Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hoppin' John


Whether you just like Hoppin' John or think it will bring you good luck in the New Year, you can't lose.  It is one of those traditions born from slavery that has become savored by all over time,
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon bacon drippings
  • 3 cups cooked black-eyed peas
  • 1 cup chopped cooked ham, or ham hock as pictured above
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 3 cups hot cooked rice
  • salt to taste
  • sliced sweet onion, optional
full recipe

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

History and the Sense of the Tragic



Absalom, Absalom! seems to get less attention than other Faulkner novels, but as Cleanth Brooks notes,

The property of a great work, as T..S. Eliot remarked long ago, is to communicate before it is understood, and Absalom, Absalom! passes this test triumphantly.

At times, it seems Faulkner is more interested in his narrators' fates than he is his characters in this tumultuous novel which spans at least three generations.  He chooses to tell the story of Thomas Sutpen from multiple perspectives and a variety of settings, working at times from the thinnest strands of memory in piecing together this very compelling narrative.  It is perhaps the most compelling of all Faulkner's narratives, as he seeks to define not only what is black and white, but the many gradients in between, in the Old South.

Monday, December 26, 2011

So long, Christopher



I meant to publish this obituary earlier.  I see it has since been revised.  Christopher Hitchens managed to embed himself in American society and with his ascerbic wit find ways to skewer it that few other contemporary American journalists seemed capable of doing.  I thought his support for the Iraq war absurd, and it led to a breach between him and the liberal media, but in recent years he seemed to find favor again with his caustic attacks on Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and Conservatism in general.

I've enjoyed his op-ed pieces over the years, if not his books.  I thought it was presumptuous of him to feel he had reached the same "power of facing" as Orwell over the situation in Iraq.  Still, he certainly had the "power" of a good argument, even up to his last days. 

His positions remind me a lot of Thomas Paine.  Not surprisingly he was a big fan of Paine.  His critical examination of religion and its influence on politics at times appears straight out of The Age of Reason.   Unfortunately, now as then, we have been unable to come to terms with it in any meaningful way.  He will be missed.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This just in . . . from outer space

Donald Trump is now "unaffiliated" according to CNN "in order to preserve his right to run for president as an independent if he's not satisfied with who the Republicans nominate."  (That should be "whom" in the previous sentence, but that's minor.)  This is pretty rich, or at least so I thought until another late breaking non-story appeared on my computer screen.  What, you may be wondering, could be more of a non-story than this?

It seems Gary Busey, last seen acting up on Sober House, has withdrawn his endorsement of Newt Gingrich for President.  Said Busey, "It is not time for me to be endorsing anyone at this time! When there are the two final candidates, then I will endorse."  Only in what I thought was still America would anyone care about Busey's endorsement of anything, although who cares is beyond me.

Gosh, I wonder whom Kim Kardashian is endorsing.




Friday, December 23, 2011

Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues



When it comes to the Blues it doesn't get much better than Mississippi John Hurt.  I may have to put this title on my New Year's Wish List.

Christmas Caroling

Tracing back Christmas carols is a thorny business.  Several web sites credit Angels, from the realms of glory as the first carol delivered in church in 1857, but wiki digs much deeper, all the way back to the 4th century with hymns like Corde natus ex Parentis.  Wiki also notes that carols like Adeste Fideles (which I once had to memorize in Latin) date back to the 13th century.  But, the celebration of Christmas, as we know it today, is relatively new, and is primarily an outgrowth of the Second Awakening, emanating from England and spreading to America in the mid 19th century.   I leave you with the Three Tenors singing Adeste Fideles,

 

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

On the Campaign Trail


As the primaries near, I find myself recalling Tanner '88.  I remember watching it on HBO all those years ago.  I picked up the Criterion edition when it came out a few years back.  It is quite raw, but gives one a "real" sense of the primary process in New Hampshire.  Michael Murphy was excellent as Tanner, as was Pamela Reed as his campaign manager.  A young Cynthia Nixon played his daughter.  Well worth watching.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Disney's Folly


Nice to think that Walt Disney was once a maverick, bucking commericial trends with great animated features like Snow White and FantasiaDisney's Folly was the moniker of Snow White and Seven Dwarfs when it first appeared in 1937.  It was his brother Roy who dubbed the film, saying there was no market for animated feature films.  Looks like Walt got the last laugh.   Maybe Grumpy was Roy?

