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Thursday, 25 August 2016


When you stray off topic we are all usually well rewarded*, as this morning. IMHO I apologize if you catch a trace of Greater Appalachia bad grammar in my writings. My roots spring from Muscle Shoals Alabama.
*except for billiards

An interesting book, well worth the read. While it does simplify some points it does go a long way into explaining some of the ways of thinking across North America
One thing it does not discuss to a great extent is the blending aspects of mass culture. Also left out is a discussion of non white cultures and how they are starting to have influence in popular culture. For example the influence of 'black' culture on music.
But it does make for a good summer read.

"I know some people don't like it when I stray from photographic
I check your site every day to see what's new. Keep "straying".

I'm mostly familiar with the differences between the "Far West," "Left Coast" and the MidWest part of "Yankeedom." Mostly tiny things. In general the West is more casual. A good friend of mine summed up Minnesota as the hardest state to get a ride when hitch hiking, ever. It's a state of habits and playing it safe, to some degree. We have some good social programs, good overall income, but if you are Black or Native American and poor here the outcome statistics are at Mississippi levels, worse in some areas, in a budget-surplus state that voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders during the primaries.

Eugene, Oregon, where I lived in the 90's was liberal on the surface, but when I substituted in the high schools I encountered stronger racism and homophobia than I have anywhere.

As for maps of our nations I like this PDF:


If you liked Albion's Seed, I'd recommend Kevin Phillips' The Cousins' Wars. Phillips demonstrates some fascinating continuities from the English Civil War through the American Revolution down to the American Civil War. Highly correlated to the themes in Albion's Seed, highlighting the pivotal role of Borderer groups in all three conflicts. I don't remember now, but I wouldn't be surprised if Phillips referenced Albion's Seed many times.



Photographic talk s beyond boring— for the most part, everything that can be said has been said ad infinitum.

My Huguenots relatives emigrated to the Virginia colony in the 1600s. My English relatives were from Canada. And my German relatives came to Minnesota in the late 1800s. My branch of the family came to California before WW2.

A lot of Arkies, Okies and Texans, who came to California during the Depression, had Grater Appalatia backgrounds, but not my family.

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard, sounds like a good read. Maybe it will help me understand my antipathy to the US on the east side of the Mississippi.

Well, what do you know, I'm a 'hillbilly'! Growing up in southern Indiana I never thought of myself as such. The biggest source of pride and competition in the state was Basketball with a capital 'B' and with fierce rivalries down to the local high school level. This put me on the outs with most of my classmates because I had about as much interest in sports (any sport) as in a toothache. Finally moved to Chicago, then somehow found myself in the pacific NW. Seems to me folks down deep are about the same all over with nice ones and not so nice ones. Avoid too much contact with the second group if you can.

Thirty years earlier there was this:

The Nine Nations of North America
by Joel Garreau

Similar map here:

Book here:

Just looking at the map of rival cultures in the U.S. reminds me once again of the reason for our repeated, predestined failure to straighten out the Middle East -- as if we had the authority.

It's not just that one specific area of incessant conflict, but all of what were once parts of the various and competing European empires. No matter how many arbitrary lines are drawn on a map thanks to warfare, negotiation, or imposition from multinational bodies on high -- none of the tribal cultures which have existed there for thousands of years are going to recognize them as legitimate. They may accomodate them for a few decades or a hundred years if doing so serves a current purpose. But that's all.

This little rant actually was stirred into being by photography.

The photos/footage of the little Syrian boy blankly wiping away blood from his face, and years earlier the penetrating stare of Steve McCurry's Afghan girl, both prompt the realization, "Oh, crap. THAT'S who we're bombing!" Whether directly or through proxies, it's our tax dollars at work.

Since the problem is so huge and completely beyond any individual's control it seems to me the only honorable thing to do is to start writing checks to M.S.F./Doctors Without Borders in hope of offsetting some of what we've paid our elected leaders to do in our behalf.

It is these posts, not reviews of the newest wonder camera, that keep your blog so interesting. I will be buying a copy of the book and looking forward to reading it- if only to see if the author corrects his erroneous statement about the early Anglo settlers of the Texas Hill Country..... they were predominantly German.

"14. They (Quakers) were among the first to replace the set of bows, grovels, nods, meaningful looks, and other British customs of acknowledging rank upon greeting with a single rank-neutral equivalent – the handshake."

I would have thought that would have been attributed to the Shakers, but what do I know?

There was another book published some years ago, "The Nine Nations of North America", by Joel Garreau. He took economic and modern cultural norms and ignored national borders where appropriate. So, for example, 'Ecotopia' included everything from northern California northwards up to somewhere in mid-British Columbia; 'The Islands' included the Caribbean and southern Florida; and 'The Rustbelt' included northern Pennsylvania and southern Ontario. It was a good read at the time (25 years ago) but things may have moved on since.

I'm of Borderer origin (Kirkpatrick is lowland scots and I grew up in Delaware, another border region), but I always found my Presbyterian ancestors to be quite Puritan in their outlook -- can't see them evolving into Southern Baptists. And the Episcopalians couldn't have been more Cavalier in their outlooks and avocations. So I am delighted to have read the four screenful review and will remember the 972 page original through its creative generalizations.


I don't do much photography these days, but I still read every blog post you publish. I like your writing, no matter which subject. They are usually both entertaining and enlightening.

I even like it when you are not writing about snooker.

