Friday, March 16, 2007

Off Topic: The Napoleon of Crime, A Victorian's Polite Neurosis

The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief, Ben MacIntyre, Farrer, Strauss, Giroux Publishing, 336 pp, 1997.

The Napoleon of Crime is a good, easy read; the author does not demand much from the reader. The chapters are short; some of the chapters appear to be padding, but remarkably everything is tied together in the last four chapters. I can recollect no violence in the book; the characters are well detailed and unique. The work is not a fictionalized attempt and the author appears to stay close to the sources. It must have been a temptation to have such interesting characters with which to work and not make up dialog. The author's effort to find emotional attachments and committments, which are not obvious from the records he consulted, is well down. No pop-psychology here, just understandable human probabilities. I was both entertained and informed by this book; it made no demands on me other than to pay attention and watch the details.

Off Topic, Novel: Jesuit Mission to Another World, Are Ethics Transferable?

The Sparrow, Maria Doria Russell, Villard Publishing, 408 pp., 1996.

'The Sparrow' was all I hoped it would be. I am not a science fiction reader but I look for a smart, well constructed, character driven novel with nagging questions. They don't have to be answered, only asked. After several characters reveal themselves: their pasts, their faiths, and their fears, they grow as individuals as they face the challenge of exploring another culture.

At the root of the novel are the ethics of population control, education for the poorest 96%, power for the powerless, a homicide, and the difference between rape and prostitution. The violence is not graphically written; much of the novel is presented as a few priests conduct an inquiry. The violence is subtle; the ethical aspects of the dialogs are well established in the events of the novel.

No one sits around over coffee and bullshits; the characters are in constant activity of establishing their identities and exploring a earth-like satellite in the Alpha Centauri system. The novel's chapters alternate between present decades of the early 21st century and this allows for a traditional mystery story to be told. Yes, I had to read the last 100 pages at one setting.

CWL --- Walt Whitman As He Really Was

Walt Whitmans' America: A Cultural Biography, David S. Reynolds, Knopf Publishing, 671 pp, 1995.

Reynold's Walt Whitman is a fellow who absorbed his culture, tried to save it, but finally sold himself to it. The other Whitman biographies I've read always had a scholarly ax to grind; this one seems, not to cut away Walt Whitman to a one dimensional person, but to find Walt Whitman living a multi-dimensional life in an urbanizing, industrializing, upwardly literate American society. I thorougly enjoyed the chapters on mid-century American Culture; but was looking for an itinerary of hospital visits that Whitman made. It appears that the author appropriately limited himself to what Whitman reported of his own activity as a hospital nurse and to what few recollections of patients

CWL --- Writing the Civil War: The Quest to Understand

Wrting the Civil War, William J. Cooper, James McPherson, eds., University of South Carolina Press, 356 pp. 1998.

A well polished collection of essays on the schools of thought within a variety of American Civil War topics. Politics, economics, tactics, the role of women, blacks, and volunteers are covered by outlining the trends of the past 30 years in these fields and others. Read with Pressely's 'Americans Interpret Their Civil War' and Guelzo's 'Crisis of the American Republic' a solid foundation in Civil War historiography would be gained by the serious student of the American Civil War. 'Writing the Civil War' is written in such a fashion that a general familiarity with Civil War bibliography of the past 30 years is required; this book is probably not for the general undergraduate student or the Civil War military buff.

Novel: Locust Alley, Suspense in Wartime Richmond

Locust Alley, Don Evans, Wordsmith and Penn, 262 pp. 2000.

In this novel, all the parts are in place and the machine works pretty well. Wartime Richmond is captured in period detail: streets and building locations, interiors of hotels, prisons, and government offices, meals, clothes, smells, animals, etc. Characters are distinctive and memorable; the appearance of Lee and Stuart are a little distracting but they stay within character. The motives for crimes in question are well hidden but a bit outlandish; yet 'suspension of disbelief' is accepted because the background stories and the period detail works so well in the hands of a good writer. I bought this book for the historic location and was not disappointed. Also, as a mystery reader, I finished the last page thinking that I wouldn't mind seeing another with the same main character.

