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Monday, October 8, 2018

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon.

A couple of months ago, I signed up for Audible. My first order was Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It's 126 hours long. I'd be lying if I said I finished it.

The audio is high quality and Charlton Griffin's narration is excellent. It's hard to believe this book is 200 years old. If you merely want to read this book, it is also available on Gutenberg. This version is also excellent.

One thing that you miss from the Audible version is the maps. Gibbon meanders through history and of course he assumed you'd be holding the book with the maps as you read. I am surprised that Audible provided a PDF for the record, but didn't include the non-copyrighted maps. It is an odd omission. I have pulled the maps from the Gutenberg copy and loaded them here. Perhaps some day I will make a PDF of just the maps for easy printing.

West East
North West of Western Empire

North West of Eastern Empire

North East of Western Empire

North East of Eastern Empire

South West of Western Empire

South West of Eastern Empire

South East of Western Empire

South East of Eastern Empire


The list price attached to the ad is for an purchase outside of your Audible account credit. An Audible account is $14.95 a month, which entitles you to one credit or book per month. Well worth the cost. Right now, Audible will double the number of books in the first month.



Click the link below to check out Gibbon's opus magus.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Battleship Potemkin Movie Review

Film Review of Battleship Potemkin 

Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 production of Battleship Potemkin dramatizes the events of the 1905 Russian Revolution through the eyes of both the valiant crew of the aforementioned ship and the intended Soviet public. This film was a study in art technique while delivering a message and story that was uniquely geared to communism. 

One of the difficulties in reviewing a film of this age was the images and ideas that were cutting edge in 1925 have been used by other directors to the point of rendering them ineffective and cliché. Clichés are poor storytelling because they embody a valid idea in a framework of shorthand, either through poor writing skills or a poorly executed desire for brevity. To review this film requires a suspension of one’s experiences with modern storytelling while looking at this work as a singular project of film artistry. Eisenstein’s purpose was to retell a topical, well-known story using innovative techniques that were artistically pleasing, thought provoking and even a little shocking. While the movie was clearly in the model of the five part play, Eisenstein sets aside any preconceived notions that the production was a film of a standard play. From the opening scene, he used imagery to set the tone of this film and complex angles of real life to frame this retelling of the 1905 Russian Revolution. 

Battleship Potemkin’s plot was delivered in 5 parts. The first act introduces the characters; the fine and mighty Officers and the lowly, commoner crew, which immediately sets in motion the conflict of the story. The second act exposed the possibility that the fine Officers of the ship are not so fine which was immediately obvious to the common class crew. While the crew acts as a unit, they are spurred on by a brave man named Vakulinchuk. In this second act, the Officers too have a spiritual leader in the form a Russian Orthodox priest. The character completely lacks the rebel Vakulinchuk’s heroism and quality of character. Act three places Vakulinchuk in repose. His death was not the end, as the crew was unified and their purpose was not at an end. Historic Odessa was the scene of the final conflict, although Eisenstein skillfully prolongs the resolution of the action to the final act, where the Potemkin meets its fate at the hands of the loyal and powerful Russian navy. Unity was the message and the resolution to the film as the Potemkin was joined in revolt by the crews of the other ships and not obliterated by the massive fleet.

A classic review or historical work generally relies on the author or reviewer to evaluate accuracy, sources and quality of information in the piece. For Battleship Potemkin, this was simply not possible. The film inaccurately portrays historical events because it was a retelling a story with an ending that was known to the Soviet audience. The film’s goal was not to inform but to resonate. Eisenstein took the limitations of the day, the lack of voice, the lack of color and the possibility of an uneven soundtrack to create an emotive story. As much as other reviewers highlight Eisenstein’s gift for editing, montage, and the delivery of masterful propaganda, the director created a work that resonates with the viewer. Eisenstein was working in the uncertain European and Soviet film industry of the 1920s. He could count on nothing that modern filmgoers would expect, no marketing, no commercials, certainly no critical reviews, plus it was possible that the insecure venue system in the nascent Soviet Union was a limiting factor in presentation to the masses. While he was telling the ultimate story of the rise of the 1905 Revolution, the 1920s were a period of great social and economic upheaval in the Union. Collectivization of the masses in the Soviet Union could have created a backlash against even pro-Soviet messages by an artistic, avant-garde director. Non-conformity would have been an dangerous attribute to possess. 

