September 30, 2010

Tony Curtis 1925 - 2010

Roger Ebert shares this story on the occasion of Mr. Curtis' death:

This is allegedly a true story. It was related to me by Walter Matthau.

After World War Two, Matthau and Tony Curtis, then known as Bernard Schwartz, were classmates at the Dramatic Workshop of The New School in New York.

They both found employment on Broadway. The handsome Schwartz was spotted by a talent agent and signed by Universal Pictures. During 1949, he quickly appeared in four features, including "Criss Cross" with Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo.

After this whirlwind of activity, he returned home, taking the train from Los Angeles.

"I gather he came straight from Grand Central to Shubert Alley," Matthau told me. "I walked out of the theater after a performance and there's this guy shouting at me from across the street: Walter! Walter! It's me -- Bernie! I fucked Yvonne De Carlo!"

September 28, 2010

The scorn of the universe?

From Ian Toll's fine Six Frigates:

Henry Clay, who had been both a leading advocate of the war and a principal architect of the pease, asked his House colleagues in January 1816:  "Have we gained nothing by the war?"
Let any man look at the degraded condition of this country before the war; the scorn of the universe, the contempt of ourselves; and tell me if we have gained nothing by the war?  What is our present situation?  Respectability and character abroad - security and confidence at home.  If we have not obtained in the opinion of some the full measure of our retribution, our character and our Constitution are placed on a solid basis, never to be shaken.

September 26, 2010

What happened next

This book, Six Frigates, just gets better.

In my initial notes I praised the Nelson stuff - simply because I know something about him and thought it was done well.  And of course every schoolchild is well-versed in the Quasi-War nowadays.  But the book does a really impressive job of educating the reader on how post-Revolutionary Americans worked and thought, and walks you through the disillusionment and awakening of its leaders to the need for international engagement and the need for the ability to project force far from our shores.  Isolationism, in this telling, died long before 1812 - around the time French privateers - reporting to a revolutionary government - were pulling into Chesapeake Bay to take Prizes.

Here are some highlights:

- There was a significant debate on whether to have armed forces at all (Adams and Jefferson both hated standing armies, and navies are expensive). Some saw a darker agenda at work - William Maclay of Pennsylvania viewed the decision to build frigates as pretext to impose taxes, hire "a host of revenue officers", and then "farewell freedom in America."

- The original position was straight-up neutrality.  Why should free men favor one tyrant over another?  But as events progressed Hamilton's warning from the Federalist Papers began to look prophetic: "a nation, despicable by its weakness, forfeits even the privilege of being neutral".

- The discovery that - with Europe convulsed by war - you could make a LOT of money moving stuff around in ships... "A 250-ton merchantman - a ship with the capacity of about six modern ocean containers - would cost $15,000 to $20,000 to build, fit out, and provision. One successful voyage in the war years would clear that much in profit for the owners. When a six month voyage would pay for an asset with a useful life of twenty years, the economic incentives driving men to trade on the sea were irresistible."

- The discovery that our beloved France, after helping America win its freedom, had just a few years later drifted into revolution (great!), class violence (oh no!), regicide (well we weren't suggesting that, exactly), to systematically attacking America's coastline.

- The realization that American ships around the world would be seized by pirates, and their crews sold into slavery.  The Pirates of Algiers claimed to hate all Christians, but accepted protection money.  Yes America, you have to pay too, welcome to the real world.  Unless you want to do something about it?

The whole narrative really clarified something for me.  American political thought grew out of a self-centered world view.  We were free on our land, and fought against those who tried to impose tyranny upon us.  But in so doing, we picked up a sword no nation had ever picked up before (which is why this speech works on Americans and hardly anyone else).  And when we tried to put it down again we discovered we couldn't.  And since then every war fought by the United States of American has been framed as a struggle between free men against tyrants.

Now, the British had been doing this for hundreds of years already, but always in the service of an imperialist commercial enterprise.  It was, of course, transparently propagandistic - England was a monarchy and had a class system rivaled only by India's.

