Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

I wrote this post before Ursula K. Le Guin passed, though it seems fitting now to open it with these words of hers, in response to the question, “What do you want to happen to your books after you die?”:  “I want them to be available, I want cheap paper editions of them, I want them to be continuously downloaded in forty different languages, I want them to be read, I want them to be argued about, I want people to cry over them, I want unreadable dissertations written about them, I want people to get angry with them, I want people to love them.” Well, I’ve read a second-hand cheap paper edition of The Left Hand of Darkness, gotten angry with it, kind of loved it in a few moments, argued about it (in my head, with myself and with two different versions of Le Guin), and now, behold, an unreadable dissertation blog post. Hopefully, this is exactly as Le Guin would wish. Rest in peace.

TheLeftHandOfDarkness1stEd
Cover of the 1st edition, vastly superior to the latest edition’s cover, which is just a glacier, honestly it’s stunning how mediocre that new cover is. Courtesy of Ace Books

The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those books I’ve always felt silly for not having read—and likewise, Ursula K. Le Guin is one of those authors I’ve always etc. Not just because Left Hand is considered a classic, and Le Guin one of the greatest, most influential sci-fi/fantasy writers, but because it’s the kind of sci-fi and fantasy that really interests me. Sci-fi with a focus on society, on the world, on characters. Not to mention, the gender thing—I’ve always heard that Le Guin is a great feminist writer, someone who subverts and challenges our ideas about gender, and especially about women. And Left Hand is, of course, the gender book—or the book without gender. A world where the dominant sentient life-form has no biological sex—fantastic. I’m always interested in that kind of premise, I always like to see deconstructions and reconstructions of gender. Yet, I somehow never got around to reading it, I always had some other book or author I was more interested in. I finally decided to read the book when I got it in a white elephant gift exchange, and, for months, had the physical copy sitting about in my bedroom somewhere, staring at me.

So I read it. One less thing to feel silly about Francis, good job. After reading it, and kind of wondering what everyone else saw in it re: the discussion of gender, I read Le Guin’s essay on the book, “Is Gender Necessary?” Actually I read the “Redux” version, which was written over a decade later, with annotations from Le Guin clarifying and arguing with her past self. In some ways, the redux essay is a revisiting of a revisiting—Left Hand came out in 1969, “Is Gender Necessary” (henceforth to be referred to as IGN) in 1976, and the redux in 1988. Which would make this blog post a commentary on a commentary on a commentary on a book, at least in some part.

I’ve struggled with how to write this post. It seems unfair to review the book as if its some kind of argument—in fact, Le Guin herself mentions this in “Redux,” when she writes that “critics of the book insisted upon talking about its ‘gender problems’ as if it were an essay not a novel.” That line instantly made me think of “Cat Person,” the Kristen Roupenian short story that made the rounds last year, and which was bizarrely referred to as an “article” or “essay” by some. These stories did not ask to be scrutinized as perfectly hygienic arguments about gender and sexuality. The idea that Left Hand is an incredible classic which strikes right to the heart of gender politics is external to the book. So I’ll do my best to separate the two, to review the book as just a book, before specifically going into why I found it lacking in terms of gender commentary.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XIII, Nabuco Recuses Himself from Forming a Ministry. — He Accepts the Role of Minister of Justice.

This chapter and the next few deal heavily with the politics of the Empire of Brazil (should these chapters even be included in this book?), so I recommend reading this supplemental post first. Or you could just skip these chapters entirely. I think they’re neat, but they’re not directly related to the war.

The Furtado ministry fell in a secret ballot vote soon after Parliament reconvened, having not wanted to call for a roll-call vote. They did not want or need to know their enemies.

Firstly, the Emperor called on the Viscount of Abaeté, who for a long time had been a mere spectator of the partisan fighting, to form a government. Abaeté put forward Saraiva’s name. Saraiva, fruitlessly, attempted to form a ministry—Furtado’s friends did not forgive him for that Liberal government’s fall, to which he had contributed (1). In vain, he tried to come to an agreement with Teófilo Ottoni, typical of Saraiva. Giving up, he indicated the name of Nabuco, who was then summoned.

For the first time the Emperor looked to Nabuco, after there’d been five ministries formed with members of the “League” (2), of which party Nabuco had been, in everyone’s opinion, the creator—and the sovereign did not even arrive at him without first having tried two other options. One could believe that the direness of the situation forced the Emperor to turn to Nabuco at the last moment; a circumstance that contributed much to Nabuco, in turn, not accepting.

It was not that some overblown pride moved him: none of his colleagues in the Paraná ministry (3) had even reached this position; Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) would only reach it in 1871; Wanderley (Baron of Cotegipe) in 1885; Pedreira (Viscount of Bom Retiro) had renounced politics. Eusebio de Quierós, who had governed in, made, or unmade every ministry since a certain time, had been called only once to San Cristobal. But Nabuco had created the ruling government, and was, of everyone, the most proper to lead it, because he brought, in a greater degree than any other, the spirit of benevolence, the impartiality necessary to maintain it, and a spirit that inspired great confidence, to—their respective leaders aside—each one of the parties. He had destroyed the Conservative oligarchy in the senate and made possible the new political environment. Of this environment, he was, intellectually, the oracle; politically he had a neutral title—moderator. Because of this, since 1862, every summons to São Cristóvão that was not made to him (although for each time there has been some provisional reason not to name Nabuco) seems to be a preterition (4) For this the belief that he was a persona non grata had been ingrained in political circles; a belief that also existed with respect to Paraná, Eusebio de Quierós, Cotegipe, both Paulino de Sousas, Teófilo Ottoni, and others.

The primary condition for the success of any ministry is the Emperor’s goodwill, and not because he can betray a president of his Council, but because only his discretion can be enough to destroy the minister’s necessary trust in his own stability. So, perfect accord between the two entities—the Emperor and the head of the cabinet—was essential for the government’s progress. The two times that Nabuco had served in the cabinet the Emperor gave him no reason to complain, nor even the third. The reasons that had moved the Emperor to put him off as an option seemed to him plausible, from a strictly parliamentary point of view, given the detachedness in which, without ceasing to guide the government, Nabuco had been placed, and which he himself proclaimed. He also knew the Emperor’s methods well enough to know that if Dom Pedro II had wanted to have him as prime minister, he would have gone looking for him in his exile, as with others he had done on such occasions, even with statesmen that had ostracized themselves. That lack, not of trust, but of desire, of affinity, which the Emperor had toward him, weighed more on Nabuco’s spirit, making him refuse the belated investment of power, than some sensitivity to being summoned only after other ministers.

But more than anything, the visible division of the Conservative Party dominated the Chamber. Nabuco, who had not taken part in Furtado’s fall, was better looked on by historians than Olinda (5), Zacarias, and Saraiva, while the Progressives considered him their most eminent leader. But to form a ministry it was absolutely essential to ingratiate himself with one group or another; in matters of people—which is what these matters come down to, not anything else—and matters of cabinet, for deputies and senators, it was necessary to support their faith in the balance of power, and at the first moment that this was neglected, the minister, whoever they were, had to be excised, which was perhaps feared by Nabuco more than anyone. He would faithfully explain his qualms before the Chamber, and the reasons for his renouncement.

Marquis_of_Olinda_1860
Pedro de Araújo Lima, Marquis of Olinda, ca. 1860.

