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Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation
Haiti: The Tumultuous History - From Pearl of the Caribbean to Broken Nation
by Philippe Girard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A fool is a man who says foolish things, 28 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Philippe Girard's book navigates the tumultous history of Haiti with considerable skill. From the very beginning it becomes evident that he does this not in order to present a balanced review of the twists and turns of Haitian history, but in order to twist and turn Haitian history to the benefit of his own opinion: namely, that all wrongs in Haiti are the fault of Haitians -not some, not most, but all- and the French or American policies are free of any blame and should actually be appreciated.

This said, I actually found his arguments quite persuasive and to a certain extent I am inclined to agree with a lot of what he has to say. Philippe Girard knows how to present an argument, and how to back it up, too -which means that all those who are naturally inclined to disagree with him along the lines of "Haiti's misery is the fault of nasty outsiders" will have a hard time arguing back. In this sense, I have found his book very engaging and rewarding, to say the least.

Nevertheless, it is striking how Philippe Girard falls prey to the pendulum effect: he is visibly tired and irritated with the classic argument of "poor Haiti, always bullied and abused by the superpowers", and believes it absolves Haitians of their own responsibility and, to a large extent, is patronizing towards them, too. Philippe Girard's stated goal is to hold Haitians accountable for themselves. Academically, this could be done in many ways, and the author has decided that the best would be to criticize Haitian partiality with regards to their own history, doing exactly the same in reverse. This gets him into trouble as the book progresses.

And this is why, sadly, Philippe Girard's attempts at presenting a convincing argument have been completely lost on me because of the fact he is openly racist. To be racist and write about Haitian history is quite something. If a fool is a man who says foolish things, then logic says that a racist is a man who says racist things.

So why the big R?

Well, it is the view of Philippe Girard that killing up to 5.000 white Frenchmen is worse, much worse, than killing up to half a million Tainos, for example. That's 500,000, and even Philippe Girard acknowledges these numbers in this book.

I quote Philippe Girard:
_________
"After 1492, the Spaniards had eradicated the Taino population, but had done so unintentionally. In 1803, the French had considered killing all the blacks, but had fallen short of that goal. Dessalines exceded the worst of the Spanish and French colonial crimes, combining intent with successful implementation. The 1804 massacre now occupied a prominent spot in the annals of human cruelty."
_________

This is an astonishing statement: the Spaniards "eradicated unintentionally". But who knows... maybe they did? Well, not according to all sources from the period, no. So Philippe Girard has decided to ignore all those sources -the poetic licence of the author, perhaps- and rewritten, quite casually, history for all of us.

Philippe Girards was not there when these 500.000 people died unintentionally, but thankfully Bartolome de las Casas was, so perhaps we could pass the word to him, if only for a couple of minutes. Bartlome mentions in his Brevíssima Relación and his Historia de las Indias that Spanish settler-soldiers were eager for quick profits in their encomiendas.

"Women carrying child (i.e. pregnant) were thus made to work until the seventh month, when the burden was too much. A concotion of herbs was then administered, forcing a stillborn child".

"No better is the fate of women with infants, who are so exhausted and overworked, and fed so little, that they cannot nourish their offspring".

"The soldiers can't stand the noise of crying babies, wanting nourishment, so they either pick up and feed them alive to their dogs or thrust them into the jungle to be surely devoured"

"In three months upwards from 7000 children have died in these ways"

(notice the number... a number which Philippe Girard had access to but chose to ignore or classify as "unintentional")

Of course not all 500.000 died in such cruelty, in fact most perished from disease. This still leaves us with the thousands who did not die of disease, but who were killed in cold blood. They were thousands upon thousands -seven thousand children alone. Their murder was so well documented, so widespread and so casually open that the likes of Bartolome de las Casas and the Spanish Queen even dictated laws to try to protect them. All this is irrelevant for Philippe Girard, who believes a Taino life is not worth the same as a French life.