Hard to believe it was so long ago.  Here's the original trailer

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Wright Cycle Company

The historic note on the Wright Bros. first flight brought to mind that they were first known for their bicycles.  I always wondered if the bicycle in this wonderful scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a Wright bicycle,



Here's a page on the cycle company.  Here's another page with wonderful photos from the Wright Bros. archives, including their signature Van Cleve bicycle.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

One war is over



US President Barack Obama has marked the end of the war in Iraq with a speech in which he welcomed home thousands of US troops.

Addressing soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne Division, Mr Obama stopped short of declaring victory in Iraq but called the winding down of the conflict "an extraordinary achievement".

"It is harder to end a war than to begin one," he told about 3,000 soldiers gathered in an airplane hangar as they punctuated his speech with cheers and hollers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Author of Containment


George Kennan has been treated to a magesterial biography by John Lewis Gaddis.  Foreign Affairs provides a lengthy book review, noting that he

... foresaw the arc of every major war of his lifetime. In 1940, he accurately predicted when the United States would engage Germany and how long it would take for his country to win; in the summer of 1950, he warned of giving too much power to General Douglas MacArthur in Korea; in 1966, he diagnosed the dangers of fighting in Vietnam and urged a dignified withdrawal.

For those who don't subscribe to FA, here is another long review from The New York Review of Books.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Miesian Exchange


As my thoughts drift, I'm reminded of the Case Study Houses (1945-1966), a program sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine.  Perhaps the signature work of this series is the Stahl House, or Case Study House #22

The idea was to bring European modernism to America.  One might call this The Miesian Exchange as Mies van der Rohe is regarded as the godfather of this movement.  He came to the States in 1938 and became an American citizen in 1944.  His only built project during this time was an apartment redux for Philip Johnson, who was a big fan of Mies and promoted his work.  This eventually led to the commission for the Farnsworth House, outside Chicago, which would radically redefine American residential architecture, and later the iconic Seagram Building, which redefined the tall building. 

John Entenza sponsored over 30 residential projects in the LA area.  He enlisted local architects like Richard Neutra, Craig Ellwood, Charles and Ray Eames and many others.  The idea was to keep the ideas simple and elegant, with the appearance of prototypical parts.  You might say these were the first pre-fab modern houses, although Frank Lloyd Wright was experimenting with similar pre-fabricated ideas in his Usonian houses at the same time.

Julius Shulman provides a stunning photographic record of these houses and many others from that bygone "Modernist" era.

Heavy Horses


Straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak.  All this talk about Jethro Tull made me look up his famous essay on Horse-hoeing Husbandry on Google Books.  The link keys you into page 136, but you can scroll back to the beginning.  Here are the opening lyrics to the rock group's 1978 song,

Iron-clad feather-feet pounding the dust,
An October's day, towards evening,
Sweat embossed veins standing proud to the plough,
Salt on a deep chest seasoning.
Last of the line at an honest day's toil,
Turning the deep sod under,
Flint at the fetlock, chasing the bone,
Flies at the nostrils plunder.
The Suffolk, the Clydesdale, the Percheron vie
With the Shire on his feathers floating.
Hauling soft timber into the dusk
To bed on a warm straw coating.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On the Nature of Things



Not really American history, but Stephen Greenblatt took home the National Book Award for The Swerve, in which he unwinds the tangled origins of the Renaissance, by focusing on an unlikely early 15th century protagonist, Poggio Bracciolini, who unearths a "bargain prose translation of Lucretius’s 2,000-year-old De rerum natura (“On the Nature of Things”) and discovers one of the most subversive poems ever written."  It sounds like something Umberto Eco would write. The book has received rave reviews far and wide, including this one in The Telegraph.