So, while America defined itself in opposition to British tyranny, the class system, and colonial/imperial priorities, it picked up some of the narrative threads of the British Empire.  When Jack Aubrey calls Napoleon "The Tyrant", we know whose side we're on.  Funny thing, I just realized - Lord Cochrane, like us, found it hard to put the sword down again.

This shared world view - in which we take up arms in defense of the freedom of others - could well be straight up delusion.  It is hard to distinguish the modern America-centered global trading network from that of the British Empire.  Was it all just a dream?  Must the invisible hand take us from The Patriot to The Phantom Menace so swiftly and so surely?

Or is there some way to be free, to take arms against tyrants, and not become monsters ourselves?

As our President said on an unrelated matter:  "let me get back to you on that."

Lady Hamilton: Muy Caliente!

It should be allowed that Emma Hamilton was a hot tamale.

September 25, 2010

Six Frigates

I had promised myself not to get distracted, to focus on the mountain of work in my briefcase.  But I was also tired, and it's the weekend.  Sitting on the plane, just before the dreaded "turn off all electronic devices" order, I impulsively clicked "Buy" on Ian Toll's Six Frigates:  The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy.

I can't recommend it highly enough, it's just masterful.  I'd expected the first few chapters to be a rehash of things I already knew - instead, I was treated to an account of Thomas Jefferson's stint in Paris as a personal shopper to Madison, who was sitting at home working on a draft of a little thing that would later be known as The Constitution of the United States of America.  Madison is asking especially for "whatever may throw light on the general Constitution and [laws] of the several confederacies which have existed," especially books by "historians of the Roman Empire during its decline."  (This was back when our government followed the maxim that Inferior People Should Not Be Employed.)

Even when I know Toll's material pretty well, I must say he presents it in potently concentrated form, evidencing abundant and careful reflection on his part.  On Nelson:
"But Nelson had a darker side.  Behind the gracious and sensitive exterior there was a cold resolve, a ruthlessness, even a kind of savagery.  His personal courage was extreme to the point of recklessness.  He had seen so much action that it is incredible, in retrospect, that he survived as long as he did."
He goes on to quote a document I'd not heard of before, but which is most illuminating.  When he was 39, the government asked Nelson to submit a "memorial", a summary of his service record to date, for the files or something.  It went a little something like this:
Your memorialist has been in four actions with the fleets of the enemy, in three actions with frigates, in six engagements with batteries, in ten actions in boats employed in cutting out of harbors, in destroying vessels, and in the taking of three towns...  He has assisted in the capture of seven sail of the line, six frigates, four corvettes, eleven privateers of different sizes, and taken and destroyed nearly fifty sail of merchantmen.  [He] has been actually engaged against the enemy upward of one hundred and twenty times, has lost his right eye and arm, and been severely wounded and bruised in his body...

This was before his great victories at The Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar.

Anyway, it is a delight, a fine book about Navies with some excellent material on how our country got along in the 30 years after we won the War of Independence and Lived Happily Ever After.

September 21, 2010

The system works!

Dr Kapital tweets from the "Value of Money" conference in Sun Valley:

There's no pleasing some people, but I think this is great news.

September 20, 2010

Revisionist casting

I'd pay to see this. Or even this. But not to be disappointed by this.

Harter has other inspired choices here.

September 19, 2010

Bled Zeppelin - Whole Lotta Pigs

September 18, 2010

Works for me

If that's too soft, you may prefer this.

The GOP's lead man on the court

For the record, I am tired of Scalia's shit.

September 16, 2010

God's Rochambeau: Rock, Essence, Existence

Dr. X posts this from his rented rooms in Ardfield, where he is researching the local plaque to Noel Redding:

I am often asked if there is a credible cover to Fire by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, if some other band has mastered it and made it their own?  Let me answer the question this way:  NO.