Imperfection of execution and delivery was amplification of the message. This could have been the part of the rationale of the editing and montage sequences. Acts would have been placed on different reels, which was a natural pause in the story. Outside of our dreams, the real time, analog nature of our being prevents the direction of our point of view to be rendered as disjointed series images and themes. Battleship Potemkin turns this experience on its head. It was the display of nonlinear ideas and the limiting the viewers information builds to evoke a feeling. While Eisenstein was profoundly good at this method of storytelling, the effect was not done for the sake of using an certain technique. Eisenstein was an effective communicator and use of effects were held to a minimum to keep the message intact. 
The message itself was a rejection of traditional Russian mores and their replacement with new, worker-centric planning. Eisenstein does not dodge the ugliness of the situation. On the steps of Odessa, a woman was gunned down within a crowd. The pram with her baby crashed down the stairs while an onlooker had their eyes put out with a sword. Defiance of tradition is often brutal. Eisenstein does not place the totality of criminality on the military, he shows sailors on one side of the issue and infantry on the other. While the Potemkin destroys the source of the infantry and the focus of control, the story does not entirely suggest that these men are irredeemable. The story hinted that there was a right way to be and a wrong way. The second act briefly touches on the idea of change, with the infantry refusing to fire on the crew of the battleship, but the film was not an exploration of introspection and adjustment. 

The mother with her child was an embodiment of the message. When struck by gunfire, the camera lingers on the mother’s belt buckle, a beautiful swan covered in blood. Her child took a terrifying spill down the stairs. The swan was clearly the Soviet people, as was the baby in the carriage. The swan was covered with something unclean and horrifying, yet was still beautiful underneath. The baby in the pram was also the people as they travel into an uncertain future, perhaps one that was not as the audience would wish. 

Battleship Potemkin is an unusual exercise in propaganda. It has left a lasting impression on viewers for almost a century. While the techniques of film did not hold up over the passage of time, it is a film of “first”. Quality “firsts”. Every student should take the time to explore this film as it delivers so much creativity, expression of ideals and wonderful storytelling with relatively limited resources. The story and lessons of Battleship Potemkin have stood the test of time. 

Battleship Potemkin. USSR: N.l., 1925. Accessed January 19, 2017.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TgWoSHUn8c


Review of Duane Schultz’s Month of the Freezing Moon



Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Duane Schultz meant to tell war stories. Month of the Freezing Moon was Duane Schultz’s first failure. The work was published in 1990, 20 years after it was written and was preceded by two novels and five historical titles (“Home”). Duane Schultz is a courtesy professor of psychology at the University of South Florida (“Home”) and his love of history and psychology shines in Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre.

The psychologist comes through in the first 2 pages of the narrative. The book contains no preface, introduction, or thesis. It starts with a map and the word “Testimony”. In a call and answer style,
Professor Schultz uses the words provided by history to lay out his premise:

QUESTION: Were there any acts of barbarity perpetrated there that came under your own observation?
ANSWER: Yes, sir. I saw the bodies of those lying there all cut to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before—the women all cut to pieces (Schultz, p. 2).

Was there a betrayal perpetrated at Sand Creek? Were these native Americans under the assumption that they had the protection of the American Flag? Were there horrible consequences for this attack? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions.

Professor Schultz launches right into his narrative of the Sand Creek Massacre then rolls back to prior events to explain its context and the ramifications of the attack. Sand Creek was a horrific betrayal of those who were protected by the United State’s flag. How the Cheyenne came to have that flag and the aftermath of the barbaric attack led to the obvious counter attack at Greasy Grass, otherwise known as The Little Big Horn.

Schultz does more than describe the Massacre itself, he explains the milieu in which it occurred. While endless detail could be provided, Schultz’s coverage of Chivington’s life from childhood to his time in Colorado and beyond is apt enough.

As a child John Chivington was well cared for, educated and trusted by his loved ones. After the passing of his father, he stepped into the family lumber business. He found that he had a talent for marketing over woodcraft and shifted his role in the company to take advantage of his persuasiveness. Chivington continued to evolve and he found two passions, religion and abolitionism. This was followed by a firmity, a certainty of logic in these two principles.

In Missouri, during the guerrilla warfare that boiled over the border with Kansas, he gave a particularly harsh sermon against the institution of slavery. Chivington was threatened with tarring and feathering if he spoke from the pulpit again (Schulz, p. 49). The following Sunday, he entered the church to find several men with hot tar waiting for him. His answer was simple and clear. He opened his robe and pulled out two guns and placed them on either side of the bible. He announced, “By the grace of God and these two revolvers… I am going to preach here today” (Schulz, p. 49). Chivington handled everything thing he perceived as evil in the same forthright fashion. He entered the Civil War as a part of the Colorado Militia and conducted himself in the same fashion. Laws, regulations and orders were subjected to his own internal logic, which happened to be good for conducting warfare. Professor Schultz tells a good war story.

