you to take a moment and simply think about that accomplishment, that triumph of imagination, of courage, of will.

66 years! 66 years from Kitty Hawk to Luna! If we can accomplish that in so short a time, what can't we manage if only we put our minds to it!

That we have not been back there for 35 years, is sad; if we never go back, it will be a tragedy. If we block our collective vision so that low-Earth orbit is as high as we can aspire to, we will eventually leave that space as well, and sooner or later, a great rock will fall from the sky, or some other disaster will put an end to our species; not only our past will be erased, but every possible future will gone as well.

On a marche sur la lune
On a marché sur la lune.

We might as well never have been at all. In a million years, our arts and culture, our loves and hates, will have been erased from the surface of the Earth, our only memorial, the slowly-eroding footprints left upon the Lunar surface.

Prognosis: Negative?

Even 20 years ago, I thought there was a realistic possibility that I might personally live long enough to, in my dotage, set foot upon the surface of Mars as a paying passenger, a tourist. I wasn't naive enough to think there was a good chance I would have the opportunity, but I thought it significantly better than zero.

Barring some completely unexpect developments — either in space travel or some kind of life-extension technology — I now believe the odds that I will have a chance to even set foot upon the moon is very close to zero. Time marches on and hurries us along with it.

In another 40 years I will be 84 and though we are a long-lived bunch (my maternal grand-father notwithstanding), I don't expect regular flights from here to there between then and now. We could do it, of course — Apollo proved we can do just about anything, at least to my satisfaction — but I don't expect any nation to bring the necessary resources to bear, nor that private industry will find a sufficient source of potential (short-term) profit to be able to command the necessary investment.

And yet. And yet ...

Despite my admitedly elegiac tone, and despite signs that NASA will not getting the necessary funding for the (sort of) planned return in 2020, I take some comfort in a couple of facts worth keeping in mind.

First, that history takes its own course and its own time. It took Europeans hundreds of years to fully conquer North America. I use the analogy not because I expect there to be native Martians which we will then exterminate, or try to, but to remind myself simply that it took a long time to get from Columbus' first contact in 1492 to the world we know today.

It is easy to forget, from the eternal now just how many small steps it takes to create history, how many tentative missions, how many failures, it took to get from there to here.

It may not be the Americans or Russians, or even the Chinese or Brazilians. In my heart of hearts I'd like the first human on Mars to sport a maple leaf on her shoulder, but in my mind of minds I imagine it will be some sort of international project — or else many projects, some private, some state-sponsored, slowly moving outward from this "small blue dot", spreading veriditas from our blooming blue world to her silent sisters.

So. Here's to 1969, and to the men and women who even now circle above our heads and so keep our future alive.

Earthrise, as seen by Apollo 17 in 1972.
Earthrise, as seen by Apollo 17 in 1972.

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

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In honour of the coming U.S. "withdrawal" from Iraq and concommitant "escalatio" in Afghanistan
When will they ever learn ...?

The following was printed in the June 2009 issue of Harper's Magazine, and was taken "from a May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan began on May 15 and was completed February 15, 1989. The letter is among documents related to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan published in February by the National Security Archive. Translated from the Russian by Svetlana Savranskaya.


The decision to invade was made when there was a lot of uncertainty in the balance of forces within Afgan society. Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was also insufficiently clear. We do not want to say it, but we should: at that time, we did not even have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country. This was reflected in the operations of our troops against small, highly mobile units, where very little could be accomplished with the help of modern military technology.

In addition, we completely disregarded the most important national and historical factors, above all the fact that the appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the population. This is how it was in the past, and this is how it happened when our troops entered Afganistan, even though they came there with honest and noble goals.

Babrak Karmal became head of the Afghan government at the time. His first steps in that capacity gave us grounds to hope that he would be able to solve the problems facing his country. Nothing new emerged, however, in his policies that could have changed for the better the attitude of of a significant portion of the Afghan population toward the new regime. Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and our military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people. Our approach did not take into account the country's multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs.

One has to admit that we essentially put our bets on the military solution, on suppressing the counter-revolution with force. We did not even make full use of the existing opportunities to neutralize the hostile attitudes of the local population toward us. Often our people, acting out of their best intentions, tried to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraged the Afghans to copy our ways. All this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to the Soviet Union, both in the sphere of military operations and in the economic sphere.

Meanwhile, the war Afghanistan continued, and our troops were getting engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out became more and more difficult as time passed. Combat action is combat action. Our losses in dead and wounded — and the Central Committee believes it has no right to hide this — were growing heavier and heavier. Altogether, by the beginning of this month, we had lost 13,310 dead in Afghanistan; 35, 478 Soviet officers and soldiers were wounded, many of whom became disabled; 301 people are missing in action. There is a reason people say that each person is a unique world, and when a person dies that world disappears forever. The loss of every individual is very hard and irreparable. It is hard and sacred if one died carrying out one's duty.

The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.

One should not disregard the economic factor either. If the enemy in Afghanistan received weapons and ammunition worth hundreds of millions and later even billions of dollars, the Soviet-Afghan side also had to shoulder adequate expenditures. The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.

* * *

If I haven't made myself clear, Mr. Harper, this war is wrong and it's unwinnable. Give me a happy Dominion Day and announce that you're bringing our troops home now.
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I've long maintained that, while far from the being the "best of all possible worlds", socially, Canada in the late 20th and early 21st centuries arguably represents the best humanity has had to offer thus far, with legal equality for all races and between men and women, close to legal equality for gays and lesbians and, on the street, an argumentative but live-and-let-live attitude among an extremely heterogeneous population. By long-term historical standards we are doing very well and arguably better than any society that has ever existed (for simplicity's sake, let's leave first and third world economic disparity out of the equation).

Among other things, the criteria upon which I base that judgement is an intuitive mix of such things as economic disparity between rich and poor, acceptance and intermixing by and among people of different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds, and especially, the status of women - i.e., if you step outside at night in a big city, the more women you see walking around by themselves, the higher the probability that city is a safe one, with a reasonably robust social infrastructure or "civil society".

In other words, I see in this country an historical, clumsy lurching towards a future world that will truly be one of liberty and justice for all for the very first time in history.

Having, with so many, believed that civilization (defined here as city-dwellers, including government more complex than those found in hunter-gatherer societies) first emerged in the "fertile crescent" only five or six thousand years ago as savage, war-like city-states, which immediately set-upon conquering and/or slaughtering their neighbours, Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade offers a provocative analysis of recent archaeological discoveries, one that asserts the late Neolithic Age harboured actual cities (of up to 100,000 people(!) and a Mediterranean/European civilization with sophisticated trading relations. And more, that these were cities without defensive walls or much at all in the way of weaponry.

When my mum pushed the book on me, I resisted, thinking it would be yet another piece of feminist historical fantasy, of some Golden Age when a universal Matriarchy ruled over all under the beneficent gaze of the Great Goddess. I had to force myself through the first chapter, but was gradually won over enough to at least take her thesis seriously (although, having now had the chance to glance over her website, I am less sure than I was about her general credibility. As they say, more research is required before I come to any firm conclusions. But I digress).

In short, Eisler does not claim that the late Neolithic civilization(s?) she describes were matriarchal, although she does assert that a Goddess appears to be the primary divinity. Rather, her thesis is that those cities were structurally organized differently from all known historical civilizations, in which a top-down hierarchy is the structural basis of organization. In Eisler's view, these society's were instead organized according to a "partnership model", which featured cooperation rather than coercion as the organizing principle.

Although some of these cultures (in particular the late civilization on Crete) apparently possessed at least a rudimentary written language, most if not all the evidence Eisler presents is based on physical rather than textual evidence. Thus, by definition, her conclusions about ways of life are inferential and deductive.

Nevertheless, that evidence seems to me to be compelling. And mostly, because of what isn't found in the digs, rather than what is. No defensive fortifications; no weapons, save for those appropriate for hunting; no significant differences in the size of habitations; little or no depiction of warfare; no monumental palaces or other buildings suggestive of extreme hierarchy; no significant difference in the lavishness of grave-sites. She further asserts that the artistic evidence (painted pottery and frescoes, for instance) suggests that men and women played roles in all aspects of society, from the ceremonial to sports and even, to some degree, in work.

She claims that these civilizations flourished for about 3,500 years, from circa 7,000 B.C.E. to 3,500 B.C.E. when Crete was over-run by one of the patriarchal barbarian hordes we know so well from everything from the Bible to general history.

If her reports of the archaeological findings are true, The Chalice & the Blade appears to me to make a strong case for the idea that the common view of our past is quite simply wrong.

Eisner believes the findings summarised above are not only of historical importance but are also important in that they provide "proof" that humanity is not foredoomed to exist according to a hierarchical model (or "dominator model") of civilization. She believes that knowing something different existed in the past will help us to build a better (and different) tomorrow. (As she repeatedly points out, in a world bristling with nuclear weapons, there will be no future history for humanity if we don't find ways other than war to settle our conflicts.) But as modern feminism and other progressive movements have shown in the past few decades, we are quite capable of imagining a different future without having recourse to a similar past; nevertheless, it can't hurt to know that - yes! - things were different once upon a time.

It is as a prognosticator that she lost me towards the end of the book. The final chapter provides an overview of what a future Partnership Civilization might look like and here Eisner does in fact come across as a naive, New Agey, thinker, with all the silliness that implies (she goes so far as to predict that her future will include "improved yoga techniques").

Unfortunately, I am not (yet) in a position to judge the quality or honesty of the evidence Eisler presents, but the book is copiously foot-noted and I caught no significant errors in areas in which I do have some knowledge. On the surface, she makes a very strong and very interesting case for her historical thesis. So, despite my reservations, this is a provocative and exciting look at what - to me, at least - had hitherto been a long chapter in human history about which I had been almost entirely ignorant. Recommended, if only for now.

If anyone out there can point me towards recent archaeological findings which might support or refute her, I'd be most grateful.
ed_rex: (Default)
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.


-- J R R Tolkien

One of the traits that first intrigued me about - and so attracted me to - Laura was our shared interest in history. Though she had only just turned 17 when we met, I could make reference to the Vietnam or Second World War and she would know what I was talking about more often than not. Unlike the vast majority of her (of of my) contemporaries, she understood, as I do, that the past is not "dead" but is, rather, more akin to stretch of road on which we continue to walk; the past is disappearing from view but in an important if metaphorical way it still exists and continues to influence the lives of all of us today.

My past weekend began on Friday afternoon when I left the office early to catch the 5 o'clock express for Sudbury. My great-uncle Jules would be turning 90 years old on Sunday and I had no intention of missing either the Saturday or the Sunday celebrations planned in his honour.

As a child, I didn't know Jules well. He was a slow-spoken, quiet man, to my eyes at least, over-shadowed in social situations by his first wife who, to be honest, I did not much like.

I began to get to know about a decade or so, and discovered a remarkably fit man who remained deeply involved with the world, a passionately political thinker who nevertheless took great joy from life and found much to laugh about within it, despite having buried his first wife and two of his children. He and my younger were working on my mother's house and Jules at 80 wielded a hammer like a much younger man, which was appropriate given that he was looking forward to a second marriage.

Born to Finnish immigrants - his father, a renowned Finnish poet and journalist, and committed Communist - his childhood was one one of hard work and extreme poverty. Nevertheless, Jules made a career as an architect and taught the subject at Ryerson. He was twice a husband and is a father and grand-father.

But in terms of family lore, of family mythology, it was as a teenager that he left his greatest mark, literally sneaking out of the country to join the Mackenzie Papineau Battalion and sail to France, from which country he made his way to Spain to join the fight against Francisco Franco's Fascist government, which - with the help of Hitler and Mussolini's regime's had overthrown the democratically-elected Republican government.

                        
                                 Jules circa 1937.                                                 Jules, April 30, 2007.

He fought in three major battles and was captured by Italian troops in (I believe) 1938. He spent about a year as a prisoner of war and was saved from execution (he was actually on the firing line) by the good fortune of an Italian general happening by and putting a stop to the proceedings. The war was drawing to a close - Jules' belief that Western democracies would come to the aid of their fellow democratic government having proven vain - and Jules and his comrades were to be exchanged for Italian prisoners held by the Republicans.

Of the 1,500 or so (my research has yielded conflicting numbers) Canadians who volunteered, Jules was one of the 700 or so survivors. According to a speaker at Sunday's party, there are only 5 survivors alive today.

During the 1990s, he was a leader of a campaign to have the Mac-Paps recognized as Canadian veterans. They succeeded part-way, with the 2001 unveiling of the National Monument to the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion. As men who were early to see the threat Fascism posed to the world, I was more than pleased to see Jules' work achieve that success, if I was also satisfied that they have not been officially designated as veterans.



(That is probably an argument for another time. My basic position is that while my heart lies with the Mac-Paps, it does not lie with - for example - those Canadians who volunteered to fight in Vietnam. Though Canada should have stepped up to the plate to defend the Spanish democracy, it did not do so and I don't believe we should re-write history in that way.)

All of which is background I was more or less familiar with. What I had not realized was that Jules was as well-known outside of the family as it turned out on Saturday that he is. Though I did not notice any members of the press in attendance, well over 100 people turned out for Saturday's public celebration, including Sudbury's Mayor, John Rodriguez.

I mention this not to name-drop (as very political people, I grew up with MPs, MPPs and labour leaders as regular guests in my parents' house), but to mention his brief speech.

Rodriguez spoke of coming to Canada as "a young Socialist" who joined the "closest thing to a Socialist party in Canada" - the NDP - for which he served 5 terms as a Sudbury-area MP. He spoke warmly of Jules and of Sudbury's Finnish community in general (many of whom had originally come as refugees shortly after the turn of the last century as Communists, fleeing a military dictatorship in the old country) but what struck me most was to hear a sitting mayor of a major Canadian city publicly declaring himself a Socialist in the year 2007.

In this age of (happily, fading) neocon/neo-liberal triumphalism, it is more than a little heartening to be reminded that history is not nearly at an end and that the values and beliefs that sent my great-uncle to risk his life for the cause of democracy and social justice live on.

* * *

Sunday's affair was for friends and family only and was held (perhaps somewhat incongruously) at a golf-course owned by a friend of Jules (who, yes, is still golfing, along with working on his memoirs).

After a number of heartfelt and touching tributes, Jules himself spoke. He spoke of social justice, of the need for constant struggle and he spoke too of his own, long, life. I mentioned earlier that he is a man who has outlived 2 wives and two children, who developed scurvy while a prisoner of war, whose own government considered him a traitor for his involvement in Spain and whose secret police kept tabs on him for decades. Yet he smiled as he spoke and emphasized what a wonderful life he has led, what joy it has brought him and how he looks forward to the future.

The proof of that, I think, is in the pictures. Only click if you want to see random pictures of people you don't know. )

April 2017

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