Thursday, April 30, 2009

Great Tune from Ian Tyson

I first heard this on the CBC about twenty years ago, and immediately went looking for the record. It's a little more country than what I usually post, but a good song is a good song (and the hook is a killer), so let's never mind the labeling:

Thinking About Hollywood

In a couple of weeks, the semester will be over and I'll be heading down to sunny (I hope) Los Angeles for a few days of research. I'm going to be looking at videotape of some comedians (Mort Sahl, the Smothers Brothers, Dick Gregory) from the fifties and sixties at the UCLA Film and Television Archives. The weather here in Dillon has been kind of crummy for the last week (six inches of snow over the past couple days, though its mostly melted off by now), so I can't wait to hit some warmer climes.

Here's a pic from my last trip down there a couple of years ago. This is Hollywood Boulevard looking west from Las Palmas Ave. If you click on the image to enlarge, you'll be able to make out some stars embedded in the sidewalk (though not well enough to read the names). I'm looking forward to having some free time away from the archive to stroll these streets again. Here's another place I hope to also visit, the Santa Monica Pier (mainly I'd like to see someone surfing as I've never seen that in person):

With any luck (and it looks like my schedule will allow this) I may also be able to catch an Angels game in Anaheim and add another stadium to the list of those I've visited (unfortunately, the Dodgers are out of town that week). I also need to restock my file of favorite paintings, so the Getty Center and Los Angeles Museum of Art are also on the agenda. If you have other suggestions for things I ought to check out (or things you'd like to see a picture of here at the Journal), let me know in comments and I'll do my best to accommodate you (maybe even including some favorite celebrity's star on the Walk of Fame, though I'm not sure how patient I'll be in hunting up specific names-- there's a lot of those suckers!).

A Favorite Painting 26

Joan Miro, Self Portrait 1937-38

I alluded to this painting way back in A Favorite Painting 3, also by Miro. I think its the closest thing I've ever seen to a visualization of how the imagination shapes the personality of an individual. There's no mistaking this as a prototypical Miro painting, even though it engages a degree of realism (quasi-realism?) that is largely absent from his more famously surrealistic work, like the Carnival of Harlequins. There's nothing particularly original about the use of abstraction in the components of a portrait, but it's rare to see them employed so consistently to convey the subject's particular bent in relation to how those elements reflect his perceptions of the rest of the world (or at least the way he paints it). That is, this self-portrait conveys as much about the essence of Miro as the actual features of Miro, without really sacrificing anything significant in either direction.

Thursday Thought for the Day

Wendell Willkie was an industrialist ran against Franklin Roosevelt for the presidency in 1940. After his defeat, he became kind of a free-lance ambassador (kind of like Jimmy Carter since he left office). Here's a quote from his book, One World from 1943:

"Freedom is an indivisible word. If we want
to enjoy it, and fight for it, we must be
prepared to extend it to everyone, whether
they are rich or poor, whether they agree
with us or not, no matter what their race
or the color of their skin."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Immortal Chaplin

I seem awfully busy today, so no time to write any lengthy posts. But here's a nice little scene to carry you over until tomorrow. From The Gold Rush, it's Charlie Chaplin part of the reason why W.C. Fields referred to him as a "@#$%&* ballet dancer."

Wednesday's Thought for the Day

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is famous for rejecting the comforts of modern life (such as they were) to go and live a solitary life by Walden Pond. In his solitude, he came up with ideas like the following:

"Shams and delusions are esteemed for soundest
truths, while reality is fabulous.... By closing the
eyes and slumbering, and consenting to be deceived
by the shows, men establish and confirm their
daily life of routine and habit everywhere,
which still is built on purely illusory foundations."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Great Underrated Byrds Tune

Everyone knows the great Byrds hits like "Turn Turn Turn" and "Mr. Tambourine Man." Here's a song (written by Carole King & Gerry Goffin) from one of their finest albums (The Notorious Byrd Brothers) which came a little after they stopped having chart-toppers but long before they stopped making great music. It also says something about the Smothers Brothers that they were giving the group network exposure at this stage of their career. I hope you like it:

That Stupid Thing I Think About (Update)

As regular readers of this blog know, I've been obsessing in recent weeks over the floor plan of the WKRP offices as they appear in the classic sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati (which I'd been watching on DVD). My first crack at what seemed a reasonable arrangement (until I saw more details in later episodes) was posted here. I know now that this layout was incorrect, but until a couple of days ago I couldn't figure out how to reconcile the placement of windows in various shots, from various perspectives, with other clues as to how everything fit together. A couple days ago, I had a revelation: an air shaft! As I monkeyed around with this idea, I finally came up with this:

This seems pretty reasonable, again given the various visual clues, but I'm still troubled by a couple of points. One is that in the narrative flow of certain episodes, one is given to understand that the broadcast studio is somehow adjacent to the door in the bullpen that, in this rendering, is around at least two corners. Also, the closet is a fabrication-- I have no way of knowing it exists, but without it, I'm left with a major void either in that spot or where I have the storeroom located. Another point: an additional wall of the building is visible out the bullpen window, and I can't account for it in any satisfactory way. I know, I know, it's just a TV show, but when I'm on my morning ride (on the stationary bike), I need something to occupy my mind, and at least for a little while longer, this is it. If you have any advice or ideas I should consider, please pass them along.

