a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Issue #26 (December 30, 2009)

DuPage River, Naperville, Illinois

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the desk of Chris Collins...

fragments (or: this is lower-case cognition in the internet age)


"As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The only day of the year we admit we wear costumes." --Mike Watt on Halloween; Watt from Pedro Show, 10.31.09

"I don't like the country; the crickets make me nervous." --Brando; On the Waterfront


art must do justice to the strangeness of life.

tragedy is about nobility, comedy is about ignobility. the purpose of fiction is to present us with these two extremes of the human condition.

if it doesn't have a serious point, it's not irony.

the problem is not that the majority of product released, as in books, is no good. that's always been the case. what matters is that the very best stuff being produced is not as good as the very best stuff produced in past years.

beauty is transcended suffering.


americans don't argue politics, they argue people.

politicians represent the people who vote for them rather than the people they're elected to represent.

the news cycle mentality: "if it happened yesterday, it didn't happen."

politics is about resources, about how the pie gets divvied up. ideology is the matter of how the requisite 'we' of politics is defined. now how do 'we' obtain a larger slice of the pie?

recovery? here's a measure of economic malaise: tally the commercial real estate vacancies in your neighborhood.


the psychotic minimalism of the two chord Stooges groove may have its origin here. see also: the metronomic hammering of c. '65-66 american garage rock.

dissonance is to music as suffering is to tragic narrative.

the look-ma-i'm-clever indie ethos

indie rock characteristic: lack of inflection (rhythmic autism); in contradistinction to blues which is inflection-heavy

genre which by some psychological quirk I have absolutely no use for: mopey british pop/rock (the cure, the smiths, radiohead, coldplay)

holst: the bringer of metal?

rarely is the question asked: what would husker du?


the dread of the lucky man: when will the luck turn?

pentecostal delirium, perfervid romanticism

Suicide rates by nation

old politicians never die, they just get shot and become saints. (lincoln, gandhi, king, the kennedys, john lennon)

It's worth keeping in mind that the states were reunified in the mid-19th century with violence. The subsequent American union may be only incrementally more natural than the Soviet was. Assassinations of the executive could be an index of latent political violence. Four presidents out of 43 were assassinated, two were injured in assassination attempts: a rate of 9% assassinated while in office. Furthermore America's 1-per-100 incarceration rate, the world's highest, is not altogether indicative of a healthy polity.


quantity degrades quality. technology has granted us infinite means to deliver thoughts prematurely or merely strangle them in the crib.

rock & roll ambition: waking at the crack of dusk


LA-based Jerry Quarry was a top heavyweight contender of the late '60s and early '70s. His was another sad story of a good fighter fighting on for too long. In the last years before his death in his 50s, he was reportedly in an advanced state of dementia.

Quarry was initially a cautious counterpuncher. Counterpunchers are not aggressors. They start slow, feeling out their opponent in the opening rounds, studying his timing, then striking when the other guy opens himself up to throw. When his performance in a fight with Jimmy Ellis brought him volumes of public criticism, something changed in him.

"The hate mail started coming in, all these punks who wouldn't have the guts to get into a ring... telling me how to fight. My back was in a cast for two months after that fight, and I did a lot of thinking. If they wanted me to be an animal, then that's what I would be." (New York Magazine)

So he began to trade punches, most dramatically in his first bout with Joe Frazier, a blow-for-blow slugfest in which Frazier eventually pulled ahead.

Quarry was able to take the punishment without going over. In most of his big losses he was stopped on cuts. His losing bouts with A-level fighters Frazier and Muhammad Ali -- two with each -- tarnished his reputation. However, by general consensus he's now ranked among the best heavyweight contenders to never win a title.

Jerry Quarry Chronicles: Part 1. Part 2.
(a good career summary narrated by Bert Sugar. Quarry's spot-on Ali impression is featured at the start of part 2.)

TV interview (Quarry sums up his career, probably in the early '80s. Audio is poor.)

[photo: Quarry vs. Floyd Patterson, 1967]

lifestyle section

Trend pieces have long been regarded as an emblem of lazy workaday journalism, the mere lumping together of long extant phenomena into an apparent sociologically significant adjustment in lifestyle or consumer behavior. Recently, however, given the enduring stress of filling a major newspaper, writers are finding that the utility of the trend piece template has, contrary to the conventional wisdom, not abated at all. "It's simple," says Arthur Rosen, section editor for the New York Times. "As a newspaper we've got space to fill. The trend piece may not be flashy but it gets the job done. Sometimes the old ways are the good ways."

Further information: The Universal Modular Trendpiece, by Chris Mohney.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci...

The Investors Business Daily was founded by William O’Neil in 1984 in Los Angeles. Its main reason for existence is stock analysis, which O’Neil had been doing on his own since the fifties. Like the Wall Street Journal has done over a longer period of time, the IBD has built up a useful couple of pages of editorials which one can get for free online. The rest of the paper is Greek to me, though it is pitched for the younger trader and has a charming feature where they profile some high-achiever’s qualities that got him to the top of his field, be that sports, science, literature, business, etc. Here’s a sample of those; this on Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

The IBD is high-priced on the newsstand, and not a full-service newspaper in the way the WSJ and the Financial Times are, but I always check the editorials in the newsletter they email out every evening. That the IBD is based in Los Angeles gives it its own kind of impatient, practical bent as well. It doesn’t have that sense of itself as a player on the stage, unlike the WSJ, the NYT, or the L.A. Times. So they often hit things first and sharply, and they aren’t above a little venal shin-kicking; this means they can make mistakes but usually when they are accused of lying they are hitting home hard. Of course it doesn’t do the kind of business or news reporting the WSJ does, but you do find useful and mercifully short editorials that present some information or analysis about the issues of the day. These are the unsigned editorials. The guest columns are usually paired left and right and include well known DC columnists well distributed elsewhere.

Here’s a recent editorial about yet another variable stumbled onto by someone studying something else in the air, namely the ozone hole and CFCs. And here is one from last week about California and what seems its only child, Crisis. I’m working/shirking on a larger piece about California so I won’t add to it now. But onto health-care here’s the IBD take on Medical innovation which seems to me relevant in other ways too, since what we’re getting is something modeled on Canada or Britain… If most technical, therapeutic and pharmacological innovation occurs here, then these slower moving national health systems have been keying off of the American system’s vitality and creativity and are somewhat dependant on them as they can stint on research; they merely have to decide which American procedures and products to provide and which to deny. This means not only might the U.S. “fall back to the pack” now, it might also force changes in what is presumed to be the better way o’er there and then back here before we know it.


Bill Daley, brother of Richard M., doesn’t need the Washington Post editorial page to make a point to President Obama, so this column must be intended to help the President and the party deal with Democratic leadership and committee chairmen in Congress that the Daleys in their likely wisdom feel are leading the party to a fall this autumn. Here’s David Broder seconding Daley’s column in the same day’s IBD (!) but Sunday’s WP.


Here’s Bart Bull on Elvis and the Colonel, and don’t mean to pair Bart with Janet Maslin, but Elvis can bring about any two hominids together. Here’s her review of a new book on Elvis’s women which sounds pretty interesting and down and dirty enough to round out our knowledge as enquiring minds often say.


