The Hundred Days

Last night I finished The Hundred Days: Napoleon’s Last Campaign from eye-witness accounts. It was, of course, weighted heavily towards the British and German; if you want the Hundred Days told from the French point of view you should look elsewhere. That said, Brett-James picked a good cross-section, and let them speak for themselves.

I realized near the end that I was putting off finishing the book, because I didn’t want to hear a nasty version of Napoleon’s surrender. I mean, the man was a friction’ misogynist–his Code is laughably woman-hating in parts–and yet I can’t help but admire his military record and his sheer bloody-mindedness. If he hadn’t invaded Russia like an idiot…well, but he did. In retrospect, “invading Russia” is probably Fate’s way of disposing of European autocrats who can’t be taken down by any other means.

However, I needn’t have worried, because that particular historical bit was handled very deftly. The British were not gracious in victory. (I mean, I can hardly blame them, but still.) And it says something for the Corsican that they feared him so much–and France loved his success so well–that they immured him on that awful island.

The other thing that struck me was the descriptions of the carnage at Waterloo. I suppose the horrors of modern warfare have numbed me, for I felt saddest for the horses. Nevertheless, war is a colossal fucking waste. The amount of care and energy that goes into creating a single human, or a single horse, gone in a flash or with protracted suffering. I am left with Sarah Connor’s “all you create is death, and destruction” speech in Terminator 2–the one her son chided her for, which makes me angry every time I watch it.

I’m currently interspersing Marcel Schwob short stories with Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, and enjoying the latter the most. Tanith Lee did everything Schwob did, only better.

But that’s (say it with me) another blog post.

Past High School

It’s just not a proper holiday until a group of the Princess’s friends stays overnight, giggling in the kitchen and baking sugar-laden treats. Girls who made it through high school together, now young women–if course, the only ones who still come by are the ones who have left high school firmly behind. So few people actually make that decision, it’s good to see a high proportion of the Princess’s chosen companions have.

Speaking of people who never evolved past high school…well, a particular hatemonger is suing the publisher who (unwisely) paid him a very large advance for his screed, then decided they couldn’t publish it after a (politically) conservative editor–I mention the politics for obvious reasons–had to go through and actually read the damn thing. The best thing about this is the editor’s comments in Track Changes.

And people wonder why editors drink. *shakes head*

Anyway, the idiot hatemonger is now suing the unwise publisher, and a consequence of this is the entire manuscript plus comments is a public court exhibit now. Publishing Twitter is munching popcorn and watching the flames. The only thing marring this delicious serving of cold karma is the fact that for what the unwise publisher paid (and forfeited) in advance, they could have given advances for ten real books. (At LEAST ten.) I know better than to think a giant corporation has learned its lesson, and am sad for the books we won’t get to read because an entitled, hate-filled jackass hovered up resources that could have gotten them published.

And now I’m out the door for a run. I’m almost at the point where I don’t want 2017 to end, because last time I was looking forward to the ending of a year (2016) the one following it turned out to be an even worse shitshow.

Over and out.

Hilaire, Unhilarious

I took a break from Upham to start Hilaire Belloc‘s The French Revolution. He blames Carnot for everything, really, and as a Frenchman I suppose he has the right. But his comments on Marat give me a great deal of thought.

“He was often right when he denounced a political intriguer: he often would have sacrificed a victim not unjustly condemned, he often discovered an agent partially responsible, and even the violent solutions that he suggested were not always impracticable. But it was the prime error of his tortured mind that beyond victims, and sudden violent clutches at the success of democracy, there was nothing else he could conceive. He was incapable of allowing for imperfections, for stupidities, for the misapprehension of mind by mind, for the mere action of time, and for all that renders human life infinitely complex and infinitely adjustable.”

Excerpt From: Hilaire Belloc. “The French Revolution”.

His two short portraits of Marat and Robespierre are bookends of a sort; they present personalities immediately recognizable in the age of social media as well. Plus ça change, and all that.

Belloc was a Catholic apologist, an anti-Semite, didn’t believe in evolution, and probably would be a Gamergater if alive today, so if you want to read, be warned. I find him funny, but it’s the raging bigots who have a gift for comedy you have to watch out for. That aside, I’m always game for French Revolution histories, and he’s witty enough in places to be a smooth read. When I finish it I’ll go back to Upham; it’s not quite a palate cleanser so much as a different taste to provide complexity.

