…I wrote speeches for two presidential campaigns and a president and I never thought of this:
Going through old files just now, I came across one called “Jokes.” Why did I keep them? Did I think they might come in handy some day? When, though? Oh, what the hell, why not? Here’s a couple:
Eva Peron mocked by hecklers at some public event, they calling out, “Prostitute, prostitute.” An elderly man on the platform comforts her: “Don’t let them bother you, my dear. I retired from the army seventeen years ago, and people still call me general.”
Mickey Spillane, at Mystery Writers of America Edgar banquet, April of 1995, being honored as a grand master, says after he wrote, I, the Jury, people kept coming up to him and saying, “How could Mike Hammer possibly have shot that beautiful naked blonde in the navel with a forty-five?” “Simple,” I’d say. “He missed.”
The Guardian twists itself into sooty pools trying to explain “Why Jackson Pollock Gave Up Painting”:
With their sooty pools and block structures, the ‘black pour’ paintings of Pollock’s late period mark his rejection of sex and the erotic aspects of his drip techniques. A new exhibition shows how the artist formerly known as ‘Jack the Dripper’ reached the end of the line … A number of New York artists — including the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning — had recently tried painting in a restricted palette of black and white, but Pollock’s black pours are especially distinctive because of their drily rebarbative, block-like structures. They don’t feel as if they have been effortlessly “splashed out” (code for “ecstatically ejaculated”) so much as strenuously carved and kneaded. Rather than being “all-over”, with the potential for limitless lateral spread, they often have a tight internal frame that seems to compress the contents.Either that or he hung up the old paint pail when he finally realized he couldn’t do hands.
“It will thus be seen that the author has no justification for expecting serious criticism from reviewers, and that, in becoming elated or indignant over anything that is written about his books, he is wasting his nervous energy. His reviews, if he knows how to read them, may have for the author a certain interest; but he will not be able to find out from them very much about the value of his work. For this he will have to depend on other sources, such as remarks made in casual conversation and evidences of his effect on other writers — always bearing in mind, however, that the true excellence or badness of what he has written may never really be grasped during his lifetime — a hazard for which we must all be prepared. And in the meantime he should read his reviews, not as the verdict of a Supreme Court of critics, but as a collection of opinions by persons of various degrees of intelligence who have happened to have some contact with his book. Considered from this point of view, there is occasionally something to be learned from them.”
From Father Gerard Manley Hopkins’ journals:
Nov. 8— Walking with Wm. Splaine we saw a vast multitude of starlings making an unspeakable jangle. They would settle in a row of trees; then one tree after another, rising at a signal, they looked like a cloud of specks of black snuff or powder struck up from a brush or broom or shaken from a wig; then they would sweep round in whirlwinds — you could see the nearer and farther bow of the rings by the size and blackness; many would be in one phase at once, all narrow black flakes hurling round, then in another; then they would fall upon a field and so on. Splaine wanted a gun: then ‘there it would rain meat,’ he said. I thought they must be full of enthusiasm and delight hearing their cries and stirring and cheering one another.
Friendly old Microsoft, as I learned over the weekend, has made it not quite impossible but inexcusably difficult to open a 1995 Word document. While I was messing around with this I came across a short story which I will now rescue from oblivion because why not. I have no recollection at all of having written the piece or why, or what if anything became of it. Tom Bethany is the protagonist of the six mysteries I wrote back in the Not So Gay Nineties; Hope Edwards is his married lover. Anyway, here goes:
They were rowing a double scull on the Potomac just after dawn, the water flat and smooth as paint in a can. Both women moving up the slide to the catch, then drive, finish, release, and then all over again, two bodies with one brain. So Hope Edwards in the stern knew something was wrong even before Julie Holcomb in the bow began to cry.
The water strider tracks they had been making on the river, two perfect lines of neat puddles disappearing behind them, weren’t so perfect anymore. The blades of Julie’s oars weren’t slipping up out of the water quite so quietly on the release. At the catch, Hope could hear the tiny back splashes Julie was making, and feel the barely perceptible they made in the boat’s forward passage. There was a change in the deep rhythm of Julie’s breathing, just a hitch at first and then a small sound forced out of her as she drove into the stroke. A sob? A sob.
Hope Edwards eased off, and so Julie eased off behind her, too, and the boat whispered along through the water on its own momentum. “Julie?” Hope said. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Julie said.
The racing shell ran along until its momentum gave out, and then drifted.
“Go ahead,” Hope said. “Tell me.”
When Julie was finished, Hope said, “A friend of mine named Tom Bethany happens to be coming down from Cambridge tomorrow. This is just the kind of problem he loves.”
“One of your friends from law school?”
“Actually no. Tom’s sort of the opposite of a lawyer.”
“The thing is we row so well together that normally we go along in kind of a trance.” Hope was telling me the next evening. “You and the oars and the boat and the river, it all comes together and there’s nothing else. So when there was something else breaking in, I knew it had to be serious. Did you ever hear of this Richard Pennington, Tom? Is he really one of the baseball players out on strike? Or a player at all?”
“I never heard of him, no,” I said. “But I don’t know anything about baseball. I’d rather watch miniature golf.”
“I guess it doesn’t make any difference what he really does,” Hope said. “The point is, can we do anything about him?”
“Maybe, if I can find the guy. At least Julie knows where he used to live.”
“Shall we go look?”
“Hey, I just got in. Wouldn’t tomorrow do?”
We were eating where I was staying, at the Tabard Inn. We hadn’t seen each other for too long, so after dinner Hope and I went upstairs to my room to say hello to each other properly. Later we were lying in bed watching the TV with the sound off. An elephant was swimming toward a raft in the ocean, trying to sell us some type of artificially sweetened water. It was too baffling even to think about.
“Among other things,” Hope said, looking at the apparently sexless elephant, “Julie told me this Richard Pennington person was a very impressive specimen.”
“Big guy, you mean? Tall? Strong? Like that?”
“No, not like that.”
“Oh, yeah? More impressive than me?”
“You? Tom Bethany, the big-shot champion wrestler? Didn’t you ever look around at the other guys in the showers and wonder about yourself?”
“How about pretty, then? I bet I’ve got him on pretty.”
“Pretty doesn’t really enter into it. The truth is you men all look like some internal organ got left outside of the body by mistake. At least other animals keep it decently tucked away inside.”
“I can take a hint, but you’ve got to give me a few more minutes. I’m not some sixteen-year-old kid.”
“He moved out,” a woman’s voice said. I could see a section of her face in the crack of a partly-opened door down the hall.
“Oh, yeah? When was that?”
“Day before yesterday. He’s only been here a couple of months.”
“Know where I could find him?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Maybe the movers could tell me. Remember which company?”
“He rented furnished from the owners. They’re overseas, foreign service people. All he had was suitcases and some boxes full of trash which he very thoughtfully left in the hall so my husband had to take them down to the basement.”
“Sounds like Richard,” I said. Which it did, what little I knew of him.
I took the elevator to the basement, hoping pickup day hadn’t come yet. Four cardboard boxes were piled next to the lineup of green plastic trash cans. I carried the boxes outside and left them by the basement steps while I brought my car around.
There was a supermarket not far away, so I pulled into the lot to see whether Pennington’s trash had been worth stealing. Mostly not. Just routine, anonymous debris like old toothpaste tubes, newspapers and ad flyers, occupant mail, empty cans and TV dinner packages. He was a Ben & Jerry’s man, Cherry Garcia flavor. I never knew anybody actually ate Cherry Garcia. I always figured it was an old family recipe and they ran off a few token pints now and then just to keep Jerry’s granny happy.
Among all this junk, though, I found a crumpled ball of paper that turned out to be a Visa receipt for thirty-some bucks. The name on it was Richard Harrigan, not Richard Pennington. It was from a saloon called Eddie’s Irish Rose, which was in the Adams-Morgan area of D.C., not far from 16th and Columbia. Pennington/Harrigan’s abandoned apartment was all the way across the Potomac in Arlington. It was a long way to go for a drink.
“You’re an investigator, are you, Mr. Bethany?” Detective Weintraub of the Fraud Squad said when Hope introduced me. “Is your background in law enforcement, may I ask?”
“You could say so,” I said. “Government work overseas.”
“Where was that?”
“Laos, mostly. During the war.”
“Laos, huh? I see.”
That meant he figured I was CIA, which I wasn’t. I had been an enlisted man in the army attaché’s office, but I let Weintraub jump to his conclusion.
When Hope told the detective we were interested in a certain Richard Harrington, he said, “Did this individual claim by any chance to be a professional athlete?”
“You know him, then?” Hope said.
“We’ve had prior contacts with Slick Richie.”
“Slick Richie?” Julie said.
“This is the nickname we give to Richard Harrigan among ourselves in the squad. Because our experience with this individual dates from a long time.”
Weintraub walked Julie through her story with a series of leading questions that showed he already knew what the answers would be. At the end Julie Holcolmb said, “Then the only true thing he told me was his first name, wasn’t it? The rest of it was all lies.”
“I’m afraid so, Miss Holcomb,” Weintraub said. “He told you a baseball player out on strike. Sometimes he says hockey player, or tennis, or auto racing. Whatever is out of season and the victim doesn’t have any particular knowledge of the sport. Probably he determined at a given point that you were unfamiliar with baseball, am I right?”
“Well, now that you mention it.”
“That’s the way he does. The only thing unfamiliar in your story as regards to his mode of operation, what we call his M.O., is that he took you to his place of residence. In the previous cases he was evasive about where he lived. He always visited the victim at her own domicile.”
“I live with my parents.”
“Very wise,” Weintraub said. “This sort of thing wouldn’t happen so much if more young ladies lived at home.”
The young lady in this instance was a thirty-five-year-old cardiologist at George Washington University Hospital. I looked at Hope, who would normally have taken advantage of the occasion to give Weintraub a little lesson in applied feminism. But under the circumstances she limited herself to rolling her eyes for my benefit.
Julie was close to six feet tall, with a homely, friendly face. She had stroked the Radcliffe heavyweight eight, and gone back to rowing after her residency was over. She and Hope were practicing for the Nationals, in the masters division. “Living at home didn’t help me much,” she said. “It still happened.”
“Don’t feel too bad, because he’s an expert at this,” Weintraub said. “This guy isn’t just a swindler, he’s frankly a phenomenon from what previous victims have informed us. What they call one of those sexual athletes.”
Dr. Holcomb’s face flushed, and she looked down.
“How many other women has he swindled?” Hope asked.
Harrigan had pillaged the credit cards and bank accounts of nine women that they knew of, the detective said, always on the promise of marriage. In one case the invitations had actually gone out. When the time came to dump his fiancée he didn’t just walk out like a man. He told her face-to-face, and then he raped her at knife point. After he disappeared she would find out that her bank accounts and credit cards were empty.
“Is this type of armed sexual assault similar to what occurred to yourself, Miss Holcomb, pardon me for asking?” Weintraub said. He didn’t call her doctor because she hadn’t told him she was one. Nor had she mentioned rape. But she answered his question by flushing again, avoiding our eyes, and nodding her head.
“A knife?” the detective said.
She nodded again. “He didn’t use it,” she said. “He just took it out and put it on the table.”
“As far as the law is concerned,” Weintraub said, “threatening with a weapon for the purpose of rape is as much of a felony as actually employing the weapon. Are you willing to bring charges and testify against him in court?”
Again Julie Holcomb avoided our eyes, but this time she shook her head.
“That’s the whole trouble we’re facing here,” the detective said. “Ten women by now, and nobody willing to help us get the guy off the streets. I know it’s rough, but if you want to stop him, somebody’s got to put themselves through it.”
Julie just sat there, looking down at her lap in dumb, guilty anguish.
Harrigan was too far away for me to hear what he was saying, but he was making the other darts players laugh and seemed to be popular. I watched him for a few minutes and then slipped out of the place, leaving most of my pint of bitters behind. Harrigan might be settling in for a long evening, and I didn’t want too much fluid aboard while I waited for him in my ’89 Subaru wagon.
The Subaru was closing in on 150,000 miles, and was about as inconspicuous as a car could get. But I might as well have used James Bond’s 4.5-liter Bentley. Harrigan never even looked around when he left the saloon just after one o’clock. He headed off down the street in the kind of self-consciously casual walk that I remembered from my own drinking days. You try for loose and easy, and you’re sloshed enough to think you’re pulling it off.
I had no way of knowing whether Harrigan had come on foot or whether he was heading for his car, so I gave him a little lead and pulled out from the curb to follow. I kept a block or so behind him till 16th Street, where he veered off onto a side street called Argonne Terrace. On the right was a huge apartment building that took up most of the block. As he came up on the entrance he started to fish something out of his pocket, presumably his keys, so I drove by him and pulled over. I caught up to Harrigan as he was swiping his key past some sort of electronic recognition device. When the door clicked and he went in I was right behind him.
“Thanks,” I said, pretending to put my own key back in my pocket. He smiled absently. The elevator was way down the hall, and I followed him to it. He was cool. Real men don’t panic when somebody their own size gets into the elevator with them. He punched four and I punched six. He looked straight ahead, pretending I wasn’t there till I grabbed his right arm in a come-along hold that put him up on his tip-toes. The keys were in his other hand.
“First sound and I break your elbow,” I said. The doors slid open when we got to four, and he started to say something. Not shouting, but just trying to say something. I jacked him up just short of popping the joint, and he gasped from the pain. “I told you shut up,” I said. This time he paid attention. “We’re going to your apartment.” Once he had let us in, I turned his arm loose and attached the door chain to slow him down if he decided to run off.
“You’re welcome to anything I have,” he said. “Really, I mean it. I’ve been tapped out, too, and I know what you’re up against. Hey, what the hell, it’s all insured anyway.”
“Okay, let’s see what you’ve got,” I said. He kept talking away about what pals we could be, and how he totally understood where I was coming from, and how he admired guys like me that had the balls to live on the edge, and this bullshit and that. Meanwhile I went around collecting every piece of paper in the place. It wasn’t much. Checkbooks, bills, an address book, the kitchen calendar, notes stuck to the refrigerator with little magnets. It all went into a grocery bag from the kitchen.
I rummaged through his bureau drawers and turned out the pockets of the clothes in his closet, but didn’t come up with anything more than what I had already shoved into the bag. All the while I was working out a plan, based on the fact that I had a spare key to Hope’s country place down in Virginia’s hunt country. I didn’t want Harrigan to know where he was, so I shoved his bathrobe into the bag, too. My idea was to tie his bathrobe over his head with its belt while I drove him to Hope’s isolated house in Rappahannock County. That was as far as my plan went.