Noam Scheiber has a nice short bit in TNR called "Upper Mismanagement" that goes into what I would call the inherent, or maybe just the danger of decadence in the explosion of financial and business consultants coming out of biz schools since WWII.  Scheiber is subtle in his sense of the problem because a lot of what those folks did in the eighties was necessary -- Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago were not going to keep their heavy industry as it was, and even that was metastasized unnaturally by the war.  It could never last.   TNV 25’s bit on Dave Bing in Detroit and this from the weekend’s WSJ demonstrate the slow suicide that resulted from Michigan’s routine political choice to serve present existing power centers in industry and labor rather than maintaining an open, low-cost start-up environment for enterprise and the development of yes, new challenging competitors.  This points to what the media left has little interest in parsing -- the different classes of businesses and their different interests in shaving or subverting economic principles and free market philosophy that they may well mouth.

Across the TNR’s masthead, Jonathan Chait gives a perfect example of this reality-aversion with his attempt at big thinking about the Republicans.  It’s too tempting a subject for him to do justice apparently and it conforms to my 180 degree rule of liberal bigthink, and that is that he is in this piece actually revealing his fear that nihilism lies at the heart of his own liberal project which he of course knows inside-out.  Without a communal endgame the left’s idealism descends to just so much vote-buying, witness the bastard child just delivered of whatever remains of the stirring, thirties-era dream of national healthcare.

Back to what makes The New Republic so much more interesting than The Nation:  the new book by TNR contributor Gregg Easterbrook called Sonic Boom, reviewed here by Adrian Wooldridge of the Economist, who writes that the big idea behind the book "is that globalization -- celebrated, reviled and analyzed for at least a decade now -- has hardly begun....  The coming age of global integration, he argues, will produce riches that none of us can imagine and scatter them more widely than ever before." Easterbrook apparently takes in Erie, Pa. as well as Shenzen in his survey.


Whenever one reads a knowledgeable piece on Pakistan you’re left believing this rump state should’ve remained in India so it could umbrella its many dust-ups under their nukes. Then all the bloody rumbling from sea to Himalayas could be one with the obscure wars of nationalists and Naxalites in small areas within the great, absorbing Hindu mass. Here’s Christopher Hitchens on the Pakistani elite who should know better.


Former FT China bureau chief James Kynge on a history of western journalists there: Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao, by Paul French


Obituary of the Week: Gene Epstein on Paul Samuelson.


The new issue of Ugly Things is out.

This issue (#29) has good articles on Imperial Dogs and Back Door Man mag and Bomp! and Sky Saxon and you know how they do it: too much great information to summarize.


China’s modernization takes up most press space but what is going on in Vietnam is interesting too. Here’s an ex-military officer’s conviction for democracy activism. Some early development schemes in Vietnam were military-Party expropriations of Montagnards in the highlands for coffee plantations, which quickly sent the low-end robusta bean market through the floor, to Brazil and other lowland coffee growers’ chagrin. The Vietnamese people are more in touch with the world than the ruling Communists, who if they weren’t obsessed with China’s economic and political development wouldn’t move a muscle.


They’ll be a lot of these phantom claims whether for olives or anything else product or services as the new peons petition the new barons for not just the bread of life, but for a few crumbs on the side too.


Los Tigres del Norte’s latest hit.


100 new green College Programs launched this year, which will be pumping out yet more bright-eyed utopians to fight the battle of the green collars against the white collars and blue collars and maybe even pink collars.


Korean hangul scripts Indonesian tongue.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Issue #25 (December 23, 2009)

Zócalo, Centro Historico, Ciudad Mexico, DF

Photo by Bart Bull

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci…

Why you very well may not be about to have a slice or two of mince pie, on Christmas or this very morn. Cliff Doerksen writes in the Chicago Reader, “The mince pie we speak of here bears only passing resemblance to present-day mincemeat pie, that gooey vegetarian article…. The mincemeat savored by our forebears was made with actual meat (beef, typically, or sometimes venison), flavored with substantial quantities of booze (usually brandy but sometimes rum and/or Madeira).” Recipes included.


Joseph Frank’s massive five-volume study of Dostoevsky gets boiled down to one 1000 page volume. This won’t be assigned reading on campuses either I bet, but I’ll get to it someday. Dostoevsky was the one writer where I made an attempt to read everything he wrote. I stopped at his last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, figuring to save one for later. The Idiot is the most enjoyable; everything else was merely riveting. Aldous Huxley wrote interesting novels-of-ideas but most of them fail on the human content a novelist should emphasize and extrapolate from any larger ideas. Dostoevsky did all that and apparently that is Frank’s emphasis, rather than mere biographical continuity of his biological life.


Louis Menand on Michael Scammell’s biography of Arthur Koestler. Excerpt from his generally positive review:

“When Koestler’s wife campaigned for his release, she had both to conceal his Party affiliation and, at the same time, to fight against the Party’s own preference, which was that Koestler be kept in prison as long as possible, or even executed by Franco, as a martyr to the anti-Fascist cause. Thus the somewhat incredible consequence: a novel about a Communist prison that was inspired by an experience in a Fascist prison and written by a man being held, as a suspected Communist, in a French internment camp.”

Or maybe not so incredible at all.


Nick Cohen on the BBC’s Islamophobic sense of drama.

You read these Eurosubmission narratives and it puts one in mind of an elite that uses a class-based psychological cutout to seek jollies by exposing its lessers to the full antediluvian madness of Islam. A seeming self-mortification turned outward-and-down against class-enemies, certain its class-prerogatives will save it, and that its skills will be required by these next tyrants. They hope to be as the Chinese Vizier Chu-Tsai was to the Mongol Khan -- thrilling to the destruction of all that was once in his way as a frustrated Chinese intellectual. Or perhaps they believe they can flee the theo-cultural Thermidor in time and gather in the Bahamas, or Falklands, or Iceland.

Shannen Rossmiller briefing summary by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi regarding the mysteries of p.c. in the U.S. military and what use the Jihadi makes of them. And here’s the Investor’s Business Daily’s characteristically hardest hitting take on developments.


The President’s mom’s doctoral dissertation is to be published soon, and it will be interesting to gauge her real interest in development from her study of blacksmithing in provincial Jakarta.


The main part of this is interesting and hopeful on the evolution of Russia out from under the FSB-KGB’s training wheels to put a gloss on it, but the sidebar story on the Orthodox Church is more interesting.


As Hugo Chavez and his cronies halt investment and liquidate economic infrastructure to buy political power in the region, he’s tempted now to throw his poor poor constituency into the front lines of the first war of the new decade to keep them from changing their mind about him. That may stir their desire to make further sacrifices. As they say, socialismo o muerte.


Greece is a mess. The IBD editors write, “One in four Greeks is employed by the state, and… 10% of the work force are unemployed. Salaries and prices are as high as Germany’s, but productivity is not.”

The FT boils it to a headline: Papandreou says Greece is corrupt. As Lightbourne would say, “You’re f’in’ kidding me!” or maybe if he’s really feeling it, “You’re freakin’ fuckin’ kiddin’ me!”


The WSJ Decade-Past Wheel of Fortune graphic.


Thomas Frank isn’t the first fanzine type to get into the Wall Street Journal. Ann Marlowe has been writing about Afghanistan on the editorial pages periodically for years.* She published a fanzine called Pretty Decorating in NYC in the nineties. Here’s her latest piece in Monday’s WSJ. It echoes the struggles within the military which finally occurred late in the Vietnam war and which did work, though the powers that were preferred to lose then. They’ll decide it this time too.