Tuesday's Great Thought

The Romanian-born French writer Eugene Ionesco might've had National Lampoon's Animal House in mind (or something much like it) when he said the following:

"A creative work of art is, by its very novelty,
aggressive; spontaneously aggressive, it
strikes out at the public, against the majority;
it arouses indignation by its non-conformity,
which is, in itself, a form of vindication."

Monday, April 27, 2009

Satire At Its Finest

I think I've alluded a couple of times in the past that I consider National Lampoon's Animal House to be the signature film of the 1970s. I'm finishing up a book by one of the film's writers called The Real Animal House, and I expect to have some comments on that in another day or two. When I do, I'll certainly compare the book to the film, and partly as prelude for that, I thought I'd offer up this YouTube video of the movie's original trailer. I've seen these scenes literally dozens of times, and they still make me laugh. I'll try to explain why in a future post, but in the meantime, here's a little introduction to the denizens of Delta Tau Chi:

More on the Titanic Exhibit

Yesterday I wrote a post about visiting the Idaho Falls History Museum where they had a traveling exhibit of artifacts from teh Titanic. I wanted to mention that one of the elements that made it really interesting, and in a weird way personalized the effect of the tragedy, was that every ticket came a long with a card identifying one specific passenger from the original voyage. Here's a copy of the card I received:

As I walked through the exhibit, I could kind of wonder how much of what I was seeing was originally experienced by Colonel Weir. Just before exiting the exhibit, they had a series of large posters listing both the survivors and those who didn't make it, broken down by their class of ticket. On a quick glance, I didn't see Colonel Weir among those who died, and started to feel kind of glad; but then I couldn't find him on the survivor's list either. Looking back at the first list, I spotted his name and it gave me a little shiver. I wonder how many people awaiting word of loved ones on the ship had some kind of similar momentary false hope, and it really brought home the impact of something like this among family and friends. I guess I'll always feel a little bad that Colonel Weir was among those lost; and all of a sudden some historically distant event was brought into much sharper focus, and on a human scale that's too often missed when we look at big events of the past. Just one of the reasons to applaud the curators of this exhibit.

Monday's Musing

I don't really know anything about the Scottish physicist Lancelot Law Whyte (1896-1972) but I have to say I kind of agree with the sentiment he expressed in this quote:

"Much of our failure to understand human nature
arises from neglect of this need to have our
faculties excited and our lives thereby enhanced.
The human animal cannot be itself without this
exciting enhancement. Excitement is not merely
good; it is indispensable to a proper human life."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Last Movie I Saw

You often hear people complaining about musical performers whose last hit was twenty, thirty, forty or more years earlier, clutching to past glories as they try to ring a few more bucks out of yet another tour. The Rolling Stones are often mentioned in this context-- a band that had real relevance in the 1960s and '70's, but who, for many, now seem a mere parody of their earlier selves. My response to that charge is, who are we (or anyone besides the artists themselves) to say that they should not make a living at something they do well, and that other people want to pay to see? They are, after all, professional musicians, so why-- because of some arbitrary verdict that they are no longer "hip"-- should anyone mind if they continue to go about their business to the best of their ability? Sure, it's a little sad sometimes when a great band is reduced to a single original member (and often not a seemingly critical member) touring with a bunch of youngsters that had no connection to the group in its glory years. But that hardly means they are incapable of entertaining a crowd, even if said crowd doesn't match the dimensions of those drawn in the band's heyday.

The Great Buck Howard (written and directed by Sean McGinly) is not about an aging musician, but rather a past-his-prime (in terms of poularity at least) mentalist. The titular character, who appeared on the Tonight Show over sixty times with Carson, but never with Leno (a lingering sore point) carries on in half-filled small town auditoriums and competing for minimal press attention with the likes of Jerry Springer. His "entourage" consists of a young road manager who knows he can do better, but is charmed enough by the star's intermittent charisma to stick it out, at least for awhile (it helps when he meets Buck's reluctant but cute publicist). The cast of the film is excellent, led by John Malkovich as Buck and Colin Hanks (Tom's son) as his assistant. I also really liked Emily Blunt as the publicist, and although I'm sure I've heard/seen her name before, I can't remember in what-- I doubt I'll forget this role so quickly. Malkovich maintains his essential "Buckness" without letup, from the introduction of the character through the post-climactic comeback that ends the film, so much so that the familiarity of his mannerisms (for example, a handshake that looks to rattle the bones of its recipients) become the equivalent of listening to "Satisfaction" for the umpteenth time. It's a highly entertaining, even though ultimately inconsequential, film; in other words, a lot like it must be to go and see the Rolling Stones in concert these days.

A Favorite Painting 25

Albert Bierstadt, Sunrise, Yosemite Valley, n.d

Bierstadt was one of those painters who helped Americans who'd never been west of the Mississippi to conceive of the natural wonders that abounded there. There's something almost achingly gorgeous about this image that speaks to how the glories of nature inspire contemplation and consideration of our place (that is, humans' place) in the universe. One can imagine how common such revelations must've been for the early pioneers, even as they conspired (and not necessarily in a bad way) to figure out how they could carve out a role for themselves in relation to this stunning environment; and it raises the question of how long it took them to take it all for granted so that it became necessary to preserve such pristine exquisiteness by order of law. But set aside those kinds of issues-- one can certainly see this as a great example of that core value of art to render the exquisite beauty of real life to those who cannot experience it (at least in certain specifics) first-hand.

Another Thing I Did Yesterday

While in Idaho Falls yesterday, I also went to the local historical museum, which had a special exhibit on artifacts from the Titanic (which will make my nephew Ben very envious, I bet!). It's a traveling show, so if it comes to a spot near you, be sure to check it out. It includes a lot of displays of items that have been retrieved from the wreck at the bottom of the ocean, and it's remarkable both for what remained intact in some cases, and in others the effects of sitting at the bottom of the ocean for 90+ years (in part from the long interaction with salt water and various microorganisms, but also from the incredible pressure at that depth). There were also recreations of some of the staterooms, which looked incredible elegant, and massive photographs of many of the other features of the ship, which really conveyed the sense of size and opulence that of course contribute to the reason why the story continues to interest us. It was a good show, made all the better by stumbling across it unexpectedly when I had some time to enjoy it (the same show was in Las Vegas when I was there last month, but I didn't find out until we were about to leave). There's another point I want to make about the exhibit, but I'll hold off until I get the chance to scan a couple more items I want to make reference to-- so look for a sequel to this post tomorrow or the next day.

What I Did Yesterday

With a day off and sunny skies, I decided to take a little ride yesterday and drove down to Idaho Falls, about two hours south of Dillon. If you're as familiar with Niagara Falls as I am, you may be inclined to dismiss the Idaho version as little more than some rapids (see above), but nevermind. I had a really good time-- did some shopping, saw a movie, went to a museum, and even spent a little time sitting by the Snake River and reading for awhile. I like Idaho Falls, mainly because it seems like kind of a throw-back place, but not so far back as places like Bozeman or Butte (which celebrate their frontier and early industrial roots, respectively). Idaho Falls instead seems firmly rooted in the 1950s/60s, at least in terms of the dominant architectural styles for both commercial buildings (lots of modernistic touches attached to functional spaces) and in the residential neighborhoods (dominated by suburban ranch style houses). One of the places that I find endlessly fascinating, because it seems so resonant of that period when I was a kid, is the KIDK Broadcast Park, which is a fifties era TV station plopped down in the middle of a bunch of baseball diamonds. I can practically picture the advertisement for the station that must've appeared in Broadcasting magazine fifty years ago (I did a lot of my dissertation research in that periodical, and it reflected a particular design style I'll always associate with that era). Anyway, I didn't get a picture of the Broadcast Park, but hereis another of the falls:

While there, I also lucked into a treasure trove of used classic DVDs (mostly James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson flicks from the 1930s, but also a Criterion Edition of Luchiano Visconti's The Leopard and Lindsay Anderson's O Happy Man-- for about four bucks apiece) so it looks like I'm set for any free time that pops up over the coming weeks.

Quote for a Sunday Morning

This, from the great Irish satirist Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), seems particularly appropriate on the morning television devotes to an endless stream of talking heads:

"When a true genius appears in this world
you may know him by this sign, that the
dunces are all in confederacy against him."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday Morning (er, Evening) Cartoon

A couple weeks back I mentioned that I may have been set on my career as a historian due to my devotion to the TV show Daniel Boone. I'll stand by that statement, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there were a number of other influential factors. Not the least of these was the great cartoon "Improbable History" starring Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman (which was one of the features in the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show). For example, I'd lay odds that this cartoon, the first episode, introduced me to Benjamin Franklin and his kite:

Quote for Saturday

The Rev. Sydney Smith (1771-1845) was a British clergyman and author who, among other things, felt (in 1820) that the United States had evolved to that point without producing anything of value in the arts (he was wrong, of course, but not too far wrong). He also had some good ideas, as in this quote:

"Every law which originated in ignorance and
malice, and gratifies the passions from which
it sprang, we call the wisdom of our ancestors....
When I hear any man talk of an unalterable law,
the only effect it produces on me is to convince
me that he is an unalterable fool."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Herb Tarlek's Social Philosophy

As long as I was thinking about WKRP (see previous post), here's a little snippet from that classic sitcom that more or less sets up it's entire thesis:

Update on WKRP Floorplan

I finally got through the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati on DVD, and I'm still working on how the various rooms in the station fit together. I'm starting to think the Flem (Phlem?) Building was some kind of futuristic sci-fi edifice, as the placement of windows that we see on-screen suggest a kind of omni-dimensional layout that my 20th century brain (yes, 20th century) can't seem to wrap itself around. But I will post what I have in a day or two, just in case you were waiting.

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Okay, here's another picture from the summer of 2006, of Ben and Nicky at the Niagara River, looking at who knows what (and that's not the question). What I want to know is, what flavor of ice cream cone did each of the two order when we crossed the street over to Mississippi Mudd's for a snack later that afternoon? Put your guesses in the comments section.

Last week, I asked the name of the restaurant where the picture of Natalie was taken, and Ben correctly identified the site as the Perkin's in Titusville, PA.

Two weeks ago (I kept this open since no one got the right answer), you were asked where the photo of Sally and Natalie was taken. There were a couple of strong guesses, but the right answer was the Circus Circus Motel (adjacent to the hotel/casino) in Las Vegas. Better luck this week!

More Friday Family Blogging

Here are three more from the summer of '06, more or less randomly selected for your viewing pleasure.

This picture of Maria has been doctored slightly (can you tell how?).

Here's one from the Niagara Falls Air Force base, when Nick was heading overseas for a stint in Qatar (That was the place, wasn't it Nick?).

Finally, little Nicky enjoying a beach-ball sprinkler. They didn't have those when I was a kid!

Friday Family Blogging

Here are three random pictures from, I believe, the summer of 2006. The temperatures here in Dillon went over 70 for the first time this year earlier this week (though last night we had a couple inches of snowfall), so I was in a summer mood, I guess.

First up is a picture of Ben and Thomas and an example of their engineering skills (or anyway, the beginning of something demonstrating those skills).

Next up is Gerik on a tiny bike-- good training for a career in the circus, right?

And last, Natalie, Joseph and Sara. I don't know what to make of Joseph's moves here, except to say they don't seem to be impressing the girls.

Friday Philosophy

I guess that-- given how my thoughts have turned to the political machinations of the recent administration in relation to their embrace of torture-- it was inevitable that I would be put in mind of the work of George Orwell (1903-1950). This is from his book Politics and the English Language:

"Political language-- and with variations this is
true of all political parties, from Conservatives to
Anarchists-- is designed to make lies sound
truthful and murder respectable, and to give an
appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Classic Song from Camper Van Beethoven

I saw these guys live back around 1988-- funny, I don't remember all the gray hair. But despite that point, they still sound great performing their classic number "Take the Skinheads Bowling" from a much more recent show in this clip. Since my last couple of posts have focused on art in the surrealist vein, I suppose it was only natural to think about including this particular song among today's blog entries.

Appreciating A Truly Classic Comic Strip

Cliff Sterrett's Polly and Her Pals is probably second only to George Herriman's Krazy Kat in using the comic strip form to create great modern art. The simplicity of the design and unspoken but forceful narrative of the example above demonstrates how creative a soul Sterrett was, and to think he turned out stuff like this on a daily basis for some forty odd years (okay, maybe not every individual strip was a masterpiece, but his batting average was pretty high). The key cahracter is not, as you might think Polly (herself a kind of pedestrian flapper/career girl common to strips with their roots in the 1920s), but rather her put-upon Paw, whose constant travails in dealing with an exasperatingly complex (or in some cases, exasperatingly simplistic) world inevitably led to the kind of explosive outburst that only made the situation worse.

Sterrett's genius was only partly in his characterizations and story-telling. He was also a master draftsman, whose images suggest a foundation for the more modernistic style adopted by comic strips and cartoons after World War II. But his impulse was not economic (as was true later, as strips shrunk in size, and cartoons became more expensice to produce); rather it appears to be a real affinity with the surrealistic movement unfolding in "serious" art circles at the time he was working. It's not too much of a stretch to see elements of Dali or Miro in Sterrett's panel compositions and layouts, and his flare for bringing inanimate items to life on the static page is every bit as striking as those inhabiting the canvases of the aforementioned artists. Check out the stairs, for example, in this strip (click on the image to blow it up):

I don't believe there's ever been a comprehensive collection of Sterrett's work available (as there are for such contemporaries as Herriman, Winsor McCay and E.C. Segar), which is a shame. Let's hope that someone rectifies that situation in the near future.

A Favorite Painting 24

Peter Blume, The Eternal City 1934-1937

What does it say about a state that functions not for the good of its citizens, but for the self-aggrandizement of its leaders? Is it even really a state at all? Despite its stake in maintaining order and its efforts to promote a jingoistic sense of nationalism, does such a government ultimately meet the tests of civic responsibility and un-coerced legitimacy that are necessary to earn the valid consent of the governed, and to establish a viable social contract? When dissent is stifled and patriotism is redefined to cover only the blindly sycophantic and ostentatiously unthinking flag-wavers, doesn't that system become most susceptible to the sort of cancerous apathy that withers critical social institutions, leaving a crippled body politic seized by fear and hesitation? I'm sure Blume's painting resonated more with those who first viewed it in the 1937 than for most of us looking back at it today. But the questions it suggests, sadly, still are relevant today, making one hope that the ruins of the Eternal City (both ancient and contemporary in the mid 1930s) don't foreshadow another collapse brought about by the self-serving hubris of more recent leaders.

Thursday's Quote

Plutarch was a Greek historian of the first century AD. Even back then, though, they mustve had their own Dick Cheneys monkeying with the record, otherwise, why would he have written the following:

"So very difficult a matter is it to trace and find out the
truth of anything by history, when, on the one hand,
those who afterwards write it find long periods of time
intercepting their views, and, on the other hand, the
contemporary records of any actions and lives, partly
through envy and ill-will, partly through favor and
flattery, pervert and distort the truth."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Helen Wheels

I imagine anyone who knows Helen understands the heading above. I thought I'd post this picture because it seems to me it was taken when Helen was about the same age that Emma is now. Since I haven't seen Emma (or Helen) for a few months, I was hoping that some of you might be willing to comment on any resemblance you might note between the two sisters at a similar age. Feel free to fill up the comments section with your observations.

