Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review 405: Lord Strange's Men and Their Plays

LORD STRANGE’S MEN AND THEIR PLAYS, by Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth MacLean.475 pages, illustrated. Yale

It sounds like a summary of today’s news:

“Dread of foreign enemies and a series of unsuccessful military adventures abroad, coupled with fear of dissension and conspiracy at home, led to repressive measures and an atmosphere of state paranoia.” Workers who felt that foreign immigrants, coddled by central government policies, were stealing their jobs rioted. “Diseased, wounded veterans,” unable to get medical care, were a scandal.

Just across the border, police murdered poor farmers, with the open approval of the government. Fear of hordes of violent, desperate migrants terrified citizens. An alien religion was believed to be plotting the destruction of the national way of life.

That was England — and its neighbors, Scotland and France — in the 1590s. 

Repression that later historians have called a “reign of terror” was imposed. But a few brave voices resisted.

Among them was a young actor and aspiring playwright, named Shakespeare, who penned an eloquent appeal on behalf of desperate refugees.

Shakespeare was writing for, and perhaps acting in, the most innovative, daring and admired acting company of the time, Lord Strange’s Men.

In “Lord Strange’s Men and Their Plays,” Lawrence Manley and Sally-Beth McLean plumb provincial records to place Strange’s Men in a political, religious and social context that goes back to the Wars of the Roses. Strange was the heir of the Earl of Darby, and the earls had used sponsorship of players and entertainers (notably bearwards) for over a hundred years to solidify and encourage their power, which was in the northwest, including a village that grew into the great city of Birmingham.

It was a dangerous practice, and Lord Strange was probably murdered for it.

His death scattered the best actors and seeded the company of Pembroke’s Men, who literature students associate with Shakespeare’s most controversial years.

But Shakespeare wrote “Titus Andronicus” and (at least) two plays about Henry IV for Strange’s Men.

Shakespeare, however, is not the star of this show and barely shows up until chapter 9.

Before that, we learn an immense amount about the political duel between the Darbies (Catholics as were most of the people in their region) and the Protestant court; about theatrical tours (very important because the London playhouses were closed by plague for much of the history of Strange’s Men; architecture of the provincial halls where they played; how plays were commissioned; how much money they made; how they fell out of the repertory.
Strange’s Men introduced a new play about once a mont, which involved a tremendous amount of memorization by the players. Throughout his career, Shakespeare wrote two plays a year, and we must keep in mind that he was memorizing parts of about 10 or 12 new plays, plus acting, all the while.

How did they find the time?

Manley and McLean provide readings of the plays of the early ‘90s that make them more political than they appear to modern readers, but they also note the entertainment values.

Strange’s Men were known for their sensational and scary stage effects, pyrotechnics and gore. A list of the ways actors died onstage is long: “stabbing, smothering, strangling, hamstringing, poisoning (by porridge and by scent), hanging, burning, beheading, boiling, blowing up, eviscerating, butchering, dismembering, glossectimizing, and devouring.”

How guns protect

Another church shooting.

Real news

I.F. Stone, the red journalist, used to say that the government publishes everything it knows, a reporter just has to work to find it. Stone came to that conclusion as a result of a personal crisis. When he began losing his hearing and could no longer conduct interviewsS he began reading government publications.

Till then a fringe figure in journalism, his discoveries -- hidden in plain sight -- made him a hero of the resistance to Cold War chicanery.

His statement applies almost as well to closed, totalitarian societies as to open ones. The totalitarian governments don't deposit their documents in open libraries, but they do publish them.

Sometimes the totalitarians and the so-called democracies conspire to keep secrets. Probably the most famous example was the "secret treaties" between Britain, France and Russia before 1914.

When the Bolsheviks took over, they published the treaties. There's nothing new about Wikileaks.

Bloomberg News reporters Polly Mosendz, Patrick Clark and Michael Smith give a good demonstration about where news lies -- or perhaps it would be better to say, here it tells the truth -- and how mundane it can be in a story about Paul Manafort's home renovations.

Did Manafort really launder money, as a federal inictment alleges?

It turns out, his payments were waaay over when his contractors were billing him for, as least according to values declared ob building permits.

Bloomberg cautions that there might conceivably be a non-obvious but legitimate reason to pay $5 million for a $1 million job. If there is, Manafort's lawyers will explain it to us.

However, my money is on Mueller's lawyers.








Friday, November 17, 2017

Book Review 404: The Army and Vietnam

THE ARMY AND VIETNAM, by Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr. 318 pages, illustrated. Johns Hopkins paperback

In 1986, Andrew Krepinevich, then on the faculty at West Point, published his devastating critique of the ignominious American defeat in South Vietnam. It was then 14 years since the retreat, and Krepinevich thought that the Army had never learned why it was so badly beaten.

He concluded: “. . . the Army (may) again (find itself) attempting to fight a conventional war against a very unconventional enemy.”

Within less than 20 years, Krepinevich was proven to be a prophet and the Army lost two more wars, ignominiously.

Firepower and aircraft turn out to be useless in a place where the population is disaffected or indifferent and the local government is corrupt/incompetent (which is why the populace is disaffected).