What my experience tells me is that the USA, or in general , North America [Mexico, USA and Canada] is now seeing what happened in Europe or other more ancient nations/cultures: from a synthetic cultural behavior [we are all from USA, from Canada, from Mexico] the geography is actually settling in, and the environment is causing a stark cultural contrast between same country inhabitants.

Most of the world´s nations are constituted geographically because they set a cultural behavioural pattern.

Geography still affects cultural behaviour [quelle surprise]

George MacDonald Fraser's "The Steel Bonnets" is worth reading if you would like to know more about the violence of everyday life on the English-Scottish border. He's best known for the historical-romp "Flashman" novels, but "The Steel Bonnets" is well-researched and factual, while still being readable, entertaining popular history. He has a strong sense of geography and landscape, which appealed to this photographer.

The border counties are wonderful, but are rarely visited by foreign tourists. The change from England to Scotland can almost be felt in the air as you cross the border, and cultural factors such as language and local traditions still alter radically in the space of a few hundred yards. There are some cute legal holdovers too: it is only a few years since the formal requirement ended that police chasing criminals from one country to the other should carry a burning turf on a spear, and the town of Berwick upon Tweed has formally never stopped fighting the Second World War.

I like these 'off-topic' posts: they're one of the things that makes TOP interesting.

However I have a small bone to pick with this one. Given that it is about the complicated relationship between states and nations, you should be wary of talking about the 'English cultures' that came to America. It's possible that you're being careful -- in which case I I'm very happy to be wrong -- but usually when Americans talk about 'England' they mean 'Britain' which is a very different thing, especially in the context of migration in historical times, which came quite substantially from Scotland and Ireland. In both Scotland and Ireland (and indeed Wales) you would not want to confuse England with Britain in the wrong place, or you would end up facing some rather cross people.

Indeed, Britain (not even the UK, which is just part of Britain) has a relationship amongst its constituent nations which is of similar complexity to that in America (perhaps I mean North America here: I don't mean the USA!). Sadly, in much the same way that we (British) people don't understand the complexity of the relationships in America, Americans (again, not just USA) tend not to understand the complex mass of relationships in Britain (not just UK).

Worse, of course, is that English people often don't even understand the relationships within the UK or Britain very well: I'm English but lived in Scotland for many years, and have some experience of this as a result.

And finally, this is all quite likely to become rather visible soon if, as seems at least plausible, the UK fragments over the next few years (Scotland is likely to become independent, at least, and the situation around Northern Ireland is too complex to understand but probably not stable).

I enjoyed American Nations, and I hope you do as well. I recall Woodard referencing Albion's Seed a number of times, as well as other books mentioned in the comments, by Garreau and Phillips.

An interesting review of Albion's Seed as well, thanks for that. I wonder if the author of the review would find some of his questions about the south answered by Woodard's discussion of the Deep South as very different from Tidewater, and his argument that after the Revolution the Deep South became dominant as Tidewater receded.

I also like Woodard's argument that the founding ideologies of a given nation had the most significant influence on the culture of future immigrants, in that wherever they came from, they would tend to assimilate to the already established culture. I wonder if part of that is also affinity, with certain groups feeling at home in certain places, thus bringing more of their countrymen there.

Keep up the good work, Mike!

Thanks everybody for the recommended titles, especially Ben who came up with this American Nations. I mailed the map to my brother who is reading a book about my hometown Amsterdam by Russell Shorto. New York started as New Amsterdam when it was founded by Dutch colonists. Up until the present day both cities always kept some sort of shared culture. Capitals of the free word. So it is interesting to see New Netherland on that map. (Yankees is probably Dutch too. A contraction of the popular names Jan and Kees).

I have been reading a lot about American history lately, with the focus on the Deep South. It started with a chapter in 1493 by Charles C. Mann about the early days of Virginia. Then I re-read V.S. Naipaul’s A Turn in the South, Sally Mann’s Hold Still, Paul Theroux’ Deep South, Death of Innocence (about the murder of Emmett Till) and a pile of southern novelists is waiting. A book on the Civil War is a must too. Does anyone know great photography books about the South?

Since I have the time for it I like to read a series of 15 to 25 books that are more or less related to a main subject. Most of the times this is related to a major trip as well. Russia was the last one.
But my wife is not keen on going to the Deep South. (Iran is more likely). Not sure if I will ever succeed in finishing a book about Trump either. Peter and Catharina the Great, Stalin and Putin: yes! But Trump? He seems as flat as a doormat.

Mike, maybe you should change TOP into TOOT for a while. Your off-topic articles more interesting than the ones about all that boring new gear.
Boycot Photokina!

Greatly enjoyed the book review of Albion Seed. Thank you Mike.

Tim Bradshaw, i think you mean Britain is part of the UK (as of now), not vice versa. Not trying to make a political point, but I think it's still the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The best explanation I ever heard was on:

As a supplement to "Albion's Seed", you might find this book interesting -

"How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters" by Daniel Hannan.

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.to/2bqKGMF or if you've got fifty minutes to spare (skip the first four minutes), watch https://youtu.be/uep7GA9hCKM

This subject is filled with many political traps that I don't wish to poke, so I offer these links simply for understanding and their academic value, if any.

However, as one of the outcomes of the thesis, I am thrilled that, despite generational and physical distance, I am able to relate to four young physics geeks from Pasadena, as you can with Last of the Summer Wine.

I thought Wisconsin has been re-named "Kochistan"? :)

We don't call it the Left Coast anymore, it's now the Weed Coast.

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