What is estimable

From the Eisengeiste archives, here are all of the people and things we have termed "estimable":

This pleases me

The Chronicle may not be able to tell the difference between a gas explosion and a plane crash, but they at least have their Star Wars fan-made t-shirt priorities straight.

September 15, 2010

Angst Jöken! Jesus, Networking

Jesus, still a young man and idle between gigs as a carpenter, walks down by the wharf and approaches Jacob the fisherman to ask if he might have work. Jesus combs His hair and He asks of the old man: "Have you work for an honest fisherman?" Jacob, a gruff and salty fellow with a big black beard puts down the net he is repairing and gives Him a form, and Jesus dutifully fills out the application parchment.

Jacob,  eyes the form as Jesus looks up hopefully. "It says you spent two years building Samuel's of Galilee's new tannery?"

"Yes," replied Jesus.

"And a year apprenticed to Mikal of Damascus cutting stones,"

"Yes," He replied again.

"And what about this, three months as tax assesor for the Romans?"

"I thought to try rendering things," He replied. "It was not my calling."

"Not much for holding a job, are you?" says Jacob, eying the young man doubtfully.

 "No, but perhaps you should check my career objectives." says Jesus.

"I see," says the old fisherman.  "And it's also your references I'm having trouble with."

September 14, 2010

The Manufactured Society in 3-D

 More and more breakthroughs in 3-D manufacturing.

3-D manufacturing technology is so powerful because it is proving cheaper as well - and what I think it means, beyond its truly remarkable creative possibilities, is the beginning of the end of human craft knowledge. I suspect that -coupled to green energy manufacturing -it might just save our bacon.  But when everything from jewelry to human organs to entire buildings can be made this way with ever increasing automation, what, precisely, are we to do with ourselves? Is our future an endless abusdity of preaching and marketing to each other?

In developing a sculpture recently, the choice has already become clear: it would be far easier and cheaper to use CAD and manufacturing-20 years old now - and send the manufacturing to China. So why not? The value, or vanity, of changing what I think about by working with my hands in clay and wax and metal: the material in working process with my hands and conscious mind changes what I will conceive.
Art critics sometimes ghettoize this as "the handmade," a deeply dismissive phrase that assumes, from an over-extrapolation of Marcel Duchamp, that serious human ideas exist only in written language. I believe that is not only an intellectual failure, particularly in art, but demonstrably false.

I have learned a great deal about my subject by working with traditional methods. I have changed what it is, and what it expresses and discovers.

Much of who we are is created by the dyamic of our minds working with our bodies working with material, not only in art, or folk craft, or say, gardening, but in substantive work: everything from mechanics to construction to agriculture.

What is rising with this technology is I think the automated production of virtually all ordinary commodities, at huge and small scales alike, indeed, completely individual scales. The idea of making an amazing variety of stuff on your own 3-d printer is on the horizon.  Much of the effect may be very good indeed - I was struck a while back by the odd ring of a title of small 1940 art piece at UW: "Mankind Liberated by Machinery."

But because so much of people do and are depends on the interaction of material, minds, and bodies, technology which threatens to eradicate the economic value of most of what humans do should be regarded with real deliberation:

More and more, it seems that expressive art-making as an example of all creative and constructive human activities, most defines what human nature is. When technology furthers this I embrace. But lets not pretend that technological changes to our lives are ficitous or only beneficial. 

Writing this here in a cafe which ten years ago was full of conversation, and is now full but silent as a library, the irony of social media technology is not lost on me. 

Before the predictable reaction to the suggestion that a laissez-faire approach to technological development may hurt us more than help us, a brief word about the Luddites: they weren't opposed to technology as much as to their starvation when made redundant.  It was ultimately an economic argument: the test of powerful technology should be does it benefit most people, not simply enable greater and greater concentrations of private wealth. They fought back, against people like Mill Owner William Horsfall, who famously declared "he would ride up to his saddle in Luddite blood."  They were beaten, shot and hanged en masse (although not before a group of three shot Horsfall in the groin). And indeed, many starved.

