Tag Archives: politics

The Monday Book: The Last Days of the Sioux Nation.

Jack gets to do the book review this week –

The Last Days of the Sioux Nation – Robert M. Utley

sioux nation

My interest in this subject was sparked by a song. My old singing friend John Watt and I, both from the same small town in Scotland, knew that Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show had played there during its final European tour. He was intrigued enough to do a lot of research and wrote the song.

He discovered that among the performers was a group of Sioux who had been ‘paroled’ from a South Dakota reservation by Cody. I started singing the song a few years ago and when Wendy and I decided to plan a road trip we wanted to include the Black Hills and the Badlands. On that trip we also took in Wounded Knee and the Crazy Horse monument.

More recently we repeated the journey with a couple of Scottish friends and this time added in a visit to Little Big Horn. Along the way, on both trips, we naturally picked up a good few books that filled out our knowledge. In addition, I found an excellent book by the Scottish writer James Hunter called Glencoe and the Indians that added another layer of fascinating hidden history.

Utley’s book is probably the best I’ve come across covering this whole sad period. The period he covers is about ten years around 1890 and takes us from Little Big Horn to after Wounded Knee. His excellent research describes the tensions within the different Sioux sub-divisions as well as the rivalries between the US army and the Department of the Interior. The Sioux were reeling from the many broken promises, particularly around their sacred Black Hills and Badlands. Their final attempt to revive their lost way of life was to embrace the ‘Ghost Dance’ and this was grossly misunderstood by the Federal authorities and particularly the army.

Utley includes a collection of photographs from the period including the main actors as well as notable places such as Wounded Knee creek.

In Hunter’s book he points up the similarities between the experiences of the Sioux and those of the Highlanders who were cleared off their Scottish land. The real irony is that some of those Scots ended up in America and took a leading part in the Sioux clearances!

There’s a well known story that a few of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Sioux left his show in Glasgow and settled there. What we do know is that a popular Glasgow museum recently returned a ghost shirt to the US that they had had in their collection for over one hundred years.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in this dreadfully sorry period in US history – five stars!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, reading, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

Which Side are You On

Jack scrapes over the wire with the Wednesday post – – –

I’m a week or so late in acknowledging Labor Day I know, but –

On our kitchen wall we have a tea towel with a print of a certificate by the house decorators and painters union dating from the mid 1800s.

towel

It fascinates me for two reasons. It reminds me of a famous book – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – that describes the working conditions of a group of house painters in England in the early 1900s. The other reason is because I served a six year apprenticeship learning all the skills depicted in that certificate.

The scenes illustrated clearly display great pride in the variety of specialisms involved –

The simple yet carefully prescribed way of painting a paneled door.

The use of color to enhance a classical Greek style cornice.

A cherub studying design and another one lettering a signboard.

A collection of regular paintbrushes and tools and another collection of tools for applying goldleaf.

In the center is a scene showing why the union was so important – a sick painter (maybe suffering from lead poisoning) is being attended by a doctor while his wife and son look on.

In The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the main character is a young man, newly finished his apprenticeship who has a particular talent for design. He spends a lot of his own time, unpaid, making wonderful designs to be used later as part of his work. This reminds me very much of my father who served his time back in the 1920s when the system still included attendance at art college. Truly a marrying of art and craft and the legacy of people like William Morris.

My apprenticeship was served under my Dad in his painting business and I was ‘indentured’. That means that, like all his apprentices, we both signed a legal document that was then torn irregularly in half. At the end of my six years I received his half, which when matched to my half showed I was legally a time-served craftsman (indentured actually means ‘patterned like teeth’).

Everything has changed now. In Scotland there are still apprenticeships but they last just three years and don’t cover the same breadth of skills. Indenturing no longer takes place and DIY has blossomed with the introduction of easier to use materials and tools.

But I learned a lot – not just about craft skills, but also social skills. Not only that but it was the gateway to my college career, so a very good start to my working life.

Finally – I’m a big believer in unions!

3 Comments

Filed under book reviews, crafting, home improvements, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, Uncategorized

Monday Book – The Rush to German Unity

Jack does this week’s review –

The Rush to German Unity – Konrad H. Jarausch

german

Back in the mid-1990s I was managing a series of European funded education projects focusing on environmental issues. We had partners all over Europe including at the University of Dresden where I attended a couple of conferences presenting papers on our work. My contact there was a science professor and he described very graphically his family’s experiences when ‘the wall’ opened up on a fateful Friday evening, as well as comparing life before and after German unification. He was old enough  to be able to say there were advantages and disadvantages following unification, whereas his kids had no memory of life before.