The Paradise Syndrome


This appears to be the full episode of The Paradise Syndrome (Stardate 4842.6 for ST buffs), one of a handful to deal expressly with American historical themes.  The episode finds Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy on a distant planet that bears a remarkable resemblance to earth.  They come across an obelisk, where Kirk falls through a hatch into an inner chamber, and has his memory cleansed.  He soon finds himself treated as a deity among the native villagers. The episode plays on a number of white man-meets-native themes, although the stereotypes that are presented have irritated a few critics over the years.  Here's a link to Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future which offers criticism of the series.

You might recognize Sabrina Scharf, who played Kirk's love interest in this episode.  She had quite a number of small parts in movies and television episodes in the 60s and 70s, including Easy Rider

Friday, November 25, 2011

Short History of the Sugar Beet



I always associated sugar with sugar cane until I came to Europe, but sugar beets are a major source of sugar in the world, and taste good to boot.  Surprisingly, it wasn't until 1747 that it was discovered that sugar could be derived from Beta vulgaris by a German chemist, Andreas Margraff.  You can read more about the wonders of this beet root at this Univ. of Nebraska website.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Brinkley v. Young

 

I have to hand it to Douglas Brinkley for taking US Rep. Don Young to task on protocol and drilling in the the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Here's a clip from the heated exchange before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Absalom, Absalom!


This is perhaps Faulkner's most haunting work, especially given that it is narrated by that tormented soul, Quentin Compson, when asked by a Harvard classmate to tell a story about the South.  What follows is a narrative like no other, casting the South as if from the pages of the Old Testament.  I was hoping to find Shelby Foote's 1936 review, but this is the closest I got.  The book cast quite a spell on me when I read it some years ago, and would love nothing more than to read the original edition again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Drought reveals history


BLUFFTON, Texas - Johnny C. Parks died two days before his first birthday more than a century ago. His grave slipped from sight along with the rest of the tiny town of Bluffton when Lake Buchanan was filled 55 years later.  Now, the cracked marble tombstone engraved with the date Oct. 15, 1882, which is normally covered by 20 to 30 feet of water, has been eerily exposed as a yearlong drought shrinks one of Texas' largest lakes.

Read more ...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seeds that changed the world



More on how seeds changed the world.  This is a book by Henry Hobhouse, first published in 1985, and now expanded to included six socially significant Seeds of Change.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History



I've added this excellent website to the list of other sites on the sidebar.  It is a great resource and really seems to promoting American History in education, which is sorely needed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011



Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich tried to evoke the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate in an attempt to put substance before politics, laying out approaches to governance, rather than simply offering soundbites.  From what little I watched, it seemed a mostly self-congratulatory evening with the two candidates trading compliments more than barbs, and making every attempt to appeal to their Tea Party audience.  A far cry from the debates Lincoln and Douglas staged for an Illinois Senate seat in 1858, where the two had profoundly different views on slavery, with Lincoln setting the stage for his eventual presidential run in 1860.

Sadly, it seems history is moot these days.  Candidates often evoke the past without any real knowledge of the events they allude to.  This is especially true of this event, which was really nothing more than a high-priced fundraiser ($200 a ticket) featuring two of the GOP presidential candidates.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Collective Bargaining Wins



This stamp was issued in 1975 to honor 40 years of the Wagner Act.  It seems that for the last 40 years the Republicans have done everything in their power to try to roll back this legislation.  They took a big blow in Ohio, where more than 60% of the state voted against Kasich's new bill that would have greatly restricted collective bargaining.  It seems Americans are finally waking up to what is happening.  Mississippians also rejected a bill that would have stated life begins at fertilization.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Columbian Exchange: A Reading of 1493



This month's reading group selection is 1493 by Charles Mann, which takes the reader on a very personal journey of the afermath of Columbus' "discovery" of America.  Mann covers much of the road himself, similar to Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, illustrating how profoundly the discovery of America reshaped the global map.  Not just in terms of geography, but it terms of "ecological imperialism" and the advent of "globalization" with the discovery of silver and its use as currency in exchange for Chinese silk.  Feel free to discuss the issues raised in this book.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Paradise Lust



A book that explores Columbus' theory of the earth being pear-shaped, like the Virgin Mary's breast, and many other theories concerning the location of the Garden of Eden ; )

Friday, October 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Guggenheim!