Clearly, Philippe Girard possesses a complex formula on the "Morality of Human Murder" that we don't have access to, and when he calculates the moral repugnancy of mass murder, he is able to conclude quite openly that 5000 French being killed is much worse than thousands of Taino being killed. Now, I don't know how this formula works, but clearly the "race/ethnicity" factor plays a predominant role in the equation. Conclusion: Philippe Girard is racist because he openly defends racist statements in his book. Call a spade a spade.

But how much worse was the murder of 5000 Frenchmen compared to thousands of Taino? Philippe Girard will enlighten us:

A lot worse ... because the murder of 5000 Frenchmen is not only worse than the murder of thousands of Tainos and the other tens of thousands of Tainos who died from diseases, it is even worse than all this genocide AND the murders carried out during the French Slave regime in Saint-Domingue. Allow me to refresh Philippe Girard's words:

"After 1492, the Spaniards had eradicated the Taino population, but had done so unintentionally. In 1803, the French had considered killing all the blacks, but had fallen short of that goal. Dessalines exceded the worst of the Spanish AND French colonial crimes, combining intent with successful implementation. The 1804 massacre now occupied a prominent spot in the annals of human cruelty."

You see, for Philippe Girard the thousands upon thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of Africans who died because of brutal, sadistic mistreatment during the middle passage to Saint Domingue is not as bad as Dessalines' murder of 5000 thousand Frenchmen.

The thousands of Africans who died, and were killed, working in the slave plantations... not as bad, either. The fact that the French authorities in Saint-Domingue contemplated killing the hundreds of thousands of Black slaves as a desperate measure to save their beloved colony... to be taken in relative terms.

This may come as a shock to the likes of this Associate Professor of Carribbean History at McNeese State University of Louisiana, but fundamentally his bold statemtent is akind to saying that Allied bombings of Germany at the end of World War 2 are much worse -not the same, much worse- than the Holocaust. Statistically, the ratio of casualties comes out roughly the same. Would he get away with it if the published this?

So am I insinuating that the murder of 5000 Frenchmen was okay?

Of course not, it was a horrible act. A morally repugnant act. We don't need Philippe Girard's perverse calculations to know that.

A slave society born out of centuries of mistreatment, abuse, sadistic brutality and human degradation is bound to behave in an inhumane way when they take over control of that society, as happened in Haiti. It would have been nice it they'd been all Gandhi and so on, but more often they were blind out for revenge.

If, in addition, the murder is directed towards the social group who has been abusing you for centuries and who has openly contemplated killing all of you to save their plantation economy, we can still classify the event as a morally repugnant genocide, but not as one that appeared out of the blue.

What did appear out of the blue was the genocide that is not as important for Philippe Girard: the murder of thousands of Taino and the death of many more tens of thousands by disease. The Taino's never did anything against the Spaniards, the Spaniards quite literally appeared out of the blue and from day one set out to enslave and murder with Little contemplation -not even economic imperatives prevailed, the initial mentality was that there were "so many Indians" that you could enslave, rape and kill and still have plenty to go around the next day.

Quoting Philippe Girard:

"For all their faults, Saint-Domingue's whites had been the most educated faction in the colony. White planters organized labor on the plantations"

Yes, and Adolf Eichman organized labor in Auschwitz. What is this racist vomit?

Let's stop a second and think twice about what "white planters organized labor on the plantation" means, because obviously Philippe Girard's doesn't give a dime.

Do I really have to remind Philippe Girard of what this meant for the African slaves? The timetables? The working conditions? The forced separation of children from mothers, despite the fact that the Code Noir forbadde it but it was openly ignored? The forced breeding of such slave with such other female slave to produce a good "stock", constituting rape on the woman and enforced raping on the man? The arbitrary nature of mere existence, the fact that the slave owner or slave driver could end your life at a whim? There are documented cases of slave owners in Saint Domingue who snatched crying babies out of the back of their mothers who were toiling under the sun and, given the babies incessant crying, had them drowned in buckets of water for all the rest of the slaves to see. These cases were taken to "court", and the accused were absolved. And of the torture of runaways? The body hacking, the limbs being cut off? And of the murder of sick slaves because they no longer contributed to "labor on the plantation"?