Once I was done with the apartment, I set the bag to one side and unhitched the chain on the front door. “Let’s get it over with,” I said. “Take your best shot at getting past me, so we don’t have to go through the whole thing later.”
He was built well enough to pass for a professional athlete, but he just stood there. So I slapped him hard enough to bring tears to his eyes, and even then he didn’t do anything. I stuck out my own face, hands at my side. “Go ahead and take a shot,” I said, “you fucking pussy.”
I wanted an excuse to hurt him because of something Detective Weintraub had told me in private, after showing Hope and Julie out. I didn’t want Julie to hear me, but I wanted to know why Harrigan used the knife. Why wouldn’t Julie and the other victims welcome a chance to go to bed with him again? Wouldn’t it mean he still loved them? That he might come back?
“The purpose of the knife,” Weintraub said, “was to force the individual to participate in some type of activity that Richie knew this particular individual considered highly unpleasant or disgusting.”
So now I wanted to force this particular Harrigan individual to participate in a type of activity he would consider highly unpleasant. Getting, for instance, his ass whipped.
“You’re a lover, not a fighter?” I said to Harrigan as he stood there, confused and scared and drunk. “Is that it?”
I shot suddenly for his legs, dumped him on the floor, and wrapped him up with one of the dozens of holds that any trained wrestler can use to make any non-wrestler feel—and be—totally helpless. In this case it was a keylock on his right arm. A moment or two with the pressure on isn’t just agonizing. It leaves an individual’s arm temporarily paralyzed.
“Okay,” I said once our little lesson was over and his arm was dangling uselessly. “Let’s move out.”
In ten minutes his arm would be working again, but it would never occur to him to use it against me during our trip to Castleton. Tying up a person’s mind works better than tying up his hands.
“Hey, Richie,” I said. “You are an animal.”
Hope’s huge old Newfoundland had finally died a few years before, but his heavy chain had still been out in the garage. Now it was padlocked around Harrigan’s neck. The other end was padlocked to an eight-by-four oak beam under the roof. The chain was long enough to let him lie down, but not much longer. I had moved all the attic junk outside his reach, leaving him with an old plastic bucket as his only toy.
“You can’t just leave me here with no food or water, for God’s sake,” Harrigan said.
“I doubt if God gives a shit. I know I don’t.”
I went downstairs and got some sleep until Harrigan woke me up just before noon, shouting for somebody to come help him, he was dying of thirst. Probably he was, since the sun on the tin roof would have turned the attic into a sweat box by now. I ran a glass of hot water and climbed the attic stairs.
“It’s hot,” he said when I handed him the plastic glass.
“I thought it might be. That’s what it said on the tap.”
“What do you want, for God’s sake?”
“God doesn’t come into it, I told you already. This is between you and all the women you fucked over.”
“You tell me. I want the name of every woman you raped and stole from.”
“You’ve got me mixed up with somebody else. Do I look like somebody that would have to rape women?”
“That’s exactly what you look like.”
“Who are you, anyway.”
“Maybe an older brother or a real fiancé. Maybe an uncle or a father. Doesn’t matter. The point is you’re going to sit here and melt till you give up the names.”
“Listen, has some woman been telling you crazy things about me? We can straighten this out. What’s her name?”
“You tell me. Just give up all the names, loverboy, and one of them’s bound to be hers.”
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
“Grow up. Didn’t you know this was bound to happen sooner or later?”
“What? Honestly, you must have the wrong person.”
“Think it over for the next couple of days, shithead. And keep the noise down. You see this? This is a rag I found behind one of the toilets. It gets taped into your mouth if I hear another sound out of you.”
“Why don’t you, then?” Julie said. “My God, did I just say that? I work for the ACLU.”
“I’ve already got him tied up under a hot tin roof with nothing but a loaf of Wonder bread and a plastic jug of warm Kool-Aid,” I said. “I don’t feel comfortable going any further than that.”
We were having lunch in the cafeteria of George Washington University Hospital, where Julie Holcomb worked. I had come up to the city so I could make the rounds of various ATM machines without leaving a paper trail pointing to Rappahannock County, or even so much as to Virginia. I had already maxed out Harrigan’s cards, using the PIN number in had found among the papers from his apartment. But he evidently didn’t have too much of a credit line, since I had only scored a total of $1100 on three cards.
“He must have put his real money somewhere,” I said. “But so far he keeps insisting he hasn’t got any bank accounts.”
“Repayment isn’t really the point, you know,” Julie had said when I told my plans to split Harrington’s assets among his victims.
“I know, but at least it’s something. Which is more than the police can do.”
Without a complainant, as I could have added but didn’t. Doctors live on dignity, and she wouldn’t have much left after Harrigan’s lawyers got through with her.
“I just wish there were some way to make he never does it to anybody else,” Julie said.
“Well, maybe he won’t,” I said.
“What’s going to stop him?”
“I found him once without even knowing his name, and he’s got to figure I could do it again. Which I probably could, now that I’ve gone through his papers. I know his parents’ name and address, his Social Security number, his date and place of birth, his driver’s license number, everything. Well, everything but his bank account numbers. I couldn’t find any bank records, so maybe he’s telling the truth about not having any accounts.”
“He probably ran through it all,” said Julie, whose morale seemed marginally better now that I had caught her tormentor. “Why not? He can always get more from some other idiot.”
She fell silent, while Hope and I tried out various ideas on each other, none of which seemed likely to keep Richard Harrigan out of the boudoir business for very long.
“Where are you keeping him?” Julie asked at last.
“Hope’s place in Rappahannock,” I said.
“Can’t he charge you with kidnapping?”
“Sure, but he’ll have a tough time proving it once I turn him loose. He doesn’t know where he is, and he doesn’t know who I am.”
A couple of frighteningly young interns in white coats came by, one of them a blond tall enough to play pro basketball. He had huge hands and shoulders wider than a lot of doors.
“Hey, Big Sis,” he said to Julie. She nodded as he passed.
“He’s supposed to call you doctor,” I said. “That’s what they do on ER.”
“It’s a special case,” Julie said. “I’m his big sister.”
“He row, too? He’s built for it.”
“He was on the first boat at Brown.”
“I’ll have to turn the son of a bitch loose. Unless you’ve got a better idea.”
From the ACLU office I walked over to Capitol Hill, where they put on the best free shows in town. There I reinforced my faith in human nature by watching Republican serial violators of the campaign finance law as they beat up on Democrats for violating the campaign finance laws.
It was still well before sunset when I arrived at Hope’s house in Castleton house to bundle up Harrington and dump him somewhere far away. It was a simple, old-fashioned lock. My key wouldn’t turn in the door. Either the mechanism was jammed or the bolt had already been opened. I stood still and listened hard. Nothing. I turned the knob and pushed against the door, and it gave slightly. So somebody had unlocked it. I backed down the steps and walked carefully around the house, keeping in close to stay out of sight as much I could.
A pane was broken in one of the kitchen windows.
Back at the front door, I let myself in silently and went from room to room on the ground floor and the second floor. I didn’t find anyone and I didn’t expect to. There wasn’t any car around, and whoever had broken in the back of the house had apparently let himself out the front door. Still, I was careful going up the stairs to the attic.
Richard Harrigan was right where I left him, with his plastic bucket and his Kool-Aid jug and his Wonder Bread beside him. But he had no line of bullshit for me this time. He was pulled as far away from me as the chain would let him, like a dog afraid of being whipped.
“What’s wrong, loverboy?” I said.
“For God’s sake, you never even gave me a chance to tell you before you let him do it.”
I took it slow, till I could figure out what was going on.
“Let who do what?” I asked.
“Huh? Don’t you know?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t know. I said tell me who exactly who did what. Unless you want him to come back.”
“I don’t know what he did. Not exactly. I don’t dare take the dressing off and look. Jesus, it hurts enough without pulling the bandage off of it.”
He made a little motion with one hand toward his groin.
“You’re telling me your equipment is bandaged and you don’t know what happened to it?”
“I don’t remember anything. He gave me a shot of something.”
“I don’t know. All I could see was the flashlight. The one that gave me the shot stayed out of the light and went around behind me. Big, huge guy. You could tell from his hands. I figured the other guy was you, the one holding the light.”
“Why? The guy sound like me?”
“The only one who said anything was the big guy. All he said was shut up and keep still. Why couldn’t he have asked me before he did it? I would have told him whatever he wanted to know.”
“Well, you can tell me now, unless you want him to come back and work on you some more. Unzip and let’s see what kind of a job he did.”
I was expecting the worst, but it wasn’t so bad. Just a neat dressing around Harrigan’s penis, about halfway up. Whatever had been done to him, there wasn’t any blood visible on the bandage or on his underpants.
When Harrigan had zipped up I started in asking him questions again, the same questions as before. But this time he erupted with answers. Words spilling over each other in his haste to tell me anything I wanted to know, anything at all. At the end I had the names of not ten but twenty-four women, in cities from Washington to Seattle. He gave me names and places of employment and addresses. He gave me exact amounts of money swindled from each one, and he told me how much of it he had spent, and on what.
“There’s still almost thirty thousand in the apartment in cash,” he said. “Take it, it’s yours. It’s hidden inside the kitchen ceiling. You know that kind of ceiling where the tiles just sit loose on this like grid? In the corner by the stove. Look, I’ll just give the money to you and disappear. You’ll never see me again.”
“You’ll give me shit, loverboy. I’ll go get it for myself, and if it’s not there, I won’t come back for you. My two friends will.”
I was back to the country house by midnight. I took a flashlight up to the attic instead of just switching the light on, which was no doubt a rotten thing to do. But I have to say I enjoyed seeing the gigolo/rapist cowering and whimpering until I spoke up and he figured out it was just me behind the light and not his two mysterious friends. I unlocked the chain around his neck and gave him his bathrobe back. “Tie this around your head, loverboy,” I said. “We’re out of here.”
On the way out to the paved county road, an annoying stream of talk kept coming out of the bathrobe. “You have to realize you’ve only heard one side of it,” he was saying at one point. “These are women who haven’t had much love in their lives. They were grateful for it. I don’t know what kind of lies your friend told you, but most of these women would take me back in a New York minute. They needed good loving and I gave it to them when nobody else would, and where’s the harm in that? I gave them memories they’ll cherish forever, and they wouldn’t have them without me. I was doing those poor dogs a favor.”
I pulled the car over, braking so hard he had to throw up his arms to keep from hitting the windshield. As he lowered them, I grabbed one and put it in a wristlock.
“Ow,” he said. “That hurts, for Christ’s sake.”
“Not yet it doesn’t. You’ll learn what hurt is if you don’t shut the fuck up right now. What you are, Harrigan, is the lowest form of human life. You’re a whore that pimps himself out. You’re a coward and a bully and a rapist and a pathetic little dick-peddler and I’m sorry those guys didn’t rip your dick off. Let me hear the first goddamned word out of you for the rest of this trip, just one single word, and I’m going to grab this wrist again and I’m going to break it slow, and then I’m going to break it the other way, and you’ll have nothing but a useless fucking piece of meat hanging off the end of your arm for the rest of your life. Nod if you want your hand back, loverboy.”
He nodded and I let him loose. We drove in silence for the rest of the way. I shoved him out of the car around the corner from his apartment building and drove off before he could get the bathrobe off his head. I kept his wallet and his keys. Let him figure out how to get in.
Next morning I got up obscenely early and drove to the Potomac Boat Club to fill Hope in on developments when she came back from her morning row. It was a pleasant wait, checking out the techniques of the occasional scullers who passed on the river. I had been learning to row myself, back home in Cambridge. I wasn’t much good yet, but I had got to where I believed I could tell a good oarsman from a poor one. Everybody’s a critic.
When Hope came in sight, she turned out to be in a double with Julie Holcomb. I excused myself to Julie and took Hope over to the other end of the dock. “So I guess the big question is,” I said when I had told her about Richard’s midnight visitors, “does Julie know where your summer house is?”
“Yes, and her brother is six-six, with huge hands. He was captain of crew at Brown.”
“And he’s a medical student.”
“And she’s a doctor,” Hope said.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s all circumstantial. I don’t believe they did it any more than I believe O.J. killed his wife.”
“Yeah. I wonder exactly what they didn’t do, though.”
“Let’s find out.”
So we went over to Julie, who looked guilty as hell. But she didn’t fool me.
“Julie,” I said, “we’ve been going over the evidence and we’ve decided you and your brother weren’t anywhere near Rappanannock County night before last.”
“Look—” she began.
“Nope, it looks like we’ll never get to the bottom of it, Julie.”
“Look, we didn’t mean—”
“It’s like Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, Julie. Nobody’s ever going to crack this one. Harrigan’s loose again, running around with this really professional-looking bandage on, but he doesn’t have the slightest idea where he was or who did whatever happened to him. In fact I don’t know what happened to him, either.”
“Hold it, Julie. Hold it right there. Let’s keep this thing theoretical, shall we?”
At last she smiled a little. She could see where I was going, and the fright was starting to go away.
“Let’s just suppose you’re working in the emergency room and some guy comes in all taped up like a leaky hose, okay? Speaking as a professional physician, Dr. Holcomb, what would your diagnosis be in a theoretical case like that?”
“In a theoretical case like that—” she was definitely smiling now— “my diagnosis would be an acquired chordee.”
“Which is what?”
“A chordee is a pronounced bend in the penis, usually upward. Normally it’s congenital and poses no particular problem. But sometimes we run across a case where trauma has produced an acquired chordee that causes the erect penis to bend at right angles to one side or the other, depending.”
“Depending on what?”
“The location of the permanent and irreversible scarring that might be produced in the tunica of the corporal body by, for instance, a battery-powered cautery.”
“Burns, you mean?”
“Deep burns, yes.”
“Jesus, it hurts even thinking about it.”
“Well, of course you’d want to administer an anesthetic if you were doing a procedure like that. Possibly a mixture of Midazolam and morphine.”
“There wouldn’t be any real danger, though? Blood poisoning or something?”
“Not with wounds that were already cauterized, no. Not if they were dressed with Bacitracin ointment and properly bandaged.”
“And when the bandages came off the guy’d look ridiculous the rest of his life?”
“Not the entire rest of his life, no. When the organ was flaccid it would look relatively normal except for the scars. But in a state of sexual arousal, erection would produce a right-angle bend in the organ. I suppose you could call that ridiculous. Along with everything else.”
“Well, erection would result in a certain amount of discomfort for the patient. Quite a bit of discomfort, actually. Agony, actually.”
“Gee, that would really be tough luck. Could it be corrected surgically?”
