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