Quoting again:

"White bureaucrats and lawyers administred the colony. White officers manned the top echelons of the army".

Yes, the same lawyers who absolved psychopathic murderers who saw their slaves as disposable beasts of burden. Now the new Haitian state couldn't count on these wonderful technocrats. The good old Frenchmen who manned the top echelons of an army that chased runaway slaves with dogs who ripped them apart, the top echelons of an army that announced they would eliminate all black of Saint Domingue in face of the rebellion -but who, Philippe Girard reminds us, "fell short of the goal", which somehow excuses them.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 17, 2015 11:40 PM BST


American Sniper [DVD] [2014]
American Sniper [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Bradley Cooper
Price: £4.99

19 of 69 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars 3 stars, 22 Jan. 2015
This review is from: American Sniper [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
The film in itself is not too bad.

It's about a psychopathic war-criminal who says "f*** it" and becomes a serial killer in some country that is not Kansas.

Anyhow, I'm all against this new hippie thing of making the bad guy seem good and the good guy be bad and the not good guy not that bad and the not bad guy a bit gooder. It confuses me. Whatever happened to the time-proven Always Good Against Total Evil.

So this is why I gave it 3 stars... Because my math skills are weak and because the war-criminal did not end up in The Hague as part of an illegal occupying force.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 27, 2015 9:36 AM GMT


House of Cards - Season 1-2 [DVD]
House of Cards - Season 1-2 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Kevin Spacey

0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too Long, 20 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This cigarrette advertisement is way too long. After one episode I thought... "Hmm, slick smart people smoke...?? Maybe if I...."

After episode two -and after lots of unnecessary clever talk around some dude in a big White House- I figured it out... " I need a cigarrette and pronto! "

And then, well, after 18 episodes, I dunno, I fail to see the point. I'm already enjoying my Virginia Vintage, Mercury sprinkled, tar infested, lead soaked canceriginous ciggies and impotence down under is kicking in... So what's the point of all this Francis Underwood wanting to be in another room of this white house?

Personally, an excessively long ad, with only two worthwhile lessons courtesy of Francis Underwood...

1. vapeur cigarettes are not as cool as the real deal tobacco ones

2. DO NOT SLAP A MAN WHO IS CHEWING TOBACCO!


The Man Called Brown Condor: The Forgotten History of an African American Fighter Pilot
The Man Called Brown Condor: The Forgotten History of an African American Fighter Pilot
by Thomas E Simmons
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.32

4.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a Film, 19 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Simply put, this is a fascinating biographical book on a forgotten aviation hero: the first prominent African-American pilot in the US and then a fighter pilot for Ethiopia during the Italian invasion.

The book is rich on aeronautical detail, which I personally found confusing and fascinating in equal measure. What you do learn is about the limitations and capabilities of such and such early aircraft and the principles of aeronautics behind them. The author successfully juxtaposes these "theories for the layman" into the context of the Ethiopian highlands, and why this presented such a monumental task for a pioneer pilot there. I am much grateful for him having opened this unexpected field of pioneering aviation.

The book also succeeds in providing an eye-openner into Segregation America, and how the stark racism in the South was not much worse for someone like John Robinson when he was in the supposedly more liberal North (Chicago, etc.). The world of alcohol bootlegging and 1930's Deppression are also vividly portrayed.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Ethiopian side of things, were contextualization is rather sketchy -I would imagine any reader with little prior knowledge on Ethiopian events at the time would struggle to make sense of the enormity of what was taking place-

A future revision by a more versed historian on the times prior the Italian invasion and during the invasion itself would, without doubt, catapult this book into the category of a classic.

All the while, a thoroughly enjoyable tribute to an Ethiopian patriot.


Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
by Jung Chang
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Jung Chang's HERstory. Readable but a bit cheeky, 13 Aug. 2014
In truth, Jung Chang's book is remarkably interesting. Her descriptions of court life in the Forbidden City and her take on the highly elaborate rollercoaster of court pleasing and vicious backstabbing is, at the very least, very engaging. She successfully transmits the air of constant treachery and exuberance of the Forbidden City.

My concern, and the reason for the 2 stars, is that it is a disturbing book for two important reasons, all the more given the popularity her books achieve.

1. From the outset it becomes evident that Jung Chang adores Empress Dowager Cixi. It cannot be emphasized enough: she doesn't just appreciate her legacy, or even admire her. The word in the English language is sheer veneration. The next 300 pages take her infatuation to ever higher levels.

Here lies her main weakness as an author of history books: while she is mildly prudent in the first half of the book, towards the end (after the Boxer Rebellion) it gets unnerving. There are constant references to "how worried she was, but couldnt say so" and "how in reality she cared but had to pretend she did not" in one instance after the other. How does she -and no one else- know that?

This works against Jung chang: as a reader, I've been following her narrative argument with interest but, there comes a point when all these flimsy "love declarations" towards Ci Xi simply make me step back in skepticism. She should learn that if someone is good, they are good on their own grounds, and a well presented argument will reveal it. When someone needs 15 year-old love letters to make the point, a reader over that age reads it with a few pinches of salt, or stops reading altogether.

Which takes me to the second and most controversial aspect of Jung Chang... Her absolute disregard of all things academic and her underestimation of the reader.

2. Rather than allowing well explained facts to nudge you towards an opinion (= Ci Xi has been wrongly portrayed as greedy and manipulative, when in fact she was an enlightened sovereign), Jung Chang chews it all for you.

After her very well written episodes on a particular policy or event, the paragraphs or chapters end with a clearcut conclusion, just in case you were stupid enough not to get the point that she has been making. The conclusion is basically a flowery appraisal to Cixi. More disturbing still is that as a reader you have to take Jung Chang's word for it.

When Ci Xi "wanted to abolish eunuchs but couldn't" in one instance after the other, the author provides no reference to this fantastical statement: a letter recently found, perhaps? Or some new archives? The absence of any reference makes me thing Jung Chang treats the world of her opinions as reliably as historical sources, making for a brilliant author for HERstories but a poor author of HIStory.


Lone Survivor [DVD]
Lone Survivor [DVD]
Dvd ~ Mark Wahlberg
Price: £4.97

1 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could be more good., 22 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Lone Survivor [DVD] (DVD)
The movie is good. The story is good too. There is lots of shooting and s***, which is good. Well, maybe not the last thing. There are these good americans doing good war, not like the other ones, who are from Binladenstan and do the war that is not good. I think the experts call it bad, I'm not sure.

The most good thing about Lone Survivor is that it manages to tickle your balls with americaness, oh yeah!, or as good scientificists say, the gene of USA... Under-Sausage Awesomeness. That feeling of stars and stripes rushing through the nether parts is generally understood as being good. Which makes this film even more good.

I only gave it two good stars because there wasnt enough shooting and not a single barbie chick dressed in stars and stripes swimsuits loading bombs to a goodness gracious baddass F17 fighter plane. This would have made it gooder.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 28, 2014 7:05 AM BST


Harry: A Biography
Harry: A Biography
by Marcia Moody
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative title, superb insight, 13 April 2014
This review is from: Harry: A Biography (Hardcover)
Believe me when I say that Marcia Moody's is the definitive biography of this high prince.

The life-long achievements and the heights he has crowned are superbly discussed: how he struggled for acceptance, how he was given nothing for granted. Beyond the paparazzi brawls, his inner-self is undressed perfectly well by the author, Marcia Moody, who by the way has not written this biography because she was paid, neither did she do it to get an edge into the upper class Gloucestershire polo games, so shut up about it already.

Historians will debate for generations to come how this towering figure has influenced our lives. Beyond Harry "the prince", Marcia Moody shows us Harry the "man", engaging his peers and keen to give a hand and to his comrades be all ears.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2014 4:10 PM BST


Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty
Epic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty
by Cassandra Pybus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.35

5.0 out of 5 stars An All-Time Tribute and Classic, 3 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am simply humbled and stunned at how mind-changing this book is.

Epic Journeys of Freedom recounts the tribulations of Runaway Slaves during the American War of Independence. It opens the door to a whole movement of slaves who jumped at the chance at collaborating with the British "loyalists" in exchange for their freedom - and out of pure hatred at their American slave-holding revolutionaries.

The likes of George Washington and Co. are portrayed for what their are: inspired ideologues with a sinister background of slave brutality. That they could talk about the rights of man while pleasantly looking at the suffering and torturing of their slaves (Washington personally saw to the punishment in quite sadistic ways of any slave attempting to flee) shows the inherent hypocrisy of the times.

The journeys of these runaway slaves, nonetheless, was but a straight one. They were used and exploited in their quest for a self-made free life, and would end up shipped to the furthers corners of the Earth - to Nova Scotia in Canada, to Australia, to Sierra Leone. The experiences they all endured are touching, moving, gripping. I simply could not put the book down, and i must confess that my eyes were watering quite often.


Ethiopia: Peoples of the Omo Valley: WITH Custom and Ceremony AND Face and Body Decoration v. 1-2
Ethiopia: Peoples of the Omo Valley: WITH Custom and Ceremony AND Face and Body Decoration v. 1-2
by Hans Silvester
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £95.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ethically Questionable Book, 1 April 2014
I had the chance to view in detail this and a few other of Hans Silvester's photographich books on the peoples of Southern Ethiopia.

It is very clear that, as a photographer, he as almost no interest in who these people are, but simply intends to photography strangle looking black people in paint and, crucially, make money and reputation (for himself) out of it. The dictionary has a very precise word for such attitudes and behavior.

These intentions are most visible in his work of "protraits from a window", but as other reviewers mention here, this book also falls into it. No text, no explanations, it doesn't even matter who they are and where they are from, much less why they are decorated as they are. It is all very disturbing, were the people photographed even aware that they would be "photographically sold" in such numbers?? Or did he pass himself off as a simple tourist taking pictures for himself?


Titans of History
Titans of History
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Edition: Paperback

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ridiculous, 25 Dec. 2013
This review is from: Titans of History (Paperback)
What a load of gimmerish. Simon Sebag Montefiore clearly deserves an award for writing one of the worst history books of recent years.

In a way, he is merely keeping up with times, when the Twitter generations can only struggle with a couple of pages before their mind wonders off. Such is this book: a lazy Wikipedia paste and copy, with a few edits so we dont notice. In fact, Simon does deserve some applause as he has successfully shortneded Wikipedia entries into smaller units: Columbus gets one page, and crappy beyond belief, for instance.

The fact that so many readers gave it top stars in an illustration of the current attention span of a few too many, and the fact that other writers plastered a few appraisals on the cover just goes to show how much of a sell out these fake intellectuals can be.

The writing style makes your average wikipedia entry read like poetry, and his habit for consulting it in abundance is clear from the dislocated paragraphs where one thing rarely leads unto another. Then there is his wise selection.... How do two African dictators like Idi Amin and Macias Nguema get a place as Titans and other far more influential African leaders get no place at all? Perhaps it is because Simon has not a clue what he is dealing with.

I shall stay away from such junk plagiarisers who wish to pass off as historians...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2015 3:25 PM GMT


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