“Generally not. The patient would just have to learn to avoid stimulating situations. You might call it a form of aversion therapy.”
Spotty blogging because I’m involved just now in moving 42 years of detritus into a smaller house. So forget about Kiev and Rick Perry’s pseudo-intellectual glasses, and on to a recipe from a book called A Taste of Murder, subtitled “Diabolically Delicious Recipes from Contemporary Mystery Writers” —
The hero of my Tom Bethany series lives alone in an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He mainly eats stew, which he makes on Sundays and freezes. I used to do the same thing when I lived alone in a Cambridge apartment. My favorite and therefore his:
Dump three pounds of lamb, bones and all, into a pot with a teaspoon of peppercorns and nine cups of water. Neck bones are best, but shank or breast will do. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer. Don’t bother to strain the scum unless you’re the kind of person who won’t eat a piece of candy after it’s fallen on the floor. In fact if you’re that kind of person, forget this whole recipe. And get a life.
Once the meat has simmered for one and a half hours, fish it out and set it aside in a bowl to cool. Skim the fat from the broth or don’t. Whatever. Whack up two carrots and three onions. Scrape the carrots first if you feel like it, but the fact is we’re about to sterilize them anyway. Better peel the onions, though, because the papery stuff gets stuck in your teeth. Toss it all in the pot, add a cup of uncooked barley, and start simmering again. Keep going until the onions have pretty much disappeared, the carrots are soft, and the barley is too. Now pick the meat off the bones and toss it back in, minus the fat.
Chop up one of those 10- or 12-ounce boxes of mushrooms, using the same cleaning method you applied or didn't apply to the carrots, bearing in mind that mushrooms grow in horse manure. Dump in the mushrooms, along with as much thyme, cumin, and chopped garlic as you want. Cook just long enough for the mushrooms to soften up, then add a half-stick of butter and a cup of cream. Once the butter melts, you’re done. It may look a little soupy, but it will thicken up as it cools.
For immediate eating, rip a hole in one corner of a bag of frozen peas and pour a handful of them into your bowl. Close up the bag with a twist tie and put it back in the freezer. Now ladle lots of stew on top of the peas, stir, and eat. Trust me on this business with the peas. Just do it the way I say.
Once the remaining stew has cooled, portion it out for freezing into those beautifully designed and incredibly expensive refrigerator containers from Williams-Sonoma or into old yogurt cups. Up to you, but Tom Bethany uses the pint-sized containers that Stoneyfield yogurt comes in. They hold up under repeated microwaving.
This recipe has no salt, because both Tom and I are health and fitness fanatics who regard our bodies as temples. The rest of you may salt to taste.
Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker assesses “The New R & B”—
On “Two Weeks,” the album’s first single, [FKA Twigs] extends the theme of song as prelude, not payoff: “You say you want me, I say you’ll live without it. Unless you’re the only one that instigates, got your mouth, open your heart.” It’s an intriguing and fertile template: she places all the romantic and sexual action offstage, thereby returning to a premodern era of nondisclosure in pop lyrics. Yet it feels entirely postmodern. The sounds of the album span such a wide range that it’s hard to know what to call any of it. Some passages sound like string quartets played backwards, some like eggs dropped from a great height. The main effect is of non-resolution. FKA Twigs dresses like a high-fashion model from antiquity, but her songs promise the very contemporary pleasures of texture and emotional immediacy.
While curled up with Richard Burton’s The Arabian Nights last night, I came across the best physical description of a character I’ve ever seen. Read it and puke:
Now it fortuned that the princesses were behind a curtain, looking on; and when they heard this, the youngest considered her husband to be, and behold, he was an old man, an hundred years of age, with hair frosted, forehead drooping, eye-brows mangy, ears slitten, beard and mustachios stained and dyed; eyes red and goggle; cheeks bleached and hollow; flabby nose like a brinjall or eggplant; face like a cobbler’s apron, teeth overlapping and lips like a camel’s kidneys, loose and pendulous; in brief a terror, a horror, a monster, for he was of the folk of his time the unsightliest; sundry of his grinders had been knocked out and his eyeteeth were like the tusks of the Jinni who frighteneth poultry in henhouses.
The bride to be, on the other hand:
Now the girl was the fairest and most graceful of her time, more elegant than the gazelle however tender, than the gentlest zephyr blander and brighter than the moon at her full; for amorous fray right suitable; confounding in graceful sway the waving bough and outdoing in swimming gait the pacing roe.
All right, all right, if you insist. Here’s where I was when the Beatles came to America 50 years ago. I was on the city desk of The Washington Post, dimly aware that mass hysteria had been unleashed on the land by the recent appearances of some British rock group on the Ed Sullivan Show. Next they were coming to Washington and I caught the assignment. It did me no good to point out that my taste in music ran to Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby. With the Beatles I would be in way over my head, or under it, depending on your point of view.
So I picked up the phone and asked the operator if the paper had been getting many calls about that night’s concert at the Washington Coliseum. Swamped, huh? Okay, the next teenybopper who calls, pass her along to me. I had barely hung up the phone when it rang.
I explained to the girl, call her Sally, that I needed an expert consultant to inform my coverage of tonight’s concert. And I had a couple of press passes and she could meet me at the paper, so how about it? After mulling my proposition over for a nanosecond, she agreed.
The resulting story is below, probably savagely shortened by some cretin on the copy desk. You’ll notice that the concert itself goes unmentioned. This is because it went unheard, lost to the memory of man under the squeals and screams of a thousand Sallys.
Our 13-year-old granddaughter Georgia sings with a youth band in New Haven. The kids had worked out the music for a number they wanted to perform at a concert last Sunday, but no words. How about we make it about the government shutdown, somebody suggested. (Kids these days, huh?) So anyway Georgia volunteered to write some lyrics, and here is what she sang:
Chorus: Sitting on our imaginary throne,
preach to the choir,
and we drone and we drone
V2: unbending, never broken, change is never open
stuck in one single mindset, many blinded advocates
we pledge allegiance to the flag, to the republic for which it stands
but the real question is, what are we standing for?
V3: we’re sinking not swimming, our eyes are brimming
an eye for an eye, unless it’s mine
weak minds think alike, all bark and no bite
spilt blood on the playground, will we ever be found?
Ted Cruz is right up there with Toronto’s Rob Ford when it comes to gifts that keep on giving. The senator has lent his name to a coloring book, the link to which I will not post because it’s time you did a little work for yourselves. Besides, Ted Cruz to the Future — Comic Coloring Activity Book is temporarily out of stock at Amazon anyway. Here’s the top five-star review, though:
Besides, you don’t really need to buy the book at all because Sparkle Pony has already colored it for you. While you’re there, take a look at “Close Encounters with Callista’s Hairdo” and the four-part Condi Rice retrospective, both linked in the right-hand column. If there’s one person you really, really don’t want on your case, that person would be Sparkle Pony.
Peter Schjeldahl, in The New Yorker:
Like it or not, Christopher Wool, now fifty-eight, is probably the most important American painter of his generation. You might fondly wish, as I do, for a champion whose art is richer in beauty and in charm: Wool’s work consists primarily of dour, black-and-white pictures of stencilled words, in enamel, usually on aluminum panels; decorative patterns made with incised rollers; and abstract, variously piquant messes, involving spray paint and silk screens. Let’s get over it.
If you are put off by the harshness of Wool’s rigor, as I was, it means that you aren’t ready to confess that our time admits, and merits, nothing cozier in an art besieged by the aesthetic advances, as well as the technical advances, of photographic and digital mediums. Once you stop resisting the gloomy mien of Wool’s work, it feels authentic, bracing, and even, on occasion, blissful…
Lately fetching millions at auction, Wool’s art leaves critics to sift through the hows and the whys of a singular convergence of price and value. Would that the expensive were always so good.
From the New York Times:
As with many aspects of Mr. Read’s life, his own accounts differ on the source of the nickname Chopper. At various times he said that it was the name of a cartoon character he liked, that he had earned it as a gang enforcer, and that he acquired it in prison after having his ears chopped off by a fellow inmate to gain a transfer from maximum security to a hospital ward. Whatever, Mr. Read had no ears…
A believer in God, Mr. Read was asked in an interview what he expected would happen when he finally met his maker. “I think, if anything, I’m owed an apology,” he said. “I don’t think he was very fair with me.”
I’m not too clear on who Lady Gaga is to tell the truth but if you want to see her naked, here’s your chance. Spare yourself a long, long vocal tone or one-note chant or whatever you call it and go directly to the 1:20 mark.
My first novel, The Bombing Officer, was published by E.P. Dutton in 1982. It was the story of a young American diplomat in Laos assigned to oversee the largest bombing campaign in history. The book had good reviews, but not so good sales. No one wanted to be reminded of our humiliating failure in Southeast Asia yet, or at least that’s my story.
I still think it’s my best novel, though, and I’d hate to see it disappear down the memory hole. And luckily I wrote it with a 29-pound Kaypro portable so that I had digital files on 5 ¼-inch floppies.
Now I’ve re-formatted The Bombing Officer as an eBook and put it up on Amazon. For further information and reviews, go here and then buy it. It goes for a buck ninety-nine, which works out to less than .002 cents a word.
Take five minutes of this and call me in the morning:
Another porcelain sculpture from the incomparable Kate MacDowell:
News you can use, brought to you by Mary Roach, in Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.
Stop wearing cologne. Women don’t find it attractive. If you don’t believe me, here is a quote from a press release from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago: “Men’s cologne actually reduced vaginal blood flow.” Foundation director Al Hirsch hooked women up to a vaginal photoplethysmograph and had them wear surgical masks scented with ten different aromas or combinations of aromas. (To be sure the women weren’t just getting aroused by dressing up in surgical masks, Hirsch put unscented masks onto a control group.) In addition to the smell of cologne, the women were turned off by the smell of cherry and of “charcoal barbecue meat.” At the top of the women’s turn-on list was, mysteriously, a mixture of cucumber and Good & Plenty candy. It was said to increase vaginal blood flow by 13 per cent.
From In Defense of Women, 1922, by H.L. Mencken:
If it were advertised that a troupe of men of easy virtue were to do a striptease act upon a public stage, the only women who would go to the entertainment would be a few delayed adolescents, a psychopathic old maid or two, and a guard of indignant members of the Parish Ladies Aid Society.
We take up the story of Downton Abbey several years after Lord Grantham’s mismanagement has lost his beloved manor house and estate to an unhappy band of creditors. Lord and Lady Grantham now share a bedsitter with Carson the butler in the nearby town of Bleakly-on-the-Never-Never.
Lord G: I say, Carson, do set a third place for dinner. MaMa will be joining us.
Carson: Very good, my Lord.
Lady G: Dearest Robert, must we see MaMa so soon again. The tiresome old crone was here only six months ago.
Lord G: Cora, how many times must I ask you not to call MaMa a tiresome old crone? She may be tiresome but she represents the Way It Used To Be. I say, Carson, what is on tonight’s bill of fare?
Carson: I’m afraid it’s bangers and mashed again, my Lord.
Lord G (sighing): Good heavens, Cora, this is what it’s come to — bangers and mashed two nights in a row. MaMa will be appalled. I say, Carson, let us hope at least that we will have some of that delicious spotted dick to finish.
Carson: That we do, my Lord. There’s enough spotted dick here to last out the month.
Lady G: I think your beloved MaMa will be lucky to get anything after the way she’s behaved. Of course, we wouldn’t be in this situation if you had worried less about your studs and cufflinks and more about the management of the estate.
Lord G: Only an insensitive colonial would talk that way to a peer of the realm. You really must try harder, my dear, to understand the British upper class.
Lady G: My dear Robert, to understand the British upper class one had only to watch the episode where an entire hour was devoted to the issue of which dress shirts and ties were suitable for wear with certain dinner clothes. Is it any wonder the British Empire has all but disappeared?
Lord G: Some issues are more important than they may appear to an outsider. Besides, that episode was no less compelling than the one that had me lusting after one of the maids like a demented goat. Or that tedious business with Bates and whether he murdered his wife. And let us not overlook the romance between our darling Sybil and the Irish chauffeur. Who would believe any of that?
Lady G: I would, for one. Given the general intelligence level of the script, one is expected to believe just about anything. Why would a rich, good-looking woman like me marry a dithering relic like you, for instance? You squander my fortune on idiotic investments. You insist that birdbrain with a title attend Sybil in childbirth with disastrous results, and then you manage to lose our house. So now we eat pub food at a card table and the butler sleeps on a Barcalounger in the kitchen. I should have divorced your sorry ass thirty years ago and moved back to the States.
Lord G: Yes, so you say. But then you wouldn’t have been Lady Grantham anymore, would you, my sweet? You wouldn’t have been able to cock a snook at those barbarians who spawned you in Pittsburgh, or wherever it was. And you wouldn’t have had all those wonderful years at Downton Abbey playing lady of the manor with that ghastly smile pasted on your face.
Lady G: My smile comes from good breeding. I am a lady. I had an example to set.
Lord G: Your smile comes from the makeup department. And the only thing you ever set was your hair. If there is anything that provokes my contempt it is a snob who has no reason to be a snob.
Lady G: Unlike you, I suppose, a bona fide snob.
Lord G: Exactly. I am the real thing, a snob’s snob. I am convinced that I am better than everyone else, even though I’m not very bright, not in the least bit interesting, and have never accomplished anything except to learn how to tie a white bow tie.
Lady G: Well, of course you’re right, my dear. That’s what won my heart all those years ago. I saw in you a man who presided over the biggest, ugliest house in all of England, a man with whom I could create a family of girls every bit as uninteresting as their parents, all living and yawning together in a vast pile full of servants whose intrigues, romances and betrayals were just as boring as those of their masters. It was life imitating art — in this case a TV miniseries that threatened to last until the end of time.
Lord G: Beautifully put, my dear. I couldn’t have said it any better myself. I say, Carson, might we have some tea?
Carson: Very good, my Lord.
From Stanley Fish’s blog in The Opinionator:
“We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth” (Mark Rothko and Adolph Gottlieb, letter to The New York Times, 1943). In Color Field painting, “figure and ground are one, and the space of the picture, conceived as a field, seems to spread out beyond the edges of the canvas.” As a result you are not encouraged to engage in higher-order thoughts about what you are viewing; it’s all very elemental; it hits you straight on. Rothko declared that “The fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted by my pictures shows that I communicated … basic human emotions.”
What other explanation could there be?
…the Captains and the Kings depart. But famed Connecticut artist Mark Wilson remains, to capture the scene as the Inaugural’s cheap seats empty out.
Annie Dillard in The Writing Life.
Writing sentences is difficult whatever their subject. It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick. So you might as well write Moby-Dick.
For those who may have missed this when I blogged it in 2006, here’s a re-run of a passage from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a 1965 novel by the late Kurt Vonnegut that never goes out of date. Although now that I think of it, maybe it has. Maybe things have gotten worse.
The speaker is a fictional millionaire named Eliot Rosewater who was determined to love his country no matter what:
Thus did a handful of rapacious citizens come to control all that was worth controlling in America. Thus was the savage and stupid and entirely inappropriate and unnecessary and humorless American class system created.
Honest, industrious peaceful citizens were classed as bloodsuckers, if they asked to be paid a living wage. And they saw that praise was reserved henceforth for those who devised means of getting paid enormously for committing crimes against which no laws had been passed.
Thus the American dream turned belly up, turned green, bobbed to the scummy surface of cupidity unlimited, filled with gas, went bang in the noonday sun.
I have known quite a few assholes in my time, as who hasn’t. But it never occurred to me that they could be monetized, and even deducted as a business expense. Just take an anus to lunch in the course of researching a book about famous ani.
Geoffrey Nunberg has written such a book, bless his hole, and called it Ascent of the A-Word. Here’s an excerpt from an excerpt on AlterNet. The last sentence belongs on everyone’s list of little lessons to live by.
Still, nobody would argue that being an asshole is essential to business success. The books on leadership that line the business sections of Barnes & Noble offer career models to suit every personality type. One can take one’s cues from successful leaders ranging from Bismarck and Golda Meir to Nelson Mandela and the apostle Paul, not to mention Generals Lee, Grant, Custer, and Attila the Hun. With that choice before them, the managers who make for the shelf that holds books on Patton and Jobs aren’t settling on assholism as a career expedient, they’re looking to justify their predilection for it. Few people become assholes reluctantly.
From Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, Harper & Brothers, 1943:
Universal literacy helps business by extending the reach of advertising, and increasing its force; and also in other ways. Beyond that, I see nothing on the credit side. On the debit side, it enables scoundrels to beset, dishevel and debauch such intelligence as is in the power of the vast majority of mankind to exercise.What about this? Is Nock right on the money? Half right? Provocative at least? Crazy as a loon?
There can be no doubt of this, for the evidence of it is daily spread far and wide before us on all sides. More than this, it makes many articulate who should not be so, and otherwise would not be so. It enables mediocrity and submediocrity to run rampant, to the detriment of both intelligence and taste. In a word, it puts into people’s hands an instrument which very few can use, but which everyone supposes himself fully able to use; and the mischief thus wrought is very great.
One of the half-dozen or so blogs I read every day is Robert Paul Wolff’s The Philosopher’s Stone. Last month he confessed to a weakness for schlock novels, and so I sent him one of mine called Body Scissors. He responded handsomely on his blog. Here’s an excerpt, which I pass along on the theory that he who tooteth not his own horn, that horn shall not get tooted:
The book arrived in the mail yesterday, at about 1:30 p.m. I opened the first page to see what it was like. At 8:23 p.m., with time out to prepare and eat dinner, I turned the last page, put out my light, and went to sleep. I think it is accurate to say that I could not put it down…
It is a great tale, but what really captivated me [aside from the Harvard Square scenes, rendered with delicious and unillusioned irony], is the progressive sensibility that infuses the narrative. It does not actually play a role in the plot as such, but it is present, nonetheless, and it made me aware how much of the time, in the sorts of things I had been reading, I simply had to bracket my political sensibilities in order to get through the book. Just the opposite is true in Body Scissors.
One wonders what remains
Inside Mitt’s head
That he has had the brains
To leave unsaid.
My sister Pat sends this along. Normally I’d think it was Photoshopped, but these days I’m not so sure.
Bet you always wondered what thesis Tennessee Williams had in mind when he wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire.” So here’s your answer, from a three-page picture spread in the December 15, 1947, issue of Life:
The drama ends when Blanche, clinging to her pitiful delusion that she is a grand lady, is led away by asylum attendants. Her sister and husband can now resume their happiness, proving Williams’ thesis that healthy life can go on only after it is rid of unwholesome influence.
“Girl with a Kitten,” 1947, by Lucian Freud, who died Wednesday at the age of 88.
…and what does “comprise” mean? Robert Paul Wolff writes in The Philosopher’s Stone:
My eye was caught by the photo of the [supposedly inferior] Kindle on which was displayed the first page of Pride and Prejudice. I read what is certainly one of the most famous first lines in the entire genre of the novel: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Reading that sentence gives me the sort of familiar and reliable pleasure that I derive from hearing yet again Haydn’s “Kaiser” quartet or seeing Notre Dame at the bottom of my street in Paris. As I am sure any student of literature will agree, Austen’s words are deceptively simple, and it would take several careful paragraphs to unpack their complexities of ironic voice and narrative point of view.
Then I thought to myself: “In a career spanning fifty-three years, at Harvard, Chicago, Columbia, Barnard, CCNY, Rutgers, CUNY, UMass, Williams, Yale, Boston University, Northeastern University, Duke, and UNC Chapel Hill, I have taught untold thousands of students, and yet there are probably no more than a handful — five score, perhaps — who could, if called upon, give unprompted an accurate, intelligent interpretation of that sentence.”
I was leafing through “Celebrity Butts” magazine at the supermarket when it came to me how truly out of it I was. Here was this vital window on the culture and not only had I never read it, I had never heard of it. I tossed the magazine on top of the grapefruit and the dog biscuits and gladly paid the $4.95. Knowledge is priceless.
But “Celebrity Butts” would have to wait; I had other errands to run first. At the garden store I dithered in the perennial seed aisle, and then, a second revelation! My eye, drawn to a rack of hitherto unnoticed gardeners’ literature, fell on a title so compelling I felt as if I had been visited by the Holy Ghost: “The Truth About Mulch.” I forgot about the seed in my haste to acquire this breathtaking monograph, and in no time, $8 poorer but oh-so-much richer, I was back in the car on my way to the dry cleaner.
Something had happened, but what? At the dry cleaner I hardly noticed, or cared, that my new slacks had been stabbed, beaten and gassed. I was transfixed by a display of free pamphlets on cleaning and laundering. Here in a handsome plastic rack was a whole world of understanding of clothing care and maintenance, a discipline that until now I had been shut out of through ignorance and indifference. As I left the shop with my ruined pants and my personal copy of “All About Shirts” I felt alive to the possibilities that come with learning.
So attuned was I now to the clean, growing, young and beautiful universe that on entering the hardware store I forgot that I had gone there for a resupply of grommets, flanges and ratchets. Instead, I made straight for a small library of incredibly helpful handyman literature. Any one of these scholarly publications would shine light into the dark corners of my ignorance and put me in touch with my nesting impulses.
I couldn’t buy them all, so I settled on a 75-page illustrated treatise entitled “How To Drive a Nail” and a rather longer anthology of anecdotal writings on lawn care called “A Treasury of Really Good Stories About Grass.” For these I willingly paid a handsome price and fled, grommetless, to CVS to pick up a prescription.
Patience may not be a virtue at CVS but it is a necessity. The lines are long and the customers often confused by the complexities of modern pharmacology. I was even more impatient than usual, so eager was I to get home to a close study of “Celebrity Butts,” not to mention “All About Shirts.”
And then my eye fell on a wondrous collection of leaflets, flyers, brochures, pamphlets, and whatnots on all manner of maladies and the drugs that will cure them. A veritable medical school right there in the corner. I forgot all about my prescription and fell on this feast like a starving man.
“You and Your Stomach,” “A Doctor Looks Conjunctivitis in the Eye,” “A Short History of Warts,” “How I Survived Seventeen Heart Attacks,”— everything I had ever wanted to know about medicine was right here, and I had never noticed. Never noticed, that is, until a casual glance at “Celebrity Butts” at the supermarket had opened my eyes, brought me to my senses, showed me there was a lot more to life than watching “The O’Reilly Factor.”
I drove home in a hurry. I had a lot of catching up with the world to do. But before I got to all that reading, I had one more chore. There was a magazine subscription order that had been sitting on my desk for a week. Why had I hesitated? I sat right down, filled out the order, wrote a check, stamped the return envelope, and put the flag up on the mailbox. It’s a subscription to “Sludge,” the magazine for the waste disposal industry and I will never know why I thought I could live without it.
From CNN News:
Morgan asked Flynt what his preferred news headline would be following his death, “Larry Flynt, pornographer,” “Larry Flynt, free speech campaigner,” or “Larry Speech, lifelong controversialist.”
Flynt told Morgan he wanted something “much bigger than that. I always felt Moses freed the Jews, Lincoln freed the slaves, and I wanted to free all the neurotics. And I realized in the process that I’ve helped millions of people get through puberty. I think that’s a great accomplishment.”
“Burying the lede” is what reporters call the rookie mistake of hiding the most interesting element of a story way down where nobody can see it. It’s also possible to do this with a headline so transcendentally dull that the reader skips the story entirely. A headline such as:
Which buries the following gem:
MOSCOW — The radical art collective Voina has won a contemporary art award sponsored by Russia’s Ministry of Culture and the National Center for Contemporary Art for a project that consisted of a 210-foot penis painted on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg…
Once again, I’m probably the last kid on the block to hear about Professor Mark Liberman’s wonderful Language Log. Now that I have I recommend it hole hartedly. Where else could you find out why Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun detest each other so bitterly? It’s all about how to pronounce “chowder.”
The more I think about Joe Bageant’s early death the sadder I get — not so much for him, who now could care less, but for what the rest of us have lost. If you don’t know Joe’s work you should, and here’s a sample to show you why.
My daddy ran the eastern seaboard in a 12-wheeler — there were no 18-wheelers yet. It had polished chrome and bold letters that read “BLUE GOOSE LINE.” Parked alongside our little asbestos-sided house, I’d marvel at the magic of those bold words, the golden diamond and sturdy goose. And dream of someday “burning up Route 50” like my dad.
Old U.S. Route 50 ran near the house and was the stuff of legend if your daddy happened to be a truck driver who sometimes took you with him on the shorter hauls: “OK boy, now scrunch down and look into the side mirror. I’m gonna turn the top of them side stacks red hot.” And he would pop the clutch and strike sparks on the anvil of the night, downshifting toward Pinkerton, Coolville and Hanging Rock. It never once occurred to me that his ebullience and our camaraderie might be due to a handful of bennies.
Yessir, Old 50 was a mighty thing, a howling black slash through the Blue Ridge Mountain fog. A place where famed and treacherous curves made widows, and truck stops and cafes bloomed in the tractor trailers’ smoky wakes. A road map will tell you it eventually reaches Columbus and St. Louis, places I imagined had floodlights raking the skies heralding the arrival of heroic Teamster truckers like my father. Guys who’d fought in Germany and Italy and the Solomon Islands and were still wearing their service caps these years later, but now pinned with the gold steering wheel of the Teamsters Union. Such are a working-class boy’s dreams.
I have two parched photos from that time. One is of me and my brother and sister, ages 10, 8 and 6. We are standing in the front yard, three little redneck kids with bad haircuts squinting for some faint clue as to whether there was really a world out there, somewhere beyond West Virginia.
The other photo is of my mother and the three of us on the porch of that house on Route 50. On the day my father was slated to return from any given run, we’d all stand on the porch listening for the sound of air brakes, the deep roar as he came down off the mountain. Each time, my mother would step onto the porch blotting her lipstick, Betty Grable-style hair rustling in the breeze, and say, “Stand close, your daddy’s home.”
And that was about as good as it ever got for our family…
I’ve been reading David Halberstam’s The Fifties to see what I missed during the decade. One thing I didn’t was Mickey Spillane, the mega-best-selling author whose alter ego in a series of blood-and-guts books was a psychopath called Mike Hammer.
In the first, I, the Jury, the killer turns out to be Hammer’s own squeeze, Charlotte. As the book ends, the one-man jury sentences her to death by .45-caliber automatic. Hoping to change his mind, she strips naked and leans forward to kiss him. Good luck with that, Charlotte:
“Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity, an unbelieving witness to truth. Slowly she looked down at the ugly swelling in her naked belly where the bullet went in. A thin trickle of blood welled out.”
Some years ago I listened to Spillane give a speech at the annual awards banquet of the Mystery Writers of America. I don’t remember the speech, but I remember his answer during the Q&A to a lady author who wanted to know why Mike Hammer had shot Charlotte in the belly.
Said Spillane, “He missed.”
Clyde Haberman in the New York Times:
Ms. O’Conner said there is a flip side to the rejection of all grammatical structure. It is slavish adherence to old rules and intolerance for any perceived transgression.
She gets an earful, she said, when she writes that there is nothing horrific about, say, splitting an infinitive or ending a sentence with a preposition. For some people, those are heresies to always object to.
This is the second movement from Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez, which was long thought to be about the bombing of Guernica. Recently, Rodrigo’s wife revealed that the second movement was written by Rodrigo to express his feelings about his devastation at the miscarriage of their first pregnancy.
With flags flying today at half mast, I think it appropriate to play this song for the benefit of all who have lost loved ones and still feel the pain of that loss. I know I have put up numerous versions of this movement, although not this version. The second movement of the Concierto speaks to me in a way that I do not and cannot understand but I hope you will enjoy the music once again, played slightly differently than you have heard it on Bad Attitudes before. The guitarist is John Williams and the piece in played at the Royal Alcazar of Seville, the oldest royal palace in Europe that continues discharging its duties as such, that is, as official residence of the King of Spain in Seville. Although its appearance is partially Arabic, it was built by the Christian King Pedro I of Castille in the fourteenth century in 1364.
If you like the piece, I urge you to seek out the first and third movements which have a different tone and flavor altogether. One of them may even brighten your day. But this is not a bright and radiant week for America so I play the song to commemorate those who have gone before us and those who we hope that things will turn out the best for. Including Gabrielle Giffords and Joe Bageant.
Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla just posted this:
I just got an email informing me that my friend Joe [Bageant] has cancer, a massive inoperable tumor and will be starting chemo soon. (He dictated the email — he can’t write.)
He’s hoping that with chemo and painkillers, he’ll be able to write again sometime soon.
If you have any prayers, send them his way. (He didn’t say that, I did.)
I’m very, very sorry to hear this, and hope that the good, in this instance at least, will not die young.
I only knew Joe slightly — he and his wife put me up for a night when I was passing through Winchester once — but he left me with a story that will introduce you to the man. The sharp, bitter and funny essays he had been putting on line for a while were beginning to get some attention. One day (I’m telling this from memory, not notes, but I think I have the general outlines down) he got a call from a book editor in New York who asked if he would be interested in publishing his posts as a book.
