Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Favorite Sports Records (continuation of old post) Football Edition

Now that school has stared again I have bought a art sketchbook with 80 unlined high quality sheets of paper in the hope of beginning some kind of short book, a draft of which, 180-240 pages or so, should be achievable by spring. Revision I can do when distracted and at odd hours, but first drafts I seem to require a couple of hours a day for, which I should have now. This will be a very slight book, I am talking maybe even at the level of library and drug store reminiscences, anything to get back in the routine of writing prose again. I have never had the experience of feeling my mind stripped as bare as I have found it lately; the thought process fixes on nothing and goes nowhere. Obviously people lose abilities, often rapidly, throughout life, but I cannot believe that I will never return to having a more whole, intricately ordered and directed mental life; though perhaps I will not.

The political life, if one can call it that, of this country seems to me unnaturally ugly at the moment, and I fear its resolution as far as current conflict goes will only come about by means of unnecessarily hard and vindictive events. If this leads to the psychic improvement and invigoration of the increasingly empty and anomic mass, this would perhaps be a desired end. I am at all convinced that this would be the result however.

When I was a child, Jim Brown was the NFL's all time leading rusher. Currently he is 9th, and even that is higher than I thought he would be. The earliest all time reception leader I remember, around 1977, was Charley Taylor, though this record was broken almost every year until Jerry Rice put up a truly enormous number of catches that should hold for a little while. Charley Taylor is now 41st all time. Likewise most of the major passing records have passed in these same few decades from Johnny Unitas to Fran Tarkenton to Dan Marino to Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning is on track to shatter all these records assuming he plays another 6 or 7 years, which one has no reason to expect he won't. The point being that in football records that have stood for 40 or 50 years are extremely rare and therefore of especial interest to the fan.

Most Yards Passing, Single Game: Norm Van Brocklin, 1951--554 yards. This is one of the most remarkable records in all of sports. People have come close to breaking it pretty frequently, and while it would undoubtedly require a monster game, it is hardly out of reach, espcecially of a good modern offense. Among those getting within a decent length pass of the record in recent years are Warren Moon (527), Boomer Esiason (522) and Drew Brees (510), and while I cannot find a list, I am pretty sure every other game in the top ten has occurred since 1990. I predict that this record will fall sometime within the next few years.

Interceptions. One category where old-timers remain well-represented in the record books, due to the consistent improvements in passing offense, are interceptions...

I don't want to finish this. Here are the basics. Night Lane Train intercepted 14 passes in a 12 game season in 1952. It's still the record. The league leaders in the 2000s have all been between 8-10. No one has had more than 10 in a season since 1981 (Everson Walls--11). Lester Hayes did have 13 in 1980, which is tied with Bob Sandifer's 1948 performance for the second most INTs of all time.

Career-wise, only 4 of the top 10 interceptors have been active within the last 30 years, and the all time record is still held by a white guy, Paul Krause, who pulled in 81 balls playing for the Redskins and Vikings in the 60s and 70s. Only 2 other white guys (Dick LeBeau and Pat Fischer--I remember Pat Fischer, who was around 5-9, playing cornerback for the Redskins in 1977 or 1978, which would have been his 17th or 18th season in the league. I remember that my father admired him as a player but knew that by that time he was getting on past his prime) are in the top 20, which is actually less than I had expected (I thought at least Roger Werhli and Bill Bradley would have made it). Rod Woodson, who played forever, made it all the way to 3rd all time, but was was still 10 shy of the record. Darren Sharper is the only active player in the top 20, currently 6th all time with 63, including 9 last year. Going into his 14th year in the league, 19 more INTs seems a lot to ask. Deion Sanders, who believes the entire position ought to be named after him, is not in the top 20 all time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

James Dickey--Deliverance (1970) (I)

I had planned to start this essay with a joke, saying that I identified deeply with this book because its most famous episodes were as if lifted directly from my own life, at which point I was going to say, oh wait, no, forget it, that was the opening to my essay on David Copperfield, or something of that sort. However I have not been feeling too jokey lately, so my attempts at writing it straight seemed to me to be falling flat. I don't have the spirit either to mock, even half-heartedly, or to confront directly--let alone triumphantly--what the story would have me confront. Nonetheless it does not strike me as being beyond my capacity to offer a commentary on what I think it purports to say.