Novel: Stonewall's Gold, Entertaining for adults, young and old

Stonewall's Gold: A Novel of the Civil War, Robert J. Mrazek, St. Martin's Press, 240pp, 2000.

In the Shennandoah Valley in the final winter of the war, this novel plays both necessary storytelling chords: plausible mystery/adventure and accurracy in historical setting/period detail. The characters are believable within their contexts and take actions commensurate with their abilities. A reader may quibble with the young adult's adventures but their motivations are made clear and their journey is in the realm of the possible. I initially avoided this novel because of the title and Jackson does not, as I recollect, make any appearance in the book, though one of his Valley battles do. The front cover blurb about Cold Mountain is undeserved; I dismissed the comment when I saw the name of the who author made the comparison. But when McPherson and Krick gave it a nod, I bought it, enjoyed it passed it along to my children as well as my wife.

Novel: Faded Coat of Blue, Satisfying Period Detail

Faded Coat of Blue, William Parry, William Morrow Publishing, 338pp, 1999.

Probably one of the most historically accurate dectective novels to arrive in 1999/2000. 'Faded Coat of Blue' has well developed characters, acting consistently within their historical settings. The murder setting and initial investigation is quite good and well paced; but introduction of McClellan and the motivation of the killers is a bit outlandish. Though McClellan is well done his interference in the case a bit implausible. The investigation by Abel Jones is on the mark but the introduction of the hero to Lincoln at the end of the book is a bit of a stretch. The character of Abel Jones is very strong and a personal favorite of mine. The descriptions of Washington D.C. during wartime rings true, much like 'Locust Alley' does with wartime Richmond, VA.

Novel: Play for a Kingdom: A Difficult Task Well Performed

Play for a Kingdom, Thomas Dyja, Harcourt, 432 pp, 1997,

Can you u imagine the surprise? To find a novel that sets baseball in the context of the American Civil War? My first response: This is the legacy of Ken Burn's special on Baseball. Then after reading the dust jacket, a second response: What?! Union vs. Confederacy in nine innings between The Wilderness and Spotsylvania?! That's not possible!

I thought about it for a few weeks and I recalled a marvelous novel by Tim O'Brien, 'Going After Cacciato' which is set in the Viet Nam War, in which realism begets extended metaphor. So I gave 'Play for a Kingdom' a chance and I am glad I did. I allowed the author a certain degree of inexactitude in details; I weighted character develompent heavily and looked for a bigger story than soldier life in that great war. Thomas Dyja comes close to pulling off a great story; 'Play for a Kingdom' is not another 'Killer Angels' and it is not the sweat soaked realism of Shelby Foote's 'Shiloh.' Neither is it as wonderfully meticulous as Slotkin's 'The Crater;' it doesn't have the romance and adventure of Keneally's 'Confederates.' 'Play for a Kingdom' asks the reader to trust the characters and follow them.

The reader, familar with the American Civil War, would not expect much suspense near the end of the book; we know how it turns out. But these characters pull off some legitimate surprises in terms of dignity, humanity and authority. There are some very good scenes in 'Play for a Kingdom': the Union's march into the forest, the finding of the first baseball field, many of the battle scenes which are not panoramas, but close encounter and hand-to-hand. There are many good parts to Dyja's Civil War tale; there are enough good parts to recommend it to the casual fiction reader and the Civil War enthusiast.

Yes, I am aware of some mistakes (Company L) and some improbabilities (passing secrets, in Latin, between the skirmish lines, etc.) But its fiction damnit; I'll allow a certain degree of latitude for error and inaccurate presentation if the characters hold up and they do. So on a rainy or snowy weekend, uncork a liter of wine or a fifth of Southern Comfort, take your shoes off and be prepared not to get out of your easy chair for a weekend.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

CWL --- Retreat to Victory? Rebel Strategy Reconsidered

Retreat to Victory: Confederate Strategy Reconsidered, Tanner, Robert G., Scholarly Resources, paperback, 161pp, 3 maps., 18.00, 2001

Could the Confederacy won the Civil War by retreating and nipping at the flanks of the invaders? Would four years of Fabian military strategy have saved the South and defeated Lincoln in the presidential election of 1864?