Political Comment (Followup)

Yesterday I wrote a brief post about Dick Cheney selectively using classified information to bolster his case in favor of torture. That's a lot easier to do if you've taken a hand in destroying documents that may not conform with your way of looking at things. Last night on the Rachel Maddow Show, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's counsel, Philip Zelikow, was on to talk about how the White House actively sought out and destroyed copies of a memo he drafted offering a legal opinion at odds with those that justified the use of torture. The idea clearly was to insure that in any future investigations (whether legislative, journalistic, or even criminal), it would appear that there was a consensus of opinion on the matter within the administration and among its legal advisors, and no evidence otherwise. The destruction of records certainly doesn't rise to the same level of immorality as the practice of torture, but it's easy to see that once you've decided to engage in the latter, then all other questionable acts become awfully easy to rationalize.

Last Week's Top Five List

From Dr. John's Record Shelf that aired last Sunday on KDWG, Dillon, here's the weekly Top Five List for your listening pleasure:

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

The portrait I found of the British journalist and politician Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) is pretty small, so the quote is long. I guess I was thinking of the likes of Dick Cheney while reading this quote:

"Deny human rights, and however little you may
wish to do so,
you will find yourself abjectly
kneeling at the feet of that old-
world god, Force--
that grimmest and ugliest of gods that men
ever erected for themselves out of the lusts of their
You will find yourself hating and dreading
all other men who
differ from you; you will find
yourself obliged by the law of
conflict into which
you have plunged, to use every means in
power to crush them before they are able to
crush you;
you will find yourself day by day
growing more unscrupulous
and intolerant,
more and more compelled by the fear of those

opposed to you, to commit harsh and violent actions."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Political Comment

Apparently Dick Cheney has requested declassification and release of certain documents from the CIA to bolster his argument that torture was useful and produced solid intelligence that helped keep America safe. Here's the problem with that: if Cheney (or anyone else) gets to select what is released, you have an incomplete view, only a small part of the story. It's unlikely that all the relevant materials would be declassified, only those that exonerate the Bush administration (and Cheney). That kind of cherry-picking, when they control all the evidence, is hardly likely to be proof of anything. It creates an illusion of accountability when it amounts to just stacking the deck. But then, who would expect anything less self-serving from the ex-VP? When you remember his absolute refusal to releasing other information (remember that notorious meeting with the oil industry bigwigs way back when), why would anyone trust Cheney to be forthcoming now, unless it's in a very narrow way that keeps his misdeeds hidden or obscured? The guy has no shame.

The Best of a Genre

What are the odds that the two greatest butler movies of all-time were released within a year of each other back in the mid 1930's? I'm speaking of course, of Ruggles of Red Gap (directed by Leo McCarey) and My Man Godfrey (directed by Gregory LaCava). Now maybe you're thinking that "butler movies" hardly constitutes a genre (quick-- try to name another one besides those mentioned). But maybe it's a situation where these two set the bar too high for anyone else to even try (though their was an inferior 1950s remake of Godfrey). But I'll let you be the judge with these clips, first two from Ruggles, starting with Charles Laughton's very British, quintessential gentleman's gentleman schooling a bar full of American yahoos on the Gettysburg Address :

Here's part of the courtship scene between Roland Young (the aforementioned gentleman) and Leila Hyams:

In My Man Godfrey, William Powell is hired by Carole Lombard to be the family bulter after she finds him living as a forgotten man for a scavenger hunt:

Watch Mischa Auer steal this scene as Carlo, as we get to know a bit more about the Bullock family:

So here's a bit of a challenge: can anyone thing of a butler movie that rises to the standard of these two?

Tuesday Philosophy

Today's quote comes to us courtesy of the German socialist (yes, more propaganda if you care to read it that way) Rosa Luxemburg (1870-1919):

"There is nothing more subject to rapid change
than human psychology. The psyche of the masses
embraces a whole world, a world of almost
limitless possibilities: breathless calm and raging
storm: base treachery and supreme heroism."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Heroes of the Small Screen, 4

As a kid, there were two forms of currency in my neighborhood-- we traded comic books and bubblegum cards (baseball, football, Batman, etc.). When the Batman TV show started in the mid-sixties, it seemed like a major breakthrough in that the things that were important to us kids were taking over the airwaves as well (we were too young to know about the radio serials of the forties, and the old black & white Superman show seemed pretty old-fashioned even to us). Anyway, it didn't stop with the Caped Crusader; one of the spate of super-hero programs that I remember watching religiously was Mr. Terrific, about the proverbial 97 pound weakling Stanley Beamish (played by Stephen Strimpall) who was transformed into the super-powered Mr. Terrific merely by popping a special pill (hmm, I wonder if this was somehow linked to to the counterculture of that time...). I especially remember the episode where Stanley's friend (the much more heroically dimensioned Hal, played by Dick Gautier) was hypnotized by some super-villain into thinking he was a pigeon. Anyway, here's a clip I found on YouTube (I can't believe I remember this so well-- apparently only 8 episodes ever airred!):