The Guggenheim is one of my favorite modern buildings.  This was one of the shining moments for Frank Lloyd Wright, as his exploration in circles was not one of his best periods in architecture.  When the museum explored the possibility of an addition, the city quickly moved to give the building landmark status, so that whatever was done to it could not impact the original design in any detrimental way, so Gwathmey Siegel essentially treated the addition as a stage house, giving the museum a very theatrical quality.  Here's a wonderful book, published a couple years ago, that illustrates the creative process behind the building of the museum.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Constitutionally Speaking


We've all seen how the Tea Party has busily been reinterpreting the Constitution to suit its interests, often treating it as commandments handed down from the Mount.  Not to mention all the quotes they have been attributing to the Founding Fathers, which you won't find in Bartlett's Quotations.I saw this zinger, "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible,"  attributed to George Washington.  It seems most within this movement have never read the Constitution nor have the first inkling of its origins, much less the religious dispositions of our Founding Fathers.

I got into some arguments with old chums on Facebook over the supposed "divine right" of the Constitution, noting that only once is "Lord" mentioned in the Constitution and that to signify the year of our Lord, not in any direct reference to the Bible, which they firmly believe the Constitution is derived from.

When I tell them that they would be more comfortable with the Articles of Confederation, like their friend Patrick Henry, they scoff, mostly because they don't even know what these articles were.  The kicker today was someone quoting the preface to the Declaration of Independence, blithely unaware that when Jefferson referred to Nature's God he was referring to God in the pantheistic sense, not the Biblical sense, completely unaware that Jefferson, like most of his fellow Founding Fathers, was a Deist.

So, I posted this great website on Facebook that enumerates many of the Things That Are Not in the U.S. Constitution.

Friday, October 14, 2011

They don't make them like they used to


Here's a short piece on the assassination attempt of Theodore Roosevelt, prompting Teddy to quip, "It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose," in the speech he still insisted on giving.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Meandering with Columbus


Although Columbus pretty much kept a straight line, following the 30th Meridian, he had no real idea where he was at, even after four voyages.  So, it seems only fitting that we meander with Columbus as he skirted the coastline of the Caribbean in search of a passage to the Orient, believing at one point that he had found the sacred nipple of the Virgin Mary, as he could think of no other reason to account for the fresh waters streaming from the Orinoco.  It was really amusing reading Boorstin's The Discoverers.
.............

The image is of Gerard Depardieu as Columbus in 1492.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why the Rich Get Richer


Hacker and Pierson refreshingly break free from the conceit that skyrocketing inequality is a natural consequence of market forces and argue instead that it is the result of public policies that have concentrated and amplified the effects of the economic transformation and directed its gains exclusively toward the wealthy. Since the late 1970s, a number of important policy changes have tilted the economic playing field toward the rich. Congress has cut tax rates on high incomes repeatedly and has relaxed the tax treatment of capital gains and other investment income, resulting in windfall profits for the wealthiest Americans. 

From Foreign Affairs

Thursday, October 6, 2011

iSteve


Ever since 2003, one had the feeling Steve Jobs' days were numbered, and the recent announcement that he had stepped down as Chairman of Apple carried a very ominous ring to it.  His long battle with pancreatic cancer is over.

Walter Isaacson is the latest biographer to tackle the story of Steve Jobs.  The book is due out late next month.  It was tentatively titled iSteve, but it seems the publishers wanted to give Jobs full respect.

Listening to the CNN memorial this morning, I heard "genius" and "visionary" tossed around a lot, but it struck me that Steve was first and foremost a good businessman.  He knew the value of good packaging, good advertising and cultivating a strong and committed market for his product.  What started out as an everyman's personal computer became a highly successful niche industry, as Apple computers became prized possessions.  The long waiting lines in front of his Apple stores for the latest igadget are testimony to his great marketing skills.  The store fronts became symbolic in themselves.



