Monthly Archives: September 2019

Women’s History Month! Mary Cassatt’s ‘In the Loge’

Hi folks, about time I posted something new I think? My technical issues with broken tablets have been sorted – I have picked up a Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 which does all I need to write on here. Note this week there are no Photoshopped, cartoonized pictures as I am including some bona fide art, and it seemed a shame to mess with it.
A quick word, a few weeks back I did outline the basics of the story of the Profumo affair – then Woman’s history month happened and I thought “great, Christine Keeler was such a fascinating character!” I won’t spoil the story to those of you who don’t know it, but the Police tweeting about a female police officer running a Japanese internment camp in World War 2 made me second guess myself a little. I then got a little distracted with Leaving Neverland (cause, let’s face it either you were caught up in it, or caught up in telling people how you weren’t going to watch it earlier this week right? Ok maybe just me?)

THEN I scribbled down a piece on how Mary Cassatt’s (May 22, 1844 – June 14, 1926) 1878 painting “In the Loge” captured an element of the zeitgeist of Modernism- the artistic movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where an industrialising, urbanizing world in flux began to challenge traditional ideas, became more self- referential, and began to believe the world is what we choose to make of it. Art became more about capturing the mood of the occasion, and interested in reflecting a modern world where it was increasingly important to be out and about so as to see and be seen. My interest in the painting, a lady modelled on her sister, Lydia, peers across the theater with her binoculars (she is at the opera house, where Parisians go to see and be seen) clearly not at the stage but at someone out of our view- another attendee. In the background a man with binoculars is ogling her as intently as she is ogling her subject.

At the time of my first exposure to this painting, an Art History lecturer told an 18 year old me, the painting caused an uproar because- how dare a woman set her gaze on another – women are to be looked at, and not to be the lookers. I don’t think pervy guy in the background is held up to such scrutiny. We ourselves sandwich poor Lydia by staring at the painting from the other direction. We may have stopped by that same day to see a Manet street scene, where generally people are there to be seen – unless we came across Olympia, a reclining nude who, unnervingly eyeballs us back, having caused a similar outcry, or taken a Lydia-esque stop at a Degas, to watch the ballerinas- who definitely were to be seen, and not to gaze.

This painting should beg questions of anyone either angered with, or flummoxed by the anger towards a recent Gillette commercial- How far the world in general has come, but how little some of us have changed. I had a whole bit on how in this time women were making steps towards independence- the industrial revolution led to then record numbers of women entering the workforce – admittedly often in poorly paid jobs – from teaching to heavy work like being ‘hurriers’ in coal mines, from factory workers to the ‘hawkers’ (sorry for a possibly derogatory term these days) selling goods in bars and footpaths, often pictured in paintings by fellow impressionists Manet, Degas, and other men – but not so much our heroine Mary Cassatt- as someone of a gender which typically was less accepted gazing where she saw fit, most of her snapshots of Parisian Modernism are in the confines of the opera house… It seems to me sometimes progress can find itself waylaid by the silliest of squabbles.

Where this one hit speed wobbles a little, in the wee small hours last night I am having a bit of a look online for some more info on Cassatt, and the ‘Gillette ad’ reaction to her painting… Now I believe my art history lecturer. I can imagine the backlash, who in this age can’t? Did the internet come through with some crazy statistics about the backlash? In a word, no. I believe this has much more to do with finding a pothole in the information superhighway than it never happening. At some point I will take myself down to the Auckland University library, dig out a book on Mary Cassatt, and go old school on this. Expect some foot marked addition to this post some time. How far the internet has come, how little some parts have changed?

For your enjoyment I have posted Mary Cassatt’s In the Loge. I haven’t posted Manet’s Olympia, sooner or later I will piss off someone on a forum and I could see them reporting this post for posting nudity or something and I may as well save myself the bother, but she is worthy of both seeing and being seen.

Mary Cassatt, self portrait.

Oh I have a complete piece on Tamar, Golden age ruler of Georgia to drop Friday, and plan to FINALLY record some podcast scripts tomorrow night.

Published March 13th 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow.

The Temple of Artemis

Hi folks, just a quick foreword. I wrote the following post in late February 2019, in the wake of American actor Jussie Smollett’s unwise publicity stunt. For future readers, Smollett was on a popular show called Empire, and looking to leverage a rise in white supremacist violence against people of colour, and the LGBTQI+ – both fair descritpors of Mr Smollett- for a little publicity. It backfired horribly when it was revealed he’d paid a couple of acquaintances to rough him up and hang a noose around his neck while pretending to be Trump supporters.

My piece was a musing on the topic of Herostratic Fame – the pursuit of fame at any cost, by any means necessary – and how the act of authorities demanding no-one uttered the name of the Herostratuses generally causes the opposite to happen. This was all good and fine…. until a far right terrorist went on a rampage in Christchurch, New Zealand days after, killing 51 muslim New Zealanders. In the wake of March 15th, the consensus was to not name the killer – To name him makes him a martyr to future shooters, and may inspire future mass shootings.

Sadly, there is a viral element to actions like those of the Christchurch shooter. It has been observed in the actions of mass shooters across the world, and specifically in the USA. In a 2015 article for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell wrote Thresholds of Violence – apparently the study of a wave of riots in the 1960s (a far more understandable phenomenon in my books) shone a light on the viral nature, and increasing normalization of mass shooting. It is well worth the read.
One may imagine this little blog post got a LOT of views in the wake of March 15th 2019. The topics may be a little apples and oranges, there may be a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t element to it all. I believe it utterly fruitless if you hope to consign someone like the shooter to the trash heap of history, but in terms of not naming the shooter in the near future – for both crisis management, and humanitarian grounds – absolutely. Do not utter his name.

Were I ever to write on the shootings at some point in the future, I would intend to honour, name and remember both the 51 Muslim New Zealanders who were murdered by a weak, ineffectual man, and the heroes of the day. When writing of the shooter, I’d denounce him for what he is, to quote Christopher Hitchens new commandments a “…psychopathic criminal with ugly delusions”. Future writers will name him. I’d only ask they do not lionize him.

This piece was originally titled “On Herostratic Fame…” Today I am re-christening it “The Temple of Artemis”.

Hi folks welcome back to Tales of History and Imagination. I’m working from a laptop this week as my tablet is in the shop being repaired – it took a tumble off the work desk over the weekend and needs a new screen. This also means I don’t have Photoshop – sorry if this week’s pictures are a little uninspiring.

This could be listed as a “Tales of History and imagination are all around us” post, the topic jumped into my head in the wake of the Jussie Smollett incident, although it is fair to say his case only loosely fits the purview.

Today we go back to ancient history, to a famous date in 356 BC, to recall the 2nd biggest event of that day.

The Temple of Artemis was built in the Greek Enclave of Ephesus, in what is modern day Turkey. One of Antipater of Sidon’s Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it had three iterations- a Bronze age temple built in the 7th Century BC and destroyed by a flood, a second iteration paid for by their Lydian overlord, King Croesus (the man who gives us the term, not well used these days “As rich as Croesus”), and a third version eventually demolished for good by Goth invaders in the late 4th Century AD. Our story today is concerned with the second iteration.

Oh, I should mention, Artemis is the Greek goddess of the hunt, wilderness, wild animals, the moon, and chastity- In Rome their version was Diana.

A statue of Artemis

The second temple of Artemis was impressive for its’ time. 115 metres long, 46 metres wide, and 40 metres high – much bigger than the Parthenon, (which is just shy of 70 metres long and 31 metres wide). What also made it impressive was that it was the first Greek temple to be built of marble. Now of course you couldn’t completely build a temple out of marble at the time. There were wooden braces helping to hold it all together, and a wooden roof. There were heroic scenes from Greek mythology on show throughout the temple, including the Amazons, who in Greek legend sought protection from Heracles in Ephesus. At the altar, open to the air, there was a wooden statue of Artemis, possibly carved out of ebony – though I have seen it claimed it was made from cedar. On 21st July 356 BC an incident occurred at the temple. Two things of note happened that day, and I should mention if our protagonist could look into the future 3 or 4 decades I think he would have picked another date. If he could look forward to November 22nd 1963, where very little was being said about the deaths of CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley due to John F Kennedy’s assassination, or 25th June 2009 where Michael Jackson’s death overshadowed Farrah Fawcett’s passing he would have learnt a little something also. Herostratus however was overshadowed by the birth of Alexander the Great. This stress on fame is pertinent to our tale.

In the early morning of 21st July 356 BC, chaos broke out in the streets of Ephasus. A huge cloud of dark smoke rose from the temple. The entire building enveloped in a wall of flame. Someone had climbed up into the rafters and set the place on fire. The historian Plutarch later wrote of the terror and despair as Ephesians

“…ran through the city beating their faces and crying out that that day had brought forth a great scourge and calamity in Asia”.

The destruction of the temple alone was bad enough, what upset the Ephesians more was that such a calamity could happen must mean Artemis had deserted them. Amid the chaos a young man – possibly a foreigner or a slave – of whom very little is known, stands there looking very pleased with himself. He stops panicked Ephesians here and there to comment on how incredible the fire was. The young man happily told all around him, he was the arsonist. He invited them to also admire his handiwork. Herostratus, the young man in question, was soon brought in. Though happy to confess he was tortured just to make especially sure he was the firebug.

Herostratus destroyed the Temple of Artemis because he wanted to do something the world would remember him for forever. Aghast, the Ephesians executed Herostratus, then forbade the utterance of his name for all eternity, a “damnatio memoriae” (condemnation of memory). If the Ephesians could have looked forwards to 2003, they may have moderated this action somewhat.

In 2003 Barbara Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for $50 Million over an unapproved aerial photograph of her oceanside home (one of 12,000 photos taken to document coastal erosion). Her action turned an obscure site with few views and only 6 downloads of the photo (2 of which were by Streisand’s lawyers) viral. Thousands downloaded “image 3850”. The site had close to 500,000 views in the following month. The “Streisand Effect” can have quite the kickback.

The Ephesians never faced the same kickback. Of course they would have other troubles. The aforementioned Alexander the Great would conquer them in his war on Persia. After his death his general Lysimachus tried to relocate them out of existence, which did not go well for him.. but those are stories for another day. Of course people spoke his name, quietly, because he was taboo – and we all like to live a little dangerously. Ancient historians Theopompus and Strabo discuss him by name. Medieval English author Geoffrey Chaucer references the incident in “The House of Fame”. Sir Thomas Browne mentions him by name, pointing to how his name has outlived the names of the judges who sentenced him. Cervantes mentions him in Don Quixote. Herman Melville, of Moby Dick fame wrote in “Mardi, and a Voyage Thither”

“whoso stones me, shall be as Erostratus, who put torch to the temple…”

On 6th October 1939 Adolf Hitler made a speech to the Reichstag, translated

“It is clear to me that there is a certain Jewish international capitalism and journalism that has no feeling at all in common with the people whose interests they pretend to represent but who, like Herostratus of old, regard incendiarism as the greatest success of their lives”

In more recent years he pops up from time to time. The iconiclast and writer Gore Vidal mentions him in the novel Two Sisters. Jean- Paul Sartre wrote a short story on the tale. Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky delves into the tale in his 1979 film Stalker.

I don’t think we use the term enough these days but to seek Herostratic fame means to commit a criminal act for the notoriety.

Originally posted 25th February 2019, before many New Zealanders realized the extent to which far right ideology existed in New Zealand. Edited 2020. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow, unapologetic leftist, humanist and progressive.

On “Villains” and true villainy – The Harrying of The North

Hi folks I wrote this post, originally to the Facebook page a few days before Waitangi day, some time back. To my overseas readers, Waitangi day is New Zealand’s national day. 6th February is the anniversary of the 1840 signing of an agreement between most of the Maori tribes of New Zealand (no Tuhoe ever signed it), and the British crown. In the following decades, in spite of the treaty, Maori got screwed. Land wars and confiscations, the systematic destruction of their culture, systemic racism. The undermining of their lifestyle combined with new, European illnesses – Let’s just say European colonization did not go well for Maori. In recent decades, government have made some amends via Waitangi treaty settlements. Being a little worried certain social media ‘friends’ may say “well there you go, we paid them billions – the whole thing is a big old gravy train” I did point out the loss of one’s sovreignty, of 96.5% of your land, of invasions and confiscations, being barred from public facilities – being forced to speak in another language and forget your old ways… seeing your population dwindle; decades of being treated as second class citizens.
All for payments totalling an equivalent of 3 months government spending on superannuation – well, to me it hardly seems a gravy train really. Fearing a lose-lose at the time if I ran a New Zealand story I ran with a tale of one group of white folk colonizing another, and invited folk to draw the parallels themselves… much to my shame I must say. All the same, the tale of the Harrying of the North is history worth remembering, parallels (and there definitely are some) or not. Simone (2020 edit).

“They built castles widely throughout this nation, and oppressed the wretched people. And afterwards it continually grew very much worse. When God wills, may the end be good” – Translated from the Anglo-Saxon chronicles.

On 14th October 1066, two armies clashed in a field in one of the most decisive battles in English history. On one side William, Duke of Normandy – a man who claimed lineage from the Viking warrior Rollo; reared as French aristocracy, and like many Frankish adventurers without his own direct line to a throne -on the lookout out for opportunities (by the end of the 11th century 12 of the 15 nations which made up medieval European Christendom would be ruled by Frankish aristocrats). He had around 8,000 troops backing him up. On the other side, King Harold Godwinson, still catching his breath having defeated Harald Hardrada hundreds of miles north at the battle of Stanford Bridge. The ensuing battle was bloody by the standards of the day, with approximately 6,000 casualties. In the end William, henceforth William the conqueror won, owing to having cavalry and archers on his side, where Harold did not.

Initially life for most of England’s population, around 2 million at the time, would not seem too different; however soon after William’s coronation, his thousands of followers, bolstered by several thousand newly arrived Normans, began to demand their own piece of the pie. The Normans began building castles across the country and taking what they saw fit to take from the local population. By 1068 revolutionary movements, tired of being oppressed, arose in Northumbria, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex. When York was sacked by angry locals William, now with a political excuse to let his people pillage to their hearts’ content, ordered a counter attack; a scorched earth massacre known as The Harrying of the North, 1069 – 70. Modern historians increasingly class the Harrying as a genocide, though even close to his own time chroniclers saw it as a remarkably vicious act. Orderic Vitalis writing 50 years later… translated to modern English…

“The king stopped at nothing to hunt his enemies. He cut down many people and destroyed homes and land. To his shame, William made no effort to control his fury, punishing the innocent, with the guilty. He ordered that crops and herds, tools and food be burned to ashes. More than 100,000 people perished of starvation.”

Using the sacking of York as justification, the Normans seized most of the land, and wealth in the country. Whole villages perished, still desolate generations later. There had been several thousand major English landowners prior to the Harrying; months after only four large native land owners remained. Approximately 5,000 nobles were stripped of their titles. Many English widows were forced to marry Norman invaders.
Within a generation a landowning nation, built largely on consensus had become an oligarchy ruled by 250 Normans, with William’s own family retaining control of 20 percent of the land.

What happened to English culture? Though a Christian nation their churches were razed, and replaced by large, Romanesque buildings. For hundreds of years their saints banned, and reliquaries destroyed. Their clergy replaced by French and Italian prelates. Their written language all but disappeared, replaced in official works by Latin. French became the official spoken language of those in power.
Some may have heard the term the Golem effect. In short we too often become that which others define us as, and if a people are systemicly treated as an underclass… well, some of thoe people will oblige their oppressors. The word “Villain” has always seemed a little case in point for me. In 2020 a villian is the antagonist in a tale, a moustache twirling bad guy. This owes much to the dehumanizing of those the Harrying of the North dispossessed. The word Villain originally described what we now call villagers. Post the Harrying of the North, the villages overfilled with fugitives, renting whatever accommodation was available to them- according to the numbers recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 (England’s first comprehensive census) England had 109,000 Villains – to the Norman conquerers an underclass of 109,000 scum; rebellious, coarse in manners – the kind of criminals who would trash a town like York given half a chance. A sizable underclass, who a generation ago were the respectable landowners.

But things got better right? We speak English now. Well yes, to a degree. Like many European countries, the bubonic plague of the 1340s made native Labour more costly. The peasants revolt of 1381 did not end serfdom, but it was one of a number of tipping points which led to a gradual English renaissance. A class system, however, favouring those of Norman lineage has largely survived. Thomas Paine commented on it, Karl Marx wrote of it. Even the 19th Century Tory Prime minister Benjamin Disraeli commented on England being two nations, “one of the rich and one of the poor”. A 2011 survey, according to Historian (and, yes, smug Brexiteer) Robert Tombs showed a noticable disparity of wealth exists to this day between those with Norman surnames like Lacey and Glanville, over the English Smiths and Shepherds. These things leave deep wounds when two groups start the race on different starting lines. We tend to carry the stamp of our ancestors heavy disadvantages.

Yes I did dodge Waitangi day when I wrote this, please take this post as intended – I’m not claiming we all have faced oppression so one group should get over it… quite the opposite. My goal was to state oppression is multi-generational, and leaves one group heavily disadvantaged. As I did when originally writing this post in 2019, I invite all readers to delve into the works of our legit historians, be that Keith Sinclair, Claudia Orange, James Belich, Michael King or a host of other writers. It can be downright dystopian, but you will be better off for knowing what happened.

Thomas Gore Brown, New Zealand’s former Governor.

Originally posted Waitangi day 2019 on the Tales of History and Imagination Facebook page. Edited in 2020. Copyright 2019 Simone T Whitlow.

A “Tales of History and Imagination are all around us” moment: a spy, a physicist and a pop star.

Hi folks, …. any time I start with “Tales of History and Imagination are all around us” I’ll be dropping some random snippet of something that has jumped into my head that day [Edit: I dropped this plan soon after. Simone]. The ‘tales of…are all around us’ are just random, off the cuff things that pop up in everyday life, when everyday stuff meets historical insight. As such they won’t have photoshopped [or cartooned] pictures. More official tales are coming.

My random “all around us” piece today. For context I’m at the hair salon, catching up with the gossip in the women’s magazines. I have the magazine open to a page featuring Aussie icon Olivia Newton John quoting Mark Twain
“reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”.
The story of course that the cancer that has plagued her was back, giving her just two weeks to live. Someone said it on social media, so it must be true right?.

“It is terrible someone would tell such an awful lie about her” the lady painting my grey hairs out of existence said. I agreed. I did stop short of sharing why I find her story interesting however. Spoiler, it has nothing to do with Xanadu, Grease, or the deadbeat ex Patrick McDermott who faked his own death – apparently- to run away from a massive debt… well OK, he is an interesting tale too. What fascinated me about Ms Newton John is tales of her father, and grandfather.

Olivia Newton John’s grandfather was Max Born (1882- 1970), a Jewish- German physicist and mathematician. Vitally important to the development of quantum mechanics, he was nominated numerous times for a Nobel prize in physics – finally winning one in 1954. While at the university of Gottingen, the university became one of the main hubs of physics in the world. His list of notable students is a long one including Enrico Fermi, Max Delbruck, Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller. He served in the German army during the First World War. He was peers with Werner Heisenberg.

In 1933, when the Nazi party came to power, Born and other Jewish academics were suspended from Gottingen. Seeing the writing on the wall early on, Born packed up his life, and his family moved to the UK.

Not long after moving to Britain his daughter, Irene, met and fell in love with a Welsh academic, with a background in German literature – Brinley (Brin) Newton John (1914-1992). When World War Two broke out, Brin enrolled in the RAF. Due to his language skills, hwever, he would become an intelligence officer, interrogating captured German pilots – then later a code breaker at Bletchley park. One night in May 1941 he was sent out to Scotland on a secret missing to bring in a recently captured German pilot. The pilot, who deserves his own Tale of History and Imagination, had flown to Scotland to demand an audience with the Duke of Hamilton, and Prime minister Winston Churchill. His mission, unbeknownst to Hitler, was to petition a peace treaty with Britain. The captive was none other than Deputy Fuhrer of Germany Rudolph Hess. Hess would never meet Churchill, and would die a very old man in Spandau prison, but he did get to meet the dad of a bona fide pop star.

Originally published after an appointment at the hair salon, January 27th 2019 by Simone T. Whitlow. Copyright 2019 Simone T. Whitlow

Why O is for Owesome, and OK is Oll Korrect

Hi there folks thanks for liking the page. If you’re wondering where I’m up to, I do have scripts together for the first 4 months, at a podcast a fortnight… and a shortlist of ideas years long. I want to run these weekly, but need to stockpile a bunch of these scripts first.

When will the first podcast be? I have a Blue Yeti mic I bought a few months ago… it seems to hate Windows 10. As an ex lease laptop with Windows 7 costs about the same as the mic, I’m looking to pick one up on my next pay.

Show hosting? Well that’s the next stage. In the meantime I figured I’d start writing a weekly article up here, and drop these back to every other week once the podcasts start. Going on what a toastmasters for dummies site I found online says I’ve been writing the podcasts at around 3,500 words an episode… it’ll be nice to have an off week where I’m just doing a few hundred words on something else.

This week’s topic why O is for awesome and why that may be Ok.

So, New Zealanders will remember in the 1990s we had so many TV game shows, mostly borrowing from American formats. Kiwis may also remember the night -10th October 1992 – when Moana Robinson of New Plymouth swore at the television – no doubt till she was blue in the face. You see, non kiwis, Moana had been picked as an at home contestant on a celebrity episode of Wheel of Fortune. The prizes were great. A 2013 Dominion Post article listed a $4781 porcelain set, and a $36,000 Ford Telstar. Moana was represented by a young Commonwealth games bronze medallist, the boxer David ‘Terminator’ Tua.

David the Terminator aka The Tuaman Tua.

Now I’m the last to criticize anyone’s performance on a game show- my experience on Mastermind was terrifying. You silently pick off all your opponents questions, but when the camera is on you, you do freeze a little…. well I did. David Tua had a shocker though! We might forget where, looking for the word Facelift, he asked to buy a vowel – then asked for P. What we do remember though was when he seemed to ask for an “O for Awesome”. Moana swore, her four kids probably swore, her brother swore -apparently – and at the end of the night all she had was a commemorative pen (I’m not sure if it was a nice pen but as of 2013 Moana still had it). Was Tua O for Awesome after that? A little embarrassed maybe, but it became a part of his story that he embraced. He had a licence plate O4OSUM made for his 1973 mini, though has always stated he said “O for (his friend) Orson”.

But, you see, – and let’s just put aside for a second he asked for a vowel, not a consonant – if David Tua said O for Awesome that is OK, cause we play a little fast and loose with language all the time – just look at the word OK.

In Boston, Massachusetts in 1838, a new fad was taking hold. I’m unsure if it was in response to one of Massachusetts’ greatest sons, Samuel Morse, developing the telegraph in the 1830s and 1840s, but Boston was crazy for abbreviating words at the time. The wealthier citizens of Boston, for example, became OFM, our first men. NG was no go, GT gone to Texas, and if something was no big deal it was SP, small potatoes. There was another trend at the time, ‘comic misspelling’ … well it was the 1830s, Americans had only just gotten their first dictionary of American English in 1828, written by Noah Webster. It had 212 new spellings of English words. If Webster could reinvent the language, why not some barfly in a Boston pub? All right became Oll Wright, abbreviated to OW in Boston.
All correct became OK by the same process… Oll Korrect.

So why do we say OK now, but not OW? That comes down to the man in the third picture, the 8th President of America, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren, who lived in Kinderhook New York, ran in the 1840 election. His campaign slogan was “Vote for OK” standing for Old Kinderhook. It may have also been meant as a sly dig at his opponent, Andrew Jackson, who was really not a man of letters. This embedded OK in the wider public lexis.

Martin ‘Old Kinderhook’ Van Buren

Now OMG has an origin from before the internet too, Admiral Lord John Fisher first used the phrase in an 1917 letter to Winston Churchill; but the practice of abbreviating words, LOL, SMH, BRB, all began in the drinking holes of 1838 Boston.

This blog was originally posted to Tales of History and Imagination’s Facebook page, on 16th January 2019. Edited July 2020. Copyright Simone T Whitlow.

DavidTua #Wheeloffortune #Oisforawesome #Ok #Samuelmorse #MartinVanBuren #History