Political Comment

I thought I would pass along a link to an article written by Hal Crowther, who I consider to be one of the best (if not the best) essayist working in journalism today. His latest is on our national infatuation with guns, something that continues to mystify and sadden me as much as it does Crowther. I don't have any problem with guns being available for hunting or target shooting; that is, I can appreciate that there are some legitimate and safe reasons why someone might want to own a gun. But I don't believe that adhering to the Constitutional right to bear arms means a mandate to accept that any and all such weapons should be available to everyone all the time. In other words, reasonable regulation is not only warranted, but perfectly consistent with the concept of responsibility that underpins all of the the protections laid out in the Bill of Rights. The NRA's knee jerk rejection of all attempts to monitor and control access to firearms is, to me, blatantly destructive to everyone except the arms manufacturers who presumably fund most of their efforts. I think this quote from Crowther pretty much sums up my position:

"It's not our people who are hopelessly insane. It's our laws. While they were carrying out the corpses in Binghamton, I turned confidently to Fox News for the best writhing and rationalizing. "What can we do?" asked one reporter, with a properly tortured expression. He didn't try to answer—this is called hand-wringing with one hand—because the only obvious, sane answer is "Try to pry some of this terrifying firepower out of the hands of private citizens."

Quote of the Day

I presume anyone reading this has heard of Abraham Lincoln. I thought this was a striking quote from him (in his 1861 Annual Address to Congress), especially in light of the current debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it somewhat easier for workers to choose to join a union (which is generally opposed by employers):

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.
Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never
have existed if labor had not first existed.
Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves
much the higher consideration"

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Soundtrack of Our Lives

I saw these guys (out of Sweden) open for the Derek Trucks Band about three years ago in, of all places, North Tonawanda. They were one of those opening acts that don't last (as opening acts), because their performance set the bar way to high for the headliners to reach. If you ever wondered in anyone was still making classic-sounding rock and roll, look no further than these guys:

Memories of Italy

When I was posting pictures of my trip to Italy last fall, I prpbably mentioned that I experienced some technical difficulties with my camera just as we arrived at the Vatican Museum. As a result, I have no recent photos of that spectacular set of chapels and galleries. However, I did take some shots during my previous trip in 1999-2000, and have finally got around to digitizing some of them. These are not that great as far as letting you examine the detail of the massive halls we passed through, but it will give you some idea of how ornate the decor was.

Here you can see, first of all, the crowds wandering through the place (which was also true on my subsequent visit), but more to the point, the incredible ceiling. The Sistine Chapel (where no photos were allowed) is the famous place for ceiling art, but it appears throughout the halls and galleries of the Vatican Museum.

Here's a slightly more visible view of one of those ceilings.

And here's even more of a closeup on one corner. This is one of those museums that wears you out, in that there is ultimately more to see than you can properly process without feeling a sense of overload. That's not a criticism, just an implicit suggestion to take your time and not feel that you need to absorb everything if you should visit.

This one has nothing to do with the Vatican. In a comment to a previous post, mention was made of a "Dancing John" picture. This is the one I think was referred to, but maybe not (it wasn't taken in Pompei). If there's another one extant, and anyone reading this has a copy, I hope they'll send it to me (since the original comment sparked several demands to see it).

A Favorite Painting 23

Charles Burchfield, Rainy Night 1929-1930

In the period between the World Wars in the United States, the nation seemed to experience a period of introspection. This played out in artistic circles with the emergence of the regional painters, whose subjects eschewed any kind of universality in favor of focusing on the unique characteristics of the artist's immediate environment, and really promoting a powerful sense of place in their work. Among the major practitioners of this style were Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry, all of whom were associated with the rural midwest. Much more interesting to me, are the urban regionalists, like Reginald Marsh, Edward Hopper, and Charles Burchfield. Burchfield did amazing, semi-abstract landscapes in addition to more realistic work like the painting shown above. But it's his street scenes and neighborhood snapshots that resonate most with me. Part of the reason for this, is that many of them depict my hometown of Buffalo, NY, and there's a powerful nostalgic pull to his depictions of scenes that are buried deep in my own memories of a particular time and place, even though the bulk of his work was produced long before I was born. This is possible, I think, because Buffalo is the kind of place that revels in its history, seeing evidence of past and longed-for future glory in the victorian mansions and gilded age commercial buildings that defined its once prosperous centrality as the Queen City of the Great Lakes. Burchfield was there in its heyday, but in pictures like Rainy Night there's a achingly poignant sense of twilight that almost foreshadows the city's eventual decline. As it happens, the building on the corner of this picture still stands, in fact was recently renovated, and is one of those powerful lingering links to the past. It stands right across the street from the downtown library, and when I visit and walk past, it's always with a strong sense of the urban meloncholy captured by Burchfield in this painting.

