Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Half a million young Italians are about to receive free money to stay away from terrorism

Rick Noack, Washington Post

Image from article, with caption: Italian police stand guard at a checkpoint in Conciliazione Street, next to St. Peter's Square, in Rome in Nov. 17, 2015.

As Europe struggles to counter the threat posed by the Islamic State and other militant groups, the Italian government is set to launch a scheme that will take the fight to a different level.

Starting mid-September, more than half a million 18-year-olds living in Italy are eligible to receive vouchers valued at more than $500 each. The vouchers will allow recipients to visit museums free, go to concerts for reduced prices or watch movies.

"It sends a clear message — a welcome for those who reach the age of 18 and a reminder of how crucial culture is, both for personal enrichment and for strengthening the social fabric of the country," Tommaso Nannicini, the official in charge of the program, was quoted as saying last week.

According to the Italian government, the program is also intended to send a message to militant groups. When the scheme was announced last year, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi implied that extremists should be countered not only militarily, but also ideologically. The announcement came days after militant attacks in Paris killed at least 130 people. "They imagine terror, we answer with culture. They destroy statues, we love art. They destroy books, we are the country of libraries," Renzi reportedly said, referring to a "cultural battle."

Italy's cultural offerings are well known and appreciated across the world, drawing a flood of tourists. Giving free money to 18-year-olds in a country where the youth unemployment rate is more than 35 percent is aimed at motivating younger Italians to have similarly positive experiences and to see their own country in a different way.

The idea of countering extremism through cultural and social incentives is increasingly popular in Europe's welfare states. Britain's Channel program — part of a broader "Prevent" counterterrorism strategy — offers counseling and social support to youths who might be at risk of radicalization. The program, however, remains controversial because some Muslim communities view it as a police-led initiative to monitor terrorism suspects.

France and Germany also have experimented with smaller, similar schemes. French students already benefit from free admission to all public museums in Paris.

But Italy's approach is viewed as unprecedented: The government expects to spend about $300 million on the program, depending on how many eligible recipients claim the money. Theoretically, all 18-year-old European Union citizens living in Italy are allowed to apply. The program runs out at the end of next year.

Opposition parties have criticized the scheme as populist, but counterterrorism experts and international observers say it could be more effective than some other past efforts to counter youth radicalization.

Although the program was launched with the declared intent to counter radicalization efforts, the government has since been careful to label it a "culture bonus."

A special smartphone app will allow recipients to choose how to spend the money. Experts have said that approach, which refrains from pressuring participants into a particular program, could prove effective.

"It is hard to say what is the best approach. But what we can say is what is the wrong one: a spying system that stigmatizes and excludes people," Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said in a recent interview that focused on counter-radicalization schemes in Europe.

Kiai has been critical of other European anti-radicalization efforts, including Britain's Prevent strategy, saying they marginalize Muslims. "You have to be careful to not marginalize and to make people feel as if they are targets and unwanted," he said.

Under Italy's plan, the money will be distributed to all 18-year-old E.U. citizens in the country, regardless of ethnicity or religion.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Birth of Race-Based Slavery

From Slate

By the 17th century, America’s slave economy had eliminated the obstacle of morality.

Excerpted from Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America by Peter H. Wood. Published by Oxford University Press.
This article supplements Episode 1 of The History of American Slavery, our inaugural Slate Academy. Please join Slate’s Jamelle Bouie and Rebecca Onion for a different kind of summer school. To learn more and to enroll,

An 18th-century advertisement for Virginia tobacco.
An 18th-century advertisement for Virginia tobacco.
Courtesy of the British Museum, London
During the second half of the 17thcentury, a terrible transformation, the enslavement of people solely on the basis of race, occurred in the lives of African Americans living in North America. These newcomers still numbered only a few thousand, but the bitter reversals they experienced—first subtle, then drastic—would shape the lives of all those who followed them, generation after generation.

Some people had experienced the first cold winds of enslavement well before 1650; others would escape the chilling blast well after 1700. The timing and nature of the change varied considerably from colony to colony, and even from family to family. Gradually, the terrible transformation took on a momentum of its own, numbing and burdening everything in its path, like a disastrous winter storm. Unlike the changing seasons, however, the encroachment of racial slavery in the colonies of North America was certainly not a natural process. It was highly unnatural—the work of powerful competitive governments and many thousands of human beings spread out across the Atlantic world. Nor was it inevitable that people’s legal status would come to depend upon their racial background and that the condition of slavery would be passed down from parent to child. Numerous factors combined to bring about this disastrous shift—human forces swirled together during the decades after 1650, to create an enormously destructive storm.
Like most huge changes, the imposition of hereditary race slavery was gradual, taking hold by degrees over many decades. It proceeded slowly, in much the same way that winter follows fall. On any given day, in any given place, people can argue about local weather conditions. “Is it getting colder?” “Will it warm up again this week?” The shift may come early in some places, later in others. But eventually, it occurs all across the land. By January, people shiver and think back to September, agreeing that “it is definitely colder now.” In 1700, a 70-year-old African American could look back half a century to 1650 and shiver, knowing that conditions had definitely changed for the worse.
By 1650, hereditary enslavement based upon color, not upon religion, was a bitter reality in the older Catholic colonies of the New World. In the Caribbean and Latin America, for well over a century, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers had enslaved “infidels”: first Indians and then Africans. At first, they relied for justification upon the Mediterranean tradition that persons of a different religion, or persons captured in war, could be enslaved for life. But hidden in this idea of slavery was the notion that persons who converted to Christianity should receive their freedom. Wealthy planters in the tropics, afraid that their cheap labor would be taken away from them because of this loophole, changed the reasoning behind their exploitation. Even persons who could prove that they were not captured in war and that they accepted the Catholic faith still could not change their appearance, any more than a leopard can change its spots. So by making color the key factor behind enslavement, dark-skinned people brought from Africa to work in silver mines and on sugar plantations could be exploited for life. Indeed, the servitude could be made hereditary, so enslaved people’s children automatically inherited the same unfree status.
But this cruel and self-perpetuating system had not yet taken firm hold in North America. The same anti-Catholic propaganda that had led Sir Francis Drake to liberate Negro slaves in Central America in the 1580s still prompted many colonists to believe that it was the Protestant mission to convert non-Europeans rather than enslave them.
Apart from such moral concerns, there were simple matters of cost and practicality. Workers subject to longer terms and coming from further away would require a larger initial investment. Consider a 1648 document from York County, Virginia, showing the market values for persons working for James Stone (estimated in terms of pounds of tobacco):
Francis Bomley for 6 yeares 1500John Thackstone for 3 yeares 1300
Susan Davis for 3 yeares 1000
Emaniell a Negro man 2000
Roger Stone 3 yeares 1300
Mingo a Negro man 2000
Among all six, Susan had the lowest value. She may have been less strong in the tobacco field, and as a woman she ran a greater risk of early death because of the dangers of childbirth. Hence John and Roger, the other English servants with three-year terms, commanded a higher value. Francis, whose term was twice as long, was not worth twice as much. Life expectancy was short for everyone in early Virginia, so he might not live to complete his term. The two black workers, Emaniell and Mingo, clearly had longer terms, perhaps even for life, and they also had the highest value. If they each lived for another 20 years, they represented a bargain for Mr. Stone, but if they died young, perhaps even before they had fully learned the language, their value as workers proved far less. From Stone’s point of view they represented a risky and expensive investment at best.

By 1650, however, conditions were already beginning to change. For one thing, both the Dutch and the English had started using enslaved Africans to produce sugar in the Caribbean and the tropics. English experiments at Barbados and Providence Island showed that Protestant investors could easily overcome their moral scruples. Large profits could be made if foreign rivals could be held in check. After agreeing to peace with Spain and giving up control of Northeast Brazil at midcentury, Dutch slave traders were actively looking for new markets. In England, after Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded supporters by creating the Royal African Co. to enter aggressively into the slave trade. The English king also chartered a new colony in Carolina. He hoped it would be close enough to the Spanish in Florida and the Caribbean to challenge them in economic and military terms. Many of the first English settlers in Carolina after 1670 came from Barbados. They brought enslaved Africans with them. They also brought the beginnings of a legal code and a social system that accepted race slavery.

Anthony and Mary Johnson had also gained their own property in Northampton County before 1650. He had arrived in Virginia in 1621, aboard the
 James and was cited on early lists as “Antonio a Negro.” He was put to work on the tobacco plantation of Edward Bennett, with more than 50 other people. All except five were killed the following March, when local Indians struck back against the foreigners who were invading their land. Antonio was one of the lucky survivors. He became increasingly English in his ways, eventually gaining his freedom and moving to the Eastern Shore, where he was known as Anthony Johnson. Along the way, he married “Mary a Negro Woman,” who had arrived in 1622 aboard the Margrett and John, and they raised at least four children, gaining respect for their “hard labor and known service,” according to the court records of Northampton County.While new colonies with a greater acceptance of race slavery were being founded, the older colonies continued to grow. Early in the 17th century no tiny North American port could absorb several hundred workers arriving at one time on a large ship. Most Africans—such as those reaching Jamestown in 1619—arrived several dozen at a time aboard small boats and privateers from the Caribbean. Like Emaniell and Mingo on the farm of James Stone, they tended to mix with other unfree workers on small plantations. All of these servants, no matter what their origin, could hope to obtain their own land and the personal independence that goes with private property. In 1645, in Northampton County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Captain Philip Taylor, after complaining that “Anthony the negro” did not work hard enough for him, agreed to set aside part of the cornfield where they worked as Anthony’s plot. “I am very glad of it,” the black man told a local clerk, “now I know myne owne ground and I will worke when I please and play when I please.”
By the 1650s, Anthony and Mary Johnson owned a farm of 250 acres, and their married sons, John and Richard, farmed adjoining tracts of 450 and 100 acres respectively. In the 1660s, the whole Johnson clan pulled up stakes and moved north into Maryland, where the aging Anthony leased a 300-acre farm called “Tonies Vineyard” until his death. His widow Mary, in her will of 1672, distributed a cow to each of her grandsons, including John Jr., the son of John and Susanna Johnson. Five years later, when John Jr. purchased a 44-acre farm for himself, he named the homestead Angola, which suggests that his grandparents had been born in Africa and had kept alive stories of their homeland within the family. But within 30 years, John Jr. had died without an heir, and the entire Johnson family had disappeared from the colonial records. If we knew their fate, it might tell us more about the terrible transformation that was going on around them.

Gradually, it was becoming harder to obtain English labor in the mainland colonies. Civil war and a great plague reduced England’s population, and the Great Fire of London created fresh demands for workers at home. Stiff penalties were imposed on sea captains who grabbed young people in England and sold them in the colonies as indentured servants. (This common practice was given a new name: “kidnapping.”) English servants already at work in the colonies demanded shorter indentures, better working conditions, and suitable farmland when their contracts expired. Officials feared they would lose future English recruits to rival colonies if bad publicity filtered back to Europe, so they could not ignore this pressure, even when it undermined colonial profits.
As the size and efficiency of this brutal traffic increased, so did its rewards for European investors. Their ruthless competition pushed up the volume of transatlantic trade from Africa and drove down the relative cost of individual Africans in the New World at a time when the price of labor from Europe was rising. As their profits increased, slave merchants and their captains continued to look for fresh markets. North America, on the fringe of this expanding and infamous Atlantic system, represented a likely target. As the small mainland colonies grew and their trade with one another and with England increased, their capacity to purchase large numbers of new laborers from overseas expanded. By the end of the century, Africans were arriving aboard large ships directly from Africa as well as on smaller boats from the West Indies. In 1698, the monopoly held by England’s Royal African Co. on this transatlantic business came to an end, and independent traders from England and the colonies stepped up their voyages, intending to capture a share of the profits.Nor could colonial planters turn instead to Indian labor. Native Americans captured in frontier wars continued to be enslaved, but each act of aggression by European colonists made future diplomacy with neighboring Indians more difficult. Native American captives could easily escape into the familiar wilderness and return to their original tribe. Besides, their numbers were limited. African Americans, in contrast, were thousands of miles from their homeland, and their availability increased as the scope of the Atlantic slave trade expanded. More European countries competed to transport and exploit African labor; more West African leaders proved willing to engage in profitable trade with them; more New World planters had the money to purchase new workers from across the ocean. It seemed as though every decade the ships became larger, the contacts more regular, the departures more frequent, the routes more familiar, the sales more efficient.
All these large and gradual changes would still not have brought about the terrible transformation to race slavery, had it not been for several other crucial factors. One ingredient was the mounting fear among colonial leaders regarding signs of discontent and cooperation among poor and unfree colonists of all sorts. Europeans and Africans worked together, intermarried, ran away together, and shared common resentments toward the well-to-do. Both groups were involved in a series of bitter strikes and servant uprisings among tobacco pickers in Virginia, culminating in an open rebellion in 1676. Greatly outnumbered by these armed workers, authorities were quick to sense the need to divide their labor force in order to control it. Stressing cultural and ethnic divisions would be one way to do that.
Lifetime servitude could be enforced only by removing the prospect that a person might gain freedom through Christian conversion. One approach was to outlaw this traditional route to freedom. As early as 1664, a Maryland statute specified that Christian baptism could have no effect upon the legal status of a slave. A more sweeping solution, however, involved removing religion altogether as a factor in determining servitude.
As if this momentous shift were not enough, it was accompanied by another. Those who wrote the colonial laws not only moved to make slavery racial; they also made it hereditary. Under English common law, a child inherited the legal status of the father. As Virginia officials put it in 1655: “By the Comon Law the Child of a Woman slave begot by a freeman ought to bee free.”Therefore, another fundamental key to the terrible transformation was the shift from changeable spiritual faith to unchangeable physical appearance as a measure of status. Increasingly, the dominant English came to view Africans not as “heathen people” but as “black people.” They began, for the first time, to describe themselves not as Christians but as whites. And they gradually wrote this shift into their colonial laws. Within a generation, the English definition of who could be made a slave had shifted from someone who was not a Christian to someone who was not European in appearance. Indeed, the transition for self-interested Englishmen went further. It was a small but momentous step from saying that black persons could be enslaved to saying that Negroes should be enslaved. One Christian minister was dismayed by this rapid change to slavery based on race: “These two words, Negro and Slave” wrote the Rev. Morgan Godwyn in 1680, are “by custom grown Homogeneous and Convertible”—that is, interchangeable.
But within seven years that option had been removed. Faced with cases of “whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or Free,” the Virginia Assembly in 1662 decided in favor of the master demanding service rather than the child claiming freedom. In this special circumstance, the Assembly ignored all English precedents that children inherited the name and status of their father. Instead, the men in the colonial legislature declared that all such children “borne in this country shal be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother.” In Virginia, and soon elsewhere, the children of slave mothers would be slaves forever.
Now the terrible transformation was almost complete, with the colony of Virginia leading the way. An additional legal sleight of hand by the land-hungry Virginia gentry helped speed the process. For several generations, as an incentive toward immigration, newcomers had received title to a parcel of land, called a “headright,” for every family member or European servant they brought to the struggling colony.
By expanding this system to include Africans, self-interested planter-magistrates, who were rich enough to make the initial investment in enslaved workers, managed to obtain free land, as well as valuable labor, every time they purchased an African worker.
In the decades before 1700, therefore, the number of African arrivals began to increase, and the situation of African Americans became increasingly precarious and bleak. Sarah Driggus, an African American woman who had been born free during the middle of the 17th century, protested to a Maryland court in 1688 that she was now being regarded as a slave. Many others of her generation were feeling similar pressures and filing similar protests. But fewer and fewer of them were being heard. The long winter of racial enslavement was closing in over the English colonies of North America.
Reprinted from Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America by Peter H. Wood with permission from Oxford University Press. © 1996, 2003 by Peter H. Wood.

Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?


[JB note: Interesting that the brilliant Professor Osgood, much of whose academic research has been devoted to exposing the CIA/RFE's nefarious activities during the Cold War, as well castigating the USG's "covert" support of public diplomacy programs at that time, should now publish a piece in that journalistic bastion honoring honest, I'm-a-good-guy, all-American freedom/capitalism, the WSJ.

Let us thank, on our knees, the Goddess for American diversity for wisdom coming from Colorado mines (Osgood teaches at the Colorado School of Mines)! My respectful review of one of Osgood's pieces at].

Image from article, with caption: President-elect John F. Kennedy is greeted by Harvard professor Arthur Schlsinger, Jr., in Cambridge, Mass.

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes
without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin
or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of
awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession.
American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build
careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space
for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What
was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s
continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case. Political history — a specialization in elections and
elected officials, policy and policy making, parties and party politics — was once a
dominant, if not the dominant, pursuit of American historians. Many of them, in
turn, made vital contributions to the political process itself, whether it was Arthur
Schlesinger Jr.’s role in the Kennedy White House or C. Vann Woodward’s “The
Strange Career of Jim Crow,” which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the
“bible of the civil rights movement.”

But somewhere along the way, such work fell out of favor with history
departments. According to the American Historical Association’s listing of academic
departments, three­-quarters of colleges and universities now lack full-­time
researchers and teachers in the subject.

There appears to be little effort to fill the void. A search of the leading website
advertising academic jobs in history, H-­Net, yielded just 15 advertisements in the
last 10 years specifically seeking a tenure­-track, junior historian specializing in
American political history. That’s right: just 15 new jobs in the last decade.
As a result, the study of America’s political past is being marginalized. Many
college catalogs list precious few specialized courses on the subject, and survey
courses often give scant attention to political topics. The pipelines for new Ph.D.s in
the subject, and therefore new faculty, are drying up, and in many graduate
programs one can earn a doctorate in American history with little exposure to

How did it come to this? The trend began in the 1960s. America’s misadventure
in Vietnam led to broad questioning of elite decision making and conventional
politics, and by extension those historical narratives that merely recounted the
doings of powerful men. Likewise, the movements of the 1960s and 1970s by
African­-Americans, Latinos, women, homosexuals and environmental activists
brought a new emphasis on history from the bottom up, spotlighting the role of
social movements in shaping the nation’s past.

The long overdue diversification of the academy also fostered changing
perspectives. As a field once dominated by middle-­class white males opened its
doors to women, minorities and people from working­-class backgrounds, recovering
the lost experiences of these groups understandably became priority No. 1.
These transformations enriched the national story. But they also carried costs.
Perceived “traditional” types of history that examined the doings of governing elites
fell into disfavor, and political history suffered the effects (as did its cousins,
diplomatic and military history).

The ramifications extend well beyond higher education. The drying up of
scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as
aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their
professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in
this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance
that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give­-and-take
in the democratic process.

Change will not be easy, and will not come from history departments facing
tight budgets and competing demands. What is needed, to begin with, is for
university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and
families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate
fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its
teaching — and without politicizing the enterprise.

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve
as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being
bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less
egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have
responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely
effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.
Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign
season, the change can’t come soon enough.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Don't know much about history ... but I do know that I love you

image from

The below from yours truly's two Facebook entries, preceded by the lyrics of that great all-American song, "Don't Know Much about History"

"Wonderful World"

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be

Don't know much about geography
Don't know much trigonometry
Don't know much about algebra
Don't know what a slide rule is for

But I do know one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

Now, I don't claim to be an A student
But I'm trying to be
For maybe by being an A student, baby
I can win your love for me

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be

La ta ta ta ta ta ta (History)
Hmm-mm-mm (Biology)
La ta ta ta ta ta ta (Science book)
Hmm-mm-mm (French I took)

Yeah, but I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me, too
What a wonderful world this would be
John Brown As a historian, what has struck me most after some ten years of "higher-education" teaching in the USA is some students' ignorance of the past -- and by knowing "the past" I mean an awareness that TODAY was not always TODAY.
When some (but of course not all) among the younger generation attending overpriced American colleges today encounter -- in a history-related (or should I say, to be politically correct, "historically-challenged") class -- events that happened before it (the younger generation) existed, quite a few of its members are quite omg'ed by the past's brutal revelations.
As one very bright student (perhaps he was -- I hope -- being ironic, or simply honest) put it, "I don't know anything before 9/11." ...
John Brown  What strikes me the most about young American students (if I may repeat myself) is not so much a lack of knowledge about historical "facts" as ignorance that "something did in fact happen" before they (that is,themselves) appeared on Mother Earth. 
Blame this ahistorical mentality on the "non-stop present" provided by modern means of communications (or the American obsession with the "now" -- e.g., "history is bunk.") Of course, too "easy" an explanation. ... 
May I suggest at the risk of sounding pretentious: The past should be remembered (not vaporized) with all its horrors (from a present-day perspective) -- so that, let us hope, these horrors will not be repeated. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Daniel Boone’s Legend Defines the American Mystique; Note for a Discussion, "Re-Inventing Oneself in America"

Alix Hawley,

image from article

What It Means to Be American I’m not American. My childhood social studies curriculum covered Canada’s geography and indigenous peoples, in French (le Saskatchewan, les Iroquois).

So I didn’t grow up learning about Daniel Boone and his exploration of the frontier around the time of the American Revolution. If I’d heard of him at all, I probably thought, like many people, he was fictional. But go back to my British Columbia elementary school and there he is, in a 1985 copy of National Geographic on the shelf of improve-yourself reads. That year I was 10, permed and brace-faced and not terribly happy, often sniffing around for something more alluring than modern life. The crusted hull of the newly found Titanic on the cover caught me. But when I parted the magazine with my thumb, it fell open to a pen-and-ink drawing of a man carrying a body, open-eyed and loose-jointed, a spill of blood pouring from its mouth. The caption said it was Boone, who turned out to be an actual person, holding his dead son. Every day at free time I read that article, gawking at the pictures of Kentucky and the westward trails Boone helped open in the 1700s, and at that illustration. I didn’t know why.

Certainly America had a kind of mystique, even in 1985. Crossing the border into Washington state was a palpable change. The landscape was no different, but the licence plates and the slightly elongated vowels were. The unapologetic motel names (The Apple, The Deep Water) and the chatty gas station signs (Come on in! Canadian dollars at par). Baby Ruth chocolate bars and Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, known only from TV commercials on the U.S. stations we got. The gigantic Paul Bunyan statue looming out of the redwoods in Klamath, California, which was cloaked with a kind of glamour in spite of its splintery edges. As we made a pit stop during a childhood road trip to Disneyland, a woman there told me Bunyan was a real person; then my parents said he wasn’t. The U.S. seemed built out of legendary things. It seemed built for travel and for looking.

I didn’t think about Daniel Boone during these childhood trips, or once I moved into the next grade. I can’t remember thinking of him again at all until I was pregnant for the first time, lying on the dusty carpet of my study, which was soon to morph into the baby’s room. My first book, a story collection, was about to come out, and I was trying to figure out what to write next. Maybe it was the horrible dread of losing a child that made it surface, but that National Geographic picture snapped back into my brain. I asked the library to dig up the magazine, and once I saw it again properly, I realized I’d remembered it as a photograph, which of course it wasn’t and couldn’t have been. I knew then what I wanted to write about was Daniel Boone—Dan to me now—and 18th and early 19th century Kentucky, and what happens when legend is mapped onto actual people and places.

My novel, All True Not a Lie In It, is about Dan’s life and family. It tries to get at how it felt to believe in a paradise just beyond the mountains, to be full of an urge to pick up and move on, regardless of the wreckage chained to that desire. The journey is of course the American narrative, from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to Lolita to Road Trip. Travel and its aftermath seem to me the root of America’s story about itself—colonial exploration and immigration, slave ships and escapes, Native American seasonal movement and the eventual reservation system.

Dan grew up an immigrant’s son in a Pennsylvania Quaker community, close to several Delaware and Catawba native communities, and when the family was booted out of the group, they left the area to look for more freedom and land. Dan never really stopped, exploring through North Carolina and the Blue Ridge mountains, and later taking his wife and children into the Kentucky wilderness of his fantasies. Those fantasies and the travel that fulfilled them led to his son’s death, his daughter’s kidnap, and his own capture and adoption by Chief Blackfish of the Shawnee. He was heavily remorseful for the damage to his family, but rarely stopped moving them on in search of something better.

The actual events of his life are dramatic enough to seem invented, as many writers have realized, and embellished, over the years. For instance, many people think he was at the Battle of the Alamo in Texas, which occurred after his death, confusing him for Davy Crockett (unhelped by the fact that actor Fess Parker played both Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in different 1960s TV shows). This seems an American tendency, too: the capacity to reinvent the self (we see you, Madonna), but also to reinvent someone else in a desired image (JFK as King Arthur). People in the 20th and 21st century want to see Dan in a coonskin cap, though he never wore one and in fact hated them. And white Americans in Dan’s time wanted a recognizable national hero, a man fighting for the newborn country against its royal oppressor, a crack shot, fair but firm in dealings with so-called “Indians.”

This desire to create a legend attempts to paint over any dullness or ugliness in a life, but different shades of ugliness sometimes get painted on. Twenty-five years after Dan’s death, just as westward expansion into native territory exploded, he was re-buried, with a new monument featuring “Indian-fighter” carvings placed on his grave. I think this twisting of his life would have discomfited Dan, who seems to have felt deep closeness to his adoptive Shawnee parents and sisters, avoided fighting as much as possible, and was likely most comfortable with the native way of life in the wilderness. But again, this is a matter of seeming.

I know I call him Dan—and I know Dan is my invention, this figure already imagined again and again and re-created one more time. As a child traveling south, I thought being American meant having a built-in expansiveness, a sense that there is always somewhere else to go. I see that now in Daniel Boone. But after writing this book, I also think it means an ability to see double, to perceive, even dimly, that a person actually lived while overlaying that life with wishes, ideas, the stories one wants. For Americans, the exact details of Boone’s life have always seemed to matter less than his suitability for legendary status. The stories that surround him helped people in his time and for centuries afterwards smooth over the cost of relentless expansion. A gift and a blindness. My version of Dan has both.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bill vs. Hillary -- Note for a non-memoir ... (from Facebook)

John Brown As I reach a certain age I remember a WH "cultural diplomacy" conference
 at the end of the Clinton administration at which I had the privilege to be a notetaker. The first WH dignitary to appear was the First Lady, who spoke dryly, uninspiringly, sans evident appreciation for "culture" as a dynamic, energizing element in foreign relations, for a very short, "business-like" 20 minutes to distinguished cultural figures from all over the world. She could have been delivering a legal brief on how to fix WH toilets -- then vanished for, evidently, "another event on her busy schedule" -- after her brief spiel she was followed by husband Bill. The President stayed for a long time -- communicated -- with the audience -- listening, sharing thoughts -- what a contrast to Ms. Clinton .... It was like a human being (with all her faults) vs. a lawyer-robot (with all his "plans/schedules" all set, all prepared) ...

Following welcoming remarks, participants talked about the importance of art and culture and how it affects the…
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Saturday, August 20, 2016


Found on the Web: Important film on Russian culture at, focusing on writer Vasilyi Aksenov (Aksyonov, depending on how you wish to transliterate the Russian alphabet into English) and 1960s Russian "counter-culture."

image from

Below a Facebook comment by Mark Teeter (thank you Mark for your ok in posting your Facebook comment on this blog).

Mark H. Teeter VA was one of the great Russian writers of the last half-century, of course, as well as an iconic figure in multiple realms – prose, film, jazz, lifestyle – for 3 generations of his countrymen. More to the pt. here, he was the living antithesis of vanilla: nothing he did, said or wrote was plain old/plain old, which is why this multi-format documentary (by RTR, 2009) is altogether fitting and proper.

Those who haven't seen it will be surprised at both how inclusive and effectively zeitgeist-catching it is: w/in a mere 49 min. you get the complex, fascinating and, yes, endearing story of VA’s Soviet-American-European-Russian odyssey laid out quite effectively, using well-chosen archival footage, interviews w/ the principal and a host of friends (incl. Akhmadullina, Tabakov, Naiman, Popov and others) in support of a narrative that covers ground quickly and remarkably dispassionately, in effect letting the story of this unique storyteller tell itself. (One wishes there were more voices from the US chapter here – but that’s probably worth a separate episode.)

For my rubles, one of the most poignant observations comes from Tabakov, the great comic actor and director, who notes that “Whenever VP looked at me he would laugh – which made me feel great.” Indeed, one of the salient things about Aksyonov was that even when he was talking about something sad, disturbing or otherwise downbeat, you always sensed that he was only a sentence or two away from saying something wryly amusing – or simply making a joke. It’s called жизнерадостность, and he really had it. It made everybody feel great. It still does.

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John Brown Mark, as always, thank you for your brilliant observations. I am re-watching the film right now, without - may I confess - a certain amount of Soviet-era nostalgia (I was in the USSR as a grad student in the mid-70s) where "personal relationships" --despite (because of?) Soviet bureaucratic political oppression (often "silent"), counted far more (dare I say, ironically?) -- than in the USA today. Theme for a modern-day Dostoevsky novel, not necessarily framed in a USA/USSR context? Allow me to provide you with an updated link to an era with which we USA baby boomers are both familiar with:

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