Hearing this, the Emperor summoned the Marquis of Olinda, and Nabuco, as well as Saraiva, acceded to serve at Olinda’s command, proving that they were not motivated by any ambition for that highest position. The ministry was constituted in the following manner: President of the Council and Empire, Marquis of Olinda; Justice, Nabuco; Navy, Saraiva; War, Ferraz; Treasury, Días de Carvalho; Foreign Affairs, Otaviano; Agriculture, Paula e Sousa. Counting those who had been charged with organizing a cabinet and had not achieved it, the ministry brought under its wings four ex-presidents of the Council—Olinda, Ferraz, Nabuco, and Saraiva. Besides these, Otaviano would’ve entered among them, who found himself at the time in the Río de la Plata, and who could not accept. For such names was the ministry known by the denomination of the cabinet of eagles.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Supplement 3, Brazilian Politics of the Mid-19th Century

Overview of the Government

The constitution of the Empire of Brazil stated that “The representatives of the Brazilian Nation are the Emperor, and the General Assembly.” [Art. 11. Os Representantes da Nação Brazileira são o Imperador, e a Assembléa Geral.] In this way, the Empire of Brazil was a constitutional monarchy, wherein the Emperor and the Parliament were servants of the people of the empire. The idea was that emperor was the enduring, big-picture ruler (the “permanent will” as Nabuco says in Um Estadista [vontade permanente]), while the General Assembly attended more to the day to day concerns of the state.

The Emperor appointed judges, magistrates, senators, provincial presidents, ministers of state, and eventually the President of the Council of Ministers—a position similar to Prime Minister. The Emperor was responsible for sanctioning laws in order for them to go into effect, though parliament could force a bill into law if it was voted through by two consecutive legislatures. The Emperor could also commute sentences and grant amnesty.

While it’s wrong to say that the emperor was just a figurehead, certainly the General Assembly was the main governing body of the Empire. It consisted of the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) and the Senate (upper house.) The General Assembly (which is alternately referred to as “parliament” and “the legislature”) held the power of the purse, power to modify, suspend, and enact laws, control of the military, and power to create government offices.Read More »

New Publication: Beneath Them

beneaththem-c-3I’ve just published “Beneath Them,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.

In this piece of flash fiction, without warning, thousands of alien spaceships have appeared above major urban areas around the globe, and some have descended to devastating effect. Although the aliens have expressed a lack of ill intentions, and a desire for “recreation,” no one really knows what they are doing on Earth. The only thing that is clear is their overwhelming power, and their overwhelming intelligence.

In the shadow of this invasion, life goes on as Atlanta resident Cheyenne, and her younger cousin Denise, deal with roaches in their apartment.

Also included in this publication is a brief afterword, in which I describe my own encounter with a cockroach which inspired this story.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XII, The Furtado Cabinet and the War

furtado-2
Francisco José Furtado, ca. 1867

The first appeal to Brazilian patriotism, after López’s attack was known, had to be made by the Furtado Cabinet. The first recruitment of the Voluntarios da Pátria, decreed by the cabinet, produced a spontaneous national movement. The nature of our people being, in great part, recalcitrant toward military service, the battalions of volunteers, which the prolongation of the war necessitated, were recruited by allowing the recruits to choose between service in the rank and file and voluntary service, which would be temporary, with special advantages (i). This does not mean that the war with Paraguay would remain well regarded and popular until the end. There is always a great difference, in any country, between those that embrace the national cause with enthusiasm, and those who defend that cause on the battlefield. The merit of those that offer themselves to the war effort should be considered extraordinary; but the fact is that the campaigns of Paraguay were carried out with soldiers from the draft, and that the war would have been impossible to sustain in any other way given the scale it reached and the time it took. Our race, although we become militant as soon as we wear the uniform and grow accustomed to obedience, does not know to voluntarily exchange independence for discipline. However, that initial drive, which produced volunteer battalions, does not cease to be a prize of honor for Furtado, because it is impossible to deny that part of that drive should be attributed to the government’s popularity, and the expansive ableness of the Liberal element represented in the government.

Transferring power to his successors, in May, the Furtado Cabinet left to them the following inheritance: as far as liabilities, a war with Paraguay recently begun, Mato Grosso invaded and partially under control of the Paraguayans, and the expectation of an invasion of Rio Grande do Sul, towards which province Estigarribia’s corps was already marching. As far as assets, the war with Montevideo, which had looked all but declared, concluded despite itself, sooner than should have been expected, and turned into an alliance; the Triple Alliance signed in Buenos Aires, lacking only ratification; an army corps forming in Montevideo; on the Paraná the fleet that, later (11 June), would be victorious at Riachuelo; and, it can be said, in the shipyards, the better part of the ships that were destined to force the pass at Humaitá.

Footnotes

i. Tito Franco says, speaking about the Furtado Cabinet: “In very short time our little fleet numbered 33 steamers and 12 sailing ship, crewed by 609 officers and 3,627 soldiers. The cabinet began rapidly constructing two battleships in the shipyards of the capital, ordered the construction of others which would come later, bought transports and a great amount of arms and munitions. It joined the single voice of patriotism to an army, and through no other means than the decree to create corps of Voluntarios da Patria.”
“The number of citizens that have volunteered themselves to form battalions,” says the War Report, “can be calculated at 10,000. … Recruitment is suspended and recruiters are declared unfit in every province.” From December 1864 to 12 May 1865 (according to the Baron of Rio Branco in Schneider) 8,449 men went to Montevideo, and 1,898 to Rio Grande and Santa Catarina; total, with officers: 10,353. Compare with what Ferraz says later about the inheritance that the 12 May ministry received from its predecessor.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter XI, The Fortune of the Alliance

Brief note: This chapter deals with the Uruguayan War. In the final version of this book, I may end up switching the order of it, so that it occurs closer to chapter IV, V, and VI. Just a heads up. It threw me for a bit when I was first translating it.

The best argument that can be made of the events in Rio Grande is to confess that all our resources together were insufficient to face the enemy; that the enemy’s errors were even greater than ours; and that if we had been wise, perhaps the enemy could have been wise too, crushing us. What’s certain is that everything happened in the best way possible for us. The audacious plans based on the offensive against Estigarribia, when he found himself in Misiones, could have produced a disaster; the very defense of São Borja, could’ve resulted in the union of the three separate columns, and the aid of them by Robles’s army. The only military error worthy of attention that is observed in this improvised war is that of having begun it with forces inferior to the enemy. If the enemy had known to take advantage of the superiority it had in those first minutes, no one can calculate the consequences, or at least the political consequences, of the panic that would have been produced.

All the problems in this war were resolved for us in the most unexpected way. López had no enemy so fatal as his own acts, so poorly directed that they seemed embattled by a hidden power, which entertained itself by scuttling them. His attacks always surprised us, but they lost their effectiveness because of an excess of optimistic recklessness, because of an overly strong surety of being victorious, although the very sluggishness of our movements seems to have helped us, purposefully causing despair in a belligerent who was isolated from the outside world, as Paraguay continued to be, with the river blockaded. The need López felt to attack Rio Grande, a province that he knew to be defenseless thanks to his friends in Montevideo, Corrientes, and Uruguay, became an obsession in the manner of those other despotic whims, and that obsession determined the character of the war. A slave to his fixed idea, he let himself be dragged by it up to the point of invading Argentine territory when he already found himself at war with a nation many times stronger, numerically, than Paraguay, and of a different refinement, wealth, and diversity of resources. If he had proceeded in another way and instead of invading Argentine territory to reach Rio Grande he had left his army from Cerro León and Humaitá to cover his lagoons and jungles, attempting to awaken the suspicions of the Río de la Plata against Brazil’s so-called domineering tendencies, perhaps the Paraguayan War, with Argentine neutrality secretly maintained, would have been the Empire’s ruin.

From this comes the great responsibility taken on by the government that began the Uruguayan War—the cabinet of 15 January 1864 (1). They surely did not foresee Paraguay’s intervention, and when this came about in the form of mediation, it already would be ungraceful to back out. But that is precisely what politics is; the player must always calculate the possible moves of their opponent. In everything we undertake we fight the unexpected; the most foresighted player always wins the game. In 1864 there was in our political sphere a genuine movement in favor of the Uruguayan War, and the Zacarias Cabinet had to yield to that “national unanimity.” It is not a sufficient defense for the cabinet to claim that no one contributed to that unanimity more than the conservative leaders, above all Pimenta Bueno, but it would be valid before a court of chancery.

Given the risk that we ran, the war in 1864 was “a leap in the dark” that the government made with the most absolute unawareness of the complications of the fall. It is quite certain that the complaints and claims that the state of our border produced did not justify the declaration of war to Montevideo, requested by the messengers from the countryside; at least not while the Montevidean government had to fight an armed rebellion. It’s also true that  the ministry of 15 January found in Saraiva a man that, through the sacrifice and nobility of his attitude, mended the toughness and wickedness that there could have been in our instructions, and gave the Blanco government an excellent opportunity to finish the civil war and ensure peace in all of the Río de la Plata; but that same government availed itself of such an opportunity to construct, with Urquiza’s resentment and López’s ambition, a system of forces capable of facing Brazil, once Buenos Aires’s superiority was destroyed. From that point arose an order of things full of dangers for us, in Montevideo, and fortune did not wish for the collision of the two coalitions in formation to remain deferred for a more unfavorable eventuality. In the exact moment in which a delay could have been attempted, which probably would come to facilitate, in the future, a combination of forces against Brazil, the ministry of 15 January falls.

On 31 August Furtado receives a situation that is impossible to modify, though he still wants to, because in place of Saraiva Tamandaré remains, the which considered diplomatic issues with the irritability of the mariner little disposed to measure the political consequences of his actions, so that his admiral’s honor and the brilliance of his flag remain intact before the foreign fleets, and also because in those decisive months of September and October Furtado himself found himself fighting with the great crisis of 1864 (2), which threatened to ruin the commerce of Rio de Janeiro. But the government only had one thought; any other person that would have occupied the seat of power in his place would have done the same; ignorance or calculation would give the same result. The Emperor, who was the permanent will of the country, didn’t think of backing out, but even if it had been proposed, events would not have permitted it. In one way or another López had to initiate the decisive match, and the adversary he chose was Brazil. Whatever the responsibility of the ministers that ran the risk of this war, for which the country did not find itself prepared, and which could have been disastrous, the campaign in itself can be considered (as much as it’s possible to calculate what would have happened if events took another course) as a true lightning rod of all the electricity that had been accumulating in the Río de la Plata.

Translator’s Notes

1. That is, the Zacarias cabinet, lead by Zacarias de Góis e Vasconcelos.
2. This refers to a financial crisis, involving a few major banks in Rio de Janeiro, which had been struggling due to a recent decline in global coffee prices (coffee being an enormous industry in the region.)

The War of Paraguay: Chapter X, General Oversight. — Military Decay.

Two facts explain that disorder— the first (temporary) our complete ignorance of López’s modus operandi; the second (of an essential and permanent character) was the weakness of the whole military system of the Empire.

Our oversight was general. All our civil servants suffered it, and it rested on the political prejudice, turned by the conservative school into a type of national dogma, that friendliness and alliance with Paraguay constituted Brazil’s principal interests in the Plata. That prejudice was so strong that without López’s attack Brazilian statesmen would have had difficulty in agreeing to move our army and fleet against Paraguay. It’s enough to read Paranhos’s circular manifesto from 26 January 1865, addressing the soon-to-be allied nations of the war which we saw ourselves forced to wage, to have an idea of how profoundly that imposed break-up of a friendship, which we cultivated with such care, affected our oldest political superstitions.

In light of subsequent events, this constant request for Paraguayan friendship appears an obvious error. Asunción fostered the secret purpose of dominating navigation on the Paraguay and its tributaries, and taking over Mato Grosso and Misiones, keeping them as a guarantee of their independence and peace. Brazil instructed the Paraguayan army and navy by means of Brazilian officials, like Porto-Carrero and Willagrán Cabrita, Soares Pinto and Caminada, constructing for them the trenches and batteries of Humaitá (1), and the whole system of its defenses; Brazil guided Paraguay through the hand of our diplomats and statesmen: Pimenta Bueno, Bellegarde, Paranhos. Brazil fulfilled no other role with Paraguay than that of the dupe. We armed it against the Empire and shaped the formidable resistance with which we were later to clash.

The_Guard-House,_Humaita
“The Guard-House of Humaitá,” engraving published in the London Illustrated News, 1864.

One of the hypotheses of that a priori diplomacy was that Humaitá’s fortifications would never serve against Brazil, but solely against the re-formation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata. With all that, it didn’t much reckon on what really had importance, dealing with a government like that of López. It did not reckon on his lack of mental fixity; nor on the fears that could assail him; nor on how much was left to the influence of intrigues, flattery, and fear; nor on his lack of perception of national interest or of the strength of his large neighbors; nor on his suspicion of being cheated and seeing himself become an instrument of hidden aims; nor on his extraordinary conceitedness, or on the profound indifference that he must’ve shown to all the benefits of civilization when his time of need, his time of misery arrived; nor on the nomad background, indolent and fatalistic, of the old reduced Indian, a background quite visible behind all the authoritarian ostentations and the regal appearance of his power. Brazil’s best course of action would have been to impede, as much as possible, the fortification of the pass giving access to Mato Grosso, and, if not that, at least not lend itself to help construct a Sevastopol (2) on the river. What is certain is that the appearance of ignoring the military conditions and disturbing strength of Paraguay—the cause of such oversight—reached, without exception, from the Emperor to all the parties, governments, civil servants, diplomats, and military figures of that time.

This ignorance is one of the main factors of the war in 1864. The other is the disorganization of the military service in Brazil. Since the first reign, and above all since the debacle of the Cisplatine War, the old military state, that’s to say, what little of the spirit of the Count of Lippe (3) Brazil’s secession had left us with, was forever decaying, and except in Rio Grande do Sul, the military career ceased to inspire enthusiasm and produce the sense of having a calling.

Little by little the spirit of independence is insinuating itself into the officers, the spirit of individual initiative, of criticizing one’s superiors and the way they carry out discipline. Politics, instead of considering the army as a noli me tangere, respecting its proper character and attending to the most perfect preservation of each of its essential qualities, shows itself indifferent to military glory, and it contributes to the decay of all the elements that constitute a militia. In this way the old traditions of obedience disappear before a new spirit of criticism, individualism, which will come be preponderant after the war, thanks to the importance that independent or irregular elements manage to acquire during it (volunteers and National Guards, above all the Rio Grande National Guard), with relation to regular troops or line infantry. Upon the sudden occurrence of the English affair in 1862 (4) the country feels that it is completely disarmed, without army or navy; that it has done nothing but sleep in the peace of a military dream for twenty years (more than a generation), interrupted only by the struggle against Rosas. Then there’s a reaction; attention turns to the country’s defenses, but fixed so singularly on the state of our fortifications, mere simulacrums at the entry-points of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, so incapable of fulfilling their jobs with the frigate Forte (5) and later with the Wachussett (6).

Politics, more potent than every other concern, deteriorated and rusted the springs of public service. The blame is not isolated to any one person; it belongs to everyone. There was patriotism, good will, and self-sacrifice; but there were also three irresistible things: the indolence born of the climate, of race, and of social habits; the patronage produced by bonhomie and natural benevolence, by the effects of debility, by the lack of resistance, by the fear of consequences, by the near impossibility of saying no, by hurt, by disillusionment; and the partisan spirit with its traditional organization, its secretive freemasonry, its absolute excommunications, imposing conformity on all of its fellow believers. The old Portuguese discipline was too heavy—tiring, like the old dress and old manners—for a society that only wanted rest, the freedom to stretch out and sleep.

From this abandonment, from this force of habit, it is only the privileged class—the political class, responsible for the good preservation of the administrative machine—who could benefit and allow the machine to grind to a halt and become a factory in refuge from its clientele, only they could benefit from the idle parasitism that grabs ahold of the machine, and so, equally, grabs ahold of magistrates or police, schools, colleges and faculties, arsenals, ships and barracks, cathedrals, seminaries and parishes, railways, post offices, town halls, provincial governments, secretaries of state, legislative chambers, electoral colleges—all suffer the same continuous deterioration, upon all sits the same neglect, that same intermittence of energy, that same inferiority of work.

The warrior spirit, the ambition for glory on the battlefield, the custom of obedience and self-sacrifice that forms discipline, the custom of command which the concept of hierarchical superiority gives, which entrusts the care of the troops to the chiefs and makes them compete with each other in the eagerness to have the best instructed and best disposed troop possible—all that, which forms the military environment of a country, was waning, tempering itself to the general tone of indifference that characterized public services, and which, vainly, was hurriedly attempted to be remedied at the last moment. Luckily our moral fiber was not dead; it had been relaxed but not corrupted. There was torpor and laziness, but there was also sensibility, heart, honor, patriotism, idealism—and thanks to the quasi-customary veneration which was still preserved for living examples of the old spirit, of the court of that other epoch, like Caxias, Porto-Alegre, Osorio, Tamandaré, Barroso, thanks to the national conscience admirably embodied by the Emperor, thanks to our economic resources, still intact, thanks to the order of the central motor not yet deteriorated by the mold that covered the surface of the machine, our country could, in a relatively short time, present to the nations of the Plata the greatest military apparatus that to this day has ever been seen in South America, an apparatus that, because of the great expanse of the theater of war, never was fully compiled where it could be contemplated altogether.

Translator’s Notes

1. Humaitá, a Paraguayan fortress on a bend of the Paraguay River, was the single greatest obstacle the allies faced. From October 1866 to July 1868, the allies’ offensive operations all centered on surrounding, and then maintaining the siege of, Humaitá.
2. This is a reference to the Crimean port city, which became infamous when it resisted an enemy siege for 349 days (1854-1855) during the Crimean War. The comparison is apt because both Sevastopol and Humaitá were heavily fortified, both were under frequent, intense bombardment during their sieges, and both faced an allied assault (France, Britain, and the Ottoman Empire in the case of Sevastopol.)
3. An incredibly successful military leader, who reformed the Portuguese military and defended Portugal from the Franco-Spanish invasion during the Seven Years’ War. Despite being outnumbered three to one, Lippe successfully drove the invading forces back, and gained renown throughout the Portuguese Empire.
4. In 1862 the British consul in Rio de Janeiro presented the Brazilian government with an ultimatum, making absurd demands in response to a few incidents of Brazilians mistreating British sailors. Surprisingly, Brazil did not back down, and it instantly prepared for a naval war. The British consul backed down, though not before ordering British ships to capture Brazilian merchant vessels as indemnity. Brazil severed diplomatic ties with the empire in 1863, though the conflict did not escalate from there. More on this in Chapter XXV.
5. One of the British ships that captured Brazilian merchant vessels.
6. A warship of the Confederate States of America, captured by a Union ship while in Bahia Harbor, Brazil, violating Brazilian neutrality.

What I’ve Been Reading, February 2018 (Southeast Edition!)

Hey wow, two books published in 2017! I’m only a little late to the party, for once! Also, two books that take place in the US Southeast! I could’ve broken this post into two separate review posts, since I have a lot to say about both books, but they kinda sorta pair I guess not really but whatever here we go!

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard — I happened upon this book just by browsing through my local library’s non-fiction ebooks, looking for something to occupy my time over the winter break, and man am I glad I did. Sunshine State is a collection of essays mainly dealing with events, recollections, and social issues in the Tampa Bay area. Though the title comes from the nickname for Florida, Tampa Bay and Pinellas County are really the central locations of the book.

What I enjoyed most about these essays was Gerard’s ability to pierce through these very specific, or at times very personal, topics, and reveal something more universal, especially in essays like “BFF,” “Going Diamond,” and “Sunshine State.” “BFF” is the opening piece of the book, and is written as an address to an old, unnamed friend of Gerard’s. The writing is visceral, and the description of their painful, years-long parting is captivating. It’s a level of emotional, personal intensity that the collection never really returns to—at least not in full (it would be impossible to sustain anyway.)

This intensity is certainly sprinkled into most of the essays though, like in “Going Diamond,” an essay about AmWay, the direct selling (a.k.a. pyramid scheme) company. The essay describes the history of the corporation, as well as the Gerard family’s time as members of AmWay, interspersed with descriptions of Gerard and her husband posing as prospective homeowners, and touring enormous mansions in South Florida gated communities. The blend of all these elements creates this feeling of surreality around AmWay, a cloying, saccharine vision of country clubs and indoor pools and saving the earth with warm, honest capitalism. The American Way.Read More »

Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

This was originally going to be just part of a “What I’ve Been Reading” post, but it turns out I have a lot to say about this book, so now it’s just its own review post.

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Cover courtesy of DAW

The Name of the Wind is the first book in Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles, and it describes the early life of the first-person narrator and alleged Kingkiller, Kvothe. To describe the plot generally would paint this novel as clichéd. I guess that’s because it is, in its broad strokes. An exceptionally talented, fast-learning child lives a comfortable life as a player in his father’s troupe of traveling performers. When the troupe takes on an arcanist, young Kvothe is mentored by him in Sympathy—a kind of magic based on intense concentration and mental gymnastics. Eventually the arcanist leaves, and soon after the Kvothe’s father begins work on a ballad involving the mysterious Chandrian—mythical superhuman superevil beings, probably just fables. Then the Chandrian murder the entire troupe, leaving only Kvothe alive. For years Kvothe survives by the skin of his teeth, hitchhiking, begging, stealing, though he eventually determines to go to the University, to utilize its massive archives to research the Chandrian. Demonstrating exceptional intelligence and knowledge of sympathy, Kvothe is admitted to the University, where he spends the remainder of the book having adventures and misadventures, and trying to gain access to the archives.

Yes, with the exception of a few creative flourishes, the book traces a familiar arc. Where it stands out, or at least justifies its position as one of the most popular fantasy novels in the past decade, is in the execution. The book reminds me of a 19th-century serialized novel, like Great Expectations or Count of Monte Cristo—both of which, in their broad strokes, also rely on clichés, despite being terrific works. The pacing is tireless, each chapter lurches into the next as new dilemmas arise and Kvothe sets his sights on new goals. There’s a large cast of characters, but they’re all memorable, and you love to love the ones you love, and love to hate the ones you hate. Name of the Wind manages the great trick of being long and reading fast.Read More »

New Publication: The Wisdom-Goddess Star

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! My novelette, “The Wisdom-Goddess Star,” is now available on Smashwords and Amazon. It has nothing to do with love or romance, but neither does St. Valentine (possibly), so it works out. Here’s the synopsis:

twgs-c-2Alexander Irving. First generation Martian, born to Patricia Irving and Peter Leung. Studied journalism at the newly founded University of Mars, a petri dish for “human journalism,” a new style of journalism to compete with AI reporters. Moved to Phobos upon graduation and joined the staff of The Light, the premier news organization of Mars’s largest satellite. Reported primarily on the working class of Phobos—technicians, repair crew, service workers—and always felt he was missing something. The grit of real journalism, investigative journalism, the kind which humans still do in the mud and shadows of Earth.

2 Pallas. Third most massive asteroid in the solar system, the newest acquisition of the International Martian Program. Its colonization is the first major IMP project to make use of the Per Aspera Ad Astra program, recruiting a thousand new members from working class, low income, secondary education backgrounds. Due to its highly eccentric orbit, Pallas only nears Mars once every 2 years—making it the most isolated colony in the IMP.

Pallas gives Irving the opportunity he’s looking for, to probe deep into a colony from which AI cannot harvest data, as the colony still lacks a long-range communications relay. When Irving arrives, he shortly discovers that Pallas’s isolation may be the intentional work of the local governor, and he endeavors to discover what exactly the governor wants to keep hidden from the rest of the IMP.

In addition, the publication includes an afterword in which I discuss how a school superintendent election, a dysfunctional novella, and a few English classes influenced the creation of this story.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter IX, The Invasion of Rio Grande do Sul

Although the Furtado (1) Cabinet was not yet in power when Rio Grande do Sul was invaded by the Paraguayan army, this event belongs to its administration for the same reason that the events of Yatay and Riachuelo, victories whose glory alone vindicated the cabinet, do. (Address from 13 August 1867.) The cabinet of 12 May (2) did not have time to prepare, from Rio de Janeiro, any kind of resistance to an invasion that had taken place on 10 June in São Borja, the Paraguayans being already on the opposite shore of the Uruguay. They had barely been able to send some order or other to Montevideo. Besides, the President of Rio Grande (Gonzaga), the commander general of the borderlands (Canavarro), the commander of the field army (Osório [3]), the admiral (Tamandaré), and the plenipotentiary of the alliance (Otaviano), had been appointed by the Furtado ministry. To the cabinet of 12 May, in propriety, one should attribute the events that happened after the arrival of General Porto-Alegre, Minister Ferraz, and the Emperor in Uruguaiana. The blame for not having prepared anything within Rio Grande itself to stop the devastation does not belong to it, but its predecessors.

Estigarribia (4) crossed the Uruguay River on 10 June 1865, without encountering any resistance other than that of a 370-man contingent of the National Guard, with which the 1st Battalion of the Voluntários da Pátria were joined. This small force could not stop the enemy. São Borja was occupied on 13 June and systematically surrendered to the soldiers. From São Borja the invading army marched through Itaqui, completely devastating it. Parallel to that army, Commander Duarte’s (5) column marched on the right bank of the river. On 7 June Itaqui, abandoned by its inhabitants, was occupied and immediately sacked. Between Itaqui and Uruguaiana runs the Ibucuí, a river that the enemy crossed without opposition after doubts and disagreements between Caldwell and Canavarro. On 5 August the Paraguayans enter Uruguaiana, where only the day before our generals’ decision to not defend it had been announced, producing an indescribable panic.

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Map of the action described in the above paragraph. Source.

Serious condemnations of the Empire’s administration can be deduced from the state of helplessness on our side of the Uruguay. The basis for these criticisms was quite old because the government had known the invasion plan, put into effect in June, since January. In five months no effective measures were taken, nor was any defense plan drafted to impede the invasion. If a person wants to figure out to whom belongs the responsibility for having allowed the free and open crossing of the Uruguay by the enemy’s army, it is unclear how to cleanly place the blame.

The Furtado ministry defends itself by saying they trusted in the assurances that the president of Rio Grande do Sul province gave them, and above all, by claiming that they didn’t find a single thing prepared for them, because of which they had to improvise everything, and that even so, with the things that they hurriedly gathered together, we were victorious in Riachuelo and Yatay.

For his part Gonzaga, president of Rio Grande, defends himself by asserting the insufficiency of the resources that existed in the province, the simultaneous requests of Canavarro and Osório, and the assurances that the commander of the borderlands gave him that he would defeat the enemy, eventually wanting to go to Candelária in search of him.

Canavarro, for his part, defends himself by saying that his complaints were not attended, that he lacked the resources on which he had counted, and that after the strength and aims of the invading army were known, he employed against it a tactic with which he managed to destroy it completely, bringing about the best result that could be desired.

Osório excuses himself from not having run to the aid of São Borja or Uruguaiana, and from having disregarded Rio Grande, explaining the situation in which the Concordia army (6) found itself, and the necessity of not weakening it—it was the alliance’s base of defense—to which he added that, to his mind, any Paraguayan column that penetrated Rio Grande would be irredeemably lost.

Until, in January, López requested permission from Argentina to cross through the province of Corrientes, it was reasonable to consider the invasion of Rio Grande as improbable, given the fact that this region found itself defended by the neutral territory that lay in between it and the supposed invader. With that request made, now there was no such improbability in supposing López capable of the madness of crossing Argentine territory, creating a casus belli. It was still not probable, but protecting the border against any possible surprise was imperative. After the invasion of Corrientes, in the middle of April the likelihood, the almost certainty of an attack on Rio Grande was discovered, and since then the advisability of defending the Uruguay’s fords was evident.

Meanwhile, the ministerial crisis in Rio de Janeiro was happening with all the consequences that the change of governments always brought, all the more so since the transition of power from the hands of the historic Liberals to the progressives, had affected in Rio Grande do Sul (where each group or party had their own general) a radical change, or at least, a profound shake up of the military command.

Translator’s Notes

1. Francisco José Furtado, Brazilian Prime Minister 1864-65.
2. That is, the Olinda Cabinet, which took power on 12 May 1865.
3. Manuel Luis Osório, field marshal of the Brazilian army from 1865-66.
4. Antonio de la Cruz Estigarribia, Paraguayan Lieutenant Colonel who lead the invasion into Rio Grande do Sul.
5. Pedro Duarte, Paraguayan military officer.
6. Concordia is a city in Entre Ríos, which served as a rendezvous point for the allied armies. At the time that Estigarribia entered Rio Grande do Sul, Osório was already in Concordia, though the entirety of the Brazilian army had not yet arrived, and divisions from the other allied nations were on their way.

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VIII, The Argentine Alliance

Mitre had been maintaining the most well-considered neutrality in the fight between Brazil and Montevideo, and he had no motive to intervene in the war with Paraguay. “We don’t know if at the end,” he writes to Sarmiento, in Lima at the time, on 10 December 1864, “we will be engulfed by that tempest that more than a year ago we were avoiding, despite the fact that I’m working with perseverance and willpower to prevent it; I don’t know if I will achieve this.” However his sympathies were not in doubt. Whatever the thinking was about the platine enemies of Brazil, civilization’s best interest lay in the destruction of the new power that, with an incalculable force and threatening character, supported by the complete servitude of its people, soon arose in the Alto Río de la Plata (1).

Lopez’s victory over Brazil would’ve been a disaster of greater consequence for Buenos Aires, or at least for the liberal order (in its infancy at the time), than it would for Brazil, which, sooner or later, would’ve ended up imposing its law over Asunción with its battleships. Perhaps neutrality was the Argentine Republic’s political duty; but because they also had a genuine interest in maintaining it, they had to be sure of the Empire’s ultimate victory; and even so it’s likely, in this case, that that interest lay in allying themselves with Brazil, for a new Battle of Caseros, against a tyranny worse than that of Rosas. The destruction of López could not have been a natural desire of the free nations of the Plata, before the use that that man decided to make of militarizing the Paraguayan people was known; but once known, all the countries bordering Paraguay were equally interested in tearing that terrible weapon from the tyrant’s hands. Mitre instinctively felt that the whole Río de La Plata would find itself invested in Brazil’s victory, which would be at the same time civilization’s victory.

After the invasion of Corrientes by Robles’s army, an attack that could already seem to be an act of dementia, there only remained for the Argentine Republic the choice between these two resolutions: To make war with Paraguay on their own, or to ally with Brazil. It is clear that they should prefer the second option; and in effect, the treaty of alliance is made official on May 1st, with the new government that, thanks to us, had triumphed in Montevideo being represented in it.Read More »

Review: Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

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Cover of the first German edition, courtesy of Campus Fachbuch

I heard about this book around the time I was starting to form my own ideas about why people identify themselves as Americans, Porteños, Quebecois—and why other people don’t. Essentially, what does it take to convince people that they belong to a group? Why did US citizens identify more with their states than their nation, in the early 19th century? When does state building fail, and when does it succeed? Imagined Communities does not examine those specific questions, but it effectively answers them, and provides a whole bunch of tools for understanding nationalism, and, I ‘unno, separatist movements like the one that is happening right now. Might be worth picking up now for that reason.

The central conceit of Imagined Communities is that nationalism, even the concept of clearly delineated nations as the ultimate form of legitimacy, is recent, and that it was only possible with the rise of print capitalism. When reading newspapers based in Venezuela, inhabitants of the country could imagine other “Venezuelans” reading the same text as them, reading about the same political appointments, the same market changes, the same marriages of nobility. This “imagined community” is the nation. Of course, there are other imagined communities (Anderson describes religious community as the greatest precursor to national community), but because of the insularity of nations, and a host of other factors which he delineates in the book, this imagined community becomes one that people are willing to die for.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VII, Character of the Paraguayan War. — López.

The Paraguayan War had such decisive importance in our destiny and in that of the whole Río de la Plata region that it can be considered a dividing line between two periods in our contemporary history. It signals the apogee of the Empire, but also within its origins are the principal causes of the decline and fall of that dynasty: The alluring force exerted by the Argentine Republic’s appearance and development, its military prestige, connected by the working-class spirit to exalted names, and united by the ties of camaraderie that war creates; Americanism; the very emancipation of slaves, an act that in many ways is tied to the war—thousands of Brazilians residing in foreign countries without slaves, constant insults from the enemies of the Brazilian alliance because of its practice of slavery, effective military inferiority for that reason, freedom conceded by the Count of Eu (1), husband of the heiress to the imperial throne, to the slaves of the defeated nation; and republican propaganda—partly of platine origin, a product of the influence of the institutions and the men of the Plata, during the campaign, over Quintino Bocayuba (2) and others, and political influence of the allied camp over our officials, principally those from Rio Grande.

This war’s history, whether military, diplomatic, or political, is yet to be written. It’s difficult to set out the military truth clearly because of the manifest bias of the war’s historians, each in favor of their respective countries. The diplomatic truth waivers not only under that same prejudice, but also under the secrecy of foreign offices, and the reservations of the characters controlling the conduct of the countries involved in the conflict. The political truth, that’s to say, the attitude, the motives, the culpability of the parties, in each one of the belligerent nations, is obscured by the sympathies felt by each writer. Writing a new version of this war does not enter into my purpose, nor would it be within my scope, nor could I even reconcile the three common versions: Brazil’s, Argentina’s, and Paraguay’s.

As far as the military angle, the criticism of any of these derivations comes down to affirming that it would have been better to do what was not done, that is, what was not tested on the touchstone of reality (3). Each time it will be more difficult to obtain the truth from such a critique, since, to arrive at truth, a kind of face-to-face confrontation, impossible today, would be necessary, between those that served as commanders of the opposite camps. It is certain that criticisms of this type lack force, because upon proving that this or that should have been done, instead of what was done, it would remain to be proven whether or not knowing what should have happened was only possible by virtue of knowing what did happen; and what’s more, it would remain to be proven that every military operation would have been more fortuitous if the campaign had been taken in a different direction. The Paraguayan War will always be an unsolvable problem, because its critics, fundamentally, will always make mistakes, the historian lacking the knowledge of the conditions and circumstances of the moment.

Above the criticism of all those military operations rises the truth contained in the words of the Duke of Caxias, in the Senate, more than once quoted: “Nothing easier, after events have occurred, after the enemy’s territory, forces, and tactics have been familiarized, than criticizing from afar—with total calm and sangfroid, with the official reports available—the management of the campaign, and indicating the most advantageous plans. But it doesn’t happen the same to the person who finds themselves in the theatre of war, walking in the shadows of an entirely unfamiliar country, bristling with natural obstacles. It’s essential that the senators recognize that the Paraguayan War was done blindly, by feeling our way through. There were not maps of the country to serve as a guide, nor reliable pilots. The only terrain that was known was what we stepped foot on. It was necessary to do reconnaissance and scouting missions in order to take a step.”Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter VI, López’s Intervention. — End of the Uruguayan War. — Invasion of the Argentine Republic by the Paraguayans.

By fortune, no darkness shrouds the origins of the Paraguayan War. In June, with López’s aid solicited by the Blanco government after Saraiva’s mission arrived in Montevideo, López offers his mediation to the imperial government; in August and September he protests Brazil’s threat of reprisals and the aid Tamandaré lent to Flores’s invasion. Seeing his mediation rejected, his protest scorned, in November he captures the steamer Marqués de Olinda, which was bringing to Mato Grosso the new governor, Carneiro de Campos, charged with organizing the defense of that western Brazilian province against any sudden attack from Paraguay. One month after the attack on the Marqués de Olinda, López invades Mato Grosso, his troops having the same orders to pillage and destroy, the same objectives of plundering and raping with which we later saw them cross into Uruguay. It was not a civilized war, this war which caught us by surprise. It was like an invasion of barbarians, a horde of Huns suddenly launched into our defenseless populations.

The Marqués de Olinda lost, Carneiro de Campos imprisoned, and Mato Grosso invaded, we had to force the pass at Humaitá and go on until Asunción. By our luck, a great obstacle was going to disappear from our way. Through the agreement of 20 February (1865), Montevideo was surrendered to Flores, and since that day, not only did we not have to sustain two wars, but we also could count on the Eastern State as an ally instead of an enemy.

