Wednesday, November 13, 2013

I Take It Back

Because I'm crazy like that I followed up my horrible, no good, too small meal of Wolf Hall with a second helping of Bringing Up The Bodies.  I've changed my mind. Reader's privilege, I guess.  Its not that I've changed my mind about Wolf Hall though. I still think that was rather awkwardly written and lacked a strong presentation of Cromwell's interior life.  But a lot of that is corrected or added in Bring Up the Bodies.  For example, someone clearly said to Hilary Mantel "I can't figure out who is talking in these long passages" because she moved off her hard affectation of only referring to Cromwell as "he" and began adding a modest little comma and his name as a shy aside as in "He, Thomas Cromwell, said..."  Meanwhile, Mantel added a lot more discussion and self reflection by Cromwell, offering us not just snapshots of meaningful bits of his past but actual emotions and ideas about his situation.

Everyone must have their favorite bits or their favorite issues in the book--for me I was interested in the shift between a nobility and a non noble functionary class, between aristocratic ways of looking at politics and the country and Cromwell's, and between a Catholic way of looking at religious doctrine and authority and the shift that comes with the printing and dissemination of a vernacular bible.  Mantel positions Cromwell at the intersection of all of these changes and in the second book, as he achieves his most rapid rise and begins to look over the precipice to his inevitable fall, she starts to tackle those issues.  Its not in enough detail for me, but its still there and still fun.

The model of Cromwell's life and memoirs as a kind of memory palace, though intriguing, still doesn't work for me--for one thing I guess I'm too thick and often can't figure out (or didn't figure out until afterwards) which images and events were merely allusions to Cromwell's mental techniques for storing information and which were really happening in the book.  Years ago I read The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci and I'm currently reading Moonwalking With Einstein so I find the history and application of memory--especially in both a sacred and a secular space, pretty interesting.

 I think she has correctly positioned Cromwell, again, at a crossroads as a pivotal figure--a man of memory, records, and accounts in a court society in which the aristocracy floats on a sea of forgetting.  Cromwell, for instance, lends money and keeps accounts, using old debts when necessary in new political strategems. Meanwhile his aristocrats are playing at politics using a different chessboard--they borrow money against their lands (that they aquired through birth),  and against emoluments that they control through marriage, flirtation, and begging.   Even the romances and the writing of poetry, we find out during the trial of Anne Boleyn, are just a covert form of trade with women paying men to write poetry for them in order to increase their social standing at court, and men accepting money from their mistresses in order to increase their own standing at court.  These debts are part of a system of exchange that has no fiscal year, no moment when accounts are totted up except when pivotal figures change position: when the King dies, a new heir is chosen, or a new marriage creates new possibilities for control of the King and his purse.  The aristocrats don't remember their debts at all, or even bother to tote them up, until the moment of death when they realize the game is over.  This is something that is made clear when Cromwell, who has been secretly bankrolling both his friends and his enemies, brings the hammer down and has to explain to them that he has not forgotten the parodic play they made of Wolsey's death.

The reaction of the aristocrats to being reminded of Wolsey's death and their sport with his image is pivotal to the second book, and to Mantel's construction of Cromwell as the consummate outsider.  He remembers seeing the play--performed by Boleyn's favorites and Wolsey's old friends--as an outsider, going backstage and seeing them strip off their costumes, and he stores them in his memory as the body parts of an animal so he will never forget. Meanwhile the entire incident, from his presence there to the insult offered to the dead Cardinal, has been long forgotten by the actors themselves.  It was no more than part of the flood of manipulations and playacts and poetry and positioning that are normal at court. They almost can't believe that Cromwell remembers or holds it against them--these are just things that happen in a courtier's life, one moment you are up and then you are down. Respect and honor are things that are held by the living, not the dead--unless he has family to fight for them after he has gone. And neither the Cardinal nor Cromwell have real "family" in the sense the aristocrats mean it.

The one thing the Aristocracy never forgets is birth--who is married to whom and who is outside the bounds of aristocratic connection.  Meanwhile Cromwell, the outsider, never forgets who was responsible for the first move in the big chessboard that is his life: the death of Wolsey. Cromwell was born as a man with an independent connection to the King at the moment that Wolsey died and Henry began his rapid slide from ruler to pawn of his own illusions and need to produce a male heir.  Its in the second book that Mantel really begins to explore what happens when Cromwell and the merchant class, the proto-protestants, the educated, the literate and the numerate begin to get close enough to the Monarchy to see its flaws and to be subject to its embrace and its wrath.(1)  The fictional Cromwell in the first book seemed to be merely rising up as a functionary and servant. The fictional Cromwell in the second book is now right under the eye of the capricious tyrant, as much in danger as the Boleyn family when they can't give him what he wants.  So you might argue that while the Boleyns (and the Seymours) pursued power the old, aristocratic way, by arranging alliances and fostering blood connections and Cromwell and the rising merchant class pursued power by arranging favors, money, political control they are both still stuck in the old model where the only important thing is: have you pleased the King? Maybe we might argue that Cromwell is on the verge of modernity and the post feudal in terms of his understanding of money, finance, and international political realities but he will fall, in the end, because its too early for this kind of power.

(1) There is a definite sub theme in the books that the working class of London have a separate knowledge and sense of the Monarchy and its doings.  At first they are very much in love with the fiction of the King as King and the Queen as Queen.  In the first book Mantel talks about the way Cromwell reports back about court fashions and about Queen Katherine and later Anne Boleyn to the women in his household.  But later the populace become jaded with the bad news and the bizarre reports--  it is in gossiping with the watermen and other low life workers that Cromwell gets the first hint of the scandals that he will later use to bring down Anne Boleyn.  The role of the King as father and husband is clearly a hugely important one for the country in the first book. By the second you start to get the feeling that the country itself is going to give up on this model if the King keeps changing wives like other people change shoes.  Live by the metaphor, die by the metaphor.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Well, this should be interesting. Guess he's more than just a pretty face.

"The bishops realize that they themselves are going to have to change their tone if they are to become more inclusive and complement the new tone coming from Pope Francis and the Vatican," Schmalz said. "There is definitely something going on here: The American hierarchy is going to have to change its style or be left behind."
The bishops had early in the meeting prayed for the thousands of victims of Friday's typhoon in the Philippines and also discussed the response to the disaster by Catholic Relief Services, the bishops' international relief agency.
But after a presentation on overall priorities of the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the conference, rose to say it was "missing this essential element" of a focus on the poor.
"It would help our conference be on record as trying to achieve what Pope Francis has put before us,"
said Fiorenza, who retired as archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas.
Bishops also discussed how they would collect the information the Vatican is seeking ahead of a major meeting, or synod, on the family in Rome next year.
Last month, Vatican officials sent a survey to the national bishops conferences that took the unusual step of seeking broad input on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage. Bishops in England have put the questionnaire on the web for parishioners to respond. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said he planned to post the survey online within days.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Its Never Their Fault. Never.

Jesus Christ, the Party of Personal Responsibility strikes again.  Take care of your own indigent, uninsured population for God's Sake or just get out of the way already. And stop whining about it. How did you "get mugged" by the taxpayers in other states that fully implemented the Medicaid expansion and the insurance exchanges refusing to subsidize your craptacular health care failures and miserable attitude towards your own citizens? When the last Democrat tries to give a hand up to the last Republican stranded at the bottom of a well after the last Typhoon has stranded him down there what you are going to hear is a whiny, wailing, bitch fest about how he was "mugged" into the well by someone else and how he doesn't need any help getting out.

But experts and hospital administrators said it was unlikely that the federal government would make adjustments that would reward states that refused to expand Medicaid. And the health care landscape is changing so rapidly, they say, that the subsidies are crucial to keep going over the next few years.Hospitals in Georgia are trying to hang on. Rural hospitals rely heavily on the subsidies and as many as 15 could close in the coming months, their trade association estimated, costing jobs in economically depressed parts of the state.Georgia hospital officials hope that the plight of rural hospitals may eventually cause Gov. Nathan Deal to opt for some version of a Medicaid expansion. The state’s politically powerful hospital association late last month called for expansion.But for now, the governor is holding firm. His spokesman, Brian Robinson, said Mr. Deal’s opposition to expanding Medicaid was driven by simple math: Georgia cannot afford it. Though the federal government is paying the full costs of the expansion for the first three years, states will have to pay up to 10 percent in later years. States that do not expand should be spared cuts in hospital subsidies, Mr. Robinson said.The federal government, not Georgia, is to blame for the predicament, he said.“The state is sitting here, a victim of a crime, and you’re asking the victim, ‘Why did you let yourself get mugged?’ ” he said.Hospitals are trying to get Congress to delay the subsidy cuts by amending the health law, but House Republicans in Washington have thus far refused.“The conversation we are having with the congressional delegation goes like this, ‘If we don’t expand Medicaid, what is the Georgia solution to indigent care?’ ” said Matthew Hicks, vice president for government relations at Grady. “So far they don’t have an answer.”

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Really Can't Get Any More Nakedly Neo Confederate Than This

Stumping on behalf of Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Ken Cuccinelli on Monday, former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul predicted that states will soon "ignore the feds" while calling for "nullification" of the Affordable Care Act.
“Jefferson obviously was a clear leader on the principle of nullification,” Paul said at a rally in Richmond, Va., according to Politico.
“I’ve been working on the assumption that nullification is going to come. It’s going to be a de facto nullification. It’s ugly, but pretty soon things are going to get so bad that we’re just going to ignore the feds and live our own lives in our own states."
As Politico noted, Paul was invoking a term with deep roots in the Civil War era while speaking in a former capital of the confederacy. He also decried the taxes associated with the health care law.
“The taxes involved there, they’re evil,” Paul said. “They’re going to create class warfare, generational warfare."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Aleatory Moments In Found Poetry

Today on HuffPo, juxtaposed this morning but now scrolling away in their separate directions:

Mitt Romney Says Obama's Second Term Is 'Rotting' Away

Bria Roberts, Contortionist, Attempts World Record For Most Skips With Leg Behind Head (VIDEO)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Wolf Hall: Hungry Again Half An Hour Later

Well, I took a little detour and read Wolf Hall.  I can't see what the fuss is all about. Its no better, and perhaps worse, than many another historical novel and I'm a big fan of historical novels in general. In fact I just finished reading the entire McCollough series "Masters of Rome" so its not that I am not into the genre.  I can't really complain--I ate what was on my plate and will eat a second helping. But ultimately I didn't find Mantel's Cromwell believable emotionally or intellectually.  Here is a man who has made an enormous leap between classes, bridged worlds which were (as she tells us over and over) kept apart and yet he is represented as moving through his own experience of this divide only...stutteringly.  She writes him as a man who is almost outside his own experience and his own time, able to look at it sardonically, manipulatively, cynically and exploitatively.  He tells us about his own experiences and all of his experiences are self conscious and under his control. There are no other voices but reported voices or people telling Cromwell how they think about Cromwell.  But when it comes to the real experience of a real person--someone who killed, cried, believed, worried about the afterlife, sinned (as he would have seen it), atoned (as he could), and who presided over the dissolution of one religious community and the birth of the next--who arranged for the judicial murder of personal acquaintances...well, he's simply not believable.  Its not that I don't believe in Cromwell, or that there isn't a massively important story to be told through Cromwell's life. Its that I don't believe in this Cromwell. He's never inside his own life, never acts from passion, never lets us see him sweat, doesn't believe the things people around him patently believed.  The person Mantel imagines is just too much a literary conceit.  And in a lot of ways he's not nearly as interesting a literary conceit as he should be given the many set pieces she offers us in which he could and should consider the implications of royalty, divinity, fallibility, terror, torture, murder, treason, and death.  In short, I suppose, she's no Umberto Eco.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Malai Kosto Nessro Aiyo

I just got back from a reception for this amazing charitable organization: Maiti Nepal.  I met the founder and some of the people who have organized the "Friends of..." website which enables you to donate effciently to what is really a very small, local, organization in Nepal itself.  I didn't stay long because I only wanted to talk in my now very broken Nepali with the wait staff and I couldn't take up too much of the time of the founder who was there to talk to some potentially big donors.  But I am overwhelmed with sentimental feelings about Nepal and Nepali.  The problem of the trafficking of girls from their homes into brothels in India and China is immense.  When I was living in Nepal 25 years ago the little girl who lived in my Didi's house as a servant (a fairly well structured feudal relationship) was lured away by some guy working for the Indian brothels.  We caught her before she got all the way to the bus station with him but she was really unaware of the danger she was in.  It wasn't a problem in my actual village, which was too far off the beaten path for a stranger to come and take a girl away but its a huge problem anywhere that families are weak or broken, jobs are scarce, and exit routes well marked out.  Maiti Nepal seems to train the girls that they rescue to point out and even board the minibuses that the pimps load up and persuade the girls to get off. They have little work groups in the Terai and on the Chinese border.  I'm interested in finding out more about this group and maybe working with them in the future.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Is It So Hard To Admit That The ACA Ends False Advertising?

The whole storm in a teacup about people "losing" "their" "policies" and "health insurance" turns on the fact that none of these words mean what people are pretending they mean. If your insurance company, or the fake insurance company to which you've been paying money, informs you that they are raising your rates, or ending your policy, there is nothing new about that at all--you were never grandfathered in, you never had any kind of "ownership" of it which entitles you to keep it against their new desire to force you off it. Never. You have never owned your policy outright in any way that prevents your insurance company from screwing you over by raising your rates, changing the terms, recissioning you, pretending you lied, or simply ending the policy.

For a small number of very unfortunate people--people who were so unimportant, poor, unemployed, or merely human enough to have pre-existing conditions the ACA has effectively ended the sale of junk insurance policies and prevented the Insurance Companies from relying on false advertising or misdirection or even brutal necessity in inducing people to pay large sums of money for fake or catastrophic health insurance. Thats it. That is what is happening. And that should have been obvious from the get go even to Josh Micah Marshall and the rest of the pearl clutchers.