Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Battle of Nashville 150th (1864-2014)

A sequel disaster to the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, the Battle of Nashville took place on December 15-16, 1864. Once again, Corporal Samuel France, my paternal great great grandfather, served with Company E of the 31st Indiana Regiment on the Union side. Part of Wood's Corps, the 31st participated in attacks that routed the Confederate Army of Tennessee, poorly led here by John Bell Hood -- who later blamed his own men for his defeat. The Union side lost about 3,000 casualties, the Confederates, about 6,500 (including many overrun and captured). The battlefield was cold and muddy, a horrible thing now mostly forgotten. Let us here remember. 

Today's Rune: Signals.

p.s. the 31st Indiana lost eighteen casualties here. Map adapted from Wiki Commons. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Robin Zasio: The Hoarder in You (2011)

Robin Zasio's The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life  (Rodale, 2011) dovetails holistically with a series of other books I've read over the past few years, ones that cover existential philosophy, finances, savings, positive thinking, psychology, sociology, anthropology, ecology, and on and on. Worthwhile all down the line, and surprisingly consistent.

Zasio's tone is low-key but also firm. She approaches hoarding and cluttering as part of a continuum spectrum. Just as most everyone may have a touch of obsessive compulsiveness, so most people may tend to have issues with clutter, if not outright hoarding, at some time or other. (By the way, whether this is mostly a modern American phenomenon, I'm not sure: "we live in a land of plenty," Zasio notes on page 124, so there's less of a need for stockpiling duplicate items, for instance. Unless you're a survivalist, I suppose).

Zasio includes several psychological concepts ranging from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorders, cognitive distortion, and biopsychohistory. Indirectly, she brings in what could be considered the idea of cognitive dissonance and the philosophy of existentialism (freedom, responsibility, individual choices made).

"People who hoard often script the future, but the script is typically not a realistic prediction," but rather a "cognitive distortion," perhaps one of many (page 21).

"What spaces in your house [or apartment, etc.] are not usable for the purpose for which they were intended?" (page 97),

I particularly love Zasio's profiles in chapter 4: "Clear and Clean;" "Neat But Dynamic;" "Controlled Chaos;" "Clutter Crisis;" "Borderline Hoarding;"and  "Collecting Versus Stockpiling."

Cognitive therapy and philosophical dynamics: if your decisions are based mostly on emotion, verify, challenge the idea that "I feel it, therefore it must be true" (page 104). Be vigilant against "all-or-nothing"  aka "dichotomous thinking."  Look for contradictions in thinking (yours or others), which force a beachhead of gray area, a middle ground of reality. Challenge "anticipatory anxiety," "distortions," "catastrophizing" and "emotional reasoning." These are usually, in the contemporary USA at least, "maladaptive" behaviors. Other things to watch for: "habituation meets procrastination," perfectionism that leads to decision-paralysis, and inertia.  Also: "You can be both lazy and have mental issues . . ." (page 17).   

One of the main thrusts that Zasio's The Hoarder in You has in common with the slew of other books mentioned earlier is the concept of mindfulness (here it's on page 145, for instance). Attention must be paid -- to the here and now as well as to the past and future. As far as quantity of stuff goes, put a cap on it, man! (page 165).  

Today's Rune: Harvest. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Albert Camus: Algerian Chronicles (1958, 2013)

Given the recent release by the US Senate of "The Torture Report" (detailing American torture and general abuse of prisoners during the Bush-Cheney administration for several years after 9/11/2001), reading the new English translation of Albert Camus' Algerian Chronicles becomes more timely than ever. Why? Because Camus, writing of Algerian realities, and most sharply about La guerre d’Algérie / The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) -- during which the majority of Algerians broke away from France and formed an independent nation -- spends a lot of thought and energy trying to figure out practical ways to safeguard the lives of civilians (especially women and children); guaranteeing the civilized treatment of prisoners; and seeking to minimize both terrorist attacks and revenge repression. 

This was a big deal for an Algerian Frenchman, but he died in a car accident at age 46 in 1960, two years before Algeria became independent, which he had hoped would not have happened with such abruptness.  
Camus' observations sound very contemporary. Apply them to just about anywhere in 2014, substituting "France/French" and "Algeria/Algerian" with any place or people you like. 

Camus in 1945: "French colonial doctrine in Algeria since the conquest has not been notable for its coherence . . . No historical situation is ever permanent. If you are unwilling to change quickly enough, you lose control of the situation . . . Because French policy in Algeria ignored these elementary truths, it was always 20 years behind the actual situation . . ." (pages 102-103).

In 1955: "The inexcusable massacres of French civilians will lead to equally stupid attacks on Arabs and Arab property. It is as if madmen inflamed by rage found themselves locked in a forced marriage from which no exit was possible and therefore decided on mutual suicide" (page 115). 

Camus' stance was  unequivocally against the use of torture by anyone for whatever stated reason. (Let me state here that I, Erik Donald France, agree with Camus 100% against any justification for the use of torture).

". . . how can one be outraged by the massacres of French prisoners if one tolerates the execution of Arabs without trials?  Each side uses the crimes of the other to justify its own. By this logic, the only possible outcome is interminable destruction" ("A Truce for Civilians," page 142).

It's all a fascinating and still urgent existential response to the "actualities" of the world. 

For more, here's a fuller citation: Albert Camus, Algerian Chronicles. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer with an introduction by Alice Kaplan. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The Belknap Press of Haravrd University Press, 2013. Originally published by Gallimard as Chroniques algériennes, 1939-1958 (1958 and 2002). 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christopher Nolan: Interstellar (2014)

Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014) joins a handful of viscerally memorable -- as well as thoughtfully absorbing -- non-franchise science fiction movies that have swept over the Earth sometime in the past fifty years. It's of the same audacious caliber as Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey

A week after seeing Interstellar, its striking images are still roiling through my mind -- especially during altered dream states. 

Besides Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris / Солярис (1972) - which I have only seen in Russian with no subtitles and am not even quite sure I understand it as of yet - or Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), or Philip Kaufman's 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or Ridley Scott's Philip K. Dick-inspired Blade Runner (1982), Interstellar really gets into some good nitty gritty questions about existence and being, freedom and time, space travel and consciousness, memory and identity. 

And that's about all I have to say on the matter for now.  

Coda: if you're into this kind of thing at all, Interstellar is definitely worth seeing on the big screen.  

Today's Rune: Signals. 

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hiding Out in the Casbah: Julien Duvivier's 'Pépé le Moko' (1937)

Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko (1937) bears seeing once, twice, thrice. . . or more. Professional criminal Pépé le Moko (Jean Gabin) is holed up in the Casbah / Kasbah quarter of Algiers / Alger in between the world wars -- and he's really trapped. The police can't grab him from within the labyrinthine (or labyrinthian, if you prefer) recesses of the Casbah, but they will nab or kill him if he leaves it.  Excellent premise for the whole film.

Besides Gabin, who has been fantastic in everything I've seen him in, cherchez la femme: actually there are two key paramours involved -- Inès (Line Noro), from Algeria, and Gabby (Mireille Balin), from Paris, the latter carried along to Algiers by her Daddy Warbucks while he's on (colonial exploitation) business. Also involved are fellow criminals of dubious stability, numerous Algerian "hosts," French and Algerian police and Pépé's crafty, somewhat smarmy frenemy-nemesis, Inspector Slimane. 

Julien Duvivier's Pépé le Moko is not only a fun and imaginative movie, it's also an absorbing cultural artifact wide open to consideration from various engaged perspectives (postcolonialism, feminism, etc.).   
The tone of Pépé le Moko moves along and includes dark as well as comic moments -- very much like HBO's The Sopranos. The paramours have real "sex appeal" (a term used in the film itself), covered by humor. What have Pépé and Gabby been doing so clandestinely in the Casbah? "Painting watercolors together," Pépé quips.

The movie, which has been remade by other directors under different titles, is based on the 1931 novel Pépé le Moko by "Détective Ashelbé" (aka Henri La Barthe, 1887-1963). 

  
Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The Differences

"Art is educating, provocative, and enlightening even when first not understood . . . creative confusion stimulates curiosity and growth, leading to trust and tolerance. . . . It was not until I realized that it is the celebration of the differences between things that I became an artist who could see." ~ Robert Rauschenberg (1984)
Rauschenberg: Collecting and Connecting. Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, November 28, 2014. Link here. Runs through January 11, 2015. Click, click, click . . .
Mesmerized at the Greek Festival, Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, Fort Worth, Texas, November 9, 2014. 

Everything we need to "see" is all around us. 

Today's Rune: Signals. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Battle of Franklin 150 (1864-2014)

Today's the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. It was a terrible thing. Sam France, my great great grandfather, was a corporal in the Thirty-first Indiana Infantry Regiment, part of the Union defense line on the far right (or far left, looking at this map from Wiki Commons - click anywhere on the image to see a larger version).
From the US National Park Service: 

Confederate units smashed headlong and futilely into the Union line again and again. After 17 distinct assaults and 5 hours of intense fighting, Hood called his soldiers back to regroup for a morning assault the next day. Schofield, however, had no desire for a second engagement and gave the order to retreat shortly after the last shot was fired. By 2 am, the Union army was on its way to Nashville.

At morning light, 2,500 soldiers lay dead or dying in Franklin with more than 1,800 Confederates among them. In all, Hood's army suffered an estimated 7,000 casualties including 65 field grade officers. The Confederate army's senior military leadership was decimated by the loss of 6 generals killed, 8 wounded and one captured. 


The size of the forces engaged, the intensity of fighting, and the high number of casualties ranks the Battle of Franklin among the great cataclysmic tragedies of the Civil War. (Source: here).

I've visited the battlefield. It has a haunted feel.

Today's Rune: Harvest.