This is another book I would have been willing to put off reading forever if it had never come up on my list. This was mainly on account of all the references to the infamous scene in the movie, which I had also contentedly avoided seeing until recently. The novel was a minor sensation around the time I was born, so I had some interest in seeing what kinds of things were preoccupying the collective mind at that time. Was there other value in it? It was written by a poet, and has a kind of fantastic viewpoint and story, and at various points the writing gives the effect of being a prose-poem. That is worthwhile for seeing what kinds of things can be done with the form. The story did not stir me much, though the execution of it was admirable enough in most points. It is purposefully and tautly written. It is not overly short--there is a lot of explanation of what exactly characters are doing at any given time, of their material baggage, the terrain through which they are moving, all of which however is economically achieved and always serves to move the narrative forward. So that is good.

The movie is almost identical to the novel, and adds really nothing to it if you have already read the latter--even the famous "duelling banjos" scene is conveyed quite skilfully in the book, as another commentator, whom I will discuss more later, has observed just this week. The most infamous scene is far scarier and better developed in the book. The movie is quite highly regarded as a movie, but the book is much superior in pretty much every way, and while I admire the book, it left me pretty cold for the most part. My impression would be that the movie is generally overrated.

As I alluded to earlier, another commentary on this book was published in the New York Times the other day commemorating the 40th anniversary of the novel's publication. Like most of the book writing in that publication it is rather strikingly pedestrian and uninformative. Since I was about to begin an essay of my own on the same subject, I thought I ought it might be of interest to refer to it for some comparisons. The Times author likes the book more than I do, and takes the opportunity to get in some swipes at the men, writers and otherwise, of the present midlife generation for not showing much of a taste for engaging with the great themes that are the main preocuupations of the novel--danger, mortality, or anything else remotely discomfiting in general. This is perhaps true--complaints about the passive, stupefied, low testosterone state of modern manhood have been a pretty constant theme throughout my life--but I think he both exaggerates the significance of Dickey's engagement with these spectres in Deliverance and does not seem to grasp the substantial underlying reasons why issues would have even less immediate resonance with the man-children of generation X than they did with the more conventionally hardened, accomplished and actualized men of 40 years ago.

The introduction of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air as an example of non-fiction authors' moving onto the soil which novelists have chosen to abandon by the way is bizarre and nothing to the point. I have read this book, which is entertaining in a finding-out-what-kinds-of-weird-things-are-going-on-in-the-world-nowadays kind of way, and while the various catastrophes delineated in its pages may have suggested various contemplations on mortality, vanity and so on to certain readers, they don't appear to have done so to Krakauer himself, whose standout characteristic to me as a writer is how 95% of the questions and matters of interest that would have suggested themselves to most good writers do not seem to do so with him. It is even almost fascinating to read someone who is in many ways so unaffected by metaphysical concerns to any serious extent. (Greg Mortensen, The Three Cups of Tea guy, whose literary method has a similar odd lack of general intellectual or historical underpinning that seems to consciously inform his interpretation of his experience). Camus, or even Maurice Herzog, would have come at the material from a totally different conception of human existence. The lesson of Into Thin Air, as Krakauer saw it, was that too many people were climbing Mt Everest who were not anywhere near prepared or experienced enough for the rigor of such an expedition; those who did survive the catastrophes which befell the expeditions written about in the book were for the most part lucky, helpless to save themselves but being people of privilege and high self-regard expectant that efforts must be undertaken to save them. There was the usual indignation about environmental effects, Western incursion on indigenous communities, culturally obnoxious behavior and so on. The book's concerns are about forms and practical training and knowledge, which it takes to speak for itself when attained.

If current writers are not writing about the kinds of themes which are prevalent in Deliverance--and I am not sure that no one is (are there not novels about, say, migration from Central America across the dangerous deserts of Mexico and Arizona? Is not this unflinching grappling with the elemental nature of existence what Cormac McCarthy is celebrated for?)--it is probably because they do not feel them to be especially pressing concerns. Why they do not is perhaps one of the keys to understanding the age.

James Dickey was by most accounts consumed with living, and giving the appearance of living, a macho life. Despite having solid credentials to the title of acceptable manliness by most contemporary standards--played college football, served in World War II, had a successful career as an advertising executive, a more successful and acclaimed career as a writer, was an accomplished archer, guitarist and woodsmen, drank like a fish and bedded scores of women--he evidently felt the necessity of exaggerating the details of these accomplishments. I will not speculate on the deep causes of this insecurity or obsession or whatever one wishes to call it, but judging by the characters in his book, something in the effect which the easy security and comfortable status of postwar suburban life had on men was repulsive to his higher nature, he detected something of the same effect at work, even if mildly upon himself, and he reacted against it in an exaggerated manner; which was not unusual amongst male artistic types in his generation.
People my age may indeed have this same instinctive repulsion towards the type, especially if they are of it or even proximate enough, but it takes a different form. Life appears to be more competitive all around now; one's pool of competitors is much larger, and meaningful achievement that will incline the people around you to feel basic respect, let alone admiration for you harder to attain. The characters in Deliverance are presumably in their 30s, and we are supposed to take them as soft and mild--even the muscular Lewis character (played by Burt Reynolds in the movie), who is a workout fanatic and dedicates himself to all manner of weapons and outdoor adventure training, is portrayed as a somewhat ridiculous version of an authentic man. Nonetheless they all have jobs that easily support families and pay for homes, and their relative status at work is pretty high (above all women and black people at the minimum). At home, though the suggestion is that modern domesticity has drained all the vital spirit out of them, by present educated class standards they largely ignore their wives and children, are never expected to change diapers or babysit, and spend pretty much every weekend playing golf or going fishing with their male friends. My guess is that the typical 40 year old male or male writer today, not secure enough in having met the minimal requirements of adult manhood in the context of his own society, cannot presume to devote a lot of worry to how he would fare if confronted with mortality in the form of extreme violence or elemental adversity. Probably, he has little choice but to figure, not well. It might be difficult to convince him, if he cannot even achieve fairly simple desires, and feels no imminent threat of such violence, that it matters...

I'm bringing this to an end here. I may continue it later. In some sense.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

(Probably Not) The End

I wanted to embed this, but that option has been disabled on this clip. It is so well-done, the work of a real artist. The whole trilogy is easily one of the greatest movies of all time. There is no sense of strain either in the story or the filming, every scene once it has been accomplished seems obvious, as if anybody given a camera and a scenario ought to be able to produce something at least proximate to. But of course virtually no one can. There is pity in this too.

Given the difficulties I have been having coming up with even passable material for this blog in recent months, and my increasingly sour attitude whenever I sit down to write in recent months, I have once again been giving some consideration to trying to close down the blog again. After all, I have been at it for 4 years now, which is quite a long time--many celebrated literary magazines of long ago days had much shorter runs than that--and I have not managed to make much of a splash in any way. This consideration aside, the quality of the operation can no longer be said to be consistently improving, and the contemplation of it is not usually a cause even of private pleasure to its author. The temptation to carry on will almost certainly prove too much however. The great dreams, of an audience, of popularity, of respect, of conceiving oneself an author, even of producing some halfway decent bit of writing, are yet too strong, and there is no other convenient way of indulging them.

Surprisingly, I have not had my usual summer depression this year. It has been a very good summer, with lots of outdoor activities and sun, which was unusual for me in my earlier life. Indeed my private life overall is quite happy, and whatever shortcomings I have are with great tactfulness not emphasized or alluded to therein at all unless I force the subject of them myself. I have also been less affected by the usual worldly worries and disappointments than I have been for many years. Having turned forty it is as if a certain amount of anxiety has finally cleared off from my mind. I was always pre-occupied with youthful desires and youthful markers of success, which, finally being utterly unattainable, I have noticed these anxieties starting, albeit slowly, to be evaporating somewhat. One still wants to be active and useful and important in some way, of course, but so far the middle-aged versions of the failure to be these things seem to be much less traumatic to my imagination than their youthful incarnations were. Perhaps it is because I am already accustomed to not having a public identity, and so do not reasonably expect to ever have one now. Whatever the cause, my state of mind as regards much of the world is usually calm but strangely empty and detached at this time.

But if you have not seen the clip I linked to above, I highly recommend taking the three minutes to look at it, it will be well worth the time. It is very beautiful.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I have taken down one of my recent posts after it was brought to my attention that parts of it would likely be considered offensive. I don't like to do that sort of thing--many pieces on here are regrettable for one reason or another, usually for the poor quality of the thinking or writing, and I have tended to think that the reminders which their embarrassing presence offer will better serve to steer me in the direction of improvement than if they were all vanished or hidden from sight, though it is true that at this point there is no reason to believe that will be the case. As to offensiveness, while of course in many instances it is more than appropriate in writing to provoke offense--indeed, that is held by many writers to be the medium's most sacred purpose--my sense of which times and subject matters are appropriate for this however, and which are the most proper methods and tones to employ in thrusting one's points home, remain with me a work in progress. Criticism and judgement are not areas of the intellect where I am strong even limiting the comparison within the realm of my own mind (anticipating any allegations that no part of my brain could be designated as functioning, let alone strong, by any regular standards of intelligent humanity). If I must write at all, I should at least resist the temptation to write in those modes at which I am especially poor, in order that these sorts of embarrassing situations do not recur.

This all said, I consider that what really objectionable offense there was in this little article was in the crudity and poor execution of the writing to express certain of my positions and emotional responses rather than in those positions and responses themselves. I do think there is a lot of phony sanctimoniousness and outrage on certain senstive issues that are at the very least legitimate subjects for debate. I do think there are points where even the noblest causes can begin to develop a wearisome aspect, or succeed too much, where the equilibrium of a healthy, flourishing society and body politic may begin to be disturbed, and I often find myself wondering if such a point has not been broached in this one. But seeing as I suffer too much from the symptoms I diagnose, and cannot present my positions either gracefully or forcefully, it will not do any good to try to press them at this time, so I will drop all references to the subject for the foreseeable future. Besides, having had to work through some of the issues, or non-issues as many see them, that were bothering me, I feel a little bit better, or at least more comfortably resigned, about them than I did when I allowed my agitation to get the better of me before.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Armies of the Night (V)

Looking back at a distance of 43 years now, the real anger and audacity of the 60s middle class rebels appear quite remarkable. Objectively it is easy enough to pooh-pooh their stances and complaints as insignificant, but what forcefulness there was in the wills of individual people! One feels nothing like that among all but a very few people, or at least intelligent people, one encounters now in ordinary life.

I get to flavor my blog with some summer of love type quotes now. Heady times, those 60s.

"Augustus Owsley Stanley, III...His statement was that LACE (hippie group, name a takeoff on MACE, which was some kind of military acronym) makes you want to take off your clothes, kiss people and make love...They would try to kidnap LBJ and wrestle him to the ground and take his pants off." Of course it is very silly but it is clear that at this time people were still taking a kind of childlike delight in just expressing the thoughts and uttering the words, which thrill unfortunately wore off rather quickly.

"This was to be the first of many speeches to be made to them...some professional, some--girls, for instance, opening buttons on their blouses--improvisational." Yes, I am very easily titillated. I like to think that this keeps me somewhat young, however. I can't pretend, like all the cool people my age, to have long done and seen it all. Indeed, I have seen virtually nothing.

The problems of the American Middle Class--in short, that it is wimpy, spiritless and has no real power besides--are laid out at such length that one is almost relieved at the prospect that the current economic reorganization is going to do away with most of it altogether and give the offspring of those falling out of it a shot at the 'easy confident virility' and 'physical courage' that the working class is supposed to have retained and which causes the soft sons of the suburbs so much unease. Of course the social gulf between these classes has gotten so big since the late 60s that I would venture very few suburban types view anything about the working class with much admiration at all, even (in those people who still have it) physical courage. The soft middle class doesn't play the same sports, doesn't join the military, is not for the most part in competition for the same women, in effect sees themselves as living a completely life in a more or less different society.

Jerry Rubin shows up. Mailer called him a "revolutionary mystic, whose roots were in Bakunin". I didn't know who Bakunin was. He was a 19th century Russian philosopher and active revolutionary whose ruling theory was Collectivist Anarchism. I certainly believe there are people who have genuine revolutionary-oriented personalities, and I find them extremely interesting, though I don't on the whole have any desires to follow such people. I don't know whether Jerry Rubin was such a character to the core or not, but he does seem to have had something of the type in him.

There should be more effective intellectual-oriented opposition to the ruling interests in our time. Even if it is the case that all of the most talented and capable people are co-opted into the service of the entrenched powers, which I don't believe, some kind of radical opposition should emerge from at least the fringes of that world. One assumes it will, that we are currently going through a very culturally dispirited cycle the lethargy of which will have to break eventually. I admit responsibility for my own part both in being unable to formulate and mount a credible alternative or challenge to the status quo, and for not allowing this to disturb my general tranquility as much as it ought to. "...they would be a new breed of American soldiers if they did not laugh." On the Army's potential response to the irreverant signs of the protestors. One feels there is something true in the sentiment here, though the wording or perhaps the example is not precisely right. The attitudes of soldiers towards certain large swathes of civilian society was I think something new, but so too were the circumstances of a publically unpopular war and a broad critique of many of the values that the army was supposed both to be defending and to exemplify. Mailer's own World War II generation of soldiers, or at least that part of it that became writers, tended to view themselves as more wary of the military establishment and other claimants to authority than their historical reputation would suggest. My guess would be that that is not literally true, but the circumstance that a lot of people of the time were concerned with and turned their most specific attentions to this attitude shows that whatever it signified was considered meaningful.

The middle class boy burns his draft card, his stomach churning with equal parts anxiety and revolutionary fervor. "He looks for a girl to kiss in reward." Ignoring the entitlement issues our young man is betraying, there is a beautiful simplicity in these old stories where one can perform a single feat, and in many instances not an especially onerous one, and immediately expect such a sweet payoff. When I set out looking for girls to kiss, the strategy was more along the lines of a five-year plan.

"There are very few on the Left who do not live with a partial belief their own life will end in such a way..." He happens to be referring in this instance to gas chambers but I assume the sentiment is meant to apply to any brutal extermination method governments have access too. I suppose from time to time thoughts of this sort fluttered into my head. I don't have them much now. I'm much more worried about...but I don't want to jinx myself by writing it. I does not involve being put to death in an disrespectful manner by a government or military tribunal or anything of that kind.

"The spokesman was speaking in totalitarianese, which is to say, technologese, which is to say any language which succeeds in stripping itself of any moral content...There are negative rites of passage as well. Men learn in a negative rite to give up the best things they were born with, and forever." This leads to the great question posed by the end of this book, which is Would I have been a hippy or a square? I would doubtless have been a square, and I would also doubtless have believed I really wanted to be a hippy. This would have led me to go halfway on the clothes and hair which would only have further exasperated my main problems at the time.

It is a fairly common opinion, I think, that some American form of totalitarianism is inevitable. Anticipating its appearance in the very near future--often within the next 5 years--is a favorite pastime of doomsdayers. Many of these doomsdayers also agree that the American strain of fascism is likely to be among the worst yet seen in the history of the world. I'm going to take a kind of mellow conservative view of this and predict that it will not happen within the next 5 years. Too many really bad things would need to coalesce before which the overwhelming majority of the population, which I am not in the least afraid of, would be powerless to stop. I don't see it coming to that. There are a lot of people on both of the main political sides who seem to attribute some motive of evil, pure and unfathomable of origin, to their enemies. But this is generally wy exaggerated.

I forgot to comment on the various Noam Chomsky sightings during the book. Chomsky didn't have much to do with Mailer. He is presented as very serious, and would neither join in any kind of banter nor discuss the linguistics works for which he was already becoming well known when Mailer tried to engage him on those subjects.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


My eight year old has reached the age where he has become interesed in certain kinds of facts--about presidents, states, television shows. In addition to those morsels of knowledge that can be definitively stated--such as that Warren G. Harding was the 29th president and died in office, or that Lansing is the capital of Michigan--he desires me to give or direct him to more subjective judgements, what are the best, and especially, what are the worst, presidents, movies, states, cities, and so on, to which I give the best answers I can, though usually with so many qualifiers as to be ultimately unsatisfactory to the eight year old mind. I suppose I could give him books like Howard Zinn's Children's History of the United States, which offer more confident assessments of historical events, but the particular variety of stridency and point of view of such books I must confess I am not in a very close sympathy with. This is not much of moment at present, however. Of those more solid facts that are printed in his books, he sometimes quizzes me, partly to see what I know, and partly to be reassured of the truth of his reading, and I don't do too badly; however I have noticed that according to his atlas--a recent publication--the largest cities in quite a few states are different from what they were when I was eight. As these changes had taken place with me wholly oblivious to them, and I have always had some interest in populations and the history of them, I was curious to see what had been going on, and whether or I could glean any insight from the patterns and answers I discovered.

In all, 6 U.S. States have a different largest city than they did in 1962, the date of the primary reference atlas of my youth, which I still have. For a while I thought there were 7, but the last turned out to be an error in strict detail, thought still revealing much in drift. I also have an atlas from 1938 which gives population figures that I would think would be of much general interest, not only in the remarkable growth of certain locales both national and international, but the comparative stagnancy of others. So for even more vivid effect I will include the data from this atlas in my essay too.

The states with new largest cities fall into 3 groups. The first, being those states where a longtime champion has been recently toppled from its provincial primacy, group thus consists of three states. They are:

Connecticut. In Connecticut the competition for population supremacy among its cities has long been a tightly contested affair between the big 3 of Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. In '38 Hartford edged New Haven 164,000-163,000, with Bridgeport holding 3rd place at 147,000. In '62 Hartford still carried the prize with 162,000, while Bridgeport had risen to 2nd with 156,000 and New Haven slumped behind at 152,000. Currently however Bridgeport has taken a surprisingly substantial lead despite having a considerably reduced population of 139,000, Hartford and New Haven being in a veritable heat for 2nd place at around 124,000 apiece (and still falling?).

These numbers are interesting to me because all 3 of these cities have a reputation in New England as being dumps, and Bridgeport especially; while I have driven through each of the three at least a hundred times in my frequent travels across the northeast I have always made a general point of avoiding stopping in them (though years ago there was a diner in New Haven I used to stop at somewhat regularly, and cannot remember when or why I stopped doing so). Bridgeport's relatively strong continued population showing would seem to be objectively inexplicable, unless it is warehousing a lot of people who can't afford to live anywhere else in what is an expensive area. I was just in Hartford last week (which trip I intend to write about more at length in an upcoming post), where I had never spent any time at all before, and while my visit was brief the parts I was in anyway I found to be much less unappealing than I had expected. This, combined with the general trend in much of the rest of the country that state capitals and other seats of government seem to be growing at the expense of the old industrial cities, makes the city's continued shedding of population and inability to generate much enthusiasm for itself a mystery to me.

Missouri. I knew that St Louis had been going down for some time, but this really shocked me. Here are the numbers: 1938: 1. St Louis, 822,000 2. Kansas City 400,000 3. St Joseph 81,000. 1962: 1 St Louis 750,000 2. Kansas City 475,000 3. Springfield 95,000. 2010: 1. Kansas City 441,000 2. St Louis 320,000 3. Springfield 150,000 (in case you were wondering, St Joseph's is in 7th place currently, down to about 71,000).

I know I may seem to have a habit of going to places and finding them not as bad as their reputations, but St Louis, which 100 years ago was one of the great cities of North America, and really the world, was truly depressing. What in the heck happened? Percentage-wise, the population drop from 1938 to now is greater than Detroit's (and I would say that the cultural contribution of St Louis, including music, was substantially greater than Detroit's). The other obvious question is, Why has Kansas City, also seemingly not quite at the center of the action of modern life, been able for the most part to hold its population?

Ohio. 1938: 1. Cleveland 900,000 2. Cincinnati 451,000 3. (tie) Columbus & Toledo 291,000. 1962: Cleveland 876,000 2. Cincinnati 502,000 3. Columbus 471,000. 2010: 1. Columbus 736,000 2. Cleveland 449,000 3. (tie) Toledo & Cincinnati 306,000.

Cleveland's decline has been well documented; it is the rise of Columbus that was stunning to me. I had no idea the place had over 700,000 people. The other question is, why is Toledo comparatively doing so well? It is dead smack in the midst of some of the most depressed and rapidly depopulating areas in the nominal first world. I stayed in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of Toledo on one of my driving trips once, and the place had one of the worst vibes I have ever felt anywhere. And this impression was before I was awakened in the middle of the night to find the hallway full of cops who had been called to intervene in a domestic dispute that had been taking place in a room down the hall.

The second category consists of one state where a former champion has re-ascended to the penthouse.

Florida. In 1938, the biggest city in Florida was Jacksonville, with 146,000 souls, followed by Miami at 128,000 and Tampa at 100,000. By '62 Miami was the biggest city with 291,000, followed by Tampa at 274,000 and Jacksonville dropped to 3rd at 201,000. Today however Jacksonville, which occupies a huge area and was born to absorb sprawