Saturday, March 31, 2007

I didn't go to Gettysburg

This weekend I have been taking a break from my usual study of British history to watch the Ken Burns' Civil War documentary. I ordered the episodes from Netflix and am now up through the year 1863, as I have been watching it in between sessions of General Conference this weekend. Tonight, when Sarah Vowell opened up her show to audience questions, I asked from my seat, "Who is your favorite Civil War general?" She answered emphatically, "I can tell you who it is not...General Meade." Sarah Vowell doesn't like how he didn't finish General Lee off during his retreat from Gettysburg.
I realized a couple of things this weekend from watching the Civil War documentary. The first thing that I realized is that BYU would probably benefit alot more from having Ken Burns speak at a forum on campus this past week than they would from having Vice President Dick Cheney speak at graduation.
The second thing that I realized is the Civil War is even more complicated than I previously thought. Of course, I probably haven't done a whole lot of thinking about the Civil War since my AP American History class my junior year of high school. When I was an intern in Washington DC in college, I skipped all of the trips to famous Civil War battlefields and re-enactments. It wasn't my scene. Give me a Library of Congress lecture on Ralph Ellison anyday over a bloody battlefield, I thought.
I think that I have always felt partially embarassed by the Civil War. After all, my heritage is just about as Southern as it comes. I always thought that the Civil War from the point of view of my anscestors, was a fairly humiliating experience. I mean, they were fighting to save an institution which was truly one of the most evil things that human beings have ever done to other human beings on the planet, even though they may have thought that they were fighting to save their homes and land. And of course, they lost, and as a result, generations of Southerners, such as myself, have been constantly reminded of our backwardness and foolishness, whether perceived or real.
The problem with the Ken Burns documentary is this . . . It makes me like Robert E. Lee. If you can excuse for one minute that he was fighting on the side of slaveholders (which is not something that is ever excusable), he was actually a pretty decent human being apart from being a great military tactician. I like that Lee took upon himself the blame for the South's biggest military fumbles, ie Gettysburg, and he always was a person of honor and dignity. I also think it is admirable that after the Civil War he slipped quietly into the world of academia, vocalizing his support for reconciliation and even supporting educating freemen. He thought education was his most important calling in life, which is an interesting take after a life on the battlefield. Fredericksburg and Chancellorville were his biggest moments, by they were followed up by his biggest failure, and I think he probably understood what the ordering of those battles meant to the possibility of his cause's success. He accepted the inevitable at Appamatox, but at the same time showed unwaivering loyalty to his home and the soldiers who fought on his behalf.
Once the North began fighting for the cause of freeing the slaves, clearly they had morality on their side. But I have always wondered to what extent it is okay to perpetuate a moral and just cause through immoral acts. Sieges of civilian populations, "scorched earth" policies, these types of tactics by the Union generals certainly remind me that no population has a monopoly on morality. Good men can end up defending horrible things (Lee defending slavery), and just causes can be led by unjust men (too many Union generals to list here). I guess that is what makes war so terrible and so complicated. It is a complication that I don't think that reasonable human minds can ever make sense of. That is probably why wars only make sense in six grade history books, because once you start to look at the nuances of the men and women who fight wars, the tactics they use, the politics that underly them, you start to realize that wars can never really be just and good. In the course of wars, people believe they must do horrible things in order to bring about just ends. But sometimes I doubt whether goodness can really be born from terrible acts.
I don't know. Was there another way to end slavery? Could there have been less bloodshed? Could there have been more compassion, more civility? Or were we stuck with the fact that because slavery was so immoral and inhuman that only something similarly immoral and inhuman could stop it in its tracks?
The older I get, the more worried I get that time is passing too quickly and that I will never learn everything that I need to know. The more I do a peripheral study of all of these historical events, the more questions I have, and the more in depth I need to go. Now I am trying to read the diary of Mary Chesnut, and then at the same time I feel like I need to study more about the Draft Riots in New York City.
But I also have a stack of other books I am trying to get through. I realized that I needed a better historical understanding of the Great Lakes region of Africa last week and picked up Jean-Pierre Chretien's book about 2,000 years of history there. I am still trying to make it through A People's History of the Third World, and now I also feel this pressing need to study the English War of the Roses.
If I could just focus on one thing for longer than five minutes, then maybe I would be able to figure out answers to some of these questions, rather than just clogging my head with more questions.
But one thing I do know is that now if given the opportunity to visit a Civil War battlefield or two, I just might go to pay my respects. Maybe next time I am in Mississippi, I will go to Vicksburg.

An update on Banshees

Melissa reminded me of something important that I forgot to mention in my PSA about Irish Banshees. Our mother taught us an important tactic for keeping Irish banshees at bay . . . acting like a Viking Opera Diva. Apparently, banshees are terrorized of Vikings, as well they should be because those crazy Norsemen wrecked alot of havoc on their Irish homeland. Here is mom demonstrating this tactic:

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I'm Henry the Eighth, I am

In my last post, I wrote about the latest novel I read on Lady Jane Grey. Today, I watched the first two episodes of the new Showtime drama "The Tudors" online. I have always had at least some passing interest with British history, that lately has entered a more obsessive phase. I have to say about the Tudors, that from a historically authentic point of view, I would first have to take issue with the appearances of all of the actors in the Tudors. Where is the famous Tudor red hair? I mean, I realize that this is Hollywood, but does everyone have to be so obscenely attractive? I realize that creating a drama about Henry VIII means that you just want to show the king in lots of sexy situations, but Jonathan Rhys-Myers? That was the best you can do?

That being said, there is one casting that I want to applaud - Jeremy Northam as Sir Thomas More. First of all Jeremy Northam as pretty much anyone is going to be pretty great, but to cast him as one of the most admirable historical figures I think is a job well done.

It will be interesting to see how this show develops...

In the meantime, I am back to trying to memorize the family trees of British royalty and nobility. I like to be full of useful information.

Monday, March 26, 2007

the good, bad, and some useless information

So on this gray Monday in Seattle, there is some good news and some bad news. I will focus on the good first. Some incredibly kind person purchased me a new laptop this weekend as a congratulatory gift for me being accepted to graduate school. This has once again enabled me to take up long lost past times of downlowing French pop songs from I-Tunes and updating my blog on a regular basis, and even including some pictures in my blog! Well, I still need to get a new battery for my camera to do the latter, but you catch my drift.

This makes up for the excrutiating pain that I felt yesterday watching the Tarheels lose in overtime to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. I will speak of this matter no more.

Other good things about the weekend:

A good book: Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir, a historical novel about Lady Jane Grey. Alison Weir is known for her fantastic popular history books about the British monarchy, and this is her first novel. It was pretty great. Lady Jane Grey has been one of my historical idols for quite some time, even though she was beheaded while she was still a teen. She just seemed to have a pretty good head on her shoulders in the days when her head was actually attached to her shoulders.

A good meal: at Rovers in Madison Valley in Seattle. While the five course dinner will run you about $90 and the Prix Fixe for the eight course dinner will set you back about $130, I do have to admit, it was some of the most delicious foie gras that I have had in quite some time. In fact, I am thinking about one day, when I have a farm, it will be the first ever elephant sanctuary/foie gras farm. That way, I am doing something good for animals to offset the creation of foie gras. I have such a guilty conscience about enjoying foie gras so much, but what can I do? Stop eating it? That would be incredibly cruel also.

So now that I am outfitted with a better computer, I promise to start drafting more substantive blog entries. I actually have been thinking of some things that I want to write about lately.

Of note, I thought I would begin with an important public service announcement about Irish Banshees, because I have gotten alot of questions lately on the subject, such as what does a banshee look like? How can I prevent a banshee from prematurely visiting me? Well, I will try to answer some of these questions the best way I can.

OH NO! This is what an Irish Banshee looks like. She comes frequently with a raven to warn of impending death. If you see this creature, just know, your time may be up.

This is not a banshee. It is just the back of Magic Johnson as he heads to Michael Jordan's Birthday Party in the Venetian during NBA All Star weekend. He may expect a banshee to pay him a visit him at sometime in the future, but no banshee on this date.

David was really upset because we weren't invited. So went to Zions National Park to see if we could find any banshees. I tried to warn David that he wouldn't see the Banshee there either (nor would we see any celebrity All-Stars). If you want to find Banshees you go to the source.

Darbun, Mississippi. I realize the popular notion is that Irish banshees live in Ireland. That isn't entirely true. I know that there is an Irish banshee lives in the woods behind where Sarah sits in the picture. See how the sky is like fire? That is a telltale sign of a banshee. Sarah knows that. And she just got her PhD so she can't be wrong.
There are Irish people that live in the U.S., so why can't an Irish banshee live here too?

Sorry Melissa, acting like a pirate will not save you from the Banshee! I think that Banshees and pirates may be friends. I am not positive about that, so I don't know if this should go in a public service annoucement. Just to be on the safeside, I think I should say, don't think acting like a pirate will keep you safe from a banshee.

But I do hear that Banshees are particularly hesitant to visit people who act like snooty French women inside of "Its a Small World" at Disney World. After all, French women generally live a very long time.

I hope this has been helpful. For more information, visit your local library, or watch Darby O'Gill and the Little People.

Monday, March 19, 2007

And answer!

So I finally have some good news to report, more than North Carolina's fantastic performance in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. I got into UW for my program in Library and Information Science. This means that now I am on my way out of this dreadful career as an attorney, and hopefully on my way to a much rosier career as a law librarian. That is my hope. Of course, there is still the dreaded issue of paying for my existence for the next year of my life when I am a full time student again, but I guess I was bound to need student loans at some point in time, since my first two degrees left me with no debt. Interesting side note - I heard on NPR this morning that Davidson College, is no longer offering loans as a part of its financial aid plans. If only that was the case back when I was accepted there, I might have been a Wildcat instead of of a Cougar. Of course, my alma mater's basketball team would still have been a first round loser at the NCAA tournament.

Now I just have to figure out my financing plan, and make it through the next five months of being an attorney before I hang up my suit coats for awhile. That is definitely good news.

I have been thinking alot about all of this youthful ambition I once possessed when I believed that I was going to go out and change the world. I want to post a longer blog entry on this notion later, but suffice it to say, the thought of being the best academic law librarian I can be is what thrills me to no end these days.

Friday, March 09, 2007

March Madness Revisited

It is that time of year again. This weekend it is the ACC tournament . . . by next weekend it is the NCAA tournament. I signed up for the CBS March Madness on demand today so that I can watch the games at work, in between dealing with other people's problems.
March has brought a special kind of anxiety this year. It is something greater than the anxiety of knowing that one loss means my Tarheels are done for the season. It is the added anxiety of waiting to hear about whether or not I will be attending the UW Library and Information Science program in the fall. I feel a particular kind of anxiety about this because I need to know that my present job has an expiration date. It has been slowly sucking the humanity out of me for quite some time, and I am concerned that if I do not get into graduate school that I will be a woman without a plan. I have no Plan B right now.
For the better part of my life I have been using North Carolina basketball as a metaphor for my life. Something about looking at Tyler Hansbrough wearing that ridiculous mask today made me feel so uncomfortable and confined. But at the same time, when I look at Brandan Wright's freakishly long arms, I think that sometimes that we do end up doing exactly what we were meant to do in life. Only someone who has a case of March Madness as serious as mine could find a way to relate these things with a desire to become a law librarian.