Agatha Christie’ Review: The Queen of the Cozy

6 March 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Raymond Chandler found her novels irritating. They “fake the clues, the timing, the play of coincidence,” he complained, and “fake character, which hits me hardest of all, because I have a sense of character.” Robert Graves declared that “her English was schoolgirlish, her situations for the most part artificial, and her detail faulty.” And he was a friend. Bernard Levin “found not one of the books worth the time of an intelligent adult”; Francis Wyndham called them “animated algebra”; Julian Symons considered them “riddles rather than books.” More recently, Ruth Rendell lamented, “When I read one of her books, I don’t feel as though I have a piece of fiction worthy of the name in front of me,” while Michael Dibdin deemed Agatha Christie “a killer [whose] victim was the British crime novel.” Nevertheless, when Edmund Wilson, in a 1945 essay, famously asked, “Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?,” the answer was—and still is—tens of millions of Agatha Christie readers: the “Low Brows,” as Christie affectionately referred to them in 1956, by which time she had sold more than 50 million books world-wide.

When she died in 1976, aged 85, Christie left behind over a hundred works of fiction and drama, some poems, an autobiography . . . and a great deal of stuff. Stuff that made Laura Thompson, her new biographer, fairly swoon as she rummaged through it. “The notebooks with their agonised jottings. The fur coats that smell still of distant scent. The soft pools of christening lace. . . . The attaché case that contained Archie Christie’s love letters, and the wedding ring he gave her. . . . So many things kept,” and not in sterile archives but in situ, throughout her longtime home, Greenway House in Devon, “filling every cupboard, every attic, every secret drawer.” In “Agatha Christie: A Mysterious Life,” Ms. Thompson mines this trove for clues not only to the writer’s inner life but also to her fiction’s recurring themes and enduring appeal. She also unearths a vanished era—of villages and servants, tea and vicars—long regarded as quintessentially British.

. . . .

Christie’s birthplace is gone and Ms. Thompson revisiting the site could be Charles Ryder returning to Brideshead, so fierce is her nostalgia and dismay. “The 1851 town hall now a branch of Tesco,” she wails, with “junkies and asylum-seekers lurching along Higher Union Street.” It seems an odd introduction to a biography, this spasm of xenophobic throat clearing. Then again, Ms. Thompson spent years embedded with the Mitford family—her previous book was “The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters” (2015)—and some of that dunderhead glibness was bound to rub off.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Men Behind the Words

26 February 2018
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From No Shelf Required:

In 1974, a book by Theodore Rosengarten was published and went  on to the win the National Book Award for Contemporary Affairs (a category that later became “Nonfiction”). The work itself was an oral history of a man identified as Nate Shaw (Ned Cobb), a sharecropper in Alabama who stood up against sheriffs who had come to take away a fellow sharecropper’s property.

. . . .

In both print and audio formats, the work has received wide critical praise, and the man underneath the writing and then the performance of the written—Nate Shaw/Ned Cobb—remains alive through these interventions of other men’s voices. In effect, the fact of Nate Shaw can become fixed because his unscripted speaking was heard, recorded in written text, and now heard again through the oral performance of an informed actor. Instead of these interventions diluting the immediate and personal accounting of Mr. Shaw, they serve to extend the reach, and the permanence, of his witnessing to history.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Here’s a link to All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

Free news gets scarcer as paywalls tighten

26 February 2018

From Yahoo:

For those looking for free news online, the search is becoming harder.

Tougher restrictions on online content have boosted digital paid subscriptions at many news organizations, amid a growing trend keeping content behind a “paywall.”

Free news has by no means disappeared, but recent moves by media groups and Facebook and Google supporting paid subscriptions is forcing free-riders to scramble.

For some analysts, the trend reflects a normalization of a situation that has existed since the early internet days that enabled consumers to get accustomed to the notion of free online content.

“I think there is a definite trend for people to start paying for at least one news source,” said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst who follows digital media for Kaleido Insights.

. . . .

 A study last year by the Media Insight Project found 53 percent of Americans have paid for at least one news subscription. A separate report by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute found two-thirds of European newspapers used a pay model.

. . . .