He said no, he had chewed that mouthful already and if he was ever to write a book he’d want to do it from the ground up, and that would be too much work even to consider.
Well, she said, do you think you might consider it for a $300,000 advance? He found this argument persuasive and the eventual book was called Deerhunting for Jesus.
“There I was with real money in my pocket for once in my life,” Joe said. “Now what the hell was I supposed to do? I’d been talking the talk all my life, was I going to walk the walk?”
His answer was to buy a bunch of steel cargo containers and have them hauled to an empty lot in Belize, a country where he had lived happily for a while. He hired welders to cut doors and windows, fixed up the insides, and gave the new homes away.
Go to Joe’s site, read his essays, read his books, and feel free to alter your consciousness before, during or after you do so. Believe me, he won’t mind.
From Colonel Girdle:
About once a year I re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s brilliant 1990 novel, Hocus Pocus, a prescient satire about America in 2001 when the nation has been thoroughly raped by its capitalist owners & soldoff to other countries. Here is a brief excerpt taken from where the college professor protagonist recollects a speech given by the college’s writer in residence. A speech that causes consternation among the college’s board of trustees:
He predicted, I remember, that human slavery would come back, that it had in fact never gone away. He said that so many people wanted to come here because it was so easy to rob the poor people, who got absolutely no protection from the government. He talked about bridges falling down and water mains breaking because of no maintenance. He talked about oil spills and radioactive waste and poisoned aquifers and looted banks and liquidated corporations. “And nobody ever gets punished for anything,” he said. “Being an American means never having to say you’re sorry.”
This is the kind of high art you could produce too, if you had a pretty granddaughter, a four-year-old grandson with floppy bangs and a cool new iMac:
Just a suggestion for all you book lovers, from The Guardian. Where should we re-shelve Karl Rove’s new book, Courage and Consequence? And it’s not too early to start thinking about Bush’s and Cheney’s forthcoming somebodyelsedunnits. Under True Crime? Self Help?
Blair’s nomination is not the first time that his autobiography has been classified as fiction, as bookshops have reported customers with anti-war sympathies repeatedly reshelving the book into the crime section, following a Facebook-led campaign.
Sometimes a few words can bring a whole era to life. These are from the review in this week’s New Yorker of Ron Chernow’s new biography of George Washington:
The mar to his beauty was his terrible teeth, which were replaced by unsuccessful transplant surgery and by dentures made from ivory and from teeth pulled from the mouths of his slaves.
— Marie Prentice
There’s no “we” in memoir, but there’s an “I” and a “me.” Here’s Walter Benn Michaels in The Baffler, explaining how our literature got where it is. He doesn’t mention that other philosopher queen, Ayn Rand, but I will:
…It was also in 1987 that Margaret Thatcher, as canny a cultural critic as Toni Morrison, pronounced herself tired of hearing about society’s problems and, in the wake of her triumph over the National Union of Mineworkers, took a stand against the idea of society itself, proclaiming: “There is no such thing! There are individual men and women, and there are families…” Anybody looking to explain the appeal of the memoir in contemporary writing need look no further. Every sentence in every one of them, true or false, literary or non-, tells us that there are only individuals and their families. Thus, for example, the proper way for workers to see themselves is not as workers or union members, but as entrepreneurs or husbands and fathers…
From the New York Times:
But for the most part the works downstairs attest to a willingness to depart from established comfort zones. Warhol abandons the signature one-two technique in place since the early 1960s — fields of brushy color silk-screened with large, grainy photographic images — for more hands-on approaches. And he tackles abstraction, the language of his first artistic heroes, the Abstract Expressionists.
These spaces contain two small examples of Warhol’s ravishing Oxidation Paintings, from 1977, in which the brush-free method consisted of men and (it turns out) women urinating on canvas treated with metallic copper paint, to create an amazing fluorescences of golds, greens and blacks in a range of splatters and puddles that evoke Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.
This is abstraction but reality based…
What do you want to be if you ever grow up? How about an art critic? This one writes for The Nation:
Some of the works on paper use large, simple blocky forms; in others, fields of small marks create a sort of broken, refracted visual texure that’s surprisingly reminiscent of Impressionism. References to landscape are rife. Each of the “Hill Series,” from 1981, contains a single large five-sided shape in black ink, its edges nearly parallel with those of the sheet on which it has been drawn, except that one of its upper corners has been replaced by a diagonal line, like the slope of a hill. There is some bare white paper around all the sides, so that despite the reference to nature that the title insists on, it always remains a closed shape, never becoming a view of something larger. The trick — this short-circuiting of reference and abstraction — is simple but effective, so much so that it could easily have been irritating, except that the execution of it is so blunt and unpretentious that the quizzical feeling evoked by this play, not only between abstraction and image but between earnest concentration and triviality, evokes an almost childlike freshness of vision.
Here is another song for the Hard Hittin’ song series I started. This is one that Woody Guthrie wrote called This Land is your Land after hearing God Bless America one too many times. The song annoyed him, the lyrics were just too much for him to take. I never heard it said that Woody was an atheist, but maybe he was annoyed because Woody stood up for people who were put down by others as his own family had suffered from the perils of capitalism, people who had lost everything to the Great Depression and the often shaky infrastructure upon which capitalism stands, which can take down anybody without much warning including people like the Guthries who were once a prosperous family as the New Yorker article linked to above notes. So Woody stood up for others with his songs, or as he put it:
I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.
I am out to fight those songs to my very last breath of air and my last drop of blood. I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world and that if it has hit you pretty hard and knocked you for a dozen loops, no matter what color, what size you are, how you are built, I am out to sing the songs that make you take pride in yourself and in your work. And the songs that I sing are made up for the most part by all sorts of folks just about like you.
I could hire out to the other side, the big money side, and get several dollars every week just to quit singing my own kind of songs and to sing the kind that knock you down still farther and the ones that poke fun at you even more and the ones that make you think that you've not got any sense at all. But I decided a long time ago that I’d starve to death before I’d sing any such songs as that. The radio waves and your movies and your jukeboxes and your songbooks are already loaded down and running over with such no good songs as that anyhow.
The Wikipedia and the New Yorker link to the song in the links above show you the socialist lyrics that Woody composed for the song that have been edited out by historians. Yes, This Land is Your Land is a Socialist Song. So sing it loud, and when the children sing it in school, remind them that it’s a fact that it is a socialist song, and that the word and the ideology are nothing to be ashamed of.
We are losing the middle class in this country because we’ve been abandoning every scintilla of socialism, which was once seen as a positive in America by many people, especially those who helped build a middle class in this country, which we’re losing and have been losing since Ronald Reagan started the ball rolling. Those of us old enough to know and understand what happened saw it happen right before our eyes.
So listen to the song and remember what it stands for: Socialism. It’ts not a bad word, despite what you hear on television and radio and from those who are out to take away your middle class lifestyle, if they haven’t taken it from you already. If you let them, they’ll take away your socialist Social Security and your Socialist roads and highways and your Socialist military retirement and your Socialist police force and your Socialist schools, and every other Socialist thing in this country.
But if you fight for it, you might just in the years to come find for yourself a truly socialist, nonprofit, low cost way of keeping alive when you get sick. So keep on fighting by organizing, speaking out, and engaging in every other legal nonviolent way you can to embarrass the people who are trying to steal your middle class lifestyle.
The two meanings are believed to have originated concurrently but independently. gunsel: Or: gonsil/ gonzel/ gonsel: A 19th century term of German and Yiddish (little goose) derivation for a young, inexperienced gay male similar to the more recent gay slang term, “twink.” See sodomite for synonyms.
The latter usage — a gun-toting hoodlum — derives from Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. Hammett’s publisher at the time refused to allow any rude or profane terminology in his publication. Hammett slipped in “gunsel” — a street term for a young, gay man — as a joke. Since it is used throughout the book to refer to the character of Wilmer — a gun-toting thug — most people erroneously assumed that is what it meant and it stuck.
All right, watch this. Even if you’ve never exposed yourself to Glenn Beck’s show, it’s funny. If you have, you’ll recognize Jon Stewart’s performance as a masterpiece:
Things are getting too weird, even for me. From the Associated Press:
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Levi Johnston is going for the ultimate exposure — his bare body.
Posing nude for Playgirl is next for the 19-year-old father of Sarah Palin’s grandchild. Johnston’s attorney, Rex Butler, said Wednesday that a formal agreement has not been reached with the online magazine but adds it’s a “foregone conclusion” it will happen.
About an hour from me is a park on a man-made lake they call Bostalsee, and most weekends this summer it was home to some sort of spectacle. One Friday in early July I went to an event billed as “Fiesta Latina,” which sounded like it would involve mojitos and a salsa band, when actually it was more akin to a 19th century ethnological exhibit.
“Gentlemen! You’d better hold your women tight,” said an emcee as he introduced a troupe of bare-chested black Capoeira dancers to the German farmers drinking their mugs of beer. Afterward came the limbo ladies, wearing animal-skin prints and looking sufficiently savage next to the torches they lit, and finally the lithe samba dancers with their feathers.
It was an impressive display of well-sculpted brown flesh, and the closeness of the audience to the performers – who used the floor rather than the stage — made it seem as though they were there to be touched and smelled as much as watched. Everyone appeared to be having a great time.
There’s been a lot written about the ethnological exhibits of the 19th and early 20th centuries — wincing tales of Nubians and Inuits that the German animal dealer Carl Hagenbeck imported to Hamburg and exhibited in his zoo, Ota Benga, the pygmy stuck in an orangutan cage in the Bronx. In 1910 the University of Philadelphia museum engaged a South African “specimen” to walk up and down its halls in some sort of drag, until he found more lucrative work in vaudeville. All these histories assume implicitly that the phenomenon is over. I don’t know what the definition of an ethnological exhibit is, but I know one when I see one…
I missed the next week’s spectacle at Bostalsee: “Indianer Powwow.” But I got the pamphlet, which showed bare-chested men on horseback with face paint, and some sort of Indian in a Cherokee war bonnet, and lots of Germans in Western clothes, playing trappers and saloon owners. The guy who puts on the powwow, Georg Lauer, said the horsemen are French and that the Native Americans, including the one in a war bonnet, are actually from Mexico. Lauer puts on all kinds of shows – magic shows, mime shows. His powow is in its fifth year and getting bigger.
Lauer didn’t find the Mexicans – they found him, he said, and he has no idea how. At last year’s powwow the Mexicans did a great job, Lauer said. This time around he canceled them after they called him from the Mexico City airport on their scheduled day of departure, asking for more money. He made do with just the French horseman. Local politicians from the left and right showed up, because it is election season, and the newspapers said they all had a great time.
It turns out that a huge number of adult Germans are fascinated enough by Native Americans that they spend their weekends playing Indian, setting up tipis and making fry bread, all in costume. Most people trace the phenomenon to Karl May’s Winnetou novels from the late 19th century, which begat the earliest Indian clubs in Europe.
When the books were made into movies in the 1960s, a whole generation was imprinted on Winnetou, the compassionate Apache. Men and women in their forties and fifties now have the leisure time and money to act out their affections in a really elaborate way.
This involves investing in buckskin hides and beads and other materials used to fastidiously copy Indian costumes in museums. Indian clubs, some with thousands of members, put on huge powwows in Berlin and other big cities, powwows with a much more authentic flavor than the Bostalsee show, save for that every single one of the drummers and dancers is German. Sometimes special guests from one of the American Indian nations are present, but one gets the sense that they are not the point.
“Germans really appreciate Native Americans, but this creates problems, too,” said Carmen Kwasny, a German woman who found her way to Indians through Winnetou, just like the rest of her generation, but has worked very hard to make something meaningful out of the obsession. Her group’s chairman is a Kiowa from Oklahoma who spends half the year in Germany.
Kwasny reaches out to the Native Americans stationed at Kaiserslautern, flies musicians over for seminars, and keeps in close touch with Indian friends in the states. Her association bans alcohol at its events, and only actual Indians are invited to perform. This all sits very poorly with the German hobbyists, who want to be drinking beer in their tipis.
When German hobbyists are brought into contact with real Native Americans, Kwasny said, the result is almost invariably disappointment. “They just decide that they not interested in Native Americans today – that they are no longer the way it used to be,” she said.
They like their version much, much better.
The circumstances of David Carradine’s death in a Bangkok hotel closet seemed more unusual than they were. I learned about the prevalence of autoerotic asphyxia while doing research for my second Tom Bethany mystery, Strangle Hold.
Steve Russell, a judge and a professor of criminal justice, tells you all you probably need to know about the phenomenon at The Rag Blog. Or you could do what I did, and dig up a copy of Autoerotic Fatalities, by Hazelwood, Dietz and Burgess.
Or, best of all, buy a copy of Strangle Hold and educate yourself the painless way. From the reviews:
Through his Tom Bethany character, a private investigator with no clear clientele, but an intense focus on righting wrongs, Doolittle lets readers know immediately — NO, NOW! — what’s wrong with bureaucrats, lots of businessmen, some cops, lawyers and many others whose very existence makes others suffer. And, oh, yeah. Lots of Republicans.
Great Characters, I laughed out loud at “The Hocker.” One of the best. Do read as soon as possible. Like all his books catches you on page one, and then the squeeze is on. Thankfully back in print.
Mrs. Obama’s little boy has finally hit the big time. His nemesis, the Screeching Enchantress, is evidently the one in wolf skins. The blond may be Ann Coulter, for all I know.
From George Orwell’s evisceration of Tolstoy for Tolstoy’s evisceration of Shakespeare:
By nature [Tolstoy] was imperious as well as egotistical. Well after he was grown up he would still occasionally strike his servant in moments of anger, and somewhat later, according to his biographer, Derrick Leon, he felt “a frequent desire upon the slenderest provocation to slap the faces of those with whom he disagreed.” One does not necessarily get rid of that kind of temperament by undergoing religious conversion, and indeed it is obvious that the illusion of having been reborn may allow one’s native vices to flourish more freely than ever, though perhaps in subtler forms.
There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other involves orcs.
From the New York Times:
According to Robert B. Barnett, the Washington lawyer who negotiated the book deal with Crown on Mr. Bush’s behalf … Mr. Bush began working on a draft two days after he left office.
“He’s already written 30,000 words,” Mr. Barnett said. “He has no collaborator, but he’s working with his former chief speech writer Christopher Michel.”
There’s been a good deal in the book sections lately about the novelist David Foster Wallace, a depressive who last year hanged himself where his wife would be sure to find him. Pity struggles with disgust. Circumstances may have offered some excuse, but on the surface this appears to have been, among other things, a particularly nasty display of passive aggression.
A long posthumous profile in the New Yorker this month put Wallace in the category, or at least the company, of such other novelists as John Barth, Don DeLillo, Robert Coover, and Thomas Pynchon. All of them write what Albert Jay Nock once described, in Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, as sickly literature:
As Goethe remarked, all eras in a state of decline or dissolution are subjective, while in all great eras which have been really in a state of progression, every effort is directed from the inward to the outward world; it is of an objective nature. I have always believed, as Goethe did, that here one comes on a true sense of the word classic.
Work done in the great progressive eras — the work of the Augustan and Periclean periods, the work of the Elizabethans, of Erasmus, Marot, Rabelais, Cervantes, Montaigne — one accepts these as classic, not at all because they are old, but because they are objective and therefore strong, sound, joyous, healthy. Work done in an era of decadence is subjective, and therefore with the rarest and most fragmentary exceptions pathological, weak, bizarre, unhealthy. Indeed as Goethe suggested, in the interest of clearness one might very well make a clean sweep of all terms like classic, modernist, realist, naturalist and substitute the simple terms healthy and sickly.
Hence it was the symptomatic character of artistic practice both in Europe and America that chiefly interested me. In Europe I saw a good deal of “modernist” French painting, done in the ’twenties by Pascin, Soutine, Picasso, de Segonzac, de la Fresnaye, Metzinger, Dufy and others. In literature I also nibbled gingerly at specimens of subjectivity in excelsis furnished by Proust, Laforgue, Dujardin and practitioners of the “stream of consciousness” principle. One’s presumptions upon any society from which such work could emanate and get itself accepted, were inescapable.
Incredibly, it is now possible to buy a painting on velvet of Turdblossom for only $200. Two questions:
What artist would you choose to do Rove’s official portrait? (Francis Bacon is already taken. By me.)
And would you let the man below take your 13-year-old son on an overnight camping trip?
I don’t have time to do this subject justice right now, but I want to mention it. I’ll be back with a fuller treatment of a man who influenced me a very great deal.
Patrick McGoohan, star of Danger Man (Secret Agent in the US) and The Prisoner, died Tuesday at the age of 80.
In Secret Agent he played John Drake, a non-womanizing avoider of violence who looked to complete his nearly impossible missions by smarts and smooth.
“When Drake fights, he fights clean,” Mr. McGoohan once explained. “He abhors bloodshed. He carries a gun, but doesn’t use it unless necessary — and then he doesn’t shoot to kill. He prefers to use his wits. He is a person with a sophisticated background and a philosophy. I want Drake to be in the heroic mould, like the classic Western hero — which means he has to be a good man.”
Mr. McGoohan also reportedly refused the movie role of Bond, which went to his “Hell Drivers” co-actor Sean Connery.
The Prisoner, as its devotees will tell you at length, is not normal television.
The show’s meaning remains a source of debate. Some viewers saw the drama, which aired at a peak moment of the 1960s counterculture movement, as a critique of establishment power over the individual. The unnamed hero proclaims at one point, “I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered. My life is my own.”
“The Prisoner” attracted devoted fans at the time, but not enough. Although short-lived, it was credited with setting a thematic, at times surreal template for such films as “The Truman Show” (1998) with Jim Carrey and the current ABC series “Lost.”
Robert J. Thompson, founding director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, said of “The Prisoner” that it “was an early taste of really complex, literate, thematically dense programming” at a time when most Americans were used to talking horses, genies as hapless homemakers and courtroom shows where Perry Mason wins every case.
The incomparable Eartha Kitt died today, Christmas, at the age of 81. Looking for a video clip of her singing “Santa Baby,” the best I could find was one of her performing before George Bush, which I doubt she enjoyed, given the following:
In the late sixties, however, Kitt’s career encountered a substantial setback after she made her anti-Vietnam war views explicit during a White House luncheon.
The CIA put together a dossier on her and she became professionally exiled from the US. She worked abroad for 11 years, where her reputation remained unscathed, but returned triumphantly to New York in 1974 to star in a Broadway spectacle of Timbuktu!
Here, then, is audio from 1953 vinyl:
Are you excited? I am:
Having watched Barbie lose market share to younger competitors such as Bratz and Hannah Montana, the world’s largest toymaker is using the doll’s 50th anniversary to relaunch it in a blizzard of worldwide events, starting with the opening of an experimental 36,000 sq ft flagship store in Shanghai.
The store will be a pink mecca for all things Barbie and will attempt to broaden the doll’s appeal to older girls and their mothers.
Watch this. It’s the law.
From Funny Times:
Cinderella married the handsome prince and they lived happily enough until health issues cropped up and they were forced to move into an assisted living facility where they grew feeble and forgetful until they finally died.
Tellingly, the only time Studs failed was when I suggested he try a book on power. The people he approached were such accomplished liars that none of them would even admit that they held power. It was the one project we had to give up.
From an interesting piece by television writer Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez on how popular culture paves the way for political change — and helped to make Obama’s victory possible:
If you want to know the truth of a time, I say, look to its popular culture ‚ to its novels and movies. If you want to know the myths of a time, look to its “objective news…”
WASHINGTON (AFP) — The deployment of US missile defenses in eastern Europe is in the US interest and not a move against Russia, a senior foreign policy adviser to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said Thursday.
“I do not think Russia has a legitimate security concern here,” Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary in the Clinton administration, told defense reporters here.
Danzig’s remarks to defense reporters here was a strong sign that a Democratic administration would continue to back the European missile defense system despite tensions with Moscow and misgivings among some Democratic lawmakers.
Another of those cases where we can only hope that Obama is lying to get elected. Although it’s hard to see the political benefit to him, in this instance. Where’s the public hue and cry for bringing back the cold war?
Unfortunately there’d be plenty of hue and cry if Obama were to be heard advancing a sane foreign policy toward, say, Pakistan — such as promising to call off the war against it which Bush is currently waging with strong support from both parties and, to the extent that they’re aware of it, the American public.
And what are we to think of a presidential candidate who promises to pull us out of an endless occupation of Iraq so that he can plunge us into an endless occupation of Afghanistan. Again, we can only pray that Obama is lying about that one, too.
And refer him back to Rudyard Kipling’s The Young British Soldier, which ends with this advice:
When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Another American legend is now gone, and I must admit that I find some of the movies that Paul Newman starred in as some of the finest films of the Twentieth century. One film that Newman starred in, HUD, elicited a comment from Newman before his death from cancer:
As Hud Bannon in “Hud” (1963) Mr. Newman was a heel on the Texas range who wanted the good life and was willing to sell diseased cattle to get it. The character was intended to make the audience feel “loathing and disgust,” Mr. Newman told a reporter. Instead, he said, “we created a folk hero.”
I watched that film a couple of years ago and it struck me in a particular way. I saw George Bush perfectly personified in the character of Hud and I saw many of my fellow Americans too. It’s a film I urge everyone to watch. Because we have a society filled with people who aspire to be just like Hud Bannon. Some of my favorite quotes from the movie appear below:
Homer Bannon: You don’t care about people Hud. You don’t give a damn about ‘em. Oh, you got all that charm goin’ for ya. And it makes the youngsters want to be like ya. That’s the shame of it because you don’t value anything. You don’t respect nothing. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with.
Homer Bannon: That’s your solution for getting out of a tight? To pass bad beef on to my neighbors who wouldn’t know what they was getting? Or maybe risk starting an epidemic in the entire country?
Hud Bannon: This country is run on epidemics, where you been? Price fixing, crooked TV shows, inflated expense accounts. How many honest men you know? Why you separate the saints from the sinners, you’re lucky to wind up with Abraham Lincoln. Now I want out of this spread what I put into it, and I say let us dip our bread into some of that gravy while it is still hot.
Homer Bannon: You’re an unprincipled young man Hud.
Hud Bannon: Don’t let that worry you none. You got enough for both of us.
Yes, the movie personifies George Bush. But it also personifies rich conservative America. I urge you to watch it. Because we need to bring back the Homer Bannons. I remember when there were plenty of them in America running small businesses. But it's hard to find one now. Because small businesses have a hard time making it when they behave responsibly like Homer Bannon. Paul Newman did some great things with his brand “Newman's Own” which donated all the money it made to worthy charities. No other companies in America have brands that behave that sensibly. At least if they have, I’m not familiar with them.
Paul Newman was an American hero. Rare in the film world. But Newman lived his life the way Americans should live their lives. If we could get more people to do so, America might have a chance at becoming a nation that is looked up to by the rest of the world as something to aspire to once again. But we have a long way to go to get the nation back to an honest status that other countries would like to emulate. Newman also proudly referred to himself as a liberal and was 19th on Richard Nixon’s enemies list. I’m proud to say that Newman belongs to those of us in the liberal camp, and conservatives can’t lay claim to the great legacy he left this nation.
The Obama campaign seems to have learned a thing or two from John Kerry’s passivity when a slimeball named Jerome Corsi swiftboated him in a lie-filled book.
Here’s the campaign’s prompt 41-page response (pdf file) to Corsi’s attempt to do the same thing to Barack HUSSEIN Obama.
If you loved the suspense and thrill-a-minute action of “My Dinner With Andre”, or you’re a Fritjof Capra fan, then you probably already know about the wonderful movie “Mindwalk”. If not, perhaps you’ve heard of the book The Tao of Physics. Capra described his motivation for writing the book this way:
Physicists do not need mysticism, and mystics do not need physics, but humanity needs both.
Ideas this all-encompassing are never bereft of controversy. Capra has been dissed by some physicists, but encouraged by others. He said:
I had several discussions with Heisenberg. I lived in England then [circa 1972], and I visited him several times in Munich and showed him the whole manuscript chapter by chapter. He was very interested and very open, and he told me something that I think is not known publicly because he never published it. He said that he was well aware of these parallels. While he was working on quantum theory he went to India to lecture and was a guest of Tagore. He talked a lot with Tagore about Indian philosophy. Heisenberg told me that these talks had helped him a lot with his work in physics, because they showed him that all these new ideas in quantum physics were in fact not all that crazy. He realized there was, in fact, a whole culture that subscribed to very similar ideas. Heisenberg said that this was a great help for him. Niels Bohr had a similar experience when he went to China.
Commenters at YouTube were unable to find “Mindwalk” from Netflix, so they were happy to find the full movie there. It stars Liv Ullman as the physicist, John Heard as the poet, and Sam Waterston as the politician, with music contributed by Philip Glass.
If you’re like me and have felt — for a number of years — the hand of a creepy, nauseating totalitarian government reaching down upon you and those around you and grabbing you by throat with its crushing choke hold — even more so since Bush took office — then this short film may appeal to you. The film was a second place winner of the 1990 Cannes Film Festival for best short and was produced by Barthelemy Bompard . It definitely has a Kafkaesque quality to it.
CAUTION TO VISITORS AND FANS OF THIS BLOG: This film may cause nightmares, not that you might already be having them based upon reality. If you start it though, stay for the ending.
Thanks to Monique Frugier for sending me a link to this video.
Fourth annual Short Film Online Competition — Cannes 2008. The NFB, in association with the Cannes Short Film Corner and partner YouTube, is proud to announce that the winner of the NFB Online Competition Cannes 2008 is Alonso Alvarez Barreda for his short film Historia de un Letrero (The Story of a Sign) produced in Mexico/U.S.A.
Running Time: 04:50
Country: Mexico/ U.S.A
Category: Short film
With a stroke of the pen, a stranger transforms the afternoon for another man in this emotionally stirring short film by Alonso Alvarez.
Alonso Alvarez Barreda was born in Mexico City in 1984. He met Alejandro Monteverde, who was still in film school, and since then Alejandro became his friend and mentor. Alonso wrote, produced and directed his first short film, called El Algodonero.
His second short film, Historia de un Letrero, was named best short film in the Festival Internacional de Cine en Corto and also won the Hispanoamerican jury award in the Short Shorts Film Festival in Mexico City. It has also been an official selection at the San Diego Latino Film Festival, Cine Festival in San Antonio, Texas, Short Shorts Film Festival Monterrey and Morelos, and in the Short Film Corner in Cannes.
Currently, Historia de un Letrero is part of the regular programming on National TV in Mexico. Alonso lives in Los Angeles.
“When the underclass riots in this country, they don’t kill policemen and politicians, they steal merchandise. How embarrassing.”
…but Morris supposes erroneously. This is from an ad in the Human Events newsletter (subscribers only) for a new book called Fleeced:
Americans feel fleeced at every turn, and it’s no wonder. As more and more critical problems develop that need national attention, the White House and Congress are effectively AWOL. And who’s calling the shots instead? Big government, big business, big labor, and big lobbyists — all with self-serving agendas that do nothing to help the ever-increasing number of American people who are losing their homes, paying exorbitant credit card interest rates, and finding their jobs increasingly outsourced to foreign countries.
Make your blood boil? Make you want to toss out the greedy bloodsucking neocon DLC warmongers who have spent the last eight years flushing our economy, our constitution and our nation’s most sacred values right down the toilet?
Wait a minute, though. Here’s the full title of this outraged screed:
Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the New Do-Nothing Congress, Companies That Help Iran, and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments Are Fleecing Us…and What to Do About It
And here are the authors: Eileen McGann and her husband, Dick Morris. Yes, that Dick Morris. (The picture below shows two entirely different people. I include it only as an example of very poor taste.)
“In the United States, anybody can be president. That’s the problem.”
“I worry about my judgment when anything I believe in or do regularly begins to be accepted by the American public.”
Leonard Pitts Jr. captures the essence of the hysteria over the New Yorker cover.
Unless you’ve been in a cave for the last week, you’ve heard about and probably seen the cartoon showing Barack and Michelle bumping fists in the Oval Office, he in Muslim garb, she in Angela Davis, while a portrait of Osama watches an American flag burn in the fireplace. To me, even a straight description is humorous, and the cartoon is hilarious; but many Obama supporters apparently find it offensive.
Or perhaps it’s the long article about him in the same issue they’re worried about. But if they were offended by the cover, they probably wouldn’t read the article.
Which, to me, is part of the point of the cover.
To be effective, satire needs a situation it can inflate into ridiculousness. But the hysteria surrounding Obama has nowhere to go; it is already ridiculous. In just the last few days, we’ve had Jesse Jackson threatening to castrate him and John McLaughlin calling him an “Oreo.”
