The Books of 2016, #12: The Borgias: The Hidden History, by G. J. Meyer

The_Borgias

G.J. Meyer has a shtick. He writes “provocative” histories about “provocative” subjects that are mostly designed to help him stack cheddah by serving as the basis for “provocative”, historical-ish drama series on cable TV.

You may recall his earlier book, The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty, (and, man, revel in the sheer clickbaitiness of that very title) which was the source material for the BBC series, much like The Borgias provided the basis for Showtime’s canceled series of the same name. I read that book a couple of years ago and found it entertaining, but also ludicrous. Entertaining simply because you’d have to work very hard to write a boring book about the Tudors. Ludicrous because of the second aspect of G.J. Meyer’s shtick: his books almost always go against the “conventional wisdom” and sport theses that make pure academic historians spit blood. For example, the gist of The Tudors was, really, that Henry wasn’t an absolute bastard of a monster. Somehow. When, in fact: he totes was.

Likewise, The Borgias: The Hidden History, in which Meyer tries to argue that the Borgias were not the monsters that almost all of history has made them out to be, but were rather just typical of any ennobled family of the time in how they used their wealth and power to reinforce each other and that, further, much of the horribleness attributed to them is outright false. To Meyer’s credit, I think he makes a much stronger case here than he did with The Tudors.

The book makes its case by alternating chapters between the main chronological narrative of the three primary Borgias (Rodrigo the Pope, Cesare the alleged inspiration for Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, and Lucrezia, possibly the most vilified woman of the Middle Ages) and what I’d call “context” chapters. The context chapters are quite useful in terms of situating the reader in how, say, the Papacy worked during the era in which the Borgias were active with it. Likewise, he explains Italian politics, international diplomacy… basically any topic where the reader may have an understanding of how it operates _today_, but NOT how it operated then. So these chapters help educate the user AND reinforce one of Meyer’s main arguments: that while a lot of what the Borgias did may seem unsavory to modern mores, they were not at all out of line with contemporary standards (an argument Meyer makes, I think, successfully over the course of the book) and, actually, were near-saintly when compared to other major figures of the day (this argument, not so much).

At any rate, the framework is very solid and keeps the user properly informed on the context needed to understand the narrative events as they unfold.

As for that narrative, I wish the writing of it were more exciting. For being about an era positively brimming with strong personalities, amazing new art, sex, epic violence, etc., the book is a bit of a slog to get through.

Part of the slog is due to the voluminous chat about sourcing interspersed throughout. To Meyer’s credit, most of this is segregated from the main narrative in a way that makes it easy to skip over if source-talk ain’t your jam. I think this is partially an over-reaction to the eyerolls that greeted his thesis about Henry VIII in The Tudors being actually a nice guy, and partially the usual work of a historian going into detail about their sources to validate their interpretation of them. I found it interesting, and believe he did an effective job of highlighting how his sources (and, to be honest, primary sources on the Borgias are remarkably limited so he’s quite thorough about it), once analyzed for bias, actually rather strongly support his own arguments. You may disagree, but I didn’t have that sense of “wow, this author is really contorting things to make it work here” that I sometimes get when reading through a writer’s own analysis of their source materials as related to their argument.

Overwhelming sourcing chat aside, Meyer does move the reader along from the rise of Rodrigo from minor Castilian nobility to leader of the Church, through Cesare’s brilliant but notorious and violent rise and even more notorious fall, and finishes up with a good discussion of the whorification of Lucrezia. While the least “action-packed” part of the story, the sections focusing on Lucrezia were the most interesting to me, as they are basically a textbook for how shoddily any woman who rose to any sort of prominence could be expected to be treated both by her contemporaries and by later writers. Of the three main subjects of the book, I think Meyer makes his most compelling case regarding history having given these folks a bad rap when it comes to the unfortunate Borgia sister/bargaining chip/marriage prize.

So, yeah, I think Meyer does a solid job of making his case, if overselling it a bit with both Rodrigo and Cezare, in this book, but really wish he had somehow injected the spirit of the age he is covering into his writing on it. People and events this interesting shouldn’t turn into quite so much of a slog when set down on paper.

Stop. Electing. Racist. Assholes. Iowa.

 Can my Iowa friends’n’fam explain this fuckin’ dope to me? I don’t like it, but I can at least understand it when some racist shithead small pond political asshole from a third world wasteland like Alabama flies a Confederate flag; it’s because they are asshole racists and wish that Alabama was still part of the Confederacy and had legal slavery.

But Steve here? YOU’RE FROM FUCKING IOWA. WHICH WAS A UNION STATE. So you’re basically saying you just want to be able to own black people again, and you wish you could disenfranchise black people back down to chattel slavery SOOOOOO MUCH that you’re willing to proudly fly the flag of a country neither you nor your people have ever been part of, the flag of a country that was the worst, most dangerous enemy YOUR ACTUAL COUNTRY ever fucking faced (Nazi Germany was never going to destroy the Union, though things would’ve sucked for Europe if we had lost. The Confederacy came damned close, and they killed more Americans on the battlefield than any other enemy ever has).

This is something that only a COMPLETE FUCKING ASSHOLE would possibly do.

And sure. There’s no law against being an asshole. But constantly electing one? I condemn your entire state for this. Throw this asshole out already.

iTunes: FUCK Your Albums, Son

Lord have mercy, am I ever tired of this malevolent piece of shit software… (and spare me any thoughts about replacing it with a hand-crafted lossless FLAC archive or fucking Spotify or whatever floats YOUR particular boat; I’ve been ripping my own music into and buying music through iTunes since it came out 16 fucking years ago, I’m not spending the time and money that would be necessary to recreate my library anywhere else right now. iTunes is my goddamned wife, and we’re married in a country that doesn’t recognize divorce. So be it).

I was checking the iTunes Store this week for a rare track by Clutch (pronounced: FUCKING. CLUTCH.) that I saw on YouTube and that I wished, if it were available, to purchase for my own library. It wasn’t, but I saw that there was a Deluxe Edition of their last studio album, which I already own, that features three bonus tracks, which I do not.

So I bought just those three tracks, to complete the whole album.

iTunes, in its infinite retardation, loaded them up into the library as so:

iTunes_Album_Splitting_01
Yes, iTunes. These are DEFINITELY two unrelated albums. For certain.

Okay, fine. One set of tracks is called THING and the other is THING (Deluxe). And maybe there’s some colossal sperglord out there who would want these two things kept separate. I, however, being a normal goddamned human being, do not.

I mean, fuck’s sake, it even knows that the track #s on the latter three tracks proceed directly from the first twelve. THIS IS ALL ONE GODDAMNED ALBUM, ITUNES.

So, in any other music managing app in the world, to correct this one would simply:

  • select all tracks
  • edit their info
  • force one album title onto all fifteen tracks, which:
  • will make any non-mongoloid music app understand that “oh hey, duder wants these to all be considered one album. Done”

iTunes, being a special snowflake, considered my request to lump these into one album and gave me this:

iTunes_Album_Splitting
wut

How in the actual fuck it decided that tracks 9-15 are an album by a band called Clutch named Psychic Warfare that is completely different and separate from the album by a band called Clutch named Psychic Warfare that contains tracks 1-8 is a mystery that I will never solved short of kidnapping the entire iTunes development team from the last 20 years and locking them into a torture-filled Skinner Box of my own devising until they spit out the truth.

Now, I’ve been wrestling in the mud with iTunes for a looooong fucking time at this point. Even after the Great Purge of 2006 (am I mildly ashamed at the number of live U2 bootlegs and Cleopatra Records “re-recordings” of 80’s cock rock greats by the middle-aged current versions of same that I had? Yes), or the Lesser Purge of 2012 (when I, and millions of other people, quietly deleted that Gotye album that, aside from that one tune, really, really sucked), I’m still sitting at about 17,000 songs and 140GB of music. So, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way to make it behave. Sometimes.

One thing you can do is right-click and GET INFO and change not just the album name, but go into the SORTING OPTIONS and try applying the album name to the SORT AS field, which is usually blank. I did that here and…

iTunes_Album_Splitting_04
FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKKK

This has NEVER been reproducible or reliable, so sometimes you just have to do it a few times and see if it ever gets it right. Which is fucking infuriating, but what are you gonna do?

iTunes_Album_Splitting_02

There. Was that so fucking hard? Yes. Yes it was.

As an aside, I do use Google Music just as a last-ditch backup dump for all of my music. I use their Music Manager to automatically upload anything new that shows up in my iTunes to Google Music. On a whim, I decided to see how it treated this same scenario:

gmusic_01
Oh, bother.

So, Google Music, too, thinks these are two separate albums. Great. Let’s try fixing that. Click the little … icon and change the album name from “Psychic Warfare (Deluxe)” to just “Psychic Warfare” and click enter…

gmusic_02
et voila.

Well. THAT WAS FUCKING EASY. SURE WISH APPLE COULD FIGURE OUT WHAT THEIR PRIMARY COMPETITOR HAS.

Not that Google Music doesn’t have a ton of other problems (playlists capped at 1000 songs is the biggie for me), but this kind of simple shit should automatically work in any app that purports to be a music library manager or player.

Maybe just switching to the new-ish Apple Music would be easiHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAican’tevenfinishthatsentenceAppleMusicisadumpsterfire.

Bring Me The Head of The Head of IDOT

Sooo… bad enough that the Highland Rd. – Butterfield – I-88 intersection, which is a Double Diamond Interchange as designed by a traffic engineer with a drinking problem and a hatred for his fellow man even when it’s “working as it should”, is mostly closed. My ramp from work to I-88 so I can start the three-highway and one long surface run home is DEFINITELY closed.

Okay, fine. It’s actually encouraging to see any maintenance happening on any of America’s infrastructure whatsoever, and Lord knows that interchange fuckin’ needed some love, so I’ll deal with this in my usual graceful, patient manner.

Ahem.

Take the detour, which is hilariously out of the way because of Yorktown Mall and because suburbs. Head north on Highland away from the ramp that is my blessed escape route and then over onto 22nd to feed into I-88 one exit east of the usual at Meyers…

Now, the detour signage is pretty obscure, and people are fucking morons, so naturally traffic on 22nd as you get near the turnoff for the Highland South detour/I-88 EB ramp is majorly fucknutted.

Surprisingly, whatever piece of shit suburb we’re in as 22nd comes up on Meyers decided, wisely, to deploy some traffic control to deal with this first day of construction hell. Smart move. The next decision they have to make after deciding to do this is: where? Where will our limited suburban po-po resources do the most good?

Would it be the major intersection between six lanes of Meyers Rd. and the four lanes of 22nd all trying to funnel traffic to and fro the immediate ramps to I-88, which, thanks to the construction, are now the only accessible ramps onto that major major highway for seven miles in either direction?

Or should those cops be posted up at the minor pissant t-intersection of 22nd and what is effectively some fuckin’ church’s private driveway a few blocks earlier in the detour from Meyers and 22nd?

Maaaaaaybe there’s some vicious little podunk small-town mentality here that says “our cops should be used to benefit OUR citizens, not a bunch of commuters who just want to get the fuck out of our fair town as fast as they possibly can. Put the cops by the church so our blessed local worshippers can get onto 22nd without having to brave the absolute torrent of pissed-off, backed-up commuters that will block that intersection entirely until this project is over”.

I can almost appreciate that kind of thinking. I’d be pissed, but I’d get it. I’m a Chicagoan and a midwesterner; we’re provincial and suspicious of outsiders as fuck by nature, and “Fuck You, Got Mine” should be our city slogan.

HOWEVER.

Add in that the fucking traffic lights at Meyers and 22nd are unexpectedly dead due to a mistake by the construction crews responsible for all of this mess in the first place. So now you’ve got TEN lanes of traffic merging through a detoured intersection that’s not at all designed for this fourth week of Lilith Fair-grade heavy flow in the first place, AND what little automated traffic control that exists there is on vacation… maaaaybe you’d move your two fuckin’ Barney Fifes to this site to make sure that a major accident or road rage-inspired murder doesn’t occur amongst the THOUSANDS of cars that are going to feed through this asshole of an intersection during the evening rush hour instead of sitting uselessly a few blocks away with their dicks in their hands waving the occasional dopey church-goer into traffic ahead of their turn?

Nah. We’re gonna traffic control the FUCK outta that church driveway, my dudes. Everybody else can go to hell.

Incompetent motherfuckers…