What has the possibility of working is saturation of inhabited areas by light forces who live among the populace, build up relations, gain intelligence and give the citizens confidence that the central government can protect them.  That requires a lot of infantry,

The Army doesn’t have any infantry. Its so-called infantry divisions have more tanks than World Wr II armored division. Plus hundreds of helicopters.

It is not possible to develop relationships with the inhabitants from inside a tank or a helicopter — still less a drone.

The Army did not and does not care. During the Vietnam defeat, the slogan was, “If you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” This is not true.

The Army had plenty of opportunity to learn this, since it financed and observed the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh. Yet in 1962, it adopted French methods.

The Americans were arrogant. They thought the French had failed because they weren’t real men, like ‘Murricans. Nor did the ‘Murricans have any use for the South Vietnamese armed forces or police.

Or the South Vietnamese civilians. Krepinevich says:  “For MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam), people living in rural areas represented barriers to the creation of free-fire zones.”

The American officers were uniformly incompetent. It took only three years for the Communists to run the Americans out. Even the despised French had hung on for eight years.

There are some omissions in “The Army in Vietnam.” The most serious, but understandable, is the omission of any discussion of corruption in the American armed forces. As anyone who came in contact with the Army in those years will attest, it was pervasive.

As anyone who reads the daily papers today knows, it still is.

A little book tells a story



While listening to the Christian Broadcasting Network, I heard a commercial for a hate book about Muslims. The pitch started like this:

“We Christians with our commitment to tolerance may have difficulty understanding a religion dedicated to intolerance . . .”:

Although no cult has a good record when it comes to toleration, there is no question which religion is the most intolerant. It’s Christianity.

Toleration is a secular idea; no religion, while holding civil power, has ever shown tolerance, although there are examples of lesser or greater intolerance.

Christians do not know their history; I have never met one who did. But I know it. The story of  little prayer book called the Sarajevo Haggadah demonstrates. (I take this story from Chapter XIV: Convivencia Under Fire,” in “The Holocaust and the Book” (which was reviewed here on November 8.)

The book was made in Toledo around 1350 when under Muslim rule a policy called convivencia allowed, perhaps even encouraged, Muslims, Jews and Christians to live together in peace.

When the Christians took over, Jewish books were burned (and numbers of Jews along with them) but the Haggadah escaped along with refugees who ended up in Bosnia.

The pasha in Sarajevo inaugurated a new form of convivencia, bending the cult rule to allow construction of a synagogue and making other concessions to intolerance.

Historian Andras Riedlmayer comments: “As in medieval Spain, convivencia in Sarajevo did not imply an absence of hierarchies of status or of periodic friction between individuals and groups, but the fact of pluralism itself was taken as a given.” Under religious government, that is as good  it ever gets.

The Haggadah survived the burning of Sarajevo by Christians in 1697, though many of the residents, Muslims or Jews, did not. It survived the burning of the Jewish books and most of the Jews by Christians again in 1941-44, and — though no one knows exactly how — the burning of the Jewish and Muslim libraries by Christians in 1992-3.

It is almost the only relic of the great period of Jewish bookmaking in Aragon in the 14th century.

The only time that the little prayer book passed through a period of political change without being endangered was in 1878, when the new government (of Austria-Hungary) was committed to secular values of pluralism and toleration.

 That, of course, was just an episode. It didn’t last.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Which direction do prayers go?

When Christians — and here I am speaking particularly of rightwing Christians who typically care nothing for the this-worldly condition of other people — offer thoughts and prayers following a disaster, what does it mean?

Are the freethinkers right, that it just means “I don’t really care about what happened to you and I am not going to do anything to help you, even if it is in my human power to do it”?

Yes, they are right. But there is more to it than that.

Notice that these stiff-necked Christians always offer their prayer to the others, never do they ask for prayers for themselves.

Several things are going on here. On the spiritual level — about which I care nothing — they are committing the sin of pride, the worst one.

On the worldly level, the first thing is that these people assume they are morally superior. Yes, I know what they say about this in their sermons. What I am talking about here is what people reveal about their genuine thinking in their thoughtless statements, and “thoughts and prayers” is a thoughtless statement if ever there is one.

Two, the intention is not to help the sufferers but to make the observer feel good about himself.

Although Christians, especially evangelical Christians, constantly participate in communal prayers, they almost never ask for prayers for themselves. They don’t genuinely think they need it.

Radio preachers always offer to pray for their listeners but they never ask their listeners to pray for them. From them, all they ask is money.

Among the prominenti, it is hard to think of examples of persons asking for prayer for themselves. The one example that comes to mind is Harry Truman, who after Roosevelt’s death begged his friends for prayers.

Never will you hear a Christian gun nut pray: Guide me, is it possible that my love for guns is greater than than love for my brothers and sisters? Did I contribute by my mistaken views to these deaths of innocents?

After the latest mass murder by a gun nut — this comes up in our decivilized country every 24  hours or so, on average — a relevant prayer for the humble Christian would be my favorite, Cromwell’s Prayer: I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A request to the gun nuts

I suppose it is too early after the child murders in California today to talk about gun control. I don't know how long we are supposed to wait. However long that is, could you gun nuts please call a moratorium on mass child murders for the appropriate length of time so we can get on with it?