Add to that the whispers about Obama’s supposed Muslim heritage (not that there’s anything wrong with that), the “terrorist” implications of bumping fists, and Michelle Obama’s purported use of the term “whitey” (a word no black person has uttered since The Jeffersons went off the air in 1985), and it’s clear that “ridiculous” has become our default status. What once were punchlines now are headlines.
So, as absurd, as over the top, as utterly outlandish as the New Yorker image strikes the more sophisticated among us, there is a large fringe out there for whom it will represent nothing more or less than the sum of their fears.
Most of the arguments people made against the cover in the various comment sections I perused were strikingly weak. Anger certainly tends to cloud logic; as Bertrand Russell said,
The opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists; indeed the passion is the measure of the holder’s lack of rational conviction.
One person applied the theory of democracy to that of humor, proclaiming that it’s only satire if “at least” a majority thinks it is. (I’m not sure what’s more than a majority in this case. Since by definition at least the artist and the editor consider it satire, there’s no possibility of unanimity. But that’s how the argument was worded, so I reproduce it in case others grasp what I missed.) Another person argued that the November vote is a life-and-death matter, and the need to elect Obama, who presumably represents life, precludes Barack-mocking in the interim.
Speaking of which, Andy Borowitz has written a fake Obama statement of sympathy with those who struggle to make jokes about him. The statement includes five officially sanctioned Obama jokes.
Barack Obama and a kangaroo pull up to a gas station. The gas station attendant takes one look at the kangaroo and says, “You know, we don’t get many kangaroos here.” Barack Obama replies, “At these prices, I’m not surprised. That’s why we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
This kind of thing is why Colbert has to push it so far, play such an over-the-top character, to satirize the current state of our various media. As Pitts says, “These days, there’s nothing more ridiculous than the truth.”
“Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.”
I have as much authority as the Pope. I just don’t have as many people who believe it.
And another, completely unrelated, because you were wondering how they came about.
The very existence of flamethrowers proves that some time, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”
“The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”
“If a man smiles all the time he’s probably selling something that doesn’t work.”
“They debated the NAFTA bill for a long time; should we sign it or not? Either way, the people get fucked. Trade always exists for the traders. Anytime you hear businessmen debating ‘which policy is better for America,’ don’t bend over.”
Though I’m saddened by the passing of George Carlin, whom I consider a standup comic of the first rank, I was not at first planning to add my voice to the din of eulogies.
What provoked me to reconsider was the emergence, apropos of nothing, of the memory of probably my favorite of his many bits, on the social meanings one might extract from the differences between baseball and football.
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
The clincher, of course, comes in leading up to a description of the object of the respective games.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
Baseball has the seventh inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.
Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end — might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
On the personal level there’s some irony for me in realizing that at the time I considered Carlin edgy but only mildly so. I remember visiting the house of a girl I had a crush on in junior high, and listening to Carlin’s Hippy-Dippy Weatherman stuff on records. We’d break into peals of that high-pitched teenage laughter that quickly becomes irritating even when you really like the kids currently inflicting the sonic pain. Regardless, parentage on both ends of the phone could be comfortable with us listening to Carlin.
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! — I hope I’ll be safe at home!
One of the best things Carlin did for people of his time was to introduce them a subversive outlook in a friendly guise. Sure, he was a communist or an anarchist or a socialist or some damn thing, but he didn’t really seem dangerous.
He was, though, for instance, capable of creating the famous Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV, which while naughty in contemporary terms was also widely considered hilarious, thus passing on the meme.
“Living in the South was never an option — the main problem being they have too much respect for authority; they’re soldier-sniffers and cop-lovers.”
Who knew the little fellow was such a bookworm? And an author yet! Why, the man is a regular Obama except he can’t jump.
Bush also said he never saw the award-winning network television show The West Wing about a fictitious U.S. president, preferring instead to watch sports and read books.
“I seriously don’t watch TV. You know, I watch sports, but I’d much rather read books. And I do. I read a lot,” he said according to a transcript released by the White House.
All right, horndogs, here’s the first film from TruthThroughAction.org — “a new political organization founded by independent filmmakers in New York. By bringing the Indie community and political activists together, we're creating edgy short films and online videos that support the Democratic Party.”
It’s called Blue Balled.
From an article on Sven Lindqvist, a fascinating Swedish writer I’ve just discovered:
Lindqvist is no longer such a lustful traveller as he once was, and he lives quietly today in an apartment in a leafy square of central Stockholm, with his second wife, Agneta Stark, a distinguished economist. He is the fortunate beneficiary of a rather wonderful, typically Swedish, form of state bursary, whereby 150 of the country’s greatest artists and musicians, writers and poets are each guaranteed that if their annual income from their work falls below that of a metal worker, it will be topped up by the state. “If it’s Ingmar Bergman,” he says with a grin, “he won’t need to use it very often, but I’ve found it rather useful; for many poets, it’s their main source of income.”
I don’t know much about art, or about art history. I don’t always even know what I like, and when I like something, I don’t always know why. But I liked Robert Rauschenberg’s art, at least most of the time.
Which is odd, considering that before his death on Monday a good part of his energy went into a sort of counter to the only visual-art movement I ever really cared about, Abstract Expressionism. “Dr.” Barbara Rose, an art historian writing in the Wall Street Journal, who I suspect is not in fact a doctor but a Ph.D., ranks Rauschenberg second only to Jackson Pollock as the biggest innovator in art, and here again I exhibit my inability to perceive as an art historian would: I never gave a damn about Pollock. Some of his works are pleasant to look at, but none are impressive. I too can generate a huge amount of random stuff and select a tiny part of it that is less irrelevant than the rest, and as our sainted Veep says, So? In a decade or so computers will produce stuff at least as good as Pollock.
But there were several saving graces for Rauschenberg’s work, including his belief that art could change the world, his sense of humor, and his interest in turning the making of art into a community operation. In most cases it seems that painters are like writers in that their art is created in solitude. If I were given the choice of what to do in the next incarnation, I guess I’d probably pick music; musicians are poor like other artists, but at least they get to hang out with other musicians while they’re doing their art. Rauschenberg, who was heavily influenced by John Cage among many others, seems to have transcended that problem.
People ask me, “Don’t you ever run out of ideas?” In the first place I don’t use ideas. Every time I have an idea it’s too limiting, and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven’t run out of curiosity.
He also cut a heroic figure: paralyzed by a stroke in the late sixties, he continued to work to the end of his life. As late as two months ago, he traveled to Valencia, Spain, to applaud a friend’s opening.
But of course, the real measure of an artist is his work. If you haven’t seen much Rauschenberg, or if you want a good overview, check out
Late last month I reprinted (reposted?) a piece of mine that originally ran at Salon.com. I argued that Obama shouldn’t be slammed for borrowing words from another man’s speech, since political oratory has the same relationship to plagiarism that life forms have to carbon. As an example, I gave a line I once wrote for Mondale which has since been lifted thousands of times: "In Reagan's America, a rising tide lifts all yachts."
I just now got around to reading all the responses on Salon.com, and I’m glad I did. The 43rd and last comment rewarded me with one of those surreal flashes where for a moment you wonder whether it’s you or the other guy who just got off the space ship:
Jerome Doolittle was a late arrival (by at least 21 years) to the rising tide metaphor: JFK used it in a speech in Arkansas in 1963: "As the income of Michigan rises, so does the income of the United States. A rising tide lifts all the boats and as Arkansas becomes more prosperous so does the United States". The phrase is also attributed in Wikipedia to Sean Lemass, Irish prime minister, 1959-1964.
What's odd is Doolittle's change of words from "boats" to "yachts". A yacht is a symbol of lavish discretionary income, while a boat is a neutral object. A rising tide that lifts all yachts suggests a tide that favors the rich—or does so to my ear, at least. In 1984, Doolittle lit on what was already a cliche — and seriously weakened it in the attempt to make it his own.
In college I took a class on the New Novelists. We read folks like Samuel Beckett, Michel Butor, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The latter died Monday at the age of 85.
He was the most prominent of France’s so-called New Novelists, a group that emerged in the mid-1950s whose other members included Claude Simon, Michel Butor and Nathalie Sarraute. Their experimental work tossed aside literary conventions like plot and character development, narrative and chronology, chapters and punctuation.
“Tossed aside” might be an understatement. “Assiduously avoided” would work at least as well.
True to his artistic principles, Robbe-Grillet’s novels are composed largely of recurring images, impersonally depicted physical objects and random events of everyday life. However, beginning with his first novel published in France, Les Gommes (1953, The Erasers), Robbe-Grillet used and manipulated traditional and popular literary genres — working several times with the mystery novel from. (Robbe-Grillet’s first novel, A Regicide, was not published until 1978.) The Erasers mixes a detective story with Robbe-Grillet’s signature changing perspectives and detailed descriptions of natural objects such as a tomato wedge. The book received the Fénélon Prize in France in 1954. Robbe-Grillet was elected member of the prestigious Academie Francaise in 2004, the highest honor in France for a French artist, writer or intellectual. However, he never sat in any meeting of the Academie.
In addition to his novels, he did some movie work, most famously Last Year at Marienbad. He also wrote a book of essays called “Toward a New Novel” that was mind-expanding.
“The Academie Francaise today loses one of its most illustrious members, and without a doubt its most rebellious,” mourned President of France Nicolas Sarkozy.
Despite the New Novel’s focus on objective reality swept clean of human feeling or bias, French author Robbe-Grillet always insisted that the nouveau roman is entirely subjective — its world is always perceived through the eyes of a character, not an omniscient narrator. “The true writer has nothing to say. What counts is the way he says it,” he once stated.
I’m a huge Ted Rall fan, but I understand why some people actively dislike him. He’s combative, in your face, opinionated, et cetera. Still, I think you gotta give it up, at least some of it, for a left-winger who’ll go on Fox and argue with the wingnuts. I’m not saying it’s a smart thing to do, but it takes guts.
Even for those not generally disposed to like Rall, I recommend today’s strip. It doesn’t have the mean streak, but it does have the political intuition and combativeness, along with the black humor.
I started to make this a comment on Jerry’s Kristol post, then decided the Russell quote wanted to be republished.
We start from the Times hiring of neocon attack dog and serial reality denier Bill Kristol, not only a neocon but the son-in-law of the father of the neocons; that is, he didn’t even make the journey from Trotskyism himself. Calculating an equation based admittedly on at least one irrational variable, I’m not surprised that Kristol didn’t know “Invictus”. And I don’t just ascribe this simply to his congenital inability to see reality; Bob Altemeyer explains all.
As the first term of the equation, I wasn’t taught most of what Jerry asked and my score on his test is embarassingly low, though I’m old enough to remember the Winston jingle, and I might do better on the yellow-submarine test. But even growing up in Appalachia, in the ninth grade I was taught “Beneath the blows of circumstance/my head is bloody but unbowed” (or maybe it should be “unbow’d”…). It was of the few poems I really fastened onto in public school, other than haiku which I loved as soon as I came across Basho. You gotta take a poet seriously who said that a great writer will produce perhaps a dozen quality poems in a lifetime; in other words he’s looking at 204 syllables. Otherwise my tastes in poetry were pedestrian, like nineteenth century; I was caught up in Beckett and Faulkner.
The second term of the equation is, perhaps confusingly, the first point: that “Invictus” is a strong statement, or more accurately a statement of strength. The way I read it, the poet has attained some level of comfort with the dangers of the world; he knows he’ll eventually be overcome by them but has made peace with that. Thus he has a certain superiority to his fate, which allows him to imagine himself unbeatable. As Bertrand Russell put it:
The life of Man, viewed outwardly, is but a small thing in comparison with the forces of Nature. The slave is doomed to worship Time and Fate and Death, because they are greater than anything he finds in himself, and because all his thoughts are of things which they devour. But, great as they are, to think of them greatly, to feel their passionless splendour, is greater still. And such thought makes us free men; we no longer bow before the inevitable in Oriental subjection, but we absorb it, and make it a part of ourselves. To abandon the struggle for private happiness, to expel all eagerness of temporary desire, to burn with passion for eternal things — this is emancipation, and this is the free man’s worship. And this liberation is effected by a contemplation of Fate; for Fate itself is subdued by the mind which leaves nothing to be purged by the purifying fire of Time.
This feeling, or philosophy, of harmony with the universe is entirely alien to the necons, and to Altemeyer’s right-wing authoritarians in general. One of their basic characteristics is the view, nearly always acquired in childhood, that the world is a dangerous and unfriendly place, people are basically bad-hearted, and you protect yourself from the necessity to interact with others if you can; in a word, their weltanshauung is fear. Combined with a sense of self-righteousness maintained by avoiding those who disagree with them, this produces a combination of subservience to convention and submission to authority with aggressive impulses that are inhibited until they’re perceived to be sanctioned by that authority. Thus an Altemeyerian High RSW.
Kristol and his fellow neocons are scared. They gained control and failed utterly, and now see themselves and their fearful prescriptions rejected wholesale by the society they inhabit and look down on. They can’t imagine seeing the world as William Ernest Henley did: they are neither the masters of their fates nor the captains of their souls. They know themselves poorly enough still to believe that all evil comes from outside. Thus they hate, and feel righteous about doing so. Their point of view requires universal agreement; otherwise the curtain will be drawn aside and they’ll be forced to confront the nagging feeling that they’re completely full of shit.
It may be that it is not poetry passing from the scene, but the strength of character and of world view required to grasp an idea entirely different from one’s own. As the machinery of society increasingly conforms to our individual whims, the difficulties inherent in personal relationships will become more irritating, and we’ll seek more balms for the pain of paying attention.
But I’m an optimist; I think relationships will continue to be worth it. For those for whom it’s too painful, we’ll have holodecks.
Below is the lede of William Kristol’s not too bad column in today’s New York Times.
In his victory speech after winning the South Carolina primary Saturday night, John McCain acknowledged the economic challenges we face, and then said: “But nothing is inevitable in our country. We are the captains of our fate.”
McCain comes from a generation that, in its youth, was made to memorize poetry. And when I was able to get in touch with him Sunday in Florida, he told me that one of the poems he had memorized in school was William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus” (1875).
It sounds from this as if Kristol spotted “captains of our fate” as something a little more flowery than McCain’s standard oratory, perhaps even poetry of some sort. In any event, an obscure reference worth chasing down with the senator himself.
If Kristol couldn’t quite place “Invictus” I’m not surprised. Ten years or so after he was graduated from Harvard, I warned one of my classes there not to put off something or other, since "at my back I always hear time's wingèd chariot hurrying near."
They looked puzzled, as if I had broken into demotic Greek. Did what I just said sound like me? I asked. No. Did you think it might have been a quotation? Probably. Has anyone ever heard of a poem called "To His Coy Mistress?" Of Andrew Marvell? No and no.