It is not wrong to question the impact of technology, to organize changes to its development when its impact may be hugely negatively, to try to make deliberate and balanced policy decisions.  In the late 1800s, the two things most likely to destroy the earth were invented: the electric lightbulb and the internal combustion engine. In the 50s, we figured out how to plug wires into the pleasure centers of the brain and leave them on. This latter, like many other technologies, we don't use because the social costs are too high.  And we are invented powerful technologies at an incredible rate. Proceed please, but with great caution.

September 11, 2010

Thumbs Up

That'll teach 'em

Civilian deaths in Iraq so far:  13-45,000
In Afghanistan:  14-34,000

September 09, 2010

The Angst Komic-Szene

The First Sea Lord demonstrates the existential power of comedy, the most expressive and accurate of all art forms.  Sophoclean tragedy - the ennobling fantasy of a doomed warrior culture -  dishonestly tries to transmute the murderous excesses of war into redemptive life lessons.  But the whole enterprise fails from the start.  Without a forgiving God it is hopeless, and with a forgiving God it is unnecessary.

But comedy is truth.  Comedy forces us to face the worst about ourselves and our world.  Mel Brooks:
Tragedy is when I cut my finger.  Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

May I propose the Angst Komic-Szene, in which the protagonist experiences a soul shattering existential crisis over something no other person cares about.  By way of illustration, may I quote the following excerpt from the television show Wings, in which Thomas Haden Church collapses in grief over the inadvertent destruction of his handmade model of the Graf Zeppelin (2:51 to 5:37):

I think this scene has great existential power:   In default mode - without some corrective effort on our part - not only will we die alone and without dignity, hardly anyone will care. They will be too busy with their zeppelins.  And, of course, we can't be bothered too much with the problems of others now - after all, we have zeppelins of our own.

Woody Allen perfectly captured this pathological solipsism - the disease of our species - in Bananas.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the true original position, the world we are born into. How we proceed from there is up to us.

Why must we begin and end our lives in this absurd and arbitrary dreamscape?  As the Supreme Being said in Time Bandits: "Ah...I think it's something to do with Free Will."

Vomit: The Price of Excellence

The estimable Mark Schlereth explains his pre-game ritual.

September 07, 2010

The Andrews Sisters sound like...freedom

A little more here, pristine sound quality.

Announcing the Angst-Jöken BLOG.

The Angst-Jöken.

It is the joke form which both recognizes and embraces the madness and futility of being. It is the joke where we find that it is precisely by avoiding the joke that we reveal the suffering of hilarity.

You indeed face the gaping chasm of despair, the total obliteration of meaning. You may have lost your job, your lover may have spurned you, your children may have been sold as landscaping slaves, your Manwich scorched by lasers, your cellphone stored stupidly by your own choice into your top pocket may plop into the toilet while your hand is too insensate to stop itself flushing, and yet in the horror that underscores your understanding of the very utter blackity emptiness of the universe, you see through the Angst-Jöken that the very substance of nothingness is but a black chalkboard, upon which you still have a broken piece of wet chalk, to write, screeching:

Behold The Angst-Jöken! 

Submissions are permitted. Encouragement would be a baseless affectation. 

Mission accomplished

What does the U.S. have in common with Argentina?

But what does he know?

Begich thinks McAdams has a chance to turn Alaska blue. "It's a huge opportunity," Begich told TPM in an interview.

QHTP #12

South Bay Auto Body and Paint, Los Gatos


Angst Jöken! The Other, With Suckers

A professor of literary theory is driving his pick-up down a country lane one night, when suddenly the engine stops, a strange wind begins, and the sky is filled with flashing lights. A UFO is landing right in front of him. He turns off his "Derrida-on-tape" and gazes in amazement as a slouchy set of purple and green aliens come down the landing ramp right toward him, squishing forward on their squid-like suckers, wearing berets and smoking Gauloises.

"Take me to the your existentialist leader, please." says one of the aliens, stroking his goatee.

"That's something of a contradiction in terms.  And it presumes a modernist dialectical supremacy which has been widely discredited." says the Professor.

"We are aware of that," says the alien. "Yet the logical tension within the construction of my question is not relevant to choosing to find what we desire. We choose, we ask, you may reply or not."

The Professor thinks for a second. 

"Jean-Paul Sartre is long dead."

"We know that - we wished to pay our respects. We aren't fools you know. You of all people should respect the culture of the Other."  To emphasize this point, one of the most purple aliens whips around it's seventeen arms like a tree in the wind, hooting wildly.

The Professor goes: "How do you know who I am?"

"We read your book at Altair-Seven book club."

"Well, I don't know where he's buried. France, I guess. Can't you just look it up?"

Exasperated, the alien takes a diffident puff and says: "No wonder you were denied tenure."

September 06, 2010

QHTP #11

Al Orozco Woodworking, Los Gatos


September 05, 2010

It's nice to have a little extra in reserve

QHTP #10

Los Gatos Auto Body, Los Gatos
(Bonus artsy-fartsy shot here.)


Steam Punk Daddy

  It doesn't get much cooler than the story of Mr. Sylvester Roper: he invented one of the earliest motorcycles in 1869, a steam-powered velocipede shown below- almost 30 years later, he refines it to a coal-powered version that goes 40mph (!), and at 73, he dies racing it - but of OLD AGE - crashing his contraption at t...he moment of showing up the young whippersnappers at the track.

 Also, note some of the beauty and history of steam bicycles and velocipedes.  I like The Whippet, a early safety bike, and another remarkable early motorcycle, the 4-wheeled Daimler gas powered one below- the invention of which  may have destroyed the planet earth, mind you. More steam bikes here and the even earlier Perreaux steam bike here, and this one at the Wharf in SF!


Angst-Joken! Within the Unfunny Joke Lurks The Hilarious Despair

As read by Werner Herzog.

There is a Sale at Nordstrom's on Alienation.  A very old Russian man, looking a little disoriented, is buying some new shoes. The saleswoman is a young blond with full breasts and a very low cut sweater, and kindly bends down to help the old fellow change his socks. "Vladmir, Dimitri!, I haven't seen you in years!," he exclaims. " But what happened to your beards?" Offended, the girl walks off in a huff.
     The old man, with a slight smile on his face, waits patiently for his friends and the beautiful girl with the big tits to come back, looking with a hopeful expression at the passing shoppers until the lights are turned off and the store closes, and he is escorted to the street by security.

Fantastic Land Wars in Asia. Napoleon, Alexander the Great and Ghenghis Khan are arguing over who the greatest military leader was, when Bob Dylan comes in, pulls out his guitar and sings Blowin' in the Wind. Just as he puts his mouth on the harmonica,  the great military leaders put their differences and considerable egos, and get up and stab him where he stands.
     But as Bob Dylan dies, the harmonica bleating out his last breath in D minor,  they stand uncertainly, staring at the blood on their hands, facing a shocked and increasingly belligerent audience of several hundred. There was a moment of self-aggrandizing catharsis, and now it has transmuted horribly into a very mundane act of murder. They watch as the crowd, armed with sticks, chairs, and small black boxes, approaches. Napoleon is the first to fall victim to an anonymous Taser.

line15=recycleemotionalstate. Four robots get up at 3AM to go fishing for bass, which they are programmed to not find boring. 

Hope on Pope.  The Pope is touring South Dakota, and stops at a local joint to have a bacon cheeseburger, when a cowboy and a robot walk into the same little diner.  He recognizes them from an embarrassing  previous joke, and tries to hide his face with his hand.  To his great relief, they walk on by, although he is fairly sure they recognized his pope hat and are ignoring him too. He feels a little bit sad- although the robot could be unpleasant, he sort of liked the cowboy.  However, when he turns around, a huge Grizzly Bear sits across from him in the booth, eating the Pope's excellent bacon cheeseburger.  The Pope and Bear stare at each other now, sizing each other up, playing a dangerous contest at which there can only be one winner.  Here is Nature's cold,  mad game of hunger and territory, at which the penalty for failure is death.