No. Robert G. Tanner describes a Fabian war plan that may have been available to President Davis and his generals and his presentation leaves little doubt that a such a policy would not achieved the military or political goals necessary for the survival of the Confederacy. Fabius—the Delayer—led the Roman armies on the Italian peninsula during the 2nd Punic War. Opposing Fabius was Hannibal of Carthage. Tanner states that while Fabian was resisting but not attacking Hannibal, the Republic of Rome was invading Spain and Sicily, both Carthaginian strongholds, and building the fleet that would eventually carry the Roman army to northern Africa.

Giving up Southern territory would have undermined that moral of those soldiers whose homes lay behind Federal lines and created losses of industrial facilities, railroads and ports that could not be replaced. Tanner, describes the inadvertent Fabian policy of the Confederacy from April 1861 through January 1862 as a successful one. The Federal advances of February through May in Tennessee, March through June in Virginia, and April through June in Louisiana, made the concentration of Confederate forces necessary. The beginning of the end of the Fabian policy was heralded by the fall of the Pamlico Sound and Roanoke in North Carolina, Jacksonville in Florida, Fort Pulaski in Georgia throughout the late summer and fall on 1861.

Criticism of the Confederate selection of Richmond, Virginia as the fledgling nation’s capital is noted; but the defensive line of the Rapidan and Rappahannock River, from the Wilderness to the heights of Fredericksburg, is not replicated until the Roanoke River, 100 miles south of Richmond. Also, the industrial strength of Richmond was equal to 50% of the Confederacy. It’s loss through a Fabian policy would be cataclysmic.

The geography of the American South does not lend itself to a ‘retreat to victory’ policy. If only Texas was east of the Mississippi River! The region where the Union armies, supported by railroads and navies, was actually very large; the area to where the rebel forces could retreat, so as to isolate a Federal army from its supplies was to far from the border states, was very small. The Mississippi, the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Rappahannock, the Red rivers, along with the seacoast provided opportunities for supplying advancing Union armies that limited the region where Confederate armies could demolish a Federal army entirely and away from a ready path of retreat.

Also, the existence of slavery and its position as a primary policy of the South eliminated a planned withdrawal of Confederate forces. If the South brought forth the Confederacy to protect slavery from Federal interference then retreating to win the war is a contradiction. Additionally, the provisional Confederacy of December 1860-April 1861 could not realistically proclaim and achieve independence without having the Upper South join the Confederacy. This is true in the eyes of many Southerners and Europeans.

Tanner additional presents a cogent and concise discussion of Carl Clausewitz’s discussion of the Fabian strategy in On War. The author’s description of the beginning of Clausewitz's military career as a lance corporal in the Prussian army, his exteneded service in the armies of the Czar and then his return to the Prussian army before Waterloo, is informative and shows the life experience that Clausewitz’s had in order to produce his masterwork. Retreat to Victory?, like with Ethan Rafuse’s A Single Grand Victory, is an excellent, short volume that explains the Civil War strategy as the civilian and military leaders understood it during the Civil War. Both Tanner’s and Rafuse’s are volumes among Scholarly Resources’ American Crisis Series distributed by Rowan and Littlefield Inc. Retreat to Victory? is recommended to those who have several one volume Civil War books under their belt or have taken a college level course in the subject.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

News: 21st Century Cherokee Nation Expells Descendents of Slaves

Cherokees accused of racist plot as sons of slaves are cast out
Tim Reid, Times OnlineMarch 3, 2007

Cherokees voted yesterday to expel descendants of black slaves they once owned, a move that has exposed the unsavoury role played by some Native Americans during the Civil War and renewed accusations of racism against the tribe.
Members of the Cherokee Nation, the second largest Native American tribe, voted by 77 per cent to 23 in a special election to amend their constitution and limit citizenship to those listed as “Cherokee by blood”.
The move stripped tribal membership from freedmen – those descended from slaves – and blacks who were married to Cherokees. They have enjoyed full citizenship rights for 141 years.
Opponents of the vote denounced it as a racist plot to deny tribal revenue – which includes $22 billion a year from casino takings for all US tribes – to those not deemed full-blood Cherokee, and to block them from claiming a slice of the tribal pie.