But, one certainly can't deny the tremendous impact this man had on the personal computer industry, portable music and the fully loaded telephone.  He was also instrumental in developing Pixar into the multi-billion dollar animated feature company it became, even if he was ready to jettison the project when the best it could initially produce were a few commercials and  award-winning short features.

He will be missed.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Going Rogue


Speaking of "Rogue Republics," that must have been the way the fledgling United States with its Articles of Confederation was seen by Great Britain.  After a long war and much hemming and hawing between the states it was finally decided that these Articles needed to be revised.  Of course, the state legislatures which appointed the delegates were stunned to see a whole new Constitution presented for ratification, which resulted in some fierce political lines being drawn that remain to this day.

We read Pauline Maier's impressive account of the Ratification, but perhaps even more interesting is how the country held together between 1777 and 1789, the pride many of these states took in their charters and the constitutions they had drawn up, which they didn't want infringed upon in anyway.  Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood have written extensively on the subject.  I'm a big fan of Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.  He gives the events the intimacy they deserve.

I think herein, we also find the roots of such firebrand "parties" as the Tea Party.  Their brand of "nativism" has many precedents, but since they love to cite American history, maybe they should familiarize themselves with the Articles of Confederation, which is much closer to their ideological bent than is the Constitution they claim to uphold.

Reshaping the New World


Seems that The Golden Age is a continuation of Rivers of Gold, charting the Spanish influence in the Americas from 1520 to 1558, during the reign of Charles V, taking in Pizarro's Conquest of Peru.  Hugh Thomas seems to have a very well developed understanding of Spanish history in the Americas, having written quite a number of books on the subject.

Monday, October 3, 2011

For Her True Love of Liberty


Seems every state wants independence these days.  I found this interesting book, The Rogue Republic, on the Internet the other day.  West Florida shared a similar short-lived independence like Texas before joining the Union.  Always got a kick out of the fact that when acquiring the Louisiana Purchase, the Jefferson administration thought West Florida was part of the deal, only to find out it was still in Spanish hands.  Nothing a little "rebellion" couldn't cure.  This was their "marching song,"
West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru’ the world shall be respected,
For her true love of Liberty. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Bill O'Reilly's Lincoln



Sorry, but I couldn't resist posting this.  Republicans have generally distanced themselves from Lincoln.  After all, he instituted the first federal income tax to fund the Civil War, conscripted soldiers, successively abolished slavery and began the federally-sponsored Reconstruction of Southern states, all of which would be anathema to present-day Republicans, except maybe abolition of slavery.  So what does Bill O'Reilly have to say about Lincoln?

To read this article from The Daily Beast, it seems O'Reilly has essentially made Killing Lincoln into a political potboiler, and if successful plans more books in this vein.O'Reilly boasts of an extensive "Presidential Library."  With his money, he certainly can afford some prized first editions, but he isn't willing to divulge the contents of his library for fear that he might attract unwanted attention.  As it is, he has a close security watch given the "death threats" he receives.

O'Reilly has also been promoting his book on The Daily Show.  Seems he and Jon Stewart have developed an amicable relationship over the years.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who's Afraid of Shirley Jackson?



I remember reading The Lottery in high school.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of it then and have long thought to revisit the novella.  Abebooks  pays Shirley Jackson her due, with a wonderful collection of first editions.  Library of America also has a collection of her novels and stories, with a forward by Joyce Carol Oates.

In the Shadow of Columbus


Charles Mann's new book, 1493, is garnering rave reviews.

Voltaire would have loved Charles C. Mann’s outstanding new book, “1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.” In more than 500 lively pages, it not only explains the chain of events that produced those candied fruits, nuts and gardens, but also weaves their stories together into a convincing explanation of why our world is the way it is. 

That's pretty impressive when even Voltaire gives his "thumb's up!"

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

I am admittedly way behind the times in both reading and recommending this book.  It has been sitting on my shelf since early in 2008.  If you have already read all you ever plan to read about Iraq, I understand completely.