News organizations are unable to compete against giants like Google and Facebook for digital advertising, and are turning increasingly to readers.

“For large-scale news organizations whether they are national or regional, that want to have a large reporting staff, reader revenue needs to be the number one source,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst and consultant who writes the Newsonomics blog.

Doctor said some news organizations are getting close to 50 percent of revenues from subscriptions and sees that rising to as much as 70 percent.

The New York Times reported the number of paid subscribers grew to 2.6 million and that subscriptions accounted for 60 percent of 2017 revenues. The Washington Post last year touted it had more than one million paid digital readers.

. . . .

While well-known national publications may be able to navigate digital pay models, it will be harder for smaller, regional and local news organizations on slimmer budgets, said Radcliffe.

“Smaller local organizations might find it harder to make their case to readers (to pay), and they have a smaller pool of customers,” Radcliffe said.

. . . .

The paywall trend may have some other consequences by limiting national “conversations” based on shared news.

“Content that is behind a paywall does not go viral,” Lieb said, but noted that important news scoops can still spark national discussion.

Link to the rest at Yahoo

To automate is human

17 February 2018

From Aeon:

In the 1920s, the Soviet scientist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov used artificial insemination to breed a ‘humanzee’ – a cross between a human and our closest relative species, the chimpanzee. The attempt horrified his contemporaries, much as it would modern readers. Given the moral quandaries a humanzee might create, we can be thankful that Ivanov failed: when the winds of Soviet scientific preferences changed, he was arrested and exiled. But Ivanov’s endeavour points to the persistent, post-Darwinian fear and fascination with the question of whether humans are a creature apart, above all other life, or whether we’re just one more animal in a mad scientist’s menagerie.

Humans have searched and repeatedly failed to rescue ourselves from this disquieting commonality. Numerous dividers between humans and beasts have been proposed: thought and language, tools and rules, culture, imitation, empathy, morality, hate, even a grasp of ‘folk’ physics. But they’ve all failed, in one way or another. I’d like to put forward a new contender – strangely, the very same tendency that elicits the most dread and excitement among political and economic commentators today.

. . . .

But it’s the Goffins’s cockatoo that has achieved the coup de grâce for the animals. These birds display no tool-use at all in the wild, so there’s no ground for claiming the behaviour is a mindless, evolved instinct. Yet in captivity, a cockatoo named Figaro, raised by researchers at the Veterinary University of Vienna, invented a method of using a long splinter of wood to reach treats placed outside his enclosure – and proceeded to teach the behaviour to his flock-mates.

. . . .

Language is an interesting one. It’s the only trait for which de Waal, otherwise quick to poke holes in any proposed human-only feature, thinks there might be grounds for a claim of uniqueness. He calls our species the only ‘linguistic animal’, and I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. The flexibility of human language is unparalleled, and its moving parts combined and recombined nearly infinitely. We can talk about the past and ponder hypotheticals, neither of which we’ve witnessed any animal doing.

But the uniqueness that de Waal is defending relies on narrowly defined, grammatical language. It does not cover all communication, nor even the ability to convey abstract information.

. . . .

Without rejecting the language claim outright, I’d like to venture a new defining feature of humanity – wary as I am of ink spilled trying to explain the folly of such an effort. Among all these wins for animals, and while our linguistic differences might define us as a matter of degree, there’s one area where no other animal has encroached at all. In our era of Teslas, Uber and artificial intelligence, I propose this: we are the beast that automates.

. . . .

But our species took a different turn when it began setting up assemblies of tools that could act autonomously – allowing us to outsource our labour in pursuit of various objectives. Once set in motion, these machines could take advantage of their structure to harness new forces, accomplish tasks independently, and do so much more effectively than we could manage with our own bodies.

. . . .

There are two ways to give tools independence from a human, I’d suggest. For anything we want to accomplish, we must produce both the physical forces necessary to effect the action, and also guide it with some level of mental control. Some actions (eg, needlepoint) require very fine-grained mental control, while others (eg, hauling a cart) require very little mental effort but enormous amounts of physical energy. Some of our goals are even entirely mental, such as remembering a birthday. It follows that there are two kinds of automation: those that are energetically independent, requiring human guidance but not much human muscle power (eg, driving a car), and those that are also independent of human mental input (eg, the self-driving car). Both are examples of offloading our labour, physical or mental, and both are far older than one might first suppose.

. . . .

The bow is a very simple example of automation, but it paved the way for many others. None of these early automations are ‘smart’ – they all serve to export the business of human muscles rather than human brains, and without of a human controller, none of them could gather information about the trajectory, and change course accordingly. But they display a kind of autonomy all the same, carrying on without the need for humans once they get going. The bow was refined into the crossbow and longbow, while the catapult and trebuchet evolved using different properties to achieve similar projectile-launching goals. (Warfare and technology always go hand in hand.) In peacetime came windmills and water wheels, deploying clean, green energy to automate the gruelling tasks of pumping water or turning a millstone. We might even include carts and ploughs drawn by beasts of burden, which exported from human backs the weight of carried goods, and from human hands the blisters of the farmer’s hoe.

Link to the rest at Aeon


In Full Flight

13 February 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

Few life stories are as confounding as that of Anne Spoerry (1918-99), a physician whose tale of unconscionable evil and quest for expiation spanned several decades and two continents.

In Kenya, where the Swiss-French expatriate made her home starting in the late 1940s, Spoerry was revered as “Mama Daktari,” an indefatigable “mother doctor” and the first female member of the Flying Doctors service of the African Medical and Research Foundation (the nongovernmental organization now known as Amref Health Africa). For more than 30 years, she piloted her small plane across thousands of miles to remote areas of the country, in order to provide medical care to an estimated 1 million patients. By the time of her death, her reputation as an altruist extraordinaire had spread throughout the world via numerous admiring articles and honors.

Then her pre-Africa life came to light. At the end of Spoerry’s life, a nephew found in one of her safes a cache of personal papers that revealed a closely guarded secret. She once had been known as “Dr. Claude,” a notoriously brutal kapo during her time as an inmate at Ravensbrück, a women-only Nazi concentration camp. A post-World War II French court found her guilty of “anti-French and anti-patriotic behavior” in 1946. The following year she was arrested in Switzerland, having been charged with torture by the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects. Her father bailed her out of jail, but the possibility of further trials and imprisonment loomed, and with the help of her family’s connections, she fled to Africa. “In Full Flight: A Story of Africa and Atonement” is the attempt by one of Spoerry’s many friends to make sense of her stunning, opposing personae.

John Heminway, a winner of two Emmys, first met and interviewed Spoerry in Kenya in 1980, when he was working in Africa as a journalist and filmmaker. He was curious about Spoerry’s past but was rebuffed when he asked her about it. Nonetheless, Spoerry let him accompany her as she flew from one rural village to another on her medical rounds—treating and operating on many of Kenya’s poorest inhabitants and vaccinating them against polio and smallpox. Mr. Heminway wrote often about these journeys, and an expanded version of one of these profiles appeared in his book “No Man’s Land” (1983). But throughout the 20 years that Mr. Heminway continued both to write about and socialize with Spoerry, he was never able to persuade her to open up about her life before she became Mama Daktari. On that, she remained silent and inscrutable.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

A Look At My Earnings Through Medium’s Partner Program

10 February 2018

From Medium:

I started publishing some of my stories through Medium’s Partner Program in September of this year. In that first month, I earned over $600. I was incredibly surprised and pleased. Was an extra $600 a month in my future? I wondered. That would be pretty sweet. I paid a little more on my student loans.

The second month, I earned just about $500. Still surprised and pleased. I bought my parents a hotel room for their anniversary trip to Niagara Falls.

The third month, I made about $375. I bought a ticket to Dublin for next year. Better spend it now while I have it. At this rate of decay, will I even be earning anything three months from now? What will be the equilibrium point?

. . . .

Obviously, there are many, many factors to consider here. First, there’s the content of the story itself — some topics are of more interest than others. Second, there’s the curation variable— some of my stories have been featured or Tweeted by Medium Staff while other stories have gotten little to no play in Medium features or on social media. Third, there’s the mystery algorithm — how is Medium actually calculating earnings?

I know I’m not alone in wondering about this. There seems to be a general confusion among Medium writers about how the Partner Program determines payment for members-only stories.

Officially, Medium says this:


I don’t really know for sure, but I think it’s that last sentence that explains the variability I’m seeing in earnings. Essentially, each member’s claps are weighted differently. Plus, non-members are allowed access to 3 free articles per month, and while their claps don’t equate to dollars, I wonder if that also explains some of the variability. Maybe articles published earlier in the month (before non-members have used up their 3 free stories) garner more claps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll earn more money on them.

. . . .

I think maybe Medium is still trying to figure this all out the same way we are, and so I don’t really expect to find clear-cut answers right now. And I’m okay with that. The fact that I’m earning something (anything!) on things I was otherwise publishing for free is amazing.

The shift from recommends (remember those little green hearts?) to claps was kind of revolutionary in a sense and I think it will take a while for that to sort itself out as a mechanism that works. I still clap pretty randomly for things with no rhyme or reason. If I liked something, it’ll get anywhere from 1 to 50 claps.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG says the way of calculating how much authors earn on Medium or anywhere else should be 1. transparent, 2. easy to understand and, 3. difficult to manipulate to unfairly reward an author.

Medium’s explanation is that claps by Medium Members while a post “is set for Members” are important, “though other factors may be considered.” Then there’s something called “engagement share per member” which sounds like a portion of a Medium Member’s monthly fee is divided by claps (unless something else qualifies as engagement, too).

PG has just read an occasional story without paying anything to Medium, so perhaps he’s missing some subtleties here.

  • Does Medium disclose what percentage of the members’ fees go to authors collectively?
  • Does Medium say how many dollars are paid to authors collectively each month?
  • Is there any way an author can check his/her payments to make certain something isn’t wrong with Medium’s back-end?

Is this information from the OP all the information a Medium author receives regarding the basis for calculating payments?

A Writer’s Controversial Past That Will Not Die

5 February 2018
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From The New York Times:

In the winter of 1953 the young writer Peter Matthiessen came to the edge of a crisis. He and his wife, Patsy, who was also an aspiring writer, were living in Paris. Patsy was eight months pregnant with their second child, the first, named Thomas, having died within hours of his premature birth the year before.

Peter never talked about my little cousin Thomas. Not that I ever would have asked him, yet I also know that my uncle would not stint on blaming himself. In memoir notes that Peter prepared before he died, in 2014, the loss of the child and the blame for it are handled tersely and honestly. He writes that the concierge where he and my aunt were living rapped his cheeks in the French manner — “smack, smack!” — and admonished him to try again: “But you’re young! Just make another one!”

To safeguard Patsy’s second pregnancy, the couple moved in late 1952 from their Left Bank apartment and its three tiring flights of stairs to a ground-floor apartment on the Right Bank. Their old flat, with its sunny terrace, was where an American coterie — which included Terry Southern, Bill Styron, James Baldwin, Harold Humes and George Plimpton — had concocted the fiction and poetry magazine called The Paris Review. The new apartment, Peter wrote, was “narrow” and “gloomy” and “far from all our cafe haunts and friends.” Patsy, as she neared term, was confined to bed. But what was most unsettling, Peter discovered that he was being followed. Left alone in their apartment, his wife was getting ominous phone calls, with just silence at the other end.

Postwar France was politically unstable; the city churned with Communists, fellow travelers, Gaullist plotters and foreign spies. In the late 1970s The New York Times revealed that Peter had worked for the C.I.A. during his two years in Paris. In fact, he sold the idea for The Paris Review to the other two co-founders, Humes and Plimpton, to firm up his cover for the agency. To be sure, my uncle had published award-winning short stories and had completed a first novel — that work was genuine and would continue — but the C.I.A. suggested that an additional activity, a real job, would deflect suspicion from the nosing around in left-wing circles that he was being paid to do. Nevertheless, in early 1953 the agency could not or would not tell Peter who was tailing his car in the streets.

. . . .

 He began a second novel, called “Partisans.” The protagonist is a journalist working under cover in Paris on an investigative story about an elusive Communist. The journalist’s name is Barney Sand — initials B.S. Listening to the sound of his own voice, Sand broods that it “belonged to a man in mirrors whose face seemed more foolish every day.” Waiting to undertake the next move in his mission, Sand thinks: “To wait, to wait, as it now seemed to him he had waited all his life: for graduation from school, for enlistment in the Army, for combat that never came, for the war to end, for college to end, for promotion in two jobs he did not want, for a love that did not exist — waiting for a raison d’être which never arrived because he could not recognize it.”

. . . .

Before he married and went off to Paris, he was often in one sort of trouble or another without really knowing why. He dodged a court-martial while in the Navy. He blew up his own engagement party — insulting Patsy’s mother and making out with a bridesmaid. To paraphrase St. Augustine on his own bad-boy phase, Peter became to himself a place of unhappiness in which he could not bear to be, but he could not escape himself. Time and again he would bring himself to the lip of a crisis and, meaning to leap over, leap in.

. . . .

Quitting the C.I.A., Peter took his wife and newborn son, my cousin Lucas, back home. He settled in Sagaponack, on Long Island, still and always a footloose man but more focused. In midlife he produced two fine novels, “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and “Far Tortuga,” and a glorious spate of nonfiction about the natural world.

. . . .

If he were alive, he might voice one regret about his sterling career. His time in Paris kept bobbing to the surface, both the good part about The Paris Review, as the magazine’s stature among intellectuals increased, and the negative part about his role in the C.I.A. Well before the C.I.A. story became public, Peter had acknowledged the connection to Plimpton and Humes, and after the revelation he tried to placate other friends for having been less than candid. He protested that he was young and had no politics to speak of, other than a vague, Ivy League sense of patriotism. “People tend to forget,” he wrote in his memoir notes, “that 60 years ago, at the start of the Cold War, the C.I.A. had not yet earned the evil repute it has today, and I look back on my own brief participation with more chagrin than shame.” He also wrote, “I was no good at this low work and hated the deception that went with it, which I found nerve-racking and disagreeable and made worse by the fact that it all seemed petty and pointless as well as an idiotic waste of public money.”

Putting on a pained smile, Peter would observe that by introducing him to socialists the C.I.A. had educated him in the wrong direction. My uncle, don’t forget, became a champion of left-wing causes.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Amid newsroom clashes, Los Angeles Times becomes its own story

28 January 2018

From The Washington Post:

[S]ome of the biggest news at the [Los Angeles] Times has been coming from within its downtown headquarters. The paper — one of the largest and most important news organizations in America — has been beset by turmoil the past two weeks, prompting questions about its future.

After decades of successful resistance by management and years of demoralizing cutbacks, the Times’s journalists voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize. Before bargaining can begin, however, reporters are concerned about a plan by the Times’s management to reorganize the way the paper produces news.

After decades of successful resistance by management and years of demoralizing cutbacks, the Times’s journalists voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize. Before bargaining can begin, however, reporters are concerned about a plan by the Times’s management to reorganize the way the paper produces news.

Under a new “pyramid” structure proposed this month, a network of nonstaff contributors would produce the bulk of the information the Times publishes online. Reporters say the paper has quietly begun hiring a cadre of editors to supervise the reorganization, which would effectively create a new company within the company.

. . . .

The man who introduced the plan — blindsiding the newsroom when he presented it to an investor conference in New York — was publisher Ross Levinsohn, the fifth person to hold that title in the past five years. Last week, Levinsohn was suspended by the paper’s owner, Chicago-based Tronc, after NPR revealed a series of sexual harassment allegations against him in previous jobs. The company said it is investigating.

The state of play at the Times, as well as the existential dread swirling around it, was neatly summarized in a tweet this week by Matt Pearce, a Times national reporter and an organizer of the union effort: “Basically, anything could happen at this point at the L.A. Times and people in the newsroom could only be half surprised by it. We’re hiring [editors] that aren’t being announced to the newsroom, our publisher wants to turn us into a pyramid, and by the way, he’s under investigation.”

. . . .

