Brad Goins Thursday, August 7, 2014 0

As someone who reads history books on a regular basis, I’ve long felt that current historians give medieval history the short end of the stick. If this is the case, an MSU professor of history is helping to remedy the situation.

His name is Michael J. Crawford, and his new book, The Fight of Status and Privilege in Late Medieval and Early Modern Castile, 1465-1598, has just been published by Penn State University Press.

Crawford looks at the role of Castile’s “hidalgo,” or lower classes, in this long period. He describes Castile’s tradition of rendering the hidalgo exempt from taxes, and discusses ongoing arguments about how those in power should treat the hidalgo.

In an early review, UCLA history professor Teofilo F. Ruiz explains that there was “widespread social pressure to reach noble status in late medieval and early modern Spain.” Ruiz says “Crawford uses the process of ennoblement, and resistance to it, as a lens through which to explore Spanish society.”

The title of the book is certainly intriguing. I guess I always assumed that privilege came as a result of status (that is, of high status). I also guessed that people who wanted to have privilege without status had better have a lot of ready currency, gold or jewels at their disposal. (Or maybe a really big army.)

In fact, says Crawford, there was all sorts of squabbling going on in all sorts of official Castilian bodies as to exactly who should enjoy exactly which legal privileges.

Since this book is published by an academic press and it’s just come out, you can expect to pay quite a bit for it if you buy it right now. I see it going for as little as $57.70 on Amazon right now.


A $4 Mudslide, Maybe?

From time to time, the Up Fronter might write a word or two about the NOLA Defender’s humorous approach to Louisiana news. But as a rule, I wouldn’t expect to find myself writing about the humor in the Defender’s advertising.

That all changed when I saw the ad for a New Orleans bar that appears to be called “the JOHN.” The “neighborhood bar” promises to serve “frenchmen & burgundy” (lower case letters all around). The logo includes a gold-plated toilet.

In case all this isn’t enough, the ad promises “FREE PING-PONG.” Who wouldn’t burn gas for that?

The latest drink special is “PBR & WHISKEY” for $5. Boy, PBR must cost more than it used to. Think I’ll hold out for a better deal.


A Southern Comfort Toast, Everybody!

The good word from the Lafayette Advertiser is that talks are underway to bring a Costco Wholesale Warehouse to Lafayette.

A Costco? Hot damn! Louisiana has finally made it into the big time. We’re going to finish at the top of some lists now. Let’s smoke some Swisher Sweets!


How About Peppermint Schnapps Instead?

Yes, as a state, we have finally worked our way up into the highest echelon. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to be getting a Red Lobster in Lake Charles, dang it! Maybe we’d better hold off on the Southern Comfort for a while.


Or Maybe Three Steps Back

In its Twitter feed, recently reported this interesting “Fun Fact” — “From 1894 to 1926, steel-rail streetcar lines served Lake Charles, providing, 24-hour transit service to residents.”

So, one century ago, Lake Charles offered around-the-clock transit to its citizens. Today, in 2014, it offers 55 hours of transit over the course of the 168-hour week. That’s what’s known in common language as no steps forward, two steps back.


N.O. News Report

“I prefer couples making out on the neutral grounds slightly more than the hellfire folks with giant crosses standing there at Mardi Gras.”

That news update was Tweeted July 1 by Liprap, a reporter for Humid City in New Orleans. In point of fact, I would rather see the “hellfire folks” (as long as I could be sure they couldn’t get near me).


Turning Half Japanese Again

I guess there’s always been experimental music that’s been made outside of academia. Some of that music has been made by people who lack not just classical music training, but also the sort of informal one-on-one training many popular musicians get. Just as there’s outsider art, there’s outsider music.

In my lifetime, the performer Tiny Tim created this sort of music and had some popularity with it. Other outsider musicians, such as Wild Man Fischer and The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, plugged on in obscurity.

In 1974, the Fair brothers formed the duo Half Japanese and started making their own records in spite of the fact that they had no musical training at all. You could hear it in their records: in the lack of chord sequences or use of keys or so forth. It was the same approach that would be used a few years later by Arto Lindsay and DNA in New York City’s intentionally noisy No Wave movement. (I don’t mean that Arto Lindsay was influenced by Half Japanese. I doubt he was. Talented people often do similar things at about the same time.)

Followers of independent music probably suspect — correctly — that Half Japanese did have an influence on later outsider music figures, such as Daniel Johnston. Half Japanese undoubtedly reached their apex of popularity when they opened for Nirvana during the In Utero tour. (The outfit was said to be a personal favorite of Kurt Cobain.)

The ensemble is the subject of the documentary Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King.

The reason that I’m writing all this is that Half Japanese is putting out their first album in 13 years: a new release titled Overjoyed. A press release proudly proclaims that the music continues Half Japanese’s tradition of “willful ignorance of musical conventions and trends.”

As always, the release will be accompanied by the Fairs’ highly distinctive and recognizable graphic work, an example of which may be included with this column.

I see on the Facebook page of Half Japanese that the Fair brothers, who looked so young, scrawny and nerdy back in the ’70s and ‘80s, now look like very old men. I imagine experimental music is what’s responsible for the aging effect I’ve noticed in myself.

Overjoyed may not have dropped by the time this column appears. You can follow its progress (and check out more experimental stuff) at the site


The Value Of The Two-Party System

I like to follow the polls of the Pew Research Institute. The results always surprise me and give me an ever  broader and more complex view of American culture.

In a recent poll, Pew asked respondents to agree or disagree with this statement: “Blacks who can’t get ahead in this country are mostly responsible for their own condition.”

A total of 50 percent of Republican respondents agreed. But get this: 79 percent of Democrats agreed with the statement.

Jamelle Boule, a black man who’s a journalist for Slate, Tweeted a single word reaction: “Wow.”


This Issue’s Silly Contest

Up Front continues its series on great landmark institutions of journalism that have allowed themselves to be reduced to reporting fluff as if it were serious news. Here are two actual July headlines from two bastions of great journalism.

“The story behind ‘Victory,’ the 1900 U.S. men’s World Cup anthem.” — The New Yorker

“Raise your glasses to these Game of Thrones-inspired wines.” — The Guardian

Which headline do you find sillier? Send your vote to “English” Billy Boynton, c/o General Delivery, Wagon Rut, Texas.


Completeness Report

Jessica Simpson got married on the first weekend in July. After the wedding, she said about herself and whatever guy she married, “We feel complete.”

I was glad to read that, as I’d been wondering quite a bit lately whether Jessica Simpson felt complete. I don’t quite know who she is. But I know she’s complete. And of course, that’s a comfort.

It occurred to me that there might be some reader out there who’s wondering whether I feel complete. Let me bring you up to speed.

At the time I read the Jessica Simpson story, I felt 78 percent complete. When I wrote this story, I felt 68 percent. But then I drank a Muscle Milk, and my percentage of completeness shot up to 84 percent. As of press time, I felt 77 percent complete. Updates to follow.


Do I Know Her?

There was some big celebrity news in the last two weeks. It turns out Victoria Beckham was seated next to Samuel L. Jackson at Wimbleton. But that wasn’t the news. The news was that the two weren’t chatting with each other.

You can watch film of this on the website of E! Beckham throws nervous glances at Jackson while he looks more or less in her direction and scratches his head. Neither one says a word.

E! speculated that the two either had a disagreement or just didn’t have much in common. I have a different explanation. If someone seated me next to Victoria Beckham, I wouldn’t recognize her or have any idea who she was (is?). Maybe Jackson had the same predicament. That would certainly account for the head-scratching.


That Explains It

I just read in the news that Berkeley is considering a tax on sugary drinks. No wonder Louisianans hate liberals so much!