[ * Byron Coley writes in: "re: yr note on fanzine puds in the wsj. john buckley (of ny rocker) was the first "rock crit" at the wsj back in the early '80s. he was an old pal of lili & mine from hampshire college and was the first american i knew who was a rabid fan of radio birdman. he later became robert dole's press secretary, but that's his own cross to bear."]

Here’s a diagram of Afghanistan that explains all about something or other.


China expects good things from warming and not just by selling us giant wind turbines.

The Thanks we get.

The German Marshall Fund began as a thank-you to America for the postwar Marshall Plan. Like all such funds they are taken over by a discrete class of do-gooders -- one part teacher’s pet, one part know-it-all, one part Moe Howard. Here’s the German Marshall Fund’s take on the principle of unanimity and other political circuit-breakers getting in the way of the wondrous plans the planners are planning for us all. The Chinese are taking another one for the world economy.


First second thoughts on nuclear energy, then hydropower, then windpower, and geothermal, now ecologists vs. solar.


Israeli organ harvest.

Not good for the Jews to say the least, but I’d rather stress the more universal danger of organ-harvesting that all these materialists who are so into Darwin and science that they seem loathe to recognize anything like a moral hazard even one written as “moral” hazard. The WSJ early this passing decade published a portrait of the PRC’s use of executed prisoners to harvest skin for burn-victims -- this darkened even further as the reporter (Ian Johnson, I think) recounted how it went down for one not-even-a-criminal whose execution did not quite kill him. Then turn to our brave new social engineers as they make a federal case out of health-care. Are bureaucrats to accept the waste of all those corneas and organs and all those yards of human skin being buried to rot?


The biography of the original American China-hand, Jack Service, is reviewed in the WSJ by Jonathan Mirsky who interviewed Service late in his life and was told, “I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish…. I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government.” Forgive them Richard M. Nixon for they knew not what they done.


John Kass in the Trib for those keeping score on city haul.


The Sunday Sun-Times -- Dave Hoekstra on Michael Abramson’s book of photographs chronicling southside blues clubs in the seventies. The 12x12” book comes with a double LP approximating the jukebox mix at Pepper’s Hideout. The story features a short photo gallery (he shot the audience, not the blues players) and a sidebar on Pervis Staples’ club. From Peter Margasak’s Reader review:

“The vinyl-only set collects 18 jams, designed to replicate the range of selections that might've been on a jukebox in one of these bars at the time—a representation of the blues sound away from the north side clubs (which catered to white crowds, a sound at the crossroads between old blues tropes and forms with inescapable funk grooves and deep soul grit. This is stuff that was generally well outside the reach of labels like Chess or Delmark—most of it was released by tiny independents that rarely lasted for more than a few records. Some of the artists are familiar—Little Mack Simmons, Bobby Rush, Artie “Blues Boy” White, and Detroit Jr. among them—but nearly all the rest were new to me. The LPs come with superb liner notes, as usual.”

Here’s the Tribune’s media columnist’s detective work regarding a Sun-Times photo archive sale.

Nobody cares what these folks (Randy Michaels, Lee Abrams…) did to radio, or music, but man that rubber penis story set wheels in motion.

Krauthammer’s column is 25 years old and he recounts being asked by an intern at the New Republic how to become a nationally syndicated columnist, to which he answered, “Well first you go to medical school.”

NYT vs WSJ w/WP piling on.


Here’s an interesting Letter to the editor from Sunday’s NYT regarding
Kraftwerk’s party line on their remastered albums.


Punk poster counterfeiting; everyone’s problem.


“Wild Thing,” Yonkers, Jon Voight, the Mafia, and Chip Taylor.


Pistons’ point guard Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on the municipal government’s consumption of the city itself:

"We've been paralyzed by a culture in the city of Detroit, and maybe the state of Michigan, of entitlement… Our people, I don't believe, truly understand how dire the situation is. There are ugly decisions that need to be made and I'm surely not going to be popular for making them. But I didn't take this job based on popularity… I can give you a data sheet that will show you we've got several of those bargaining units with less than 100 people, and each one of them has a president that's paid by the city to negotiate against the city. Coming from the private sector, I find that insane… Today in the city of Detroit our union employee benefits cost 68% of what their base wage is. I don't think that happens in any other place in the country. When you look at one of the most dominant labor unions in the world, the UAW, they're nowhere close to what we give our city workers."


December 9, 2009, United Center, Chicago, Illinois

Photo by Joe Carducci

Turning to Ice Hockey -- Old-time hockey, the Europeanized hockey played today with high-sticks and helmets, and a peek at 19th Century hockey courtesy of Thomas Edison.

Hockey Match on the Ice (1898, directed by William Heise; Edison Manufacturing Company)

Chris Chelios at 47 playing for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. Five more years and he ties Gordie Howe for professional longevity.

The late Blackhawk left-winger Reggie Fleming’s condition prompts this NYT story.

NYT: “The N.H.L. and the N.H.L. Players Association jointly administer the league’s protocol for players returning from concussions, which has been in place since 1997-98. The program was the first in pro sports to mandate independent baseline and postconcussion neuropsychological testing, as well as clearance from independent doctors before a player can return to game action. A similar protocol was adopted by the N.F.L. only last month.”

The NYT story includes a link to interviews Fleming’s son did with him shortly before his death.

This footage is apparently the minor league Chicago Shamrocks on the ice of the Chicago Coliseum in 1931-32 before they were disbanded as part of a deal that saw the Shamrocks owner James Norris take over the NHL Detroit franchise, the Falcons, and disband the Shamrocks of the AHA, something the Blackhawks were demanding. Norris reportedly took his best players with him to Detroit and renamed that team the Redwings.

1930 World Championship in Chamonix

The Blackhawks are quite good now in a very un-Blackhawks-like way. They probably have a couple Cups in them over the next few years. Here’s a good bit about their last one, before my memory: Stanley Cup 1961, WTTW

This is within my memory: Hawks/Habs 1971 Game 7, Cup Final. We saw these home games on closed-circuit projection television at a movie theater in Berwyn. They had the Cup won so they lost it. And then lost it again a couple years later.

More Bobby and Reg, now in the WHA, Jets vs Cougars, Bobby vs Reg, Dec. 22, 1972.

Chicago Blackhawks Ice Crew. Say good-bye to old-time hockey what with the masks, the helmets, expansion, the Europeans, Disney, the Cheerleaders, the two-line pass, the shoot-outs.  But, hey, every video camera in the place is on them, and everyone in town is glad Rocky Wirtz replaced his old-time father Bill and old-school grandfather Arthur as owner.  Rocky’s busy rebuilding all the bridges his dad gleefully burnt down.  But Bill did his best work by not doing anything to the Stadium until he damn well had to.  He is why we remember the old Stadium scoreboard, the pipe-organ, Ben Bentley on the PA system, Lloyd Pettit on the play-by-play…  a lot of good stuff that ended in the other Original Six towns decades earlier, and never was in the rest of the league.  I went to a couple games last week with family and got a look at the new place and one’s first question is when you had the perfect building to model off of how could you blow it so bad? The food is better of course, not hard to top the old crap they served, but both times we stopped after the game at Johnnie’s Italian Beef in Elmwood Park.  My brothers and dad are or were doctors and they found this Organ transplant truck parked out front of the place very funny.  That it’s right at the fire hydrant is perfect as well.

[Photo by Mark Carducci]

CCCP vs. KAHADA 1963

[Dennis Hull, photo by Harold Barkley]

Hockey’s Golden Era - Stars of the Original Six, by Mike Leonetti, photos by Harold Barkley

Arab Cup 2008

Zamboni fire!