D’Vorkin, who took over as Times editor in November, is a controversial figure in media circles. At Forbes, he undertook some unorthodox steps to arrest the magazine’s declining fortunes — including setting up a network of outside contributors to write stories for, some unpaid and some compensated on the basis of how many readers their stories attracted. He also permitted ads that blurred the lines between promotional content and news stories.

As the Times newsroom organizing committee characterized it in a letter to Tronc’s board on Tuesday, D’Vorkin “devalued Forbes’ journalism by sullying it with unpaid contributor content, pay-for-clicks schemes and troubling presentations of advertorial.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

People are happy to read well-written news, but less willing to pay for it when there are zillions of more focused news sources that are available online at no cost or little cost.

PG doesn’t know if a union will help or hurt the paper and its employees over the long run. If adequate funds aren’t in the door, the paper will inevitably decline and no union can stop that.

High prices, limited options leave students searching for textbook alternatives

24 January 2018

From The Lantern (Ohio State University):

With the closing of Student Book Exchange in December, students were left looking for alternatives to purchase textbooks other than those at Barnes and Noble.

Why the need for alternatives?

Without other options around campus, students are forced to go Ohio State’s official bookstore — arguably the only one within walking distance of campus. Barnes and Noble is the only bookstore remaining in the campus area, where students expect higher prices relative to online competitors like Amazon.

At Ohio State’s Barnes and Noble book store, for example, a copy of “Introduction to Graphics and Communications for Engineers” costs $87.25. On Amazon, the same copy costs $71.47.

In addition to its closing, on SBX’s website, a link for professors to buy textbooks for their classes redirects them to Barnes and Nobles’ official site.

Cary Amling, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering, said while she usually finds free or low-priced textbooks from friends in the same major, Amazon offers an alternative to Barnes and Noble.

Amling said she only buys textbooks if the class requires it for open-note tests.

“I buy the international versions. It’s the same content and usually way cheaper [than Barnes and Noble],” she said.

For Sarah Avdakov, a second-year in Spanish, using Facebook groups as an alternative for finding textbooks has had added benefits.

“As someone who buys and sells through the Facebook groups … it’s sort of like ‘I’ve already used this, I don’t need it anymore,’” Avdakov said. “You know there’s this network out there and you know there are people who have already gone through what you have gone through.”

Link to the rest at The Lantern

Buffalo Bill and the Indians

20 January 2018

From The Wall Street Journal:

At the heart of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, which thrilled audiences from 1883 to 1913, was a story about the struggle for the U.S. frontier. According to historian Richard White, the show featured the myth of the “inverted conquest,” depicting white Americans as victims suffering at the hands of their Native enemies and thus sanitizing their invasion of Indian country; in this telling, settler aggression was merely a form of self-defense. Not one to skimp on realism, William F. Cody (better known by his stage name, Buffalo Bill) enlisted dozens of Native people—some of whom had even fought against the U.S. military—to appear in his extravaganza, playing the foils. And for a brief stint in 1885, the Lakota holy man Sitting Bull, the era’s most famous Indian, was a celebrated member of the cast. A pair of new and starkly contrasting books considers his through-the-looking-glass experience starring in the endless rout of his own people.

In “Blood Brothers,” Deanne Stillman, a California-based author of four previous books about the West, offers a condensed history of the Wild West show, homing in on the unlikely bond between Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull. Already regionally famous for his exploits as an Army scout and bison hunter, Cody became a bona fide national hero in 1876, when, a few weeks after the Indian victory at the Little Bighorn, he killed a Cheyenne warrior, taking “the first scalp for Custer.” Sitting Bull, by contrast, though not present at the annihilation of the Seventh Cavalry, was nevertheless blamed for the slaughter and fled to safety in Canada for five years before agreeing to confinement on the Standing Rock Reservation. Ms. Stillman explains that, despite the divergent paths they walked, a genuine friendship blossomed between the two men after the Sioux leader joined the Wild West show, begetting the slogan, “Foes in ’76, Friends in ’85.”