While Chivington was righteous, powerful and even very quotable, it becomes obvious how such attitudes can be less than noble and reasonable. If Chivington has journeyed east instead of west, if had not found a place in the Militia, or become interested in a “stable Colorado” (pg. 63), he would have been remembered as a different sort of man. Grandios, brave, heroic. But with his mind set on a Colorado as he desired it, this was not to be.

Very often, nations have desires as men do. And America under President Andrew Johnson had a very different idea of how Colorado and the treatment of native Americans should be conducted (Schulz, p. 163). It isn’t fair to say that Johnson’s administration has more enlightened ideas about native Americans, but the Office of the President was enlightened enough to know that it should be the sole power on this stage. Men like Chivington stirred the pot, gave Americans and natives alike pause for thought.

The Johnson administration made sure that Chivington and his allies were done. However, this was hardly the solution the country needed. Chivington and the other perpetrators, even men who refused to participate were thoroughly investigated. Not once, but three times (Schulz, p. 166). Chivington had his opportunity to address his accusers, Captain Soule in particular, who refused to attack. This led to further public disasters (Schulz, p. 167). Soule was assassinated after his testimony, which sobered many Chivington supporters (Schulz, p. 171).

As a backdrop to all of this, the actual aggrieved party, the native Americans, who were not considered Americans at this time by the Johnson administration were working to strike back. Throughout the narrative, Schulz touches on the Black Kettle and other leaders of the Sioux and Cherokee. Many of these were not footnoted and may be astute conjecture on Professor Schulz’s part. But they ring true. The last third of Schultz’s work becomes a who’s who of American history, Custer, Kit Carson, Sherman and may others come into play, attempting finish what Chivington started. And Custer is the last soldier mentioned by Schultz. He launched two important attacks on the array of native tribes and just as Chivington had flaw, so did Custer. During the Civil War he engaged an enemy without scouting first (Schulz, p. 205). Schultz describes how this flaw followed him to the end, and his luck ran out on the third time he struck without scouting.

Schultz book was an excellent delivery of both historical fact and reasonable conjecture. Where the record was accessible, he often quoted it directly with no interpretation. When describing the chiefs such as Black Kettle, Schultz did not have a written account to work from and instead filled in the blanks to stitch their history and lore into the fabric of his work. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, was a fast paced, informative work on a great tragedy in American history.


Citations:

Schultz, Duane. "Home." Duane Schultz. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://duaneschultz.com/.

Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New
York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Books to Swear On...

This semester, I am taking two English classes and a Social Studies Education class. Looking at my style guides and manuals, I realized everything I had was out of date.

Over on Amazon.com, I got a great deal on Kate L. Turabian's, A Manual for Writers.




Older editions helped me through countless term papers and research assignments. I figured for less than $20 I should invest in a newer edition. Any edition is helpful, but my old one was stained up, dog eared and in generally loved, but poor condition.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

New Semester, New Clutter

I had my first class on Tuesday and decided to try out something new. First, I harvested all of my notes I thought would be helpful from last semester and chucked a lot of spiral bound notebooks into the recycle. Messy and wasteful. My daughter had some though about that and reclaimed all of the paper from the spiral notebooks and put it in a series of folders for drawing. Good idea, too bad I am a paper snob otherwise I would have done this myself. 

I decided to only use graph paper for notes and one pad per class until the first is full. I picked up some great notebooks on Amazon. They are A5 sized,  30 sheets or 60 pages and have a sharp black cover. I am hoping this will cut down on clutter. I am going to print some labels so the notebooks will stay organized by class.


I have a small basket that is the correct size to hold two of these A5 notebooks side by side.

I also bought leather binder for loose lead paper and handout storage. The leather binder has room for a laptop. The note pads are small enough to fit in the outer pocket.

Between these items, I hopefully have a $40 dollar solution to clutter.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review of Lakota Noon by Gregory F. Michno

     Lakota Noon is the second book review in a series for Professor Carson's Class at the University of Buffalo. Typically, I edit these documents down into a suitable review for my website. In doing so, I remove much of my original paper's intent so as not to provide a vehicle for student plagiarism. However, I was so fascinated by this book and Dr. Carson's class, I felt that I should leave the entire document as a whole. The conversations that this reading sparked was amazing. I hope to revisit this class and take more courses with Dr. Carson.

