I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
Remember the Seinfeld episode about the Soup Nazi? Jerry gives Elaine a taste of his crab bisque, and she immediately has to sit down, it is so overwhelmingly good? Today I had what was probably the soup of the summer (so far)-- something called Sweet Potato Poblano-- and it practically had the same effect on me, except that I was already sitting. It was a creamy, peppery concoction that just got better and better with each spoonful. I'm anticipating about another eight or ten bowls of untried varieties of soup over the next few weeks, but I doubt I'll have anything that was so savory and delicious. If it's still on the menu the next time I visit Fables, I'll have a hard time foregoing this in order to try something new. But oh, what a problem to have!
We're going to go way, way back for this one. Anacharsis was a Scythian philosopher who predated even Socrates (though he may have been a contemporary of Pythagoras). I mention that because it's amazing to realize this comment, made around 2700 years ago remains every bit as relevant today:
"Written laws are like spiders' webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful easily break through them."
With all the hoopla about Michael Jackson's death, I didn't learn until today that Sky Saxon also passed away last Thursday. Saxon was the leader of the Seeds, one of the great underrated garage bands of the mid sixties, and while his place in the pop firmament was nowhere near as substantial as Jackson's (at least in terms of records sold), his music certainly gave me some moments of pleasure. Here's a video of one of my favorite Seeds' songs, with Sky Saxon on lead vocals; and, in the tradition of classic top 40 radio, I'd like to dedicate this to all of you Facebook Farm Town denizens out there:
Okay, this is probably as close as I'll get to typical summer reading fare-- you know, big adventure stories that you can zip through while catching rays at the beach. Not that it totally fits the model, since it is a true and detailed historical account of an American crew shipwrecked on the western edge of North Africa in the years immediately following the War of 1812 (with footnotes and everything). And anyone presuming to read it on the beach will probably grow increasingly uncomfortable as the narrative details the dire effects of sand and sun and the attendant thirst. But it does have something of a happy ending, and goes some way to explaining the nature of the West's relationship with Africa, Arabs, and Islam at a time when those things were supposedly more alien to us than today (though maybe not). One of my students recommended this to me, and I'm glad he did as I enjoyed encountering a world that I knew little about and was gratified to discover how even among the "savages" (as imagined by the crew members) basic elements of humanity were hardly unknown. Let me pass the recommendation on to you if you are looking for a gripping story of grace under the most intense of physical and emotional pressures.
One of the chief arguments made by those opposed to any form of public health care is that it would represent unfair competition for the private insurers. Well, I guess when you have virtually no competition to begin with, then you are likely to imagine anything infringing on your monopoly is "unfair." Talk about hypocrisy...
Back on June 29, 1955, for the very first time, a rock and roll record achieved number 1 status on the Billboard Pop chart. Maybe you know what it was, but if not, here's a reminder:
The song was actually recorded more than two years before it hit the top spot, but was given new life when it was selected to play over the opening credits of the hit movie Blackboard Jungle. In a lot of ways, Bill Haley was hardly the epitome of a rock star-- older, paunchier, really not all that hip looking-- but no one can deny his historic role in getting this style of music heard, especially by white audiences. For that, his name will forever be linked to the beginning of the rock revolution.
Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304-1374) was a late Middle Ages/Early Renaissance Italian poet who contributed mightily to restoring classic Roman ideas to his contemporary society's body of knowledge. Here's something he wrote in De Remediis in 1366:
"Five great enemies to peace inhabit within us: viz., avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride. If those enemies were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace."
Alejandro Escovedo writes great songs, and he's no slouch covering other people's work either. Here's an example of the latter, from a live performance in Paris. I'm proud to say I got the chance to shake the man's hand some years back in Toronto and tell him how much I like his music, and hope to someday get the chance to see him live again:
I can't imagine a movie that looks less like a big summer blockbuster than The Merry Gentleman. Yet, I certainly enjoyed it more than any big bucks action or over-hyped comedy that represent the standard summer fare. The first film directed by Michael Keaton (who also stars along with Kelly Macdonald) is a rather low-key story that confounds expectations at almost every turn. On the one hand, it seems to fit with other recent offbeat movies with professional hit-men in the center of the plot (like Grosse Pointe Blank or You Kill Me), though ultimately it doesn't have that much in common with them (for one thing, this isn't a comedy). The primary focus is on Macdonald's character, who seems cursed to always have the faith she places in others betrayed, and as a consequence becomes pretty gunshy about extending much trust at all. At the same time, her seemingly unforced goodness has an impact on others, and makes them want to be better people if only to ingratiate themselves (and not necessarily in any kind of exploitive way) with her. It's a circular conundrum that suggests either a happy ending where at least one of her "friends" is redeemed by exposure to Macdonald's core goodness, or one where she gives in to bitter cynicism or despair. I think it's a credit to the filmmakers (Keaton and writer Rick Lazzeretti) that they don't really pick one of those options. It's not a great film, but a small, literate and visually engaging piece of work that offers some proof that Keaton may have a future behind the camera. If it ends up being the only film he ever directs, it won't quite match the classic status of Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (Laughton's only directorial effort), but I think it would make a very short list of good movies directed by moonlighting actors. The opening sequence alone, in which all we need to know about the backstories to the characters played by Macdonald and Keaton play out entirely without dialogue is evidence of that.
Last Tuesday, when Natalie, Ben and I were downtown, we decided to drive up Broadway to take a look at the old New York Central Train terminal, which, as you can see in the image above, was a pretty neat piece of art deco architecture. As has been true for quite a few years, the place was largely deserted aside from us, a lone cop car, a mailman eating lunch in his truck, and another young man who came over to us and introduced himself as a reporter from the Buffalo News. It seems we happened to come out on the day that the Terminal's famous four-sided clock was being restored to its past home. You can read about the clock (along with a slightly misquoted comment from yours truly here). While there, Ben noted a website on a sign outside the main entrance (the building itself was closed) for a group that is working on restoring the facility, and when he checked it later at home discovered there was to be a formal re-dedication of the clock on Saturday, the 80th anniversary of the Terminal's opening. So naturally, we went back down to get a look at the inside of the place.
A fair number of people turned out for the ceremony, and there were a number of train enthusiast groups with tables set out with photos from the heyday of the railroads in Buffalo and other places (including one that had blueprints of the terminal).
A swing band was providing some "historical" music that hearkened back to the good old days of rail travel, and we got a chance to wander around and see something of what the old place looked like when it was functional, and a lot more of how much decay has occurred in teh twenty years or so since it was essentially abandoned.
One gets something of the sense of what a bustling place this once was, and the size and expanse of ticket windows and baggage areas (in front of which Ben and Natalie are standing above), the numerous newsstands and shops all help conjure how exciting this place was fifty or more years ago.
It seems appropriate to finish with a black and white shot of the band stationed below the large front window of the terminal-- almost like it might've appeared all those years ago. Here's hoping that the enormous job of putting the terminal back into usable shape (for offices, retail, celebrations, whatever) doesn't prove more than the community can accomplish. It really has the potential to return to being the municipal gem it once was.
I almost forgot to include a picture of the clock, the return of which was the focus of the celebration. Let's hope that someday the statue of the bison that was the other major icon of the Terminal will be replaced too.
Today I found this little nugget courtesy of the American writer and editor E.B. White (1899-1985); maybe you once read his classic children's book Charlotte's Web or used his writing guide The Elements of Style to prepare a term paper. Here's his pithy comment on teh american political system:
"Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time."
I spent Friday in Cleveland with my friend Rick, driving down in the morning and spending the afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the so-called North Coast fo the country, on the banks of Lake Erie (do lakes have banks, or is that a river thing?). That's the front facade of the Hall above.
You're not allowed to take pictures anywhere but in the lobby of the Hall, which is where these giant guitars were displayed. We spotted several others around the downtown area, so it seems it's one of those municipal projects where different businesses and institutions decorate an item of local import in support of some charitable cause (in Buffalo some years back they did the same thing with statues of bison; in Tacoma, with salmon-- one of which was painted by my sister Liz in the manner of a dalmatian outside of a firehall). There's a lot of obvious corporate influence in the hall-- there's virtually nothing on display that represents an act whose work isn't currently affiliated or controlled by one of the big record companies; and the narrative they push is a fairly narrow one in relation to the development of the music. The primary special exhibit right now celebrates the career of Bruce Springsteen, and there was a lot of interesting artifacts from the early part of his career before he became famous. This was my third trip to the Hall, and each time things have been arranged somewhat differently, but without ever really breaking out of the basic plot pushed by mainstream chroniclers of the music. Maybe someday they'll dig a little deeper and uncover and expose some truly deserving underappreciated artists to the big crowds who swarm the place.