WSJ crunches the numbers on tie games and the shoot-out strategy in today’s NHL.

This just in on the 30th anniversary of the brawl in the stands at MSG, Bruins vs Rangers in the Wednesday NYT. The NHL expanded to ward off WHA competition and the original six were beginning to lose their mojo to the most innovative of the expansion teams, first the Philadelphia Flyers on something like the sixes own terms, but then the New York Islanders, and the Edmonton Oilers racked up Cup wins for over a decade with teams full of highly skilled European skaters and stickhandlers, until Montreal and then Detroit regained parity with yet more competitive expansion franchises, some of which had also been moved once or twice around North America: Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche. The Wirtzes had fatefully bracketed Chicago into the newly created Western division with five of the new teams which were initially uncompetitive so the Blackhawks feasted in the regular season and but lost their edge for the postseason. But the brawl story has a good youtube link and it's a sight. The NYT piece is well reported but only on the Bruins and Ranger fans sides; it sheds no light on why not a single Ranger player went over the boards to defend their own fans. New York City pre-9-11 I guess. Supermodel Carol Alt, ex-wife of defenseman Ron Greshner and girlfriend of former Islander center Alexei Yashin, is quoted from St. Petersburg Russia, "Players with padding are like mammoths in the stands running over unarmed, shoeless, domestic house pets." She should be writing for the New Vulgate. Anyway now the Blackhawks are competitive on the new Hockey terms, that leaves the Toronto Mapleleafs as the last idiosyncratic basketcase of the original six, though some Ranger fans might file them there as well.

[Top-right photo: Goalie Clint Benedict, Montreal Maroons, 1930]


(thanks to Bart Bull, and Steve Beeho)

To receive a weekly update notice for the NV, send an email to newvulgate[at]sbcglobal.net with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. To stop receiving notices, do the same with the word UNSUBSCRIBE.

• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Issue #24 (December 16, 2009)

The Atlas Mountains, Morocco

Photo by Jean Chien

Ford Performance: Staying Ahead of Tradition
by Bart Bull

Henry Ford was a nut, but he was an ungodly rich American nut, and when he got a bug up his butt, he had the resources to do something about it. He started his own newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and when that was insufficient for spreading the hot news about the Hebrew-haters preferred hoax, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” he distributed it through Ford dealerships and had it translated into German. When he decided he needed a dam, he hired forty Negroes to dig him one, specifying an all-colored crew to his contractor, then had them knock off work to sing him Stephen Foster songs — he was especially fond of “Old Black Joe” and “Old Kentucky Home.” Once he decided that the contemporary world had gone to hell in a handbasket, he set himself up with a Never-Never Land right there in Dearborn and named it Greenfield Village. It was a psychic twin to John D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's Colonial Williamsburg (and both places were kin to Walt Disney's seven-eighths scaled Main Street USA, with its banjo-spanking Dixieland band, striped coats and straw hats direct from the blackface minstrel walkaround.)

These were industrialist fantasies of pre-industrial feudal villages — once she'd presided over the founding of the Museum of Modern Art, Mrs. Rockefeller sent forth her minions, collectors who would shortly be dubbed "curators" and they worked New England and the Mid-Atlantic states the way maidenly New Englanders were working the mountains of the South, hunting for the pure and the purer. Her employees gathered up weather vanes and quilts, pried Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs off the front of barns, loaded trucks with cigar-store Indians and sewing baskets and duck decoys, each and every one of them by that celebrated and super-prolific folk artiste "Anonymous." Then she commissioned her curators to come up with a definition of "folk art" that would fit a collection that included no totem poles or kachinas or Navajo blankets or santos or bultos or bottle trees or wrought iron work or anything else made by anyone who wasn't rustic, white, and located on the eastern seaboard. Mary Black, the director of Abby's collection, declared, "The genesis, rise and disappearance of folk art is closely connected with the events of the 19th Century when the dissolution of the old ways left rural folk everywhere with an unused surplus of time and energy." It was a theory to warm the heart of any Rockefeller.

Henry Ford, on the other hand, was a nouveau riche buttinski who supplied his own damn theories, and plenty of 'em. He turned collectors of his own loose, hunting for backwoods fiddlers who could remember the words and melodies of the old tunes, the fiddle tunes that were American's true pure heritage. He set himself up a dance hall in his factory's Engineering Lab, with his fiddle-and-dulcimer orchestra on hand at all times. He hired a dance instructor and produced a book, Good Morning — After a Sleep of 25 Years Old-Fashioned Dancing Is Being Revived by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford, then distributed hundreds of thousands of copies, just as he did with the Protocols. The book's rules of etiquette were as rigid and unwavering as a manual for a mass-production line.

By now, Henry Ford had dance fever. He traveled the country preaching the gospel of his square-danced etiquette. At his factory, engineers were constantly being dragged onto the dance floor, and on his Georgia plantation, Negro children were taught the polka. He created his own record label for "Henry Ford's Old Time Dance Orchestra." When his collectors brought Stradivarius violins for his approval, he'd saw off a fiddle tune, then write a check. He purchased the cottage where Stephen Foster was born and had it moved to Greenfield Village. He bought a Cape Cod windmill, and English shepherd's cottage, the schoolhouse where the author of McGuffey's Reader swatted his first sleeping students, the Springfield courthouse where Abe Lincoln lost his first court case and the Ford's Theater chair Lincoln was sitting in when John Wilkes Booth shot him. He came within days and dimes of buying a pickled corpse alleged to be Booth. He tried to have Foster's Old Dog Tray exhumed and stuffed but the operation was a failure. He purchased a dozen railroad cars of research on the folkloric history of "Mary Had A Little Lamb." (The poem's author died at seventeen, the lamb was gored by a cow, and Mary herself ended up in an asylum.)

Henry Ford had hated farm life when he was a boy stuck on a farm, and he invented his way out of it — a couple of ways. Late on a night in 1936, one of the many family acts who were making it through the Depression off country music drove down a Michigan road trying to find a tourist court so they could sleep. It was the Rhodes Family — brother Speck Rhodes would play bass with Porter Wagoner for many years, all the while playing the Toby role, a black-toothed rube variant from the minstrel days, the white Jim Crow, the Arkansas Traveler's squatter. Exhausted, they found a country road — it sure seemed like a country road — so they pulled over and slept in the car. A guard woke them in the morning; they had spent the night in Henry Ford's driveway. He'd let them stay there because they drove a Ford. "Sure enough," says Speck's brother Dusty, "...here comes Henry Ford with two bodyguards. He was a real nice fellow and after we talked to him for a while he asked us to plays some music. He really did like country music." He asked Dusty Rhodes if he wanted to play one of his fiddles, then sent the servants to fetch it. "This is a genuine Stradivarius violin," Ford told him, "and is worth $150,000." He asked me if I would play 'Red Wing' for him because that was his favorite fiddle tune. So I played 'Red Wing' and several other tunes for him on that Stradivarius fiddle."