Chandrasekaran's book, however, is both well written and illuminating.  Or maybe illuminating isn't quite the right word for this tale of American hubris run amok.  I mean, how many books have been written about members of the American military industrial complex acting like total idiots and squandering vast sums of money in the process?  

Of the cast of characters presented here, Bernie Kerik (remember him?) combines stupidity and arrogance in almost Herculean proportions.  It's comforting to know that he is now behind bars, albeit for criminal activities having nothing to do with his short stay in Iraq.  Too bad more of his Green Zone compatriots haven't found their way into a small cell somewhere. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Canadian Meander


Not to bump the airstream's pride of place, but we haven't had a good meander in a long time. This one is from Canada.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Silver City



I finished Americana this week.  Interesting collection of "dispatches" over a 15-20 year span of time. It lacked any cohesiveness, but Hampton Sides touched on some interesting themes.  I liked his description of the Airstream conventions held every year, in which thousands gather at pre-selected sites to create a gleaming "silver city" and swap road stories and engage in various activities.  They name their club after Wally Byam, who launched the first Airstream caravan back in 1936.  More important, he set an ethos in caravaning that lives to this day, with events held all around the world.  Sides notes one particular road trip that stretched from Cape Town to Cairo, taking in the immense reach of Africa in 1959.

Chloroform in Print


Probably more about Joseph Smith than any "Gentile" would care to know, but Richard Lyman Bushman's biography has garnered mostly favorable reviews, including this one from the New York Times.  Bushman is a Mormon himself, but apparently went to great lengths to write an "unbiased" account of  "The Prophet," setting him within the religious ferment of the time.  After all, America was going through a second "Great Awakening," so it's not surprising Smith was able to quickly find adherents to his unique vision, which Mark Twain called "chloroform in print."

You really do have to wonder at the gullibility of people to swallow such a far-fetched story, replete with golden tablets, which he never produced.  Apparently, it was these golden tablets that sent Thomas Stuart Ferguson on his quest to find the lost tribe of Nephites in the jungles of the Yucatan, eventually setting up the New World Archeological Foundation, which still functions today.  Smith himself had hinted that this may be the place where the famous battle between the Lamanites and Nephites took place, after reading John Lloyd Stephens' Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, published in 1837, and that the long form version of The Book of Mormon might be buried there.  Twenty-five years of fruitless digging (at least as far as any evidence of Nephites is concerned) resulted in a serious crisis of faith for Ferguson, who was forced to admit there was no archeological basis for anything Smith had written in his book.

Yet, there are many Mormons who still hold to Smith's gospel, which he supposedly "translated" from some Egyptian-like hieroglyphs with the help of magic stones, only to bury the golden tablets again as the angel Moroni instructed him to.   You have to hand it to Smith in covering his bases, as any good storyteller does.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Theory Toolbox

I hope you all won't mind this short break from politics.  The book at left is one I have recently become aware of and will be using in a freshman seminar in the spring.  The subtitle, "Critical Concepts for the Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences," definitely makes it sound like a textbook, which is how I will be using it.  But it's not your average textbook.

Young people, or at least many of the ones I see in my classrooms,  are not sufficiently curious about the great big world around them.  Part of that may be a result of growing up in the Bible Belt, but the lack of curiosity goes beyond that.  It's not that they are afraid to ask questions, they don't quite understand why any questions need to be asked in the first place.

The authors of this book provide a pretty cool introduction to some pretty big theories.  The idea is not to knock some healthy skepticism into them as much as it is to help them figure out how to think about theoretical concepts that are in conflict.  Or at least that is one way I plan to use the book.

Even though you won't be enrolling in my freshman seminar, I recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In the Shadow of No Towers

 
I found myself looking through Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers the yesterday.  It is a very nice tribute to the event without reducing the event to a maudlin commemoration as we have seen over the years.  Spiegelman combines pathos and humor in the best tradition.  Often it seems you can convey a greater sense of an event such as this through graphics than you can through words.  I'm sure he would be raked over the coals by "The Five" today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kicking a Hornets' Nest



Seems Paul Krugman kicked a hornets' nest in his 911 blog entitled Years of Shame.  He didn't allow comments on the blog, but that didn't stop people from commenting, including the political pundits at Fox News, calling him a "creep" and a "coward."  The blog caused so much outrage that even our dear Donald Rumsfeld was compelled to cancel his subscription to the NY Times.  Reminds me of the media gang bang when Bill Maher had the audacity to say that the terrorists weren't cowards in the immediate aftermath of 911.