      If you have the chance take one of Dr. Carson's classes, do it. I've taken at least 3 of them. Each one was better than the last. 



Lakota Noon

     This book covers old ground in the retelling of the Battle of Little Bighorn. The previous review, Month of the Freezing Moon by Duane Schultz was also about conflict with natives as settlers moved westward. Michno is cut from a completely different cloth than Schultz. The two men use data to interpret historical events. Where Schultz attempted to insert the thoughts of the natives into his work by vignettes (Schultz), Michno takes a different tact. Michno uses the standard historical narrative and inserts information gathered from the survivors, meaning only the Lakota, to clarify. Michno laments that previous authors on this subject discounted native testimony as they were an “alien race” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). He quotes William A. Graham as saying the native witnesses, “contradicted each other so much to an extent that I found them irreconcilable” (Michno, p. x). Michno rejects that attitude, writing “we must use both white and Indian sources; further, we must realize that the Indian sources are more important and should take precedence whenever any apparent conflict arises between the two.” (Michno, p. ix-xiv). Theoretically, pragmatic, because the voices of the winners and those who held the field at the end was the only primary source besides forensic details.
     Michno statement of intent was that he was not interested in the study of warfare, morality, or cause. He wrote from a discontent of the framework and structure of descriptions of the Battle of Little Bighorn by others. He wished to build his own study of the Battle and from there, reassess his own thoughts and preconceptions. Michno desired an educational outcome, one that he found satisfying. Michno found the prior work on this topic short on details about the native defenders. In case studies from their perspective, their testimony to events watered down with secondary sources not of native hands. To address this concern in his work, he breaks the battle down into 10 minute segments to present the historical account of the soldiers, plus the discounted statements by Indians and follows both with a detailed analysis of events to correlate or highlight discrepancy between accounts. In this way he shapes an excellent description of the chain of events in the battle. Time studies and motion studies have long been a practice when reviewing this segment of history as these were the only source of information not derived from the Indians. While many of these works are spectacularly clear and clean cut, there is a certain amount of fear when history loses it’s fog of time. Michno takes advantage of both the fog of the past and the rational tradition of time studies to reframe the events of the Battle of Little Bighorn.
     “A Word to the Wise” was the introductory chapter from William A. Graham’s book and is quoted by Michno. It is useful regarding this title, also. Michno and artist Jennifer Hamelman, have created a curious, almost avant-garde book to recount Custer’s last days. The word “book” instead of “title” is used purposefully here. Physically, the book is like no other. The table of contents are broken down by timestamp and page, 13 figures a presented on a table followed by 25 “time-segment” maps. The author wrote a one paragraph acknowledgements page before a two page centerfold map, with key features superimposed on the current site of modern day I-90 for reference. The next page holds a legend labeled “Individual and Tribal Symbol Key”. Cheyenne, Oglala, Minneconjou, Hunkpapa, Brulé, Arapaho and Two Kettle tribes appear on the key, each with their own characteristic shape. Divided by tribe, 58 names of Indians appear, each individual shares the symbol of his tribe but also has a unique two letter identifier. What these symbols are for is not explained until page xiii. Each entry of the narrative has a timestamp, a name and an sequence indicator. For example: “5:50-6:00, White Bull [last 5:40, next 6:10]”. The author explains that this indicates the reader has reached 5:50 to 6:00 in time, in the narrative of White Bull, his prior entry was at 5:40 and the next is at 6. Ingenious, but Michno takes this approach a step further. On page 315 begins a tribe by tribe breakdown of historical personages and at what time they appear in the narrative. Because the author has assigned a symbol to each tribe and person, it is possible to flip through the book and read a single tribe or person’s role in the book sequentially. While this style of reading is always possible using an index, Michno includes none and the endeavour is a visual experience as opposed to a test of hand-eye dexterity. This level of creativity in presentation may be off-putting, but the structure works very well.
     In Michno’s first chapter, he addresses two historical conundrums: the vast array of tipis (or teepees) reconnoitered by Reno and Custer’s desire to attack such a large force. The author abandons historical arguments as illogical. Custer was an able commander and very aware his enemy, if confronted by a vast superior force as the history maintains, any logical person would withdraw. What Michno did was a spacial analysis of how the tipis could have filled the valley in a tight arrangement (Michno, p.3-20). Using Wooden Leg’s description of the camp, it hugged the river and was entirely east of the I-90 (Michno, p.17). Comparing that statement to Captain Moylan’s description of only being 200-300 yards wide, 1,900 lodges would have fit within the space of a quarter square mile (Michno, p.18). This 1,900 lodge number was on the high side of estimates. Some are as low as 1000 lodges, which require far less space or a more sparse arrangement. What this meant for Custer was he was not using Reno’s force as an anvil to his hammer, his movements were meant to draw Indians away from Reno’s force, reducing the threat, not riding headlong into it (Michno, p.19). Strangely, adding the Indian side of the story established Custer as well reasoned as opposed to someone suffering from either myopia or delusions. The first chapter is a solid work of puzzling and reasoning which was of great importance to the following chapters.
     There is the idea that Custer walked into an ambush, a terrible end for a well regarded tactician. From the details of the various defenders, it was Custer who was ambushing them. Ill prepared for combat, forces drew out for battle with Custer’s men on the north side of the village (Michno, p.33). In one hour, by 4 in the afternoon, the Battle was not going well for Major Reno’s men (Michno, p.87). They had taken refuge in a wood and in an attempt to withdraw, suffered horrible casualties. One Bull, having seen the men retreat, ordered his men to let them go to tell the tale (Michno, p.84). Citation is designed for order and comprehension, Michno’s work does a fair bit to disorder this as Reno’s part appears after One Bull’s in the narrative. However, the effect of this style was very effective.
In the last three chapters, Michno returns the tradition of style of discussion and analysis. His analysis pushes away the idea of a single last stand. While Custer’s forces held the hill, some men fled into the gully. Michno notes dryly that “dead men don’t run”. Historical accounts must give way to reason. Beard, a Minneconjou, recounts that he desired to capture Custer but ultimately found him dead, still holding the reins of his horse. The battle was over.
     Why had it ended with Custer dead and his enemies victorious? Custer had done the unthinkable by dividing his forces. Well, yes. But there is one set of rules for strategy and one for tactics. Strategy dictates one should never divide one’s strength. However, as a purely practical matter, tactics are dictated by the environment. Separation was a requirement of the engagement (Michno, p. 294). Custer lead a cavalry regiment, not a phalanx.
     Michno’s account of the battle ranges from mathematical to bone chilling in its details. This title was an offbeat, yet wonderfully readable recount of the battle with a strong focus on all of the voices from the various tribes and companies. This book was designed for study, reading and rereading. The wonderful documentation in the form of footnotes, the photographs, charts, maps and symbols make this title an excellent addition for any history bookshelf.

Citations:


Gregory F. Michno. Lakota Noon. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing. 1997. Print.


Schultz, Duane. Month of the Freezing Moon: The Sand Creek Massacre, November 1864. New

York: Published by St. Martin’s Press. 1990. Print.


Review of Daniel K. Richter’s Ordeal of the Longhouse

     Daniel Richter did not set out to write a book about the Iroquois. In taking on the daunting task, he constructs a compelling history of people who “found themselves caught up by economic, political, and demographic forces over which they had little control”. Richter explains how the Iroquois met these challenges or ordeals, often with unique geographical and cultural advantages, with adaptation and changes unlike other people in the region. These were not unique advantages to the Iroquois. What set them apart from others was their ability to hold on to these advantages for so long.
     Richter treats the Iroquois as if they were newly come to North America, placing them on the same footing as Europeans. Additionally, he cautions the reader against reading the phrases “the Iroquois” or “the Five Nations” as a singular or uniform entity but as a leader or collective of leaders and persons working within their self-defined political authority. Richter’s premise was to re-envision the Iroquois’ creative adaptations to situations by highlighting what he calls “a double trio of geographical and cultural advantages”.
     By Richter’s own admission, the seventeenth and eighteenth century politics and policies of the Iroquois descended into a confusing array of system, people and points, all in flux. While he authored a survey of primary source materials, he sought to maintain the flavor of the thoughts and ideas of the Iroquois. Throughout, Richter stays true to making the voice of the Iroquois audible in his work.
To this end, this book is punctuated with 22 plates, 7 maps, methodological comments, 104 pages of notes and 26 pages of biographical information. At one point Richter labels his own work “slim” and “pedantic”. He could added “humble”. The Ordeal of the Longhouse is well paced, excellently reasoned and designed, while remaining accessible to the average reader.
     Richter's “slim” book is rich in detail, wonderful in exposition of the plight and firmness of the Iroquois culture against the wave of European forces arrayed against them. Richter weaves an excellent story of historical facts and apt observation and analysis.