September 04, 2010

Three Things I Didn't Know About the Blue Angels

The 10% fatality rate:  "...26 Blue Angels pilots have been killed in air show or training accidents...there have been 262 pilots in the squadron's history, giving the job a 10% fatality rate."

The part about not bothering with G-Suits:  "The Blue Angels do not wear G-suits, because the air bladders inside them would repeatedly deflate and inflate. That would interfere with the control stick between a pilot's legs. Instead, Blue Angel pilots tense their stomach muscles and legs to prevent blood from rushing from their heads and rendering them unconscious."  (How they maneuver the control sticks past their gigantic brass balls is not explained.)

They will fly new aircraft this season. 

    Scott McAdams for U.S. Senate

    Here's the thing. Lament not for Don Young's Alaskan-ness.

    McAdams is an Alaskan-Alaskan without being arrogant, corrupt, crazy and destructive: born and raised, a real fisherman, worked years at a serious level on educational issues. He's not an oil tool, but talks reasonably for an Alaskan politician about greener oil development, and puts, correctly, fishing at a high priority. He seems to have the long view of the state in mind. 

    On his website, there is a distinct flavor of native Alaskan values in his welcome statement, a core social sensibility that I've grown to admire over time. It's a voice that on first read I want to see at the national level.

    Most importantly, he was a small-town mayor in a town where mayors actually did things, and something of a leader in municipal governments around the state- the nuts and bolts of good governance.

    Meanwhile, his Teabag opponent, who is a veteran,but also a Yale Lawyer, and longtime Alaskan since 1995, keeps bleating about ending Social Security. You read that right.

    My gut feeling is that McAdams, a guy who seems to have that long-forgotten quality of humble, consensus leadership, might become an outstanding Senator. I'm betting there aren't any skeletons. I expect him to be closer to Begich politically, which is to say, a moderate but generally progressive.

    September 03, 2010

    One and done

    I went looking for a great motivational football speech.  Here's Ed Reed in 2001, with a separated shoulder, right before he went out and got two interceptions in the second half to lead his team to victory.

    Cover band

    Dr. X posts this from that one place in the Bowery:

    The best cover band?  After extensive research, I'm going with the Foo Fighters.

    September 02, 2010

    The Unexplained Residual

    I really enjoy these Cracked pieces - generally well-researched and funny.  The one on genuinely disurbing UFO reports hits some of my favorites - all of them, in fact, except Cash-Landrum.  But that one was obviously just some sick secret atomic government flying thing that was never disclosed to the general public and emitted a type of health-harming radiation not understood by mainstream medical practitioners.  Easy enough to explain. 

    But Valentich...that one still scares the daylights out of me.

    September 01, 2010

    On Draft Day - The Greatest Pre-Season Inspiration Speech of All Time

    Smack That Cracker!

    A Democratic U.S. Senate pickup in Alaska? A likeable and apparently sensible fellow named named McAdams, who has not really begun his campaign and has barely $5k in the bank, is just 6 points behind "Psycho" Joe Miller in the always rightward-leaning Rasmussen poll. The Democratic Party suddenly has a very good shot at picking up a U.S. Senate seat from the Republicans in Alaska. McAdams might be worth your attention, and possibly your time and support. Also my Mom met him- says he's alright. So there you go.


    Even in a democracy, I have no obligation to listen to, much less respect, arguments patently based on total fabrication, utter obliviousness, naked self-interest, or inexhaustible maliciousness. To some extent, I can dissociate such an argument from the person making it. But not repeatedly. At certain point, these arguments are just social poison, and I will not drink.