Ford sure did love country music. "Red Wing" had been written and published in 1907 by Tin Pan Alley's Kerry Mills, author of "Rastus On Parade" and of "At A Georgia Camp Meeting" as well, the biggest cakewalk hit of the whole coon song era. Mills had been head of the violin department of the University of Michigan School of Music; he'd snagged the melody, all too appropriately, from Schumann's "The Merry Peasant." To this day, "Red Wing" is known as an old fiddle tune. (My mom, Lawrence Welk's cousin, Francesca Schweitzer Bull, has always played it oom-pah accordion style on the organ, but that's pretty much how she plays everything.) It is an old fiddle tune, just as it was in 1937, maybe just as it was by 1908. The vogue for coon songs was cooling down, and a brief fad for frontier Indian romance numbers came and went. It was a coon song of a different sort, and Henry Ford was right. It was country music, just as his driveway was close enough to a country road to fool country folks in a country band. Henry Ford, the man who killed off the horse-and-buggy-era, once the fastest man in the world, died by the light of a coal lamp. And that $150,000 fiddle of his? "Well," says Dusty Rhodes, "I have to admit that I didn't like it any better than the one Daddy made for me."

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

8 Seconds Over the Hollywood Freeway

Photo by Chris Collins

From the desk of Joe Carducci…

The Chicago Tribune is hanging on by its television operations. The Chicago Sun-Times is cheaper to run but who knows how it survives? It does, though, and manages to cough up a few useful items most days. It was hurt by the implosion of Conrad Black’s newspaper chain because it had drawn editorially from the National Post, the London Telegraph, and the Jerusalem Post, which though it lent an un-Chicago flavor of conservatism to the paper, made for a full spectrum local-world view. The Sunday Sun-Times this week split its front page between Second City’s 50th Anniversary and the recent cull of formerly million dollar local radio talk talent (Steve Dahl, Jonathon Brandmeier, etc.) courtesy newer, harder numbers from Arbitron’s Portable People Meter, with a banner on top about the Bulls’ troubles.

But what’s most notable are four interesting pieces by staff writer Dave Hoekstra. I guess he’s a columnist officially though he used to be the paper’s blues-roots music specialist. He contributes two good examples of his music writing, though neither is about blues per se. Here Hoekstra dissects Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” from 1970. And here he debriefs guitarist Phil Upchurch on his recent Bob Dylan Christmas album session.

It’s good to know Upchurch was on those Rotary Connection albums!

Then the hardworking Hoekstra covers the end of a Christmas tree farm on the Rock River in Oregon, Ill. called the Sinnissippi Forest after the Indian name for the river. The trees were planted a century ago by a Pullman daughter and it closes Dec. 23rd.

And turning to tourism Hoekstra gets the call on Naperville’s push to get a reputation as a local getaway destination because he’s from here.

Dave got to town in 1967 and was the editor of the Naperville Central High paper which probably explains how I never heard of him. I volunteered for nothing! But I can remember every failed attempt by some hippie-or-other to open a record store in town, to replace the original Dale’s TV & Radio Service, where you could throw 45s on a small player in a booth and survey the top 40 until it closed in 1966. I got to Naperville in 1956 so his bemused review of Naperville as a tourist destination isn’t so current nor deeply rooted as it might’ve been. The town was about 20,000 when he arrived but only 6,000 when we got here. (It might be 145,000 now) The murals he tweaks the city for not being ready for when he was proposing it as a high school know-it-all feature among others, my dad who was several generations' favorite family doc; a brother continues that practice today.

He rightly notes Centennial Beach as a principal attraction, built of stone from the nearby quarry in the late twenties for the town’s Centennial celebration. (Most river towns in Illinois were settled northward from the Ohio River or eastward from the Mississippi which is why Chicago is one of the younger towns.) I remember being at the Beach once and overhearing one of the Wherli elders claiming it was the best water-hole in the nation. He was surely right. It’s a lot cleaner today, and the nearby river has been reclaimed for walking. I walk it regularly now that I’m back in town to help out my parents. The Riverwalk is the best boondoggle the good citizens have been swindled over, and the Carillon, also along the river, is the second best swindle. It tolls on the quarter hour, and after the noon tolling a song or two is performed on its 72 bronze bells. But the Wherli clan also owes this town big-time for its erasure of the what would have been the downtown’s hood ornament -- the Naper Theater marquee. The town wasn’t ready for R-rated movies back then and so while the kid films killed on the weekend, they died on the weeknights and ended the old family-run theater, and the Wherlis turned it into a Goddamn appliance store. The town still looks pretty good at night, but with that cheap-deco marquee lit up it really would’ve been something.

[Naper Theater 1952, Naperville, Illinois]


On Sunday the NYT Denver bureau reporter Kirk Johnson told some great stories of rural Wyoming and Nebraska old folks living on their own. The political use his editor back in Manhattan attempted to put these stories is what runs continual interference on these portraits of a generation now leaving the stage. And the implied endorsement of whatever comes along under the name of health-care reform seeks to end any kind of life that might allow the formation of such character. And so sympathy hides envy which seeks to destroy.

David Carr’s Monday media column in the NYT takes on WSJ for just such politicization of news reportage by editorial board. Rupert Murdoch was accused of this before he bought the WSJ; back when the WSJ under the late Robert Bartley was accused of lesser crimes like driving Vince Foster to suicide. James Taranto picks apart the NYT editorial policy positions behind the paper’s news stories on a daily basis, much as Ira Stoll once did at his long-gone Smarter Times blog. There’s more daily paydirt there, pouring out of its D.C. bureau, not to mention what drips from its Denver one, than Carr could hope to dig up in a month of Journal bylines. Bartley and his board probably began the attempt to harmonize the paper’s voices after two of their reporters, Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, won positions at the New Yorker and New York Times with their attempted takedown of Clarence Thomas which began in their reporting on the confirmation hearings in the Journal. The official WSJ response to Carr’s column has interesting assertions of small deeds.

And then there’s Sunday’s Frank Rich column, today again one-day-only a movie review of some new square-jaw political fairy tale starring George Clooney. It’s a masterpiece apparently meaning it has something to do with Frank’s take on Frank’s view from his 1200-word Olympus. I remember reading his movie reviews back in the seventies in New Times magazine. Broadway destroyed his taste.


The ex-Baffler editor, Thomas Frank, who replaced Al Hunt as the WSJ’s lone liberal columnist must be suspect, not that the position offers much except a conservative readership. Al wasn’t any good; I remember he steadfastly refused to see the Republican swing in the House (his beat) until for housekeeping reasons and some measure of respect he predicted it the Thursday before Black Tuesday. But Frank’s book, What’s the Matter with Kansas? was a big idea book for the Democrats and the left generally. (Though a simple jiu-jitsu move by Ted Rall asking, "What’s the Matter with Manhattan?" seemed to obviate any need to read the damn thing.) Frank this week in the WSJ fancies he knows Chicago as well as he knows Kansas as he went to college there. However, his political party is brain-dead but for the reformist ideas come out of the Daley machine, mk two. Daley’s reforms like his father’s never ran ahead of the polity for whom they are designed for mere personal aggrandizement, normally a reflex among pols. But if you subtract Daley’s initiatives on the public school reform and public-privatization there is no sign of life in his national party but new taxes and more regulations. He found the space between vouchers and the teachers’ union tyranny, to whatever effect. But the Democrats were losing urban mayoralties and eastern governorships before Daley.