The next day I handed out the easiest poetry quiz I had been able to put together. The students were to fill in the missing word or words from lines that I figured every high school over-achiever would surely know…
I figured wrong. None of the freshmen got, "The boy stood on the burning _____." None got, "Half a league, half a league, half a league _____." One got, "Beneath the spreading chestnut tree the village _____ _____." One got, "I met a traveler from an antique _____." Only one got, "You're a better man than I am, _____ _____." (Two others guessed, "Charlie Brown.") The highest score was 14 right out of 20 questions; the lowest was two right; the average was seven.
The only question everybody got right was a freebie I had thrown in: "This Bud's for _____." Actually I thought I had thrown in another freebie, "Winstons taste good, like a _____ _____," but only four students got it. Cigarette ads, I remembered too late, had disappeared from TV when they were barely out of diapers. Nor was my class an exception. When a colleague, the poet Felicia Lamport, gave the same quiz to her students, they did no better.
Stupidity can hardly have been the reason. Harvard undergraduates are by no means as brilliant as the world imagines, but most of them are above average and a few are very bright indeed.
Nor were my students likely to have neglected their poetry homework in high school. They didn’t make it to Harvard by neglecting homework. If they hadn't learned poetry, no one had given it to them to learn.
This turned out to be the case. One or two of the students said they had been made to memorize a passage from Shakespeare in high school, but that was all. Most had been required to read a handful of poems; none had ever been moved to memorize one on his or her own. When I told them I had done that very thing as a schoolboy, and more than once too, they couldn't see the sense in it.
There they were then, poetry aliterates but no more to be blamed for that than a glass is to blame for being empty. Nobody had bothered to fill them, as a wonderful high school teacher named Jack McGiffert had once tried to fill me.
To see whether Mr. McGiffert had been an exception, though, I gave my quiz to the other writing teachers in the department. The older they were, the better they did. The youngest teacher, who was working on his doctoral dissertation in English Literature and is now a tenured professor, scored as poorly as my class had.
Well, what does all this mean except that each generation has its own language, its own poetry? After Felicia Lamport gave my test to her students they made up a test for her, with questions like, "We all live in a yellow _____." She only got two right.
This misses the point, though. I might have expected my father to be ignorant of Doonesbury, for instance, and he was. He might have expected me to be ignorant of Krazy Kat, and I was. But neither of us was ignorant of Poe and Whitman, Keats and Shelley, as Harvard's freshmen were and no doubt still are.
Still, what's the difference? Poetry is just the latest thing to have dropped off our cultural radar, after all; it joins mythology, the classics and the King James Bible below the horizon. And who cares, anyway?
Margaret are you grieving over golden oldies leaving? Of course you’re not. Who needs artifacts from the primitive dawn of communications technology when there’s a reality show right up there on the plasma screen?
So, yo, Margaret — This crud's for you.
If even one of you out there missed the absolute greatest newspaper story in years, I’d feel terrible if I didn’t put it up for you. The excerpt below is from the second-day story in today’s New York Times. But start with the first-day story.
Detective Rapp looked out the window and saw the unwieldy trio. Something about the way they struggled to balance the man in the chair caught his eye.
“At this point, when they approached closer, I saw the body and I said, ‘Well, this is a dead guy,’ ” Detective Rapp said on Wednesday in a phone briefing…
Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Simone de Beauvoir. “At 15,” Wikipedia tells us, “Simone de Beauvoir had already decided she would be a famous writer.” Apparently this is a legitimate aspiration for the French, following perhaps the example of Victor Hugo’s “I will be Chateaubriand or I will be nothing.”
Fans of de Beauvoir might enjoy the quiz at the Guardian. My score: 8 out of 10.
BTW, don’t click the photo until you’ve been quizzed (if you intend to be); the Wikipedia entry has the answers to some of the questions.
This is a painting by my severely autistic brother, Mickey. It shows one of the staff at his group home, Old North. Click on the picture for a larger version. If you’d like to see more, go to The Outsiders Gallery.
I have somewhere here a copy of Theodore Dreiser’s Tragic America. Don’t confuse this book with his earlier one that was made into a movie several times over. Fortunately someone has transcribed a portion of the book to the web. Published in 1931, the book received terrible reviews and even more terrible sales. The book is long on facts and figures which don’t stand the test of time. Nevertheless, the book does have its fine points. For all you fans of fhe Apple computer, Dreiser also had much to say about AT&T, Apple’s new marriage partner. As soon as I can find my copy, I'll be transcribing portions of it here. Stay tuned.
I decry the power of the Church and its use of that power, in America in particular! Throughout the world, as all know, the churches are so organized as to have the wealth, size and formation of a great corporation, a government, or an army. And in America, the wealthy individuals who rule in corporate affairs appear to be attracted to the church by reason of its hold not only on the mind but the actions of its adherents. Politically, socially and otherwise, they count on its power and influence as of use to them. And not without reason, since especially among the ignorant and poor, its revealed wisdom counsels resignation and orders faith in a totally inscrutable hereafter. In short, it makes for ignorance and submission in the working class, And what more could a corporation-minded government or financial group, looking toward complete control of everything for a few, desire? .......
But what are the aims and methods of procedure of these missionaries who proceed from America into China, India, Siam, and elsewhere? These are interesting, for, as you will see, they have their roots in something very peculiar here. In China, for instance, our missionaries — those of the Protestant persuasion, at least — work with the government there just as closely as do the corporations that have their origin in this land. And with the corporations there also. And are frequently as much the emissaries of American trade as of religion, and even more so. For whereas formerly the missionaries used to go to convey a spiritual message, to-day at least one very important phase of their purpose is to effect as well as share material or economic “blessings” for the natives, such blessings, for instance, as our ‘Very material corporations manufacture and seek to distribute as widely as possible; bathtubs, sewing machines, electric lights, or, refrigerators, or in other words, anything and everything that our modern corporations make. In other words again, "Make ‘em modern!” That means more business for home corporations, doesn't it? And I am not talking wildly, for only read, as I have done, the writings of our very up-to-date missionaries of this hour. And furthermore, most missionaries now believe that they should be protected with gunboats — they who supposedly represent that Jesus who taught peace! And to show the growth of our missions, the American Baptist Missionary Union, which was organized in 1846 and had nothing to go On, in 1893 had an income of $485,000. And now ....!
I would also note that a Wikpedia entry tells me that “[i]n 1935 the library trustees of Warsaw, Indiana ordered the burning of all the library’s works by Dreiser. ” The best books may very well be the ones that have been ordered burned .
I've done several posts featuring Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Many people have apparently been deeply moved by the song. The song does that for me.
For many years many people believed that the second movement was about the bombing of Guernica by Franco and Hitler. Recent revelations have revealed that this isn’t the story of the song, although the song is about death. Death is always a personal tragedy. So for those who have suffered death, either due to unfortunate circumstances, or due to authoritarians who create death for their own purposes, the story of Concierto de Aranjuez is one that should surely resonate in the soul of those who have one. So here is the story of Concierto de Aranjuez. And here is Rodrigo himself.
À peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l'azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d'eux.
Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
L'un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L'autre mime, en boitant, l'infirme qui volait!
Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l'archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l'empêchent de marcher.
— Charles Baudelaire —
Thank God for Peter in Germany, who casts an anthropologist’s eye on the United States of Repression for we who dwell inside the bubble. He sends this from The Independent:
One of Germany's best-selling children's authors is embroiled in an extraordinary transatlantic row about nudity after a U.S. publisher refused to accept one of her books because it contained naive sketches of an art gallery with works depicting naked bodies …
The 59-year-old author said her American publisher had refused to accept her latest book for U.S. distribution because it contained elements deemed potentially offensive, including drawings of people naked or smoking. Berner said her U.S. publisher, Boyds Mills Press, had objected in particular to one of her illustrations which showed adults and children in an art gallery where the portrait of a naked woman was on show together with a seven millimetre high sculpture of a naked man exhibiting a barely discernible penis …
Berner said no other country had raised similar objections. In Germany — a country where nude public bathing is normal — the author's spat with her U.S. publisher met with blank incomprehension. “Micropenis excites U.S. publishing house” wrote Der Spiegel magazine in its online edition.
I’d tell you what I think about all this, but why bother? Human Too Human has said it for me:
But to show scenes of war and destruction, to go to church and see paintings of naked men tortured and flogged and crucified, to even hear gory and morbid details of torments inflicted on “saints”, to be exposed for hours to the vulgarity and superficiality of TV shows, quizzes, ads and so forth is OK in the USA …
Time for some light entertainment again. Enjoy!
“No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.”
Since most of our readers probably weren’t able to see Joe Bageant speak in Philadelphia, he's kindly transcribed the text of his unusually cogent speech onto his webpage. Rest assured, Bageant fans — judging from the picture currently posted at the top of his webpage, it looks like Joe quickly reverted to the Joe Bageant we all know and love, the one whose taste for libations and raucous rhetoric appears to remain intact and unabated. A portion of Joe’s upbeat talk on the state of the nation follows. By all means go read the rest:
Here’s a fact that is so absurd you don't know whether to laugh or cry: Nearly 40% of households surveyed making less than $30,000 a year believe they are in the top 10% of Americans when it comes to income! In a similar, though more extreme national delusion, millions of North Koreans eating wild grass soup during the winter under Kim Jong-Il, believe they live in the richest nation on earth, and that America wants to attack them out of jealousy. Such are the results of successful propaganda.
More Rodrigo. Right now, only a fantasy.
I can’t pass up an opportunity to shill for my favorite author by pointing to a review of his book.
I found the review so in tune with my take on the book that I started looking for an email address for the reviewer. I mean, he even mentioned the edition I own and named its editor, well known in his own right.
Unfortunately I’m a bit late.
Kenneth Rexroth, a native of Indiana, became an icon of the San Francisco Beat movement. He was a political anarchist, poet, and gifted translator. Rexroth died in 1982. Many of his writings are available on the excellent Bureau of Public Secrets site.
Sounds like a man after my own heart. In fact it’s a bit spooky.
Here’s a few of the best paragraphs from the review:
One of the greatest stories, true or fictional, in all literature is Gibbon’s account of the life and martyrdom of Boethius under the Ostrogoth Theodoric. Senator, poet, philosopher, man of reason, he was the last of his kind in all these categories. The story is an incomparable masterpiece of prose. From the opening sentence, “The Senator Boethius is the last of the Romans whom Cato or Tully could have acknowledged for their countryman,” Gibbon builds a mighty organ toccata. He always seems to see ahead to every echo and resonance and inversion of rhythm, through the idyllic description of The Consolation of Philosophy to the terrible climax — the philosopher garroted and clubbed to death in the last gloomy hours of Theodoric, followed by the swift cadence, and the coda of the martyrdom of his fellow Senator Symmachus — four crowded pages of the most solemn music. Each man speaks in his own style. Gibbon speaks with such sublimity because, sitting in his quiet study, he was totally involved in the defense of reason against the triumph of barbarism and superstition and the ruin of all bright things.
At the beginning of the fall of Rome, Saint Augustine wrote The City of God; and Gibbon, looking back in his book from the walls of burning Constantinople in the final fall, on the eve of a new age of enlightenment, is in fact committed to the same interpretation of history as Augustine. Against the destructive irrationality of circumstance and the folly of mankind stands the community of the elect. In Augustine it is the community of faith; in Gibbon the elect of reason, a society that transcends history. The ideal Rome that Gibbon describes in his opening chapters on the Antonines is a passing avatar of the enduring City of Enlightenment. This, after all, is the subject of all tragedy: the defeat of the ideal by the real, of being by existence.
In his own time, Gibbon’s Latinate antithetical style already sounded archaic, yet it is still today eminently suited to his solemn subject. How else is one to describe the beauty, lechery, and political malevolence of Theodora, or the economic folly of her husband, Justinian, than in a quiet language derived from the letters of Cicero, the most ironic passages of Thucydides, and the innuendos of Tacitus? For the Muse of History appears like the child Theodora in the arena, dancing naked on the head of a bear, more often than she appears as the noble goddess of Livy’s and Plutarch’s mythologies. What better response to the spectacle than the caustic caution and gentlemanly calm, the prudent incredulity Gibbon developed in meditation on a thousand years of the slow triumph of disorder — meditation by the orderly Swiss lake of Voltaire’s exile?
I’ve been thinking for some time that a nice name for a poem might be “Ode to Pandora’s Box&rdquo since no one seems to have named a poem as such yet. I’ve even thought about writing something along those lines as a response to that famous Ode to a Grecian Urn. Alas. Writer’s block, perhaps more appropriately named the lazies has gotten me in its grip. Thus this poem entitled The Box by Lascelles Abercrombie will have to suffice for now. Happy Holidays one and all.
Once upon a time, in the land of Hush-A-Bye,
Around about the wondrous days of yore,
They came across a kind of box
Bound up with chains and locked with locks
And labeled “Kindly do not touch; it's war.”
A decree was issued round about, and all with a flourish and a shout
And a gaily colored mascot tripping lightly on before.
Don’t fiddle with this deadly box,Or break the chains, or pick the locks.
And please don’t ever play about with war.
The children understood. Children happen to be good
And they were just as good around the time of yore.
They didn’t try to pick the locks
Or break into that deadly box.
They never tried to play about with war.
Mommies didn't either; sisters, aunts, grannies neither
’Cause they were quiet, and sweet, and pretty
In those wondrous days of yore.
Well, very much the same as now,
And not the ones to blame somehow
For opening up that deadly box of war.
But someone did. Someone battered in the lid
And spilled the insides out across the floor.
A kind of bouncy, bumpy ball made up of guns and flags
And all the tears, and horror, and death that comes with war.
It bounced right out and went bashing all about,
Bumping into everything in store.And what was sad and most unfair
Was that it didn’t really seem to care
Much who it bumped, or why, or what, or for.
It bumped the children mainly. And I’ll tell you this quite plainly,
It bumps them every day and more, and more,
And leaves them dead, and burned, and dying
Thousands of them sick and crying.
‘Cause when it bumps, it's really very sore.
Now there’s a way to stop the ball. It isn’t difficult at all.
All it takes is wisdom, and I’m absolutely sure
That we can get it back into the box,And bind the chains, and lock the locks.
But no one seems to want to save the children anymore.
Well, that’s the way it all appears, ‘cause it’s been bouncing round
for years and years
In spite of all the wisdom wizzed since those wondrous days of yore
And the time they came across the box,
Bound up with chains and locked with locks,
And labeled “Kindly do not touch; it’s war.”