After touring the Hall and talki9ng a walk down along the lakefront, Rick and I hiked up to Progressive Field to see the Indians take on the Reds. I'm not a fan of interleague play, but at least this matchup had the makings of a legitimate cross-state rivalry. Unfortunately, the reds were incredibly flat, and the Indians won in a blow-out 9-2. Many of the key players for the Indians honed their skills with the Buffalo Bisons a few years ago, so watching the likes of Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Garko spark the offense made it feel like I was watching the old home team at Pilot Field.
As the game was out of reach by about the seventh inning, Rick took the opportunity to catch a few winks.
Then after the game, there was a really good fire works show. A great way to end the day (sort of-- though we still had a three hour drive back home in front of us).
Looking back, it seems like Huckleberry Hound was a ubiquitous part of my childhood, but I haven't seen any of his adventures in over thirty years. Watching this, I was amazed at how immediately familiar it was (I actually saw Dinky coming as he ran down the rogues gallery!). Anyway, here's hoping it sparks or creates some memories for you too:
Another trip to the library, another bowl of soup. I wasn't too sure that the cafe would be open on Saturday, but I lucked out. The choices were Tomato Basil, Broccoli Cheddar and White Bean with Bacon. I went with the last named, since I'd tried the others previously. It had a nice sour kind of flavor-- very similar to German Potato Salad-- with a bit of an onion-y edge to it. I'm more used to bean soups that are somewhat creamy, so this was an interesting variation. I should also note that with each bowl of soup, Fables (that's the name of the library cafe) also provides a big hunk of homemade bread, and today's was especially good, a seedy whole wheat. Along with a glass of ice tea, it was a really fine lunch all the way around.
Carneades (c214-129 BC) was born about a century after Aristotle's death. A noted skeptic, his comment quoted below can be read as a direct riposte to the statement I posted by the Aristotle a few days ago. I'll leave it to my readers to decide which one makes more sense to them:
"There is absolutely no criterion for truth. For reason, senses, ideas, or whatever else may exist are all deceptive."
The video on this is incredibly rudimentary, but the tune itself is fantastic, with a really nice intro tracing the the song's history (warning: a couple four-letter words are uttered). I'm a little surprised that I haven't posted something by Steve Earle before, but this should make up for that oversight:
For this week's quiz, here are Joseph, Sara, Maria & Thomas mugging for the camera. The question is, who is lurking just out of the shot to their left (your right)? Put your guesses in the comments please.
Last week you were asked to identify the setting for a picture of Mom. Theresa correctly guessed that the fountain in the background is in Chicago and the picture was taken when Mom was there for an ADA convention. Congratulations Theresa!
I'm going to leave the voting open on which rock star Nik most resembles (here and here) for another couple of days in an effort to break the current four-way tie. If you haven't voted yet, now's your chance to be a difference-maker!
Here are some shots of the Rosieks, who I was told (by Ben) were getting short shrift on this blog recently (I think he just hasn't been paying attention). Here's a nice one of Sally, Tom & the aforementioned Ben down by the Niagara River:
And, lest I be accused of cutting out the other member of the family, here's a sepia-toned shot of Natalie enjoying the remnants of some powdered sugar from her fried dough at the Allentown Art Festival:
In the past, and from a distance, I was trying to chronicle Emma's development towards taking her first steps. Well, as noted here a couple of weeks ago, she finally did start walking, and here's some video evidence for any skeptics there may be out there (along with her sister Helen, typically not standing still):
This was shot at the bandshell at Niawanda Park, which might've been Emma's first opportunity to display her ambulatory talents in a wide open space with no obstacles to contend with. Of course that doesn't mean it was a completely error-free performance ;-)
I'm going with another historian today, the eminent John Hope Franklin, who just passed away last March. I think he was right on with this statement from his book A Life of Learning:
"When we... learn that this country and the western world have no monopoly of goodness and truth or of skills and scholarship, we begin to appreciate the ingredients that are indispensable for making a better world. In a life of learning that is, perhaps, the greatest lesson of all."
Some subjects are truly timeless. Is there any reason at all to think that the scene in the Senate chambers today was any different than when Gropper painted this almost 75 years ago? You've got the pontificating blowhard, his disinterested colleagues and a whole bunch of empty seats (abandoned perhaps for meetings with lobbyists in the cloakroom?). I really like when artists engage with larger political or social issues, and feel they often exhibit keener insight in stripping away the illusions promoted by conventional commentators (and of course the politicians and activists themselves). Does that mean they are always right in their critiques? No. But I bet their track record is better than most of the pundits who are paid to offer commentary on such matters in more mainstream venues. And, in an image like Gropper's, the point is made pretty explicit in the most straightforward way, continuing a tradition that went back at least to Thomas Nast of artists calling out our supposed leaders on their hypocrisy.