Seems whenever we have one of these deeply emotional events, Americans are all supposed to fall in line, or at least keep quiet, so as not to rain on anyone's parade.  And, what a media parade we had this past Sunday.  The coverage was non-stop, following events in the three hallowed sites that have now become so firmly embedded in American memory. 

It has indeed been "Years of Shame," as the Bush administration shamefully exploited 911 to concoct two wars, which Obama continues to perpetuate.  Not to mention the shameful Homeland Security Act which is still in effect, the shameful detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the shameful renditions and tortures no one has made the least contrition for.  The untold cost of the "War on Terror" appears to have no end.

But, on 9-11, we are all supposed to give pause and only remember those who died, especially those who bravely gave their lives to save others from the World Trade Center towers that have become even more symbolic than the Statue of Liberty.  How dare Paul Krugman question the motivations of George Bush, Rudy Guliani and Bernie Kerik!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Hips that Shook the World!



On a lighter note.  Hard to believe it was 55 years ago.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What Happened to Obama?


I asked myself this question today and found this op-ed piece by Drew Westen posted last month in the New York Times.  Westen paints a broad historic picture which Obama has failed to live up to.  There was no question that the President had a good first 100 days, passing an historic budget plan that offered badly needed relief to a devastated economy.  Unfortunately during the health care debate, Obama lost his momentum and hasn't been able to recover it since.

It appears that Obama is more a product of his press handlers than he is himself.  This man who presented himself as a "blank slate" onto which you could project your hopes and aspirations has left few people satisfied after nearly 3 years in office.  I'm reminded of The Candidate from 1972, in which Robert Redford was able to project the aura of a leader Californians were looking for, only to ask his advisers "what next?" when he pulled off his improbable Senate victory.

Obama has the opportunity to stimulate the country once again with his speech to a joint session of Congress on his proposed American Jobs Act.  At $300 billion, it doesn't sounded overly promising, but if he can assert himself and make Americans feel he has their best interests in mind, maybe he can turn a corner and put the onus back on the Republicans, who have effectively hijacked government since taking the House last year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Better this World


By some good fortune I turned on the t.v. to see this film just starting. An amazing film. And it's available online, linked above. For some reason, I didn't pay any attention to the 2008 GOP convention or, more to the point, what was happening in the streets. I'm fairly confident, though, the news channels weren't showing what was really happening in any event.

Trailer here: http://www.pbs.org/pov/betterthisworld/trailer.php

Miss America Turns 90!


Miss America was originally conceived as a publicity stunt for Atlantic City.  Margaret Gorman was the big winner.  It has since blossomed into one of the signature media events of the year.  Lee Meriweather was the first televised winner in 1955, resulting in a number of television roles including Catwoman, although she is probably best remembered for her role opposite Buddy Ebsen in Barnaby Jones.  In 1997, contestants were allowed to further reveal themselves with the introduction of the two-piece swim suit.  Despite attempts to keep this a wholesome event, any number of scandals have plagued the event.  Remember Vanessa Williams being stripped of her title when it was found out she had posed nude for Penthouse back in 1984?  She also went onto have a very successful television career and can be currently seen in Desperate Housewives.  She showed her good humor, not to mention her curvacious body for Allure magazine in 2007.   Miss America has also resulted in political wives like Phyllis George Brown.  Who was your favorite Miss America?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Bohemian Club


Hampton Sides has a very interesting chapter on the Bohemian Club.  It was a San Francisco club that started in 1872 and included such early luminaries like John Muir, Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, and Jack London, but became supplanted by local conservative tycoons who turned it into a redoubt for the Republican Party. 