Nothing is more likely to be true than the theory that attributes the abrupt resignation of Paranhos (Viscount of Rio Branco) to the emperor, because of that pact: however it is impossible to imagine that the emperor could have asked him to do anything else. And what could be expected to come from the forcible taking of a trading city, in great part foreign, European, such as Montevideo, even supposing that it could not defend itself? Or what could be expected to come from the city’s bombardment, the unavoidable preliminary action of such an assault?

The total deadlock in resolving the war with Montevideo, after the attitude taken by López, had been a catastrophe, and if the delay did not make an impression on our government, it’s because no one expected what happened: the invasion of Rio Grande do Sul, after that of Montevideo. In Flores’s complete victory, López sees the hand of the Argentine government, an accomplice to the invasion according to the Blancos, and he suddenly turns against Buenos Aires with the same violence with which before he turned against Brazil, repeating on 13 April what he did in the waters of the Paraguay with the Marqués de Olinda, only now with canister shot and soldiers boarding the other ships, by which method the Gualeguay and the 25 de Mayo were taken over, two small Argentinian warships that were caught unawares in the port of Corrientes. The following day General Robles (1) occupies the city and invades Argentinian territory, if not for which Paraguay could have claimed some pretext for their actions.

Translator’s Notes

1. Wenceslao Robles, a Paraguayan general.

Public Domain Day 2018: Now, Don’t Fucking Touch It

EDIT: A previous version of this post had some slightly bad math. Basically, I said nothing had entered public domain for 50 years. That’s not quite right. In 1997 and 1998, works published in 1921 and 1922 entered public domain, respectively. Before that, the last time works entered public domain was 1977, when the copyright for works published in 1920 expired. Still, I think I’m right to call it a “half-century of starvation.” In over 50 years, we only ate twice.

Today is Public Domain Day. That effectively means nothing in the US, where for the past 49 years (basically, see above), no published works have entered the public domain. However, next year, finally, finally, this half-century of starvation will be over.

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Woman Chocolate Vendor by Paul Gavarni. Painted ca. 1855, totally in public domain. Isn’t it pretty!

A work that is in a country’s public domain is a work that anyone can modify, sell, or incorporate into a new work, with no permission needed from anyone. There is no copyright holder for works in the public domain. Originally, US copyright law stated that a work—like a book, a painting, a piece of software, a song, etc.—had to be registered for copyright, after which point the right to copy it would rest solely with the author, for 14 years. The author could renew it for another 14 years after that, if they wanted, and then it would enter the public domain. In 1830, this law was modified so that terms were 28 years, again with the option for renewal.

A century and more later, in 1976, copyright term was dramatically increased to the life of the author plus 50 years. Additionally, the 1976 act set a term of 75 years for any work of unknown origin, or any “work for hire”—a term which would be applied to new works, and works published before 1978. A work for hire would be like a photo created by an employee as part of their job—or, it could be a movie created by a group of people (most movies are works for hire), who all sign a contract to designate the movie as a work for hire. As well, this dumpster fire piece of legislation extended the maximum copyright term of works created before 1976 from 56 years to 75 years.

This is a lot to take in, so let me break it down. Suppose I write a book in 1930, and I’m 30 years old, and I publish it that same year. I would hold the copyright through 1958, at which point I would renew it. I’m still alive after all, might as well make sure people are buying it from me and not anyone else. Then I would hold the copyright term through 1986, and it would expire on January 1st 1987. Now in 1976, I hear about this new copyright act, which allows authors to retain control of their works for as long as they live—and then grants their estates control of the work for 50 years after their death. Well, that doesn’t seem fair to me—I’ll still be alive (possibly) when my copyright expires in 1986, and I still want that money. Good news—the 1976 Copyright Act grants my work a copyright term of 75 years, meaning it will expire in 2006—when I’m 106 (or probably dead.) Hooray! I suppose this is a good scenario, but here’s what could also happen:

Suppose I write a song when I’m 30 in the year 1930, publish the song, and die instantly. Well, my estate would then get to reap the benefits of that song for 75 years. Or, maybe I don’t have an estate—maybe no rightful heir can be found, in which case, this song is stuck in limbo, with absolutely no one benefitting from it, for the better part of a century.

Suppose I write a song in 1920 and it doesn’t matter how old I am. The song remains in the public domain until January 1st 1977, the year before 1976 act goes into effect. It would be among the last batch of published works to enter the public domain, before the 50-year drought that we’re finally reaching the end of now (with the exception of 1997 and ’98.)

But whatever. That’s just some weird bit of business to try and bridge the gap between old copyright law and new copyright law. Let’s see how this would work for an artist working in 1980.

Suppose I make a movie as a work for hire in 1980. A corporation would probably be the copyright holder, and they would hold the rights to the movie for the next 75 years—or, if for some reason they waited a long time to publish it, 120 years. The 1976 act granted copyright for 120 years after creation, or 75 years after publication—whichever comes first. Potentially, a company could wait 119 years to release a movie, and then have it enter public domain the next year. Weird. Anyway, here’s how this works for an individual author:

Suppose I draw a self-portrait in 1980 and die instantly. (I think I would have to publish it too, but I’m not sure. I’ll address how unpublished works are handled in a moment.) My estate will then hold the copyright through 2030.

So this is really bad and I’ll talk about that in a moment, but hold onto your butts for right now because in 1998, the term of copyright was increased to the author’s life plus 70 years, and 95 years for works published before 1978. The term for works for hire was also increased to 95 years, or 120 years after creation (at least they didn’t extend that, I guess.)Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 2, Saraiva’s Mission. — The Uruguayan War

One cannot deny that this was an intervention into eastern politics, but it was a disinterested intervention, according to the interests of the Republic and the desires manifested by it in the past; but not even this offered support was enough to become an effective intervention, remaining on offer to any government that would assume the responsibility of accepting the intervention to pull together the parties and reorganize the country. And this was not the case only with Brazil’s support—the impartial candor with which it was offered elicited support from the Argentine Republic and commanded the respect of Great Britain, engaged in the mediation. What Saraiva really wanted was to infuse Aguirre with validity. “I am, however, convinced,” he told the imperial government, “that if the president reforms the ministry he will not request nor need to request a single soldier from Brazil. The Eastern State needs order, and its inhabitants yearn to see it reestablished by a government of men who are sincere, active, and upright. A new administration with these characteristics and with the moral support of the other powers will have sufficient strength to establish order and impede revolts.”

Atanasio_Aguirre
Atanasio Aguirre ca. 1861

That negotiation was aborted. Aguirre promised to constitute a new ministry, but with elements still more factional, and with Leandro Gómez (14) figuring in it. The mediators put forth the names of Castellanos, Villalba, Andrés Lamas, Martínez, Herrera, and Obes. Given the impossibility of coming to an understanding, the representatives of the three nations brought the mediation to an end on 7 July.

Saraiva went to confer with Mitre in Buenos Aires. In that Republic the dominant political attitude was hostile to the Blanco party; all sympathy was with Flores, and because of that Brazil’s intervention, at a time in which it was equivalent to insuring victory for the revolution, was considered by the Argentine government to be an act of providence, an unexpected gift of fortune. Saraiva and Mitre got along from then on, and from this perfect accord resulted the new Brazilian doctrine in the Plata, which from 1864 to today governs the relations between Brazil and the Argentine Republic. For that reason, perhaps by having known Mitre’s government’s intentions, and having penetrated their desires with regards to Montevideo, Saraiva is still more convinced that peace is the most agreeable policy for Brazil, and from Buenos Aires he even tries to attract Aguirre to his ideas, meeting up with his confidential agent Reguera.Read More »

The War of Paraguay: Chapter V pt. 1, Saraiva’s Mission

Note: This is a really long chapter, so I’m splitting it into two parts. This won’t be a regular thing though—I think there’s only one other chapter, maybe two, long enough that I’ll want to split them up. Also, see this post for background info.

When the old brigadier Netto (1) came to Rio de Janeiro, at the beginning of 1864, to excite our government against Uruguay’s, presenting, as the new leader of the eastern campaign, a portrait of the long-standing abuses committed against Brazilians, it produced a fury of opinion, and from this violent impulse was born Saraiva’s mission. We had suffered the humiliation of English retaliation at the Rio de Janeiro bay entrance, and the ideology of democracy, with Teófilo Ottoni (2) at the head, showed itself to be of as bellicose a humor as the emperor himself was said to be. Given these circumstances, Netto’s presence inflamed spirits predisposed to acts of imprudence and senselessness. The conservative party took the initiative to make interpellations in the Chamber of Deputies about the state of the campaign.

From this so-called patriotic attitude of the opposition and the majority, in the session of 5 April what resulted was war, unless the Blanco government would completely yield to the demands and grievances of the Brazilians enlisted under Flores’s flag. Today it would not be possible to investigate whether or not our complaints were founded. The Brazilians residing in Uruguay (3) should have suffered the fate of the easterners themselves, or abstained from any interference with those factions which always devastated the countryside. Neither should the Brazilian government have forgotten the chronic anarchy of the Republic. Order, peace, and calm in the Eastern State were only possible if Brazil and Argentina united for many years to uphold the healthy elements of that country; but since Brazil and Argentina could not do so and did not want to do so, they lost the right to demand responsibility in the eastern government, whatever it was, because of acts that almost always resulted from the state of disorder in the border regions. It is unnecessary to examine the claims and complaints one by one to be sure that the ministry of 15 January 1864 made a mistake in yielding to their first impulse and allowing themselves to be commanded by the clamor of Flores’s supporters, who demanded immediate intervention in Montevideo.

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José Antônio Saraiva, Brazilian Foreign Relations Minister 1865-1866.

If our country had the luck to not be immediately engaged in a war with this Republic, it owes it only to the circumstances of having conferred to Saraiva the role of inspector. Succeeding events have proved that if others had found themselves in his position, the mission would have begun with the occupation of Uruguayan territory, followed by the bombardment of Montevideo, and a war against the entire Río de la Plata.

Saraiva arrives in Montevideo on 6 May 1864. His instructions are to address to the eastern government “our last friendly intimation,” concluding by demanding, with regard to the crimes and abuses against the lives and property of Brazilians, “1st That the government of the Republic put into effect the necessary punishments, if not for all the criminals, then at least those that, being recognized as such, go unpunished, and even occupy some posts in the eastern government or work in state offices. 2nd That the police officers that have abused the authority they exercise be immediately dismissed, and held accountable. 3rd That those Brazilians that have been dispossessed of their property by military or civil authorities of the Republic be compensated justly. 4th Finally, that the Brazilians forced to take up arms in service of the Republic be completely released.”Read More »

New Publication: Suggest the Empire

Awhile ago I wrote a post about learning from Shakespeare’s histories. The reason I read those plays was to prepare for writing Suggest the Empire, a full-length play which is now available on Smashwords and Amazon! And you can read the sort-of-self-contained first act for free! (See below.) Here’s the synopsis:

SuggesttheEmpire-c-2To Prince Oht, heir apparent of the Olisan Empire, all the trappings of nationhood seem as skeletal and artificial as the trappings of theatre. War chants to suggest fraternity, court language to suggest royalty, flags to suggest ownership—all are equal to flimsy poles to suggest spears, colored cloth to suggest flags, three men to suggest an army. All his cynicism is of little consequence while his father, the charismatic Alita Tolkash, still rules as emperor, but the time will come when Oht has to step up. And when Tolkash is injured in battle, and begins to have his own doubts about what the empire truly is, it looks like that time of responsibility is drawing sooner and sooner.

Suggest the Empire follows in the Shakespearean tradition of history plays, though it tells a completely invented history in a completely invented world. Relying entirely on representational sets and costuming, the play portrays a centuries-old empire caught at a momentous crossroads, with conflict brewing in all quarters.

Run time is 160-180 minutes. Cast is 26 (no gender restrictions), with potential for double casting.

If you read We’ll Tell Happy Stories, this play is set in the same world as that one. There’s hardly any crossover at all (completely different characters, different settings), but Suggest the Empire has the same kind of world-building and treatment of language as in We’ll Tell—so if you liked the one, you’ll probably like the other.

The publication also contains an afterword in which I discuss the origins of the idea, my imperialist writing policy, and my method for writing court Olisan.

If you want to get a sample of the play, you can read the first act, which is sorta self-contained, for free in the following formats:

PDFEpub — Mobi

What I’ve Been Reading, December 2017

Another one! Already! Well, I’ve been reading a lot, and honestly the fact that this is being posted in December has more to do with when I got around to writing it all of it than when I read the books. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading, more or less around this time:

Tar Baby by Toni Morrison — Tar Baby is one of the most focused books by Morrison. The majority of it takes place in one house, on one island, with a core cast of just six. With long passages of just dialogue, the book often feels like a play. It’s also a break from Morrison’s typical MO in that it spends a lot of time focused on white characters. Those white characters are Valerian and Margaret Street, and the book starts out following them, a husband and wife, Valerian being the heir to his family’s massive candy business, Margaret a beauty queen twenty years her husband’s junior. Now retired, Valerian lives in what was once just his summer home, a manor on the caribbean Isle des Chevaliers, tended to by Sydney and Ondine. Christmas time is nearing, and Jadine Childs is visiting the manor—a successful young black fashion model, raised by Sydney and Ondine, and put through college by a generous sponsorship from Valerian. That’s five of the core cast I’ve just mentioned. The sixth shows up when Margaret finds him hiding in her closet—a black man named Son, a fugitive who jumped ship in the Caribbean and managed to swim to Isle des Chevaliers. Inexplicably, and to Margaret, Sydney, Ondine, and Jadine’s horror, Valerian decides to invite Son to stay with them, as a guest.

The majority of the book is the action that plays out between this major disruption in the house—the disruption of Son’s arrival—and the disruption which occurs around the Christmas dinner (right from the beginning its clear that Christmas dinner is not going to be the perfect gathering that Margaret is planning for.) Watching the reactions of these characters of all different social and racial backgrounds is fascinating, a thorough study in social hierarchy and perceived social status, and what people do when they feel their status is threatened or challenged—and the build up and eventual explosion of all the anxiety and pressure Son’s arrival has caused is masterful. It’s also great to see Morrison flex her considerable dialogue muscles here—dialogue is something she’s terrific with (is there anything she’s not terrific with?), but in this book it’s featured prominently, as the main means of propelling the story along.

A great book to read for Christmas! (jk jk jk i mean its great for anytime but lol this aint rudolph or whatever)Read More »