They better get used to a post-Daley party because losing the Olympics, his wife’s cancer, his friend’s suicide, and the disappointing reality of launching a president and then losing him to foreign affairs is driving him into retirement. Thomas Frank is too young or maybe majored in the wrong thing to remember why privatization ever came up after the Great Society hangover, so he thinks of it as mere plot and ruse. Daleys forget nothing and the boys remember the cost to the city of full-on no-holds-barred patronage. Richard M. Daley wants the Shakman decree lifted but he doesn’t imagine a return to what existed when Richard J. Daley came into office in 1955. I remember living in Chicago under Daley, Washington, Sawyer and Daley and in the nineties the non-privatized parking meters were second among the reasons I left town. The meters’ springs were jerry-rigged fast so you’d buy an hour, get back in forty-five minutes and find the meter expired and a sixty dollar ticket on your windshield. Being half-Italian I used to piss on the ticket, write a check for slightly less than the amount and throw pennies into the envelope and mail it in. I figured I better move to where parking is not an issue.


The Christian Science Monitor takes the physical assault on the Italian P.M. Berlusconi as a bell tolling in the minds of knowledgeable Italians concerned for the direction of the Italian political discourse, namely that it could return to the “years of lead.”

While the NYT (again!) merely concedes the attacker was likely mentally ill and then goes on to suggest a laundry list of reasons any sane person might brain Sylvio. The Times then calls on some supposedly above-it-all ex-Communist (aren’t they all?) to consecrate such reasoning-let’s-call-it. Berlusconi may only be a media-brokered transitional figure but that can be progress if one simply asks the question, Compared to what? And Italians want him when their other choices are professional members of a political class that is one-part mafia, one-part Marxist, one-part Christian Democrat. (See the recent film Il Divo -- if only our many Nixon films were as interesting.) The professional pols in pretend-high-dudgeon (award-winning performances all as judged by the dailies) pulled Berlusconi out of office once and the electorate put him back in with knowledge aforethought. On day two the NYT further implicates itself by seeking to take the edge off the attack describing the statuette as having been “lobbed.” It’s so small of the Times it makes one wonder what the editors wish for Italy or here.


Crawdaddy and the end of Editor & Publisher.


French pols prosecute in their demand for respect from websites, bloggers, and even commenters as their sweetheart deal with the political press corps comes to an end decades after it ended in the US, the UK, and Italy. Also in France-Cyberspace relations, President Sarkozy launches national digitization project, “We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is.”


The late Jean-Francois Revel’s book in translation, Last Exit to Utopia, reviewed by Bret Stephens who quotes Revel earlier, “The totalitarian phenomenon is not to be understood without making an allowance for the thesis that some important part of every society consists of people who actively want tyranny: either to exercise it themselves or -- much more mysteriously -- to submit to it.”


And here’s one of those oblique approaches to tyranny in the NYT Science section appropriately enough (Of musicians extant there are probably less than 1% worth listening to; Of scientists the same.). These Rube Goldberg mechanistic “solutions” always remind me of the Gort option illustrated in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Let’s just submit to a race of robots programmed to incinerate any aggressor at the first sign of aggression. Yeah why not, the Albert Einstein stand-in played by Sam Jaffe seemed alright with it. The world’s scientific community that Sam calls to Washington D.C. because the politicians can‘t do anything seems to have reached consensus.

This brand new cleverdick scenario of John Tierney’s begins, Earth has one climate; it never changes. Anything else is our class enemies' doing though we’ll most generously and humbly agree to use the royal we as if we blame ourselves as well as those we hate so we can put a humanist masque over our class-bound power grab.

These scientists and their abusers in the media are playing with their own inability to keep the scales of things in mind. The world economy, never mind the earth, are not human in scale. Economic downturns do not erase all of the wealth created since the previous downturn, although I suppose its possible -- that would be a bottom though and time to buy. Old-line Marxist literature always read as if the working class was increasingly impoverished instead of buying a new boat or a second car. The New Left then gave up and began a critique based on the spiritual bankruptcy of… the working class, and switched to a racial paradigm.

When the economic growth rates in the first, second and third worlds sink under these new ecological burdens what will be done about the rise of violent crime and insurrection? We’re up to our ankles in blood now; when it’s to our knees? Gort.


Christopher Caldwell in the FT focuses on the weakness of the inevitable mini-UN debasement of Climate Science as deals get cut in this real world.


The love triangle of Bernward Vesper, Gudrun Ensslin, and Andreas Baader has yielded the Vesper-Ensslin letters. Ensslin to Vesper, who raised their son, “If we made a mistake, then we made a mistake (I don’t see it myself); after all, what’s been missing in the European fight for socialism over the last 100 years, is the element of ‘madness’.”


Cemetery plunder for Cuba’s other religious export to Venezuela.


Mary Anastasia O’Grady Truth Commission on FARC’s Peace Community.


Racism at ‘shocking’ levels in EU?

Hardly if you were paying attention. The anti-Americanism that’s been building since the end of the U.S.S.R. (France’s concern for the hyper-power began in the mid-1990s) was in truth anxiety over the racial straits Europe was clearly then getting itself into without a plan. As with many European high-minded policies, their refugee and immigrations policies were conceived against American practices, in the certainty that at base America was still a Bull Connor nation. The extra juice to recent anti-Americanism, then, is cover for this disastrous predicament they’ve gotten themselves into.


The Value Added Tax that has retarded Western European economies to minimal growth rates is often proposed here as in Friday’s NYT piece. Politicians love the idea that the tax would be baked into the wholesale-supplier transactions rather than visibly at the register or on the paystub or 1040 form. Here’s Catherine Rampell’s classic NYT construction: “Since then (1986 tax-code changes), federal spending has ballooned, while the government’s ability to raise taxes has become increasingly inefficient.” Inefficient?! She doesn’t write the ability to raise revenue, so you’re left wondering again about the NYT.


Associate Professor Joseph Massad explains how homosexual identity is exported to the Muslim world where apparently sexual repression really took, probably on the back of their more general submission mission. I’m guessing he says it more crudely in Arabic.


The Muslim Jesus is not crucified but ascends directly to heaven. Any crucifixion would be an abomination in what was a late-occurring provincial poverty culture’s warrior cult re-imagined to compete against the neighboring rising monotheist cultures. The crucifixion spoke to a world in the worldly and spiritual languages of animal husbandry, and animal sacrifice. Though not all desert tribes had reached a sophistication necessary to comprehend the need for that breakthrough. Some thought rather they might take advantage of any peacemaking competitors. Christ’s doom is the light by which we see man’s common sin and ready ourselves to live together in larger populations. If Christ is not crucified the story isn’t told, the faith doesn’t spread. And the warrior cult that rejects this does not therefore step forward; it merely seeks to take advantage of the decadence on the other side of Christ’s sacrifice.


Whatever you do Tony do not turn your pitiless linguist schtick onto Islam; keep it to one side of the issue. That’s my advice.


Roger Ebert reminds us of the pre-P.R. veto years, a post-war golden age of thinking talking actors doing promotion by more or less being themselves.


Harvey Kubernik is an -ahem- author, you know… of a book. Judging by the summaries, Harvey’s got a Volume Two in him as well.


“I think we’ve kind of insulted our readers’ intelligence with the assumption that everything has to be serious, everything has to be long form.” Adi Ignatius, define your terms, please. He’s the new editor-in-chief of the Harvard Business Review, and formerly the deputy managing editor of Time magazine where they dumbed everything down and then proudly began signing their names to it all.


Spot in review out L.A. way, by Greg Burk.


