The vitriol spewed forth against Sarah Palin by many who call themselves feminists has confirmed an opinion I have long held about the feminist political movement. I call it a political movement, because as a social movement I think feminism is far far greater than those who abuse it for their own political ends. And I think the division between the two is the poltical feminists seem to be whiners and complainers, true real feminists are doers.
This is not an original thought I know, but in my case it is deeply rooted in my family history, and in particular with my Nana - my father's mother. She was born in the 1920s, joined the WRAC at the end of World War 2 and ended up in Singapore during the Malayan Insurgency. She and my grandad met in 1952 on the voyage home (he was serving out there in the Military Police). In quick order she ditched her previous boyfriend who was back home in England, married my grandad, and had my father and my uncles. Not long after that - by the mid-60s (after her youngester starting going to school) she went back to work. Most women of her generation did not.
She did not just go back to work, she soon was earning more money than my grandad. She went into the male workplace as a working mum, and as the main breadwinner, while many so-called feminists were ranting and raving for other's to do the hard work. She, on the other hand, was chllenging the society into which she had been born and its mores in a more direct, more successful way. Dare I say it, the relative lack of barriers to women in the workplace today has more to do with women like my Nana, than those who marched on the streets.
And when it comes down to it, women of the future will have alot of thank Sarah Palin for, because as a doer she breaks new ground.
Seven years ago I was moving flat. A firiend of mine who had a car was helping me transport my things from the old flat to the new. After I think the first trip, on the way back to the old flat he turned on the radio to BBC Radio1. As luck would have it, the moment we turned on the radio was when they did the news flash announcing the attack on the Two Towers. I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between finishing packing, and watching the television. If there was any euphoria left over from the end of the Cold War, it was swept away as the first tower fell. This was a new war, but it was also an old war. It was a renewal of the war between Islam and Christianity, a conflict that has dominated much of human history since the followers of Mohammed, after his death, emerged from the Arabian desert and embarked on a century-long orgy of conquest and destruction.
But while it is important to place the events of September 11th 2001 in the macro-historical context, it is also vitally important to remember them for themselves. To remember the those who lost their lives, and to hold in our hearts and prayers those who still suffer, physically or emotionally, through injury or loss of family or friends.
It is also important, while our attention inevitably focuses on the destruction of the two towers, it is also important not to forget the dead at the Pentagon, and in United Flight 93.
Against the misery of this day, and the memories it brings, I like to call attention to Flight 93. The passengers and aircrew of Flight 93 were not special people. They were ordinary folks. A smattering representation of the wide variety of people that make up the idea that is the United States of America. Due to a delay to their flight, and the spread of mobile phones, they were aware what had happened in the other three flights. They guessed their likely fate, and they choose to resist. They stood up. They were counted. On that day, our enemy lost the war, because they showed us the way. I am not here talking about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - though I believe those wars to be just - I am talking about the indomitability of our spirit. Our enemies though us weaklings, cowards, craven, and the people of Flight 93 showed them that this was not the case. Their victory in the skies over Pennsylvania is, for me, an inspiration.
Make no mistake, the fact that plane crashed into a lonely field was a victory. A victory dearly bought, bought with blood, as the most important victories inevitably are. And I have no doubt, that were passengers in other planes granted the chance of time that those in Flight 93 were, they would have taken the same action.
All the dead of September 11th 2001 should be remembered. And I know of now better intention of remembrance than the famous verse:
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
Just reading (via RealClearSports) this article from the St Petersburg Times by Gary Shelton. It is basically an article saying that the Tampa Rays are, at the moment, a better team than the New York Yankees. Anticipating a rather vigorous reaction from Yankee fans he comes up with this brilliant line:
Any moment now, Yankee fans will hit you with their history books. And it is true: The Yankees have a glorious past. On the other hand, so did Constantinople.
And while I do not want to predict the Yankees entering a period of mediocrity, but it was a good line. Of course, the extend the analogy the Eastern Empire as led from Constantinope had a hell of a habit of resurgences from the almost-dead, and knew how to stick around. So perhaps the analogy is more positive than it appears at first blush. :)
I picked up this book recently as it was part of a 3for2 special offer. I previously knew of Paul Cartledge's work from university, where I used him as a source for two separate projects. He is one of the great modern authorities of Classical Sparta, so I thought it would be interesting to see how he viewed this most iconic moment in Sparta's history.
The book is divided into three. The first portion sets the background, to Classical Greece (in particular of course Classical Sparta), the Persian Empire, and the background to the Graeco-Persian wars, including the Ionian revolt and the Battle of Marathon. The second portion is dedicated to the battle of Thermopylae itself, the preparations for the campaign, its initial stages, and then finally the actual battle. The third portion talks about how the battle has been viewed and portrayed, both in ancient times and more recently (up to and including Frank Miller), and also explores a little of the consequences of the battle on world, and especially western, history. The appendices are devoted chiefly - though not entirely - to a discussion of Herodotus as a source, and as a historian.
While undoubtedly a work of popular history, released to coincide with the film release of 300, this is nevertheless a quite scholarly account. Paul Cartledge seems to treat his readers as being intelligent people with a real desire to know more, which is a refreshing change from other works of popular history where one can get the impression of being 'spoken down' to. He is, as might be expected, especially strong when talking about Sparta. His writing seems filled with a great enthusiasm and energy in those passages. However, one must be aware of his general pro-Spartan bias.
A limited, though useful test in Classical Greece to determine someone's prejudices is to ask them which battle was more important - Plataea or Salamis. Pro-spartans or anti-Athenians will usually answer Plataea, while anti-Spartans or pro-Athenians will generally answer Salamis. Paul Cartledge falls into the Spartan camp very firmly. This is not to dismiss what he says - but it is a call to be aware of the perspective from which he approaches things.
What I liked most about this book was undoubtedly the third portion, tracing the historiograhy of the battle. For those chapters alone I would recommend it. The discussion on Herodotus is, while not terribly ground-breaking, also seems to me a useful set of comments for the general reader who is wanting to read 'The Father of History' for the first time.
I have been looking forward to reading this book for a while, ever since I read Baseball in '41 some time ago. Also, I wanted to know more about this mythical figure that looms over baseball in so many ways. But until I started to follow baseball a few years ago, I had literally no idea who Babe Ruth was. I think I may have heard his name, but with no context.
So, is this book a good introduction to this legendary sportsman? I would say yes. Robert Creamer has a very easygoing style. It is as if he were sitting next to you in a pub, telling a story over a pint of beer. The book seems to assume that the reader may know very little about Babe Ruth himself, though it does presume some basic knowledge of baseball (which is fine, after all who but someone with some interest in baseball would be reading a book on Babe Ruth?). It starts with a chapter on his legend, to place his life in the context of what follows and continues to this day. The next chapter starts with his birth, and sets the scene.
This first portion of the book - which goes from his birth to his trade to the Yankees, including him becoming a professional baseball pitcher and then the switch to a fulltime hitter - was for me the most interesting. This is in part because his exploits as a hitter - the home runs in all their majestic glory - I already know a little about. But his origins and his pitching were virtually unknown to me, so it was just damned interesting to find out more.
The second portion of the book is the main bulk, and is his time at the Yankees, including the separation from his first wife, his relations with the women who would become his second wife after his first wife's death, and also the stormy relationship with his managers, and the showdown he had with Landis - and, of course, all those home runs. What interested me most in this section was not so much Ruth himself, but the other characters that played a part in his story, particularly Gehrig, Huggins, Barrow, and a few others.
The final portion goes from when he left the Yankees to his death, and I found this a little disappointing. Perhaps this is because, in many respects, after Babe left baseball the rest of his life was disappointing. While he played he was a legend, and did great things. After he retired, nothing he did amounted to very much (in this he reminds me, strangely, of Oskar Schindler, who after the war ended also did very little of note). I think part of the problem is that Creamer choose to put the chapter on his legend at the start of his book, and I think I would have preferred it at the end.
This is something of a quibble however. Creamer does an excellent job of painting the pictures of the past on the canvass of the printed page. His does a marvellous job at imaging the characters of his story - of Ruth himself obviously, but also all the others who made up world, with the curious exception of Ruth's first wife Helen. He tells plenty of anecdotes, but is also careful to distinguish from what is probably true, and what is probably exaggerated. On a couple of the most famous episodes - for example the called home run shot - he goes into quite some detail, which in its way is interesting of an example of how a legend can grow.
Ultimately I read through this book swiftly and with great enjoyment. I would recommend it to anyone just starting to explore baseball's past. More seasoned baseball fans may find less in this book as they may already know more things, but I would still recommend it.
I watched these two films on consecutive days, given the publicity which saw them as a pair of films rather than just separate works. Certainly watching them together was complimentary, but they are perfectly good stand alones as well. They also tell quite different stories, quite apart from the obvious difference of perspective.