Sunday's Philosophical Nugget

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) was an Italian thinker and activist who spent his last years in one of Mussolini's jails. His crime was in questioning authority, something a fascist regime cannot abide, no matter how legitimate or necessary those questions may be. Though he spent the last twelve years of his life in prison, he continued to write and left behind a legacy of keen, insightful analysis of contemporary culture and its relationship to political power. Here's a quote from one of his works:

"I give culture this meaning: exercise of
thought, acquisition of general ideas, habit of
connecting causes and effects... I believe that
it means thinking well, whatever one thinks,
and therefore acting well, whatever one does."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Does anyone remember Tennessee Tuxedo, not to mention his pal Chumley? The animation is pretty rudimentary, but the characterizations are great. Even if he never ended up as Maxwell Smart (Agent 86), Don Adams would have to be remembered for his voice work here. Let me know if you remember this:

Thought for the Day

In a way, the following quote from Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) kind of summarizes the key feature that separates great thinkers/philosophers from the rest of us:

"...the paradox is the source of the thinker's
passion, and the thinker without a paradox is
like a lover without feeling; a paltry mediocrity."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Computer Update

Well, I was able to resolve my dilemma, mentioned in a post yesterday. My friend Bill, whose schedule is similar to the one I had when I originally expected delivery, was able to go to my house, and be there when the FedEx guy arrived. So my computer is at home (while I remain at work-- for at least another four hours tonight). Because of all the delays, I also never got around to copying all the files on my old computer, and because I have to attend a symposium tomorrow, won't get to that before Sunday. So the computer is at home, but may not leave the box until the first part of next week. Eventually, though, I will be all up-to-date, and one possible consequence will be more posts to the blog-- but maybe I better not make any promises... At least I won't have to drive to Billings, which was my nightmare scenario.

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

That of course is Natalie, star of last week's quiz as well (but I'm in a hurry and this picture is handy, so that's just the way it is). The question is, what is the name of the restaurant where this picture was taken? Bonus points if you can say where the restaurant is located. Leave your answers in the comments section.

As mentioned, no one knew where the picture of Natalie and her mom was taken in last week's quiz. I think I'll go ahead and leave that open in case anyone still wants to take a guess. Actually, those received were kind of close, but not necessarily geographically (hint). Good luck!

More Friday Family Blogging

Here are a couple of pictures from a visit last summer to Stieglemeier Park (and I have no idea if I spelled that correctly). We fell a little short of spotting much in teh way of wild animals, bit I think a good time was had by all.

This shot of Nick is one of my favorites, even though I'm pretty sure I didn't take it. Does anyone know who the shutterbug was? Oh, and check out Emma's elbow-- that little girl sure has cute elbows ;-)

Here's one of Ben hiding behind a lacy leaf. Not much cover there, fella! And if you look real close, you can see Emma's legs dangling in front of her Mom in the background. Which prompts my obligatory, bi-weekly query-- is Emma walking yet?

Friday Family Blogging

Today it's the Hollywood edition of Friday Family Blogging, at least figuratively speaking. This wasn't actually taken in Hollywood; I think it was taken in East Aurora (and believe me, no one would ever mistake the two), in the parking lot behind Vidler's 5 & 10. I don't think I've posted this before (I never realized I'd be doing this long enough to forget something like that), but even if I did, it's definitely worthy of a second look.

Friday's Quote for the Day

Back around 1936, James Agee and Walker Evans traveled to Alabama to report on the fate of sharecroppers during the Great Depression. What they found there was so striking to Agee that his assigned several thousand word essay evolved into a several hundred page book called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, illustrated with many of Walker's own moving photographs of the people they met. Here's a quote from the book, which is worth reading in its entirety if you ever get the chance:

"In every child who is born, under no matter what
circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the
potentiality of the human race is born again: and in
him, too, once more, and of each of us, our terrific
responsibility toward human life; toward the utmost
idea of goodness, of the horror of terror, and of God."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Great John Coltrane

Things are pretty hectic at school the last few days, but I think I can take a little time out to post a video by my favorite jazz artist. I think you'll all recognize this song. Coltrane's playing the soprano & tenor saxes, Elvin Jones is on drums, Eric Dolphy on flute, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Reggie Workman on bass. Fantastic stuff from one of the all-time greats:

Blowing Off a Little Steam

Allow me to vent for a moment...
I think I'm beginning to see a least a part of the reason why the country is currently in such crummy economic shape. About six weeks ago, I ordered a new computer from Dell. At the time of the order, they gave me an expected delivery date when I knew my schedule would allow me to be home to sign for the package; in fact, I waited to place the order until the delivery woulf be in that window of opportunity. Within a few days, the expected delivery date was pushed back, but still within the framework where I could be home to take delivery. A few days after that, it was pushed back further, another week, in fact; but again, still in the time-frame when I could be there to receive it. Then it happened again, then again, and by this point I would be back to the morning schedule at school that meant there'd be no one available to sign for the package. I was a little irritated at the delay, but okay, these things happen. I figured I'd just call Dell and ask them to change the delivery address to the school where I teach, where I could pick it up with the rest of my business mail. The supervisor of the mailroom said that was okay with him, so I thought it was set. But when I called Dell to have the address changed, I was told that, for security reasons they could not do that, and instead, once the order was shipped, I'd have to make the change through the carrier. A little frustration, but no big deal... I'd wait until it was shipped. Well, finally, the message came this past Monday that my new computer was on its way. I was informed that the carrier was Federal Express. I decided to wait a couple days to see if it didn't race across the coutry and arrive when I could collect it at home, but that didn't happen, so today I called Fderal Express to see about changing the delivery address to school. I was told that they couldn't do that, for security reasons-- the only way they could make the change was if it came from the sender (Dell), who already told me I had to make the change with the carrier. I guess this is what passes for customer service with these big operations. So, it looks like my computer will arrive tomorrow sometime in Dillon; I'll be at school, about six blocks away, when they ring the doorbell and get no answer; and my computer will get shipped back to Butte (I hope-- the other prospect is Billings, four hours away). I don't mind going to Butte to get it, except that the FedEx terminal in Butte is not open on Saturday, and closes at 4:00 during the week.... when I'm in school. I'll figure something out, but I gotta say, neither Dell nor Federal Express is ringing up any points with me on this transaction.