Michael Hurley in review by Peter Margasak, also on Mike McGonigal’s gospel comp.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Issue #23 (December 9, 2009)

San Pedro, California

Photo by Mike Watt

Acting Methods, Alive or Dead
by Joe Carducci

David Thomson is a movie voluptuary of a type that is pretty rare today. Back in the high studio period (1935-1950 or so) closeted homosexuals often had similarly intense relationships with the screen, whether they wrote about it or not. But the attenuated emotional states of lush melodrama at its best never approached the intensity that silent films had for their viewers. That early audience was guilelessly open to the films and those films were made with a less cynical sense of storytelling -- the earliest professional filmmakers (Francis Ford, Griffith, Ince, Dwan…) were dashing off one- and two-reelers two or three a week. The lack of naturalistic sound set the relationship of film and viewer deeper than the simpler vicarious one possible since then.

Originally, in nickelodeons, all were film voluptuaries when the projectors’ intermittent mechanisms showed darkness in the same ratio as the projected film frame (the mechanism moves to the next frame while the light is blocked). I can’t resist quoting Terry Ramsaye’s 1926 account of Thomas Armat’s first successfully projected moving image:

“This intermittent gear arrived about the middle of August, 1895.… They threaded up the machine with an Edison Kinetoscope film, and started the motor. Their hearts were in their mouths. In a second their fingers were in their ears.

The thing worked. There was a living picture on the wall, probably the best motion picture that had ever appeared on a screen. But the noise was terrific. The picture, tearing madly, trying to reach a speed of forty-eight images a second, with the heavy three inch brass gear starting and stopping so often, lasted only a few seconds when the film ran out. They ran it over again and again. Very shortly the gear was battered out of shape by the intermittent stops.

Pound for pound this was the noisiest piece of machinery in the world. The art of the screen was born in boiler shop roar.” (A Million and One Nights)

Of course 48 frames-per-sec is twice the standard finally settled on. (The eye requires a minimum of 16 fps for persistence-of-vision to really kick in so 48 fps is extravagant.) Before the standard, flexible practices were allowed by the different cameras and projectors. The films projected in the late 1890s and into the new century then, created a stroboscopic hypnosis that left viewers uniquely open to the film’s suggestion. This effect was then lost. The dark interstices were thereafter shortened and the image frames flashed twice to minimize flicker in a new standard. The speed of projection was still variable for effect until synchronized sound required the standard 24 frames per second we’ve known ever since.

It’s important to remember the history of the motion picture’s effect because the history of cinema otherwise is unmoored and becomes just a study of a critic’s psychology, as if revealed under a still-existing hypnotic effect. Apparently Thomson’s book, Nicole Kidman, is all that in spades. His WSJ article, “The Death of Method Acting”, is poorly thought out as well, but editors value Thomson’s unmoored movie star meditations. But in fact The Method is just a postwar Russophile pretense made of something that is as natural as the untrained or de-trained Hollywood approach to acting.

D.W. Griffith wrote, “We are forced to develop a new technique of acting before the camera. People who come to me from the theater use the quick broad gestures and movements which they have employed on the stage. I am trying to develop realism in pictures by teaching the value of deliberation and repose.” Of course Griffith was making more than a film a week and learning by doing and pushing his cameraman Billy Bitzer and the Biograph partners to allow him to experiment, so one might wrongly reference Lillian Gish as Thomson does as totemic of “the histrionics of the years before 1920” if one’s only seen the film The Unseen Enemy (1912), her and sister Dorothy’s film debuts. It’s one of six films Griffith made that July and it commenced immediately on their introduction to Griffith by Mary Pickford. Harry Carey is also in that film, though he was still playing sullen heavies rather than his soon-to-come low-key, witty western hero. For Griffith realism same year try The Painted Lady which stars Blanche Sweet. (Both are available on DVD, the youtube posts feature randomly applied music or I’d link to them.)

The battle for realism in the theater is never-ending and predates Stanislavski. And it is a battle always lost. Though it is a never-ending battle in film too, there it is a battle often won, although always in films less celebrated. Whatever histrionics had come into film from theater at its beginnings, they were rooted out quickly by Griffith, Carey, Keaton and others before sound brought them all back in as the studios imported playwrights and thespians from New York all over again after sound came in big in 1928. This retarded film realism and Broadway Britishism suddenly reigned again in a flood of elocution.

At first in the sound era outdoor filming was suspended as sound studios were built, so westerns weren’t made, and actorly film realism was sustained mostly in crime films and newspaper films, where recognizably American ethnic types would rattle off the colloquialisms that still echo through our lingo. But sound realism was different and tended to ground the spell a film might cast over an audience in a literalism best, though rarely, employed as throwaway. In Eileen Whitfield’s book Pickford - The Woman Who Made Hollywood (Kentucky), she references critic James Agate’s idea that in the strange improvised moments in The Jazz Singer (1927) “the unrehearsed exchange had the aura of language overheard.” But those moments stand out from the terrible rehearsed hamboning of the rest of the film. An early attempt at a sound western, The Big Trail (1930), directed by Raoul Walsh and starring John Wayne fails despite its widescreen epic budget mostly due to its poor use of sound; the acting and directing seem to have been undercut by the needs of sound equipment. At its best, what intimacy sound could provide was not as casually suggestive and metaphysical as the musical accompaniment had been as it treated the procession of images with nonliteral information. Synchronized sound recording can easily anchor an audience to the written wit alone, something better done with literature.

Properly used, sync sound can catch James Agee’s “middle range of feeling” that comes of a cooler style of acting. Italian cinema never rebuilt their stages for sound recording; their production standard is for dialogue to be recorded later for dubbing in. In any dubbing process the voice doesn’t match the body or the space, and the ear is much harder to fool than the eye. And so cultural differences aside, the Italian westerns become grotesques and hit the viewer-listener as circus-like cartoons. Even when the dubbing is in English by Clint Eastwood himself, the Man with No Name sounds like El Magnifico extranjero. The ear discounts here in a way similar to how the eye discounts when watching special effects.

Manny Farber on Red River (1948) refers to John Wayne’s “clay-like acting” and Montgomery Clift’s “one non-mush performance.” Wayne worked his way into acting from crew and stunt work. Clift had been on Broadway as a juvenile lead and was a student of Lee Strasberg’s Method. Wayne learned how to act by starring in serials and series westerns through the thirties. The films themselves are so bad it hardly mattered how good Wayne was. He got better though and John Ford gave him his re-entrance in Stagecoach (1939) but famously remarked after seeing Red River, “I didn’t know the son of a bitch could act!” Ford had known Wayne for over twenty years at the time. Directed by Howard Hawks and written by Borden Chase, Red River is one of Wayne’s best films; it’s Clift’s only good one, though he himself is often worth watching as he mushes through those white elephant productions, as Farber would call them.

Unlike Thomson, the painter-writer Manny Farber, whose complete film criticism has just been collected had an artist’s concerns as he evaluated the movies he saw. He refers to the aging Wayne circa 1959 as still good at action but looking “nailed together” in repose, and a couple years later writes: “Wayne’s acting is infected by a kind of hoboish spirit, sitting back on its haunches doing a bitter-amused counterpoint to the pale, neutral film life around him…. Wayne is a termite actor focusing only on a tiny present area, nibbling at it with engaging professionalism and a hipster sense of how to sit in a chair leaned against the wall, eye a flogging over-actor (Lee Marvin). As he moves along at the pace of a tapeworm, Wayne leaves a path that is only bits of shrewd intramural acting -- a craggy face filled with bitterness, jealousy, a big body that idles luxuriantly, having long grown tired with roughhouse games played by old wrangler types like John Ford.” That “middle range of feeling” again, that impresses an audience most in the drama’s down-time when seemingly aimless in its observation goes about setting up the climax.