Upham on Salem

Witch Board, Occultism, Necromancy
© | Dreamstime Stock Photos
I fell asleep last night reading Charles Wentworth Upham on the Salem witch trials. First published in 1867, the work is prey to racism common at the time, though Upham seems rather uneasy at the genocide of the Native Americans. He also doesn’t mention chattel slavery in the colonial period more than glancingly–of course, with the Civil War reaching its final bloody conclusion two years earlier, he may have thought it indelicate to refer to. There’s also a regrettable lack of women in his text–they’re wives or daughters, rarely even rating their own name. It will be interesting to see how he approaches the actual trial events themselves.

Right now (well, a good 200 pages in) he’s carefully laying out all the property disputes that set the stage for the witchcraft fury, untangling the resentments that no doubt gave it dry fuel. Surprisingly, for a man who no doubt had several Confederate sympathies, he seems to be trying to be…fair and even-handed? Kind of? At least, he has the idea that we cannot point out a mote of dust in historical eyes without dealing with the beams in our own to some extent.

“They did not understand the great truth which Hugh Peters preached to Parliament, “Why,” said he, “cannot Christians differ, and yet be friends? All children should be fed, though they have different faces and shapes: unity, not uniformity, is the Christian word.” They admitted no such notion as this. They thought uniformity the only basis of unity. They meant to make and to keep this a country after their own pattern, a Congregational, Puritan, Cambridge-Platform-man’s country. The time has not yet come when we can lift up clean hands against them. Two successive chief-magistrates of the United States have opened the door and signified to one-eighth part of our whole people, that it will be best for them to walk out. So long as the doctrine is maintained that this is the white man’s country, or any man’s, or any class or kind of men’s country, it becomes us to close our lips against denunciation of the Fathers of New England because they tried to keep the country to themselves.” Excerpt From: Charles Wentworth Upham. “Salem Witchcraft, Volumes I and II.” iBooks.

I’d be more impressed if he wasn’t the guy who got Hawthorne dismissed from the Salem customs-house, or if he hadn’t gotten Jones Very institutionalized. I’d be truly impressed if he went the extra step and denounced genocide and chattel slavery in America as the cancer it was, and remains. Still, the book is public domain, and it remains a good and careful tracing of a seminal event in American history.

One of the side effects of reading about the Puritans is a distressing feeling of having sinned just by breathing. (This was particularly marked when I read Cotton Mather and watched The Witch in short order; Puritanism is somewhat of a virus, and its infection of the American body politic is insidious.) This morning’s coffee felt like a stolen pleasure, hence all the more intensely enjoyable. I’m going to need a palate cleanser after going from Serge’s Russia: Twenty Years After straight to Upham. Maybe that latest Bernie Gunther novel.

*wanders away, muttering about the Colonial Era*

Russia’s Pockets

So, just in the past few years, Russia has poured a lot of resources not only into bankrolling the Syrian war but also into fucking with elections and social media in other countries. Ukraine, France, Britain, and yes, the US. (At this point, anyone who still thinks the Mango Mussolini and his merry nepotist crew weren’t funded and prodded by the Kremlin is simply refusing to see the obvious and proven.) Servers aren’t cheap, neither is the time spent finding ways around various defenses or deciding whom to sic the dogs of harassment upon.

This is a massive outlay. Where is the money to fund it coming from? The oligarchs, the perennial dependence on a tax on spirits, gas pipelines, certainly. Also, during the period of openness, the economy exploded in a good way, and that leap forward is still being cannibalized by the oligarchs. Still…that’s a lot of effort and cash going basically down foreign holes.

One of the reasons the Soviet bloc fell apart was the USSR’s propping up of various regimes. Frex, North Korea playing the USSR and China against each other to extract the most from both, or aid to Cuba, various rebuilding programs in Iron Curtain countries, aid to nascent Communist China once Stalin (and his rivalry with Mao) was safely dead continuing into a significant drain of rubles all through Kruschev’s and later regimes, Kalashnikovs shipped to insurrections–I could go on, but you get the idea.

Russia’s pockets are deep but not endless. I’m wondering how sustainable Russia’s meddling is in the long term, and how the looming Vodka Politics demographic disaster will affect funding for it, and also wondering what shape the inevitable collapse will take. Of course Putin and his crew will escape offshore with their looted billions if they’re quick enough to get out before the instability reaches critical mass. But if there’s one thing about iron-fisted oligarch kleptocrats, it’s that they’re addicted to stealing more and more–a gambler’s addiction, forgetting that the house always wins.

These are things I think about when I should be writing, apparently. Hrm.