A few days ago, I set out with my trusty nephew Ben to Niagara Falls to continue my efforts to make some good night-time photos. Here are the six of the best I took (out of more than 100-- you gotta love digital cameras with roomy SD cards!).
Niagara Falls is a great place to experiment with these kinds of shots, since in addition to the grandeur of the setting itself, there's a interesting mix of lights playing on the Falls, along the Rainbow Bridge, and across the Canadian skyline.
I also discovered the Black & White setting on my camera, and it appears that it is more forgiving for night photography, I think because it emphasizes contrasts between light and dark better (though I guess that could be a subjective opinion).
I also liked how I could maximize the silhouette effect by playing around with the zoom in black and white.
This next one is of Ben looking out over the Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of Goat Island, which is where we were wandering around. The green light emanating from the cliff is intended to illuminate the Falls which were cascading just a few feet to Ben's left.
As we were crossing the bridge over the rapids back to the mainland, I got this shot of the rapids feeding the American Falls about fifty yards beyond the bridge in the background.
Ben took a bunch of pictures too that night, most of which were better than mine-- I'll have to see if he'll let me share some of them here. Meanwhile we're trying to think of some other spots where we might go to continue our photographic experiments. Anybody have any suggestions?
If you check the "Blogs I Like" section in the left hand margin, you'll note that I've added a link to "The Big Takeover." This is a spin off from one of my two favorite music magazines (the other is Mojo out of Great Britain), edited by a fellow named Jack Rabid whose love of virtually all kinds of exciting rock music past and present comes across on every page (even in the pieces he himself does not write). He's been self-publishing the mag for more than 25 years, and though it started out as a mimeographed fanzine, it is now a fat, professionally laid out treasure trove of interviews, disc and concert reviews, and even some very sharp socio-political commentary. Much of that is evident in their blog, but I fully recommend looking for a print copy. It comes out twice a year, in June and December (just in time to help me compile shopping lists for my trips back east). The above issue actually came out about three years ago, but the current edition, #64, also features the Decembrists on the cover-- so look for it at your favorite news stand.
C. Vann Woodward (1908-1999) was one of the giants of the historical profession who, although a Southerner himself, rejected the self-serving common wisdom that shaped much of the work that came from that region's scholars to offer a more nuanced and sensitive study of issues related to race and Reconstruction. This quote was a report of a committee he headed in 1975:
"The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily deprives others of the right to listen to those views."
Remember I'm collecting votes on which rock star in shades Nik most resembles in the top photo at this post. There's another nominee from Natalie, namely this guy:
He's Joel Maddon out of the band Good Charlotte. So if you think Nik looks like him, cast your vote accordingly, or cast a vote for any of the other candidates listed in the earlier post. But whatever you do, please vote for someone!
Howard Zinn takes a lot of heat from folks who don't bother to read his books (or, if they do, they willfully ignore all but the most incendiary parts). Zinn is to my mind a great American patriot, in the same way that folks like Dorothy Day, Phil Ochs, Mort Sahl, Jane Addams, George Seldes (and so many others) are or were great American patriots: they identify those areas where we might collectively do a better job of living up to our core values and ideals. This "graphic adaptation" is a spinoff of Zinn's hugely influential A People's History of the United States, and like that earlier work it would be easy but erroneous to label it a hit job on the nation's past. Looking more closely, what emerges is only partly an indictment, but more significantly, a call to action. The main point is less that mistakes were made in the past, than that we ought to learn from those errors to make sure they are not repeated. This survey of American foreign policy from the latter half of the 19th century to the present is neatly interwoven with Zinn's autobiography, demonstrating how at least one individual came to see how our foreign policy and its architects tended to drift away from any connection to the values evident in the daily lives of the citizens they claimed to serve. It's in that breach where Zinn sees some fertile ground for breeding the kind of collective aversion necessary to stop such ugly adventures as those experienced in places like the Phillipines, Viet Nam and the Middle East over the past hundred-plus years. I think it's an effective argument, and consistent with what Zinn has been advocating for at least the past fifty years. Since this is a graphic novel, I want to also mention the excellent artwork throughout by Mike Konapacki-- it helps make the work more accessible and compelling; the effort is a true collaboration between words and images.
Let's go back to one of the true giants of Western thought, Aristotle (384-322 BC) for today's quotation. It kind of goes along with the recent review I posted of Charles Pierce's book Idiot America:
"...the states of virtue by which the soul possesses truth by way of affirmation or denial are five in number, i.e., art, scientific knowledge, practical wisdom, philosophical wisdom, intuitive reason; we do not include judgment and opinion because in these we may be mistaken."
You might recall that last week my beloved Cannondale bicycle was stolen while locked up in a rack at the University of Buffalo. I had that bike for over twelve years, and had hoped to ride it at least another twelve. But with its disappearance, I needed a replacement, and after spending a couple days test riding about ten other bikes, I bought one much like that pictured above-- a Gary Fisher Wahoo mountain bike. I haven't had a chance to ride it much since making the decision yesterday evening, but I feel like I made a good choice (I should be heading out for another ride as soon as I finish this post). I also purchased a Kryponite Lock that is several degrees of magnitude more secure (according to the salesman) than the one that must've been clipped to get at the Cannondale. So, some degree of order is restored to my universe as I once again have a two wheeler to enjoy on these lovely summer days.
As a film buff, I always used to look forward to the summer season. partly this was because the studios all brought out the big blockbusters, and partly it was because I'd have the time to catch up with second run features I'd missed in the preceding months when I was bogged down with work. But the last couple of summers have mostly been disappointing, with even movies I was looking forward to failing to ring my bell. The premise for The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillips, looked promising if not particularly deep-- you could go into this flick only expecting to laugh. Unfortunately, all it mustered from me were a few mild chuckles. I didn't find it offensive or boring, just incredibly mild and silly with virtually no inspiration beyond the premise (you can find a plot syopsis elsewhere if the title doesn't pretty much give it away). I found none of the stars (or the characters they played) in any way charismatic-- it was a convention of sidekicks, any one of whom might've added something to a more more top-heavy cast. But this collection of second bananas (and an underused Heather Graham) lacked any kind of spark to really set the proceedings on fire. It was like a mediocre episode of Family Guy-- let's create some absurd circumstances and just riff off the non-sequitors. Sometimes it works, but just as often you just want them to get on with it. I don't feel that I quite wasted the 90 minutes (there were those few chuckles, and Heather Graham), but I doubt I'll rememebr much of where they went a week from now.
One other thing-- I keep promising to write at length on why National Lampoon's Animal House rises above the general entries in "this kind of movie," and I'll get to that when I have a bit more time. For now, suffice to say this film, like so many of the slob genre, creates a world that exists only in movies (you know, where drunk guys wake up to find tigers in the bathroom), while Animal House was clearly grounded in something real (though granted, exaggerated).
Today at the library I tried another soup I'd never had before-- Bruised... sorry, make that Braised Oxtail Soup with White Beans. I initially read the menu as "bruised" which didn't make for a very appealing image, though I'm not sure why. The soup was quite good, rich and hearty with a thick, beefy broth. There wasn't anything particularly exciting about it (you know, like African Peanut soup), but it made for a satisfying lunch.
Additional Soup Notes: I've actually had some other soup experiences in recent days that I haven't written about, but in the interests of comprehension thought I would note them here. First was a cup of Lentil soup at Kostas Restaurant in Buffalo. It was good enough, but where lentil soup is concerned I've kind of reached the point where if you've tasted one, you've pretty much tasted them all. Also, at Curry's Restaurant in Kenmore yesterday, my nephew Ben ordered the Banana Pepper Cheddar Soup and graciously let me have a taste. The creamy broth was somewhat similar to a good Broccoli Cheddar, but the banana peppers made for an extra zing. I'll definitely order it should I return to Curry's. Then today, while I had the Oxtail soup, Ben was again with me and had a cup of the Chicken Tortilla, which I'd had before and liked. He again let me sample his, and it was a bit disappointing-- way too tomato-y (which should've been balanced more with the chicken flavor). Anyway, maybe just a taste was unfair for me to draw conclusions, so I'll have to watch for it to return to the menu and give it another shot.
There are aspects of William Graham Sumner's philosophy that I would disagree with (especially in relation to his support for the notion of Social Darwinism), but on this point I think he makes a lot of sense:
"If you want war, nourish a doctrine. Doctrines are the most frightful tyrants to which men ever are subject, because doctrines get inside a man's reason and betray him against himself. Civilized men have done their fiercest fighting for doctrines."
This past weekend the Buffalo News reported that a local theater group has lost its venue and seen its very existence threatened because they staged a play called "Polish Joke." The play apparently functions that same way that Norman Lear intended Archie Bunker to function: by exposing the ridiculousness of bigotry and prejudice by casting a spotlight on the blatant absurdity of ethnic humor. Unfortunately, certain members of the community decided that the title alone was enough to condemn the work as anti-Polish, and they successfully lobbied the group's landlord (Canisius College-- that's right a supposed institution of higher learning) to kick the group out of their theater. Needless to say, those calling for the shutdown had not seen the play-- they apparently were reacting with their "gut" feeling. Which in turn remins me of the line in the Sephen Frears directed film of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, when played main character played by John Cusack is reviewing his less-than-stellar history of relationships and comes to this conclusion: "Well, I've been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I've come to the conclusion that my guts have @#$% for brains."
All of which is a roundabout way of introducing the key idea contained in Charles P. Pierce's excellent book, Idiot America. In it, he laments that fact that as a nation we have apparently given up on valuing reason and education to give greater, unwarranted credence to ideas that originate in the gut. Pierce argues that today, if an idea or belief is repeated often enough, and enough people buy into it, many of us are perfectly happy to acknowledge it as a truth, and let it take its place as a legitimate perspective in ongoing debates over science, education, politics, or whatever. If someone can make a little money off of this promotion of nonsense, so much the better-- that just gives it an even greater veneer of verisimilitude. Pierce compares the current situation with some historical examples, in which he notes that, as a nation, we've always had a high tolerance for cranks with wild ideas. But what's different today is the degree to which these crackpot notions become embraced and used as governing principles, not for small cults or in a momentary lapse into mass delusion, but driving serious national policy decisions and consuming massive amounts of time and energy that would be better spent on working out truly constructive answers to our problems. In many respects it's a somewhat scary read, and cases like the close-minded censorship of a local play, while a pretty minor story in and of itself, becomes emblematic of a truly disturbing trend. I hope Pierce's work gets a wider audience, but the sad fact is that people who want to think with their gut are really good at avoiding the kind of thoughtful self-examination necessary to recognize themselves in this sort of critique. The real problem is people who know better who curry favor (for political or economic benefit) with the "idiots" without offering any challenges to their way of thinking.
Thomas Paine was in many ways the chief salesman of the American Revolution. His pamphlet "Common Sense" blazed across the colonies and sparked support for independence at a time when the concept was still pretty alien to many Americans. Here's a quote from his later work The Age of Reason that remains all too relevant today:
"When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime... Infidelity does not consist in believing or in disbelieving, it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe."
My dad, Nikolaus Hajduk, passed away almost ten years ago, but I think about him virtually every day.
In many ways he and I were opposites with respect to things like education (he didn't finish grade school) and politics (he was much more conservative than me), but he was my first and most important role model in all the things that really matter like core values and the way I try to deal with other people.
Nobody could ever say a bad word about my dad, because his impulse was always to treat everyone else with respect, generosity and good humor. His family was the most important thing to him, and that was a huge factor in the closeness that still exists among me and my siblings.
Sometimes we fought about ultimately inconsequential things (like political candidates), but I don't remember those disputes ever interfering with the basic relationship we enjoyed and I don't remember any anger lasting longer than the heat of a particular argument.
I wish he were still around so I could spend more time with him, but in a way, he's always with me and I'm gratified that I can still rely on his steady guidance to see me through both the tough times and the good times. No one gets to pick their parents, but I sure lucked out with my dad, and my mom too, and I'm thankful for that every day.
Felix the Cat cartoons long pre-date my childhood, but I remember watching them as a kid, no doubt recycled for television. There are some color ones available at YouTube, but the ones I recall are like this one-- all black and white (with virtually no gray tones). Were these shown on Captain Kangaroo at some point? I remember Tom Terrific was also pretty rudimentary in its animation. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this:
For each of the guesses I received, I tried to find a picture that sort of matches with what I think the guesser had in mind. They are as follows, starting with Bob Dylan (Sally's guess):
Lizzie thought Nik looked a bit like Ric Ocasek from the Cars (and certainly the two have first names that rhyme):
Theresa thought maybe Bono out of U2:
Catie said cousin Gerik, who isn't a rock star yet, but is definitely already a first-rate musician (on the trumpet). I couldn't find a picture of Gerik in shades, but if you cover the left side of his face in this picture, you kind of get the same effect:
I actually thought that Nik most resembled Lou Reed from his days in the Velvet Underground:
So, rather than me just picking a winner this week subjectively, I thought I would put it up to a vote. Which of the above do YOU think look the most like Nik in the very top picture? Put your votes in the comments section. And if you still have another candidate (especially if you can provide a link to a picture), maybe we'll have another runoff vote with those nominees as well.