Thursday's Philosophical Nugget

According to history, the expressed views of Francois De Salignac De La Mothe-Fenelon (1651-1715) often got him into trouble with the French authorities and his superiors in the Catholic Church (he was an archbishop himself). I don't know exactly why; based on this little snippet, he strikes me as an eminently reasonable guy:

"All wars are civil wars, because all men are
brothers.... Each one owes more to the human race
than to the particular country in which he was born."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More on Political Humor

In my previous post about Al Franken and other political humorists, I made a passing reference to Pat Paulsen, who waged a comic campaign for President in 1968, largely via his recurring role on the Smothers Brothers variety show. Here's a clip of Paulson doing his thing (pre-campaign, but more-or-less in a similar vein), with a series of editorials:

Quote of the Day

Henry Thomas Buckle (1821-1862) was an English historian. This quote is taken from his History of Civilization in England:

"Every new truth which has ever been propounded has,
for a time caused mischief; it has produced discomfort,
and often unhappiness; sometimes disturbing social and
religious arrangements.... And if the truth is very great
as well as very new, the harm is serious. Men are made
uneasy; they flinch; they cannot bear the sudden light;
a general restlessness supervenes; the face of society is
disturbed, or perhaps convulsed; old interests and old
beliefs have been destroyed before new ones have been
created. These symptoms are the precursor of
revolution; they have preceded all the great
through which the world has passed."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Political/Historical Comment

Although there may still be another appeal, it's beginning to look like pressure is building for Norm Coleman to give up his seemingly un-winnable challenge to the election of Al Franken to the Senate. I don't know what kind of statesman Franken will turn out to be, but I have to say I've almost always enjoyed his work as a comedian, going back to when I first saw him on Saturday Night Live in the 70s. Obviously we've had a fair number of politicians emerge from the ranks of show business, especially since Reagan (there was Sonny Bono, Jesse Ventura, Gopher from Love Boat, Arnold, etc. etc.). I don't remember there ever being someone who emerged specifically from the ranks of comics, though, and I find that interesting. One can go back to Will Rogers and more pertinently (which I'll try to explain in a moment) to Mort Sahl, to find individuals who made their living largely from telling jokes about political issues and figures. Sahl was unique in that he truly projected a personal point-of-view in his material, where his predecessors (including Rogers) were more apt to lump all pols and their actions/statements together. In researching Sahl's career, I found that while some suggested he should run for office, he seems to have feel he had greater freedom and potential impact playing the loyal opposition on stage. Dick Gregory became almost as famous an activist as a humorist, but as far as I know, never seriously sought elective office (although I vaguely recall that he may have been tangentially involved in the '68 presidential race, though he probably got less attention than Pat Paulson). More recent politcal comics like Bill Maher and Dennis Miller seem to incite a kind of enmity from one side or the other suggesting a stiffly polarized campaign should they choose to run, but then, many would've said the same about Franken. If one only knows Franken's work from the early part of his career (that is, corresponding to the times he spent as a writer/producer/performer on Saturday Night Live) he may seem an unlikely candidate to make the leap into politics, but of course, he's spent much of the past few years as a radio host on Air America, and apparently sees himself as something of an heir to the late Paul Wellstone. Plus, I get the impression that even when people disagree with Franken, they often still find him at least somewhat likeable, in a way that couldn't be said of a Miller or Maher. I remember one of his bits from around 1980 where he talked about the next ten years being the "decade of Al." He seemed like such a modest, preposessing sort of guy that it was funny to imagine he was really that big a megalomaniac. Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing what he pulls once he's finally seated. I just hope he doesn't fade into the background, but that would be so contradictory to the arc of his career to this point, I don't see that happening.

Heroes of the Small Screen, 3

I think that, next to Maverick, Bat Masterson was my favorite western as a kid. I was drawn to the more off-beat characters-- Bret Maverick was often greedy and cowardly, while Bat was a dandy (wearing a derby and carrying a cane). I don't know why those things appealed to me unless it was just the fact that they turned all genre expectations on their head, and even as a youngster I was looking for something different in my entertainments. In most other ways Masterson was a typical hero, with a fast draw and coming to the rescue of damsels in distress. I just recently watched Sam Fullers Forty Guns and Gene Barry plays a character in that film who shares some qualities with Bat, which is what put me in mind fo the show. Anyway, here's a clip-- anyone else reading this remember this show?

Thought for the Day

As much as anyone, the work of John Locke (1632-1704) provided the foundation for Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence regarding the natural rights of man (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). If you know the evolution of that phrase from source to follower, then you know that Jefferson followed through on this dictum from Locke as well:

"Reading furnishes the mind with
materials for knowledge; it is thinking
that makes what we read ours"