According to this amusing Vanity Fair article, dated 2009, it has essentially become a pissing contest, although the question now is whether the club is leasing logging rights to the old growth redwoods on their 2700-acre private reserve known as Bohemian Grove.  It wouldn't be much of a surprise, given the disregard conservatives have for the environment.  What is amazing is their need for a pristine retreat like this, but I suppose it gives them a sequestered place to go through male bonding rituals like the "Cremation of Care."

At the center of the Grove is a huge concrete statue of an owl, which judging by this picture has seen better days.  I suppose it gives some sense of age to the place, if the 3000 year-old Redwoods weren't enough. The Grove appears relatively easy to infiltrate. There have been any number of accounts written up over the years, with Kerry Richardson being the most obsessed tracker of the many distinguished visitors in his ongoing journal

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Measuring the Pulse of the Country


I've been reading Hampton Sides' Americana.  It is not really a "road trip" in the sense of Travels with Charley or even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, although he starts in Vegas with a madcap skateboarding and motorcycle extravaganza called HuckJam, put in on by daredevil Tony Hawk.  It is a series of dispatches from different times that in their own way measure the pulse of the country.

I assume he wrote most of these "chapters" for magazines over the years.  I liked the way he deconstructed G. Gordon Liddy in his chapter, Waiting for Liddy, in which he takes one of Liddy's "security seminars" only to find out Liddy just had his name affixed to the program and makes his entry only at the end to hand out diplomas.

His piece on Russell Means was very good, as Sides manages to encapsulate the rise and fall of the American Indian Movement in one man, along the acrimonious feuds he has had in the years since the movement ground to a halt with most of its leaders behind bars.

There is a bit of the Gonzo in the way Sides is able to capture details, but he prefers to write straight up, letting the persons he interviews in "American Originals" pretty much speak for themselves, except Liddy, who he was unable to pin down for anymore than a few quips.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Chitlin' Circuit


The Chitlin’ Circuit story that unfolded through old newspapers, interviews with aged jitterbugs, torn scrapbooks, and city directories crossed unexpected backroads: the numbers racket, hair straighteners, multiple murders, human catastrophe, commercial sex, bootlegging, international scandal, female impersonation, and a real female who could screw a light bulb into herself — and turn it on. . . . These are the intertwined stories of booking agents, show promoters, and nightclub owners, the moguls who controlled wealth throughout the black music business. Until records eclipsed live shows as the top moneymakers, new sounds grew on the road and in nightclubs, through the dance business rather than in the recording studio. Though the moguls’ names are not recognized among the important producers of American culture, their numbers rackets, dice parlors, dance halls, and bootleg liquor and prostitution rings financed the artistic development of breakthrough performers.

Harlem Renaissance Novels



Continually impressed by what Library of America comes out.  This looks like a very impressive set of novels.
.......

Now, for the first time in this definitive two-volume set, their greatest works are presented in a handsome collector’s edition featuring authoritative texts and a chronology, biographies, and notes reflecting the latest scholarship.
  • Cane, Jean Toomer
  • Home to Harlem, Claude McKay
  • Quicksand, Nella Larsen
  • Plum Bun, Jessie Redmon Fauset
  • The Blacker the Berry, Wallace Thurman
  • Not Without Laughter, Langston Hughes
  • Black No More, George Schuyler
  • The Conjure-Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher
  • Black Thunder, Arna Bontemps
Together, the nine works in Harlem Renaissance Novels form a vibrant collective portrait of African American culture in a moment of tumultuous change and tremendous hope. “In some places the autumn of 1924 may have been an unremarkable season,” wrote Arna Bontemps, one of the novelists in the collection. “In Harlem it was like a foretaste of paradise.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

One more Time at the OK Corral


Speaking of the "Old West," here is a review of The Last Gunfight by the author of Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends.  Seems Jeff Guinn runs into a few snags in recounting this well documented gunfight.  It has received mixed reviews, but sounds entertaining just the same.  Loved this scene from the old Star Trek series where James, Scotty, Doc and Spock are forced to play out the gunfight.