Cody banked on Sitting Bull’s notoriety to draw crowds. And spectators flocked to the show—some came to boo and hiss, but many others to gaze with fascination upon “the Napoleon of the Great Plains,” as he was billed. In exchange for Sitting Bull’s participation—which consisted of a single turn around the arena, in a buggy or on horseback—he was the highest-paid member of the ensemble and retained exclusive rights to the sale of his image and autograph, which proved to be lucrative. But by the end of his first season he had tired of life on the road and wished only to return home to South Dakota. It was there, in December 1890, that he was killed by his own people, when a group of reservation police came to arrest him in hope of containing the Ghost Dance movement.

. . . .

The novelist and film director Éric Vuillard, whose recent book about Hitler won the Goncourt Prize for 2017, shares none of Ms. Stillman’s optimism. First published in France in 2014 to great acclaim, his “Sorrow of the Earth” (translated into crisp and colloquial English by Ann Jefferson ) is a pungent work of historical reimagining, blending fact and speculation to capture the perspective of Sitting Bull and other Native performers in Cody’s show. The picture that emerges is ugly and dispiriting. Gone is the coarse but avuncular Buffalo Bill of more established narratives. Whatever financial benefit the Indian participants receive is offset by their ruthless exploitation, which includes, after each performance, the hocking of trinkets “that derive from their genocide.” And the men, women and children in the audience, who turn out in droves, are stirred less by curiosity than their unquenchable (and unselfconscious) hatred of Native peoples.

. . . .

Only in the United States, Mr. Vuillard intimates, could a huckster like Cody turn the tragedy of Native dispossession, still unfolding even as the Wild West toured across North America and Europe, into a garish, multimillion-dollar extravaganza, with the Indians playing themselves. Mr. Vuillard’s contempt for the show, its creator and its audience is palpable.

. . . .

But as with many ad hominem indictments, over time the insults that stand in for argument come to seem lazy and imprecise. The same is true of sweeping generalizations and overstatements, intended to provoke reflection but which instead begin to clutter the book. Take this: “Civilization is a huge and insatiable beast. It feeds on everything.” Or this: “Previously, no American or any Westerner in the world had ever seen anything. Up until now, all they had seen was their dreams.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is far from a real historian, but he has read enough history to know that, over the ages, the world has been full of conquerors and their supporters. Of course, where there are conquerors, there are conquered. Since the conquered are understandably unwilling to be ruled by others, wars of all sizes and types have been a near-constant feature of the human condition. No major portion of the habitable world has been free from such activity.

One might wish otherwise (PG does), but the history of every 21st century civilization includes a significant history of warfare and conquest. Likewise the history of every 20th, 19th, 18th, etc., civilization. Ancient Egypt was a great conqueror and destroyer/enslaver of other peoples. Likewise ancient China and Rome. Arab slave traders had built a large and complex network for capturing and selling Africans as slaves long before any Western nations started the same practices.

The twentieth century records frequent depredations of one group by another:

  • The “liquidation of Kulaks as a class” ordered by Joseph Stalin from 1929-1933 resulted in the deaths of 6 million (suggested by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn) or 3 million (Soviet Archives) mostly Ukrainian peasants who were called Kulaks and identified as “class enemies” because they had owned even a very small portion of land or employed even one person.
  • The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), which began when Japan invaded China with no real provocation, resulted in 20 million Chinese dead and 15 million wounded (PRC) or 1.5 million Chinese killed in battle, 750,000 missing in action, 1.5 million deaths due to disease and 3 million wounded (US academic studies).

On a personal note, while he was in elementary school, PG’s best friend was the son of a Japanese couple who (as PG realized only much later) had been interned in the US during World War II. PG played high school football (badly) on the same team with members of the Dakota Sioux Nation, whose ancestors had fought a successful battle in a losing war at a site within walking distance from the house where PG lived.

The Dakota War of 1862 began when a Dakota hunting party killed five settlers and  a council of Dakota decided to attack settlements throughout the Minnesota River valley to try to drive whites out of the area. The Dakota then began attacks on hundreds of settlers and immigrants, driving them from their homes. The war ended when 38 Dakota were captured by the United States army and hanged. In Abraham Lincoln’s second annual address as president, he stated that not less than 800 men, women, and children had died.

PG is not excusing any of this behavior, but disputes the idea that the United States or Western Civilization is uniquely guilty of crimes or historically atypical behavior against ethnic groups with which it came into conflict.

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