Supporters say that it was a long-overdue move by Cherokees to determine their own tribal make-up. Freedmen were granted full tribal membership under an 1866 treaty that the tribe was essentially forced to sign with the US Government after the Civil War ended.
The vote has reopened a lesser-known chapter in Native American history – the fact that some of the country’s largest tribes sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War – and the intra-tribal racial tensions that have persisted since Emancipation.
Cherokees, Choctaws, Chicksaws, Creeks and Seminoles were known as the Five Civilised Tribes because they adopted many of the ways of the Confederate South, including the ownership of black slaves. The election has also high-lighted the massive gambling revenues many tribes now enjoy because, as “sovereign nations”, they are free to build casinos on tribal lands in a country where gambling is largely illegal.

The vote limits citizenship to those who can trace their heritage to a “Cherokee by blood” list, part of the Dawes Rolls census created by Congress in 1906. Under that census, anybody with a trace of African-American blood – even if they were half Cherokee – was placed on the freedmen roll. Those with full Cherokee or mixed white and Cherokee ancestry – even if seventh eighths white – were put on the “Cherokee by blood” roll.
Today about 25,000 of the 270,000 Cherokees are descendants of freedmen, but the tribe is growing rapidly with new citizens enrolling each month. Members are entitled to a share of the $350 million annual budget from federal and tribal revenue, housing and medical support.
Those who want to expel the freedmen have said that, without the vote, thousands more descendants would seek to cash in on the tribe’s revenue and welfare network. “Don’t get taken advantage of by these people. They will suck you dry,” wrote Darren Buzzard in a widely circulated e-mail last year. “Don’t let black freedmen back you into a corner. Protect Cherokee culture for our children.”

Chad Smith, the tribe’s principal chief, said that about 8,700 people had voted in the special election, more than the turnout for the Cherokee constitution vote four years ago. “Their voice is clear as to who should be citizens of the Cherokee Nation. No one else has the right to make that determination.” But Taylor Keen, a tribal council member, said: “This is a sad chapter in Cherokee history. This is not my Cherokee Nation. My Cherokee Nation is one that honours all parts of her past.”

Marilyn Vann, president of the Oklahoma City-based Descendants of Freedmen of Five Civilised Tribes, said: “I’m very disappointed that people bought into a lot of rhetoric and falsehoods by tribal leaders.” Although most tribal issues are dealt with by Cherokee courts, the freedmen have vowed to challenge the vote in federal courts. They have precedent on their side.
In 2000 the Seminole Nation expelled freedmen. But the federal Government, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and federal courts, refused to recognise the Seminoles as a sovereign nation. Faced with such a loss of status, they took the freedmen back.
The petition drive for the Cherokee ballot measure followed a ruling by the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court last March confirming that the 1866 treaty assured citizenship to freedmen descendants. Since then, more than 2,000 freedmen descendants have enrolled as citizens of the tribe. Members of the tribe received many election mailings attacking “nonIndians” as thieves who would create queues in health clinics and welfare centres.
But the vote means that, like the Seminole, the Cherokee risk losing their tribal sovereignty, Jon Velie, a lawyer for Seminole and Cherokee freedmen, told the New York Times. “There is a racial schism in Indian Country that is growing and getting worse.”

On the money
— Casinos run by Native Americans have exploded from a $200 million (£102 million) industry in 1988 to a $18 billion one in 2005
— Of 562 federally recognised tribes, 224 have gambling operations
— Between 1990 and 2000, real per capita incomes of Indian communities increased 36 per cent on gambling reservations and 21 per cent on nongambling reservations
— There are 197,000 firms owned by Native Americans
— 2.4 million Americans claim pure Native American descent, 4.3 million claim partial descent

Source: US Government