Marlon Brando, like Montgomery Clift was from Omaha and made his name on Broadway as they delivered some Method-measure of post-war realism to the theater. Brando avoided a direct contrast of himself with someone as stolid as Wayne, but he did make a number of rather goofy westerns. Brando is described in a recent biography as watching and absorbing everything he could from Ben Johnson on the set of One-Eyed Jacks (1961), which Brando also directed. But in the film Brando plays mostly against Karl Malden and the female leads. Here’s the principal scene he has with Johnson, who came to acting from horse wrangling after a career in rodeo:

Ben Johnson was the gold standard of movie acting, not really a star but more than a type. He told Robert Pirosh in 1992, “As far as being an actor, that never did intrigue me a whole lot. Even after I started acting, I’d go out and wrangle or drive a truck or anything.” No kind of movie star for David Thomson I suppose. His performance in a nondescript, generic western directed by John Rawlins called Fort Defiance (1951) is clear like mountain spring water -- there is no affect. The other actors, Dane Clark and Peter Graves, burn hotter and they and the simple production value in an early cheapo two-color system, shot mostly outdoors, set off Johnson’s movements and line readings perfectly, and there’s none of the lesser Ford hokum as in his cavalry pictures to get in the way. This too is movie magic.

Many elements go into a film, and the difficulty these impose accounts for the fact that a film’s best moments are so often accidental motions of actors, or nature that are caught by the camera. It’s also what offends when an A-budget production stamps out all such life and replaces all it can manage with the ersatz, a high polish set design that swamps any performance style attempted, any story told. But many prefer pure culture for its very inhuman processing because it takes us away from Life and Death. And the movies and star worship like other culture too often feed those appetites rather than the more time-honored human ones.

[John Wayne and Montgomery Clift drawing by James Fotopoulos; Photo: John Wayne in The Big Trail; The Man With No Name drawing by Nunzio Carducci]

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci...

Is Ayn Rand Good for the Market?

Heather Wilhelm answers, No, but then she is v.p. of marketing and communications at the Illinois Policy Institute. And marketing is her concern when she asks, “How are free markets best ‘sold’?” But there’s also a place for salesmanship-free, impolitic undiplomacy. And then you figure, subtract Ayn Rand from the debates around economics, the state, the individual, etc., and all the hip young girls and women then simply go with the flow of progressivism. At least many of these women have to deal with Rand at some point even if she’s just a speedbump on the way to straight ticket voting. The general debate aside, that female behavior and style is seen to include Rand is fine and a good thing.


EU farm policy is the biggest block to the WTO attempt to free up agricultural trade so as to allow the third world to sell more than tea and coffee north. This report has the UK, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Malta constituting the opposition but there’s likely some east European states in there as well, though the European Commission’s internal market will now be overseen by the former French agriculture minister.


Strategic Weakness


James Grant knows a lot about financial aspects of market economics; his column began in Barron’s and his Grant’s Interest Rate Observer claims to be “the financial-information medium that least resembles CNBC.” Here he is in the WSJ reminding us that Section 19 of the Coinage Act of 1792 “prescribed the death penalty for any official who fraudulently debased the people’s money.” They must figure there’s safety in numbers I guess. He also notes, “It was no good portent when the tellers’ bars started coming down from neighborhood bank branches. The uncaged teller was a sign that Americans had began to conceive an elevated opinion of the human capacity to manage financial risk.” This and the moving of Wall Street partnerships to LLC’s and the 1971 taking the dollar off the gold standard are decadence markers, my terms.


Here are two NYT articles from Thursday that go together perfectly discordantly as the Times attends to one long-term hobby horse and on the other page lets in some light on the nominally the same subject -- racism. Charlie Savage reports on the Government Accountability Office’s spare-no-expense audit of the Bush administration’s “Civil Rights enforcement” and it is necessarily inflationary in its drive to paint this country and that particular administration as soft on racism or whathaveyou in the way of sundry insensitivities. Civil rights enforcement is a cottage industry that’s been moved into the bowels of the state itself, must be, uh… nice up in there. Meanwhile outside of the American race laboratory, which goes back roughly but profitably for five hundred years, we get to the old-world’s ancient world-of-color where even grading on a curve the peoples of color will not, can not, prefer not to get up to speed of modernity. Here, same day same paper, we read about Iraqi race relations. Maybe taking a cue from the NYT I’ll call it racism in Mesopotamia, which is after all just about the first nation, first economy, first city, so if they can’t get along… we just look better and better. These two writers’ articles are related in their editors’ conflicted preference that America change, but the Mesopotamians of color(s) never change. It’s a marker of how confused the mediated conventional wisdom is in America that so many black radicals took on Arab names to blame Jews for slavery.


Hamed Abdel-Samad, an Egyptian ex-Marxist, ex-Muslim Brother, now of the Institute for Jewish History and Culture in Munich has written a book called My Departure from Heaven where he writes that on Friday mosques are filled with young people “living in a sexual state of emergency.” He sounds like a French intellectual circa 1960 when maybe there were still some French in the cathedrals.

Rod Liddle on the unofficial sentiment of Europe whereby “Holland was the most antithetical to Islam because it was the most liberal.” Further he provocatively refers to “the indigenous way of life” in Europe as if Europeans are just another obscure jungle tribe we must keep in its natural state. What a target-rich environment Europe remains.

Dan Bilefsky’s NYT article on Ottoman fever in Turkey provides another great slant on these West-Near East issues: “Ertugrul Osman, an heir to the Ottoman throne, was unceremoniously thrown out of Turkey with his family. He lived to be 97, spending most of his years in a modest Manhattan apartment above a bakery.” Let’s hope Prince Ertugrul wasn’t the last believer in Turkish democracy. Suffice to say, the day after Palestinians receive exclusive rights to the Temple Mount, Christendom shall expect the return of the Hagia Sophia, if not Constantinople itself -- the Occupation must end. Although now they believe the Noble Sanctuary near the Temple Mount was built over yet another Eastern Orthodox church. This is getting Byzantine.

Meanwhile, Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan complains that “Every European country has its specific symbols or topics through which European Muslims are targeted. In France it is the head scarf or burqa; in Germany, mosques; in Britain, violence; cartoons in Denmark; homosexuality in the Netherlands -- and so on.” He’s a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University so I guess he is so supersmart that he relates to those words as s-i-g-ns that do not represent anything except as they indicate specific phobias of our European patient. He claims the populist UDC “wanted first to launch a campaign against the traditional Islamic methods of slaughtering animals but was afraid of testing the sensitivity of Swiss Jews, and instead turned its sights on the minaret as a suitable symbol.” Maybe he’s confusing them with PETA; I think that’s what’s going on here.


Pirates Are Not Observant Muslims!


The New York Times ship-jumpers (Frank Rich can’t swim apparently)


John Strausbaugh on Flip the Frog and other projections.


Trip Henderson’s New York area December dates:

•09 - Hill Country BBQ w/ The Second Fiddles (9–12am)
•12 - Greenwich, CT - Round Hill Comm. Hse Square Dance w/ Jane's Gang (8–11pm)
•14 - Parkside Lounge w/ The Second Fiddles (7–9pm)
•15 - WKCR (89.9 fm) w/ Honky Tonkin’ Radio Band (9:30–11pm)
•19 - Banjo Jim’s w/ The Whistlin’ Wolves (10–11pm)
•31 - The Living Room’s New Years Eve w/ The Whistlin’ Wolves & others (9pm–2am)

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