Flags of our Fathers was the first one I watched. This is really a film of two parts - the account of the battle of Iwo Jima from the point of view of the men who were in the famous photo, and the account of how the propaganda efforts the US government did following the battle and the role the survivors had in that. The two tales are not told linerally, rather the battle itself is told though a series of flashbacks the men have as they go through their barnstorming tour.
Letters from Iwo Jima is, in contrast, focused entirely on the battle of Iwo Jima. It is therefore a battle film in a way that Flags of Our Fathers is not. The film starts some time before the battle, with the appointment of General Kuribayashi to lead the defence. The first portion of the film is therefore the build-up as the general struggles with unconvinced subordinates. He is one of two main characters - the other is of a (fictional) ordinary soldier. Then the battle begins and the film traces the desperate defence, and also shines a light into the very oppressive atmosphere in which the the Japanese soldiers laboured and fought, and the twisted codes which made so many commit suicide.
The film is in Japanese, which I am very grateful for. At times there are voiceovers, which are the letters being written home (hence the title). There are occasional flashbacks as the main characters look back on their past, but always the ugly reality reasserts itself.
There are some beautiful shots in both films of the invasion fleet, of the landings, and of the bombardment of Mt Suribachi - it shows you how far special effects have developed in the last ten years.
Some have expressed a modern political commentary in these films, especially in Flags of our Fathers. I am unconvinced by it, and think they are reading rather more than these films allow. These films do ask hard questions about heroism, what it is to be a hero, and more specifically what it is to be perceived as a hero by a nation at large. But they do not provide easy answers, just demonstrate a few examples through a few of the characters.
I must say I found Letters to be the better of the two films, but that might just be because I prefer straight battle films to the montage of Flags.
Verdict: Flag of our Fathers B / Letters from Iwo Jima B+
It is now over a week since the Cyclone hit Burma, and if the news reports are at all accurate, Burma's leadership would rather their people die than have them helped by Westerners. This is, of course, no surprise.
I heard on Sky News that the Thai foreign minister is blaming President Bush for making the Burmese generals defensive. Well, on one level I can accept that may be the case, but that is still no excuse. Like Zimbabwe, the general's oppresive regime is facilitated by its neighbours, including Thailand. Of course, another of those neighbours is China. And the day the Chinese leaders actually care for human life will be the day hell freezes over and pigs begin to fly. Of course, it is easy to criticise America. But America is the one offering aid and expertise in numbers that no one else can match.
Indonesia was initially reluctant following the Boxing Day Tsunami a few years ago. But they relented, to the great benefit of their people. That is the lesson the Burmese leaders need to heed.
When I saw this book I was very excited because I thought it would be the final book in the Deverry series. Alas, there is an author's note at the very beginning saying that it is not quite the end, there is one book to come. I have been reading the Deverry books since I was about 16, when there were considerably fewer than there are now! This is the sixth book in the third series of Deverry books (the first two series were both of four books) for a total now of fourteen. Some time ago I read somewhere that this last series was going to be six books long, but it appears as she brings together the threads of her tapestry Katharine Kerr has discovered she cannot do it quite as easily as perhaps she once hoped. Series creep, if you like, is nothing new, but unlike Robert Jordan (for example) I have never had the feeling that Katharine Kerr has lost complete control of her story. Perhaps this is because, as opposed to being one long series, it is really three separate series. A device that helps focus. But enough on the series, onto the book itself.
I enjoyed it. It is written in what is now, for me, a familiar style. It picks up pretty much exactly from where the previous book in the series, The Spirit Stone, left off. As the title might suggest, we finally get to understand a little of what happened to Haen Marn - the mysterious island which disappeared towards the end of the last book of the second series (book eight). Less mysteriously, this book has a subplot which traces Neb's difficulties in coming to terms with his heritage of Nevyn. There is a real sense through the book of things starting to come to a close. For fans of the series it will not be a disappointment. While perhaps not filled with quite the fire and energy of the earliest books (in particular I am thinking Darkspell), it now feels like a mature wine. I eagerly await the finale.
I have occasionally in the past noted several decisions by the Home Office and immigration services in the UK which, to be frank, are either stupid, injust, immoral, or just plain wrong. Well, courtesy of the BBC it appears there is another one. In this one it appears a widower - whose wife died due to gross negligence of a British hospital during childberth - is going to be kicked out. Apparently they Home Office has been trying to deport him since soon after his wife died.
This country, through incompetence, cost this man his wife, cost his son a mother. He wants to live here. The very least we can do is grant that wish. The British State has taken much from him, it is time for it to give a little.
I doubt it will. And once again, laws designed to deal with the criminal end up punishing the law-abiding. It makes me sick.