While my colleague described things from a very individual and personal point of view, Jarausch’s book takes a much wider view of that same period.

I found this book immensely fascinating and readable. While it certainly touches on the experiences and viewpoints of particular groups of people on both sides of the wall, it also spends a lot of time examining the political groupings that came out of the shadows in the east and jockeyed for position as the Soviet Union’s grip loosened.

I hadn’t realized how strong the push was in the DDR to continue as a separate state but socialist rather than communist. The collapsing economy put paid to that, as did the general population’s increasing desire to share in the FDR’s perceived opulence.

There’s a geo-political cauldron here and it could very easily have gone very wrong. The book makes clear that one of the reasons it didn’t was because this wasn’t really a coming together so much as a takeover of the east by the west. What also helped was a realistic pragmatism on the Soviet side led by Gorbachev, although his generals weren’t happy.

All in all I found this a fascinating read and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone with an interest in this crucial period in 20th Century history.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Monday Book – My Song is my Weapon

My Song is my Weapon – Robbie Lieberman (1995)

Reviewed by Jack Beck

Once upon a time (actually about eighteen years ago) Wendy and I were booked to perform at the Orkney Folk Festival off the north coast of Scotland. The festival took place in various venues in Stromness and we were accommodated in a lovely old hotel overlooking the harbor. Not surprisingly the hotel bar was a favorite gathering place late at night after the official concerts and ceilidhs were finished.

stromness-hotel

One night we found ourselves chatting to a young American lassie who said she had published a book we might find interesting! I immediately bought a copy and have now read it for maybe the fifth time –

As a young man in the late 1950s and early 1960s I was developing my left of center political views as well as a strong interest in folk songs. So I was well aware of Pete Seeger, the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, the connections to Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson.

What I didn’t know was what had preceded this in the US and where all these people had in their turn served their apprenticeship, both politically and musically.

my song is

Lieberman’s book was a revelation to me in many ways –

First of all I had no idea how large and popular the US Communist Party was in the 1930s and how well accepted that generally was. Then again, I knew nothing about the ‘popular front’ and was fascinated to see how that had helped generate the ‘folk revival’ of the 1950s and 1960s.

There was much that was familiar too – the ‘redscare’, McCarthyism, the blacklist and so on.

I have to admit that on first reading I found the book pretty dense and hard going. However each time I’ve re-read it I’ve found it not just easier but more enlightening. Each time I find more gems I’d missed before!

I can thoroughly recommend this to anyone with an interest in 1930s US politics, the roots and routes of the 1950s folk revival or all three!

 

2 Comments

Filed under book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: Ivory Vikings by Nancy Marie Brown

Jack’s doing the Monday book – so, of course it’s on Tuesday – –

Ivory Vikings: The Mystery of the Most Famous Chessmen in the World and the Woman Who Made Them; Nancy Marie Brown

Wendy brought me this book back from one of the bookstores she’s been visiting, promoting her book Fall or Fly. She was correct that it would interest me. It actually has little to do with the chessmen per se, but I don’t mind!

vikings

Brown uses the famous Lewis Chessmen as the mechanism for what is really a geopolitical and historical examination of the Nordic countries in medieval times. I already had some knowledge of the Viking connection to Scotland, Ireland and Northern England, and I even knew that the French Normans were originally Norse men.

But this book was a real eye-opener and introduced me to a world that was much more connected than I had thought. I obviously knew about the Vikings sailing around the north Atlantic but not just how much or how far. I knew nothing about their land journeys including taking part in crusades and hob-knobbing with English nobles!

“Ivory Vikings” can be a challenging read at times. The story of these ivory armies is woven through speculative historic tales of kings Harald Blue-Tooth and Svein Fork-Beard, with diversions into the 13th-century sagas of Iceland’s Snorri Sturluson and the early 19th-century literature of Sir Walter Scott, as well as accounts of the climate and topography of Iceland, the importance of walrus ivory from Greenland financing Viking raids and the origins of chess in India.

Margret the Adroit of Iceland turns out to be Brown’s favored candidate as maker of the chessmen. She was a carver of walrus and other materials and was famous for her craft in her time. One of the kings regularly sent gifts made by Margret to other rulers, one of the reasons the chessmen may be attributable to her. But I think my favorite of all the memorable characters in this book is perhaps Earl Erling Skew-neck who got his name after being whacked in the neck by an adversary in battle and carried his head at an angle ever after!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Norse history and their connections to other northern European countries – particularly Scotland and Ireland.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, what's on your bedside table, writing

The People’s Flag – – –

It’s Thursday so it must be time for Jack’s Wednesday guest post!

Since there wasn’t a Monday book review he gets to do that too – –

World Politics 1918-1936 – R. Palme Dutt (1936)

We get some pretty weird and wonderful books here in the bookstore and I often find myself drawn to them. This one caught my eye as it’s about a period of history that fascinates me and was actually published just as things were getting out of hand.

When I read the book I had no idea who Dutt was and had never heard of him, so I read with an open mind. I was fairly astonished by much of his commentary on the first half of the period covered and how ambivalent the UK, France and the USA were towards the German and Italian Fascists as well as the Japanese Imperialists. There was a common fear of the rise of Soviet power and until late in the period various attempts to form an alliance to counter Communism. Even after Mussolini was established in power and Hitler was cementing his foundations there were powerful figures in favor of forming a common front against the USSR that would include the USA, the UK, France,Germany, Italy, Japan and Poland.

However the tone of the book becomes different as it reaches the latter part of the period. Dutt clearly believes that war is inevitable and argues that the best thing is to delay it for as long as possible through diplomatic means. This would allow the Soviets to build enough strength to defeat this unholy alliance!

What’s ironic, of course, is that the UK and the US ended up in concert with the USSR against Germany, Italy and Japan, with the Soviets playing an enormous part in the victory.

Being a pretty cynical kind of person, I believe that WW2, just like WW1 was fought between Imperial powers with ambitions to divide up the world and very little to do with any democratic principles. Afterwards the anti-Soviet line came back and the justifications for the war emerged with much banner waving. There was just as much anti-Jew pressure in the US, the UK and the USSR prior to hostilities although without someone quite as effective as Hitler to run with it.

If I was the late Mr Dutt I might be looking at the current political situation and thinking things are beginning to line up for another Imperial confrontation with the same shadowy figures pulling the strings and another religious group being demonized as a diversion – plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

After finishing the book which was published in the US, I wanted to know more about who’d written it –

Rajani Palme Dutt (19 June 1896 – 20 December 1974), generally known as R. Palme Dutt, was a leading journalist and theoretician in the Communist Party of Great Britain. (From Wikipedia)

I don’t hold that against him, though – –

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Uncategorized

Avanti o Popolo, Alla Riscossa.

Jack’s Wednesday guest post reverts to tradition and appears on Thursday –

OK – I’m going to dive in!

As an ex-teacher I’ve obviously been following the battle waged by my WV colleagues and it reminded me very much of the situation in Scotland at the height of Maggie Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister.

The Scottish teachers were the only group to actually win a strike against her and it was partly through the same solidarity that the brave and solidly united teachers of WV have shown.

But something else I’ve begun to see – that’s the young folk all over this country who are emerging and aren’t intimidated. Right now it’s about gun control but that’s sure to lead to other things. I wonder if there’s just the possibility that we might see a revival of the movements of the 60s and 70s that would bring about some change?

It’s so tiring and frustrating to be continuing all the time to fight back and it mostly means going out there either on the street or into hostile territory. Many people have paid a terrible price for doing that and many more likely will!

But here’s the really scary thing. In the US and the UK there’s effectively a two party system and that makes it so easy for the vested interests and the big corporations to simply pay them both off. That seems to be exactly what’s happening. Of course the argument is always to get elected on a party ticket and then change things from within. All I can say is that there are hardly any examples of full-time professional politicians that I see who haven’t been bought – either with brown envelopes or ermine cloaks – or both.

Things appear to work better in those European countries that use voting systems that promote multi-party coalitions but I don’t see any likelihood of the folk benefiting from the existing system ever agreeing to that.

So, for now, there doesn’t seem to be much alternative than to be inspired by the WV teachers and the young folk around the country! Of course you can also visit your local bookstore and find lots of great books about community activism – such as Randy Shaw’s excellent ‘The Activist’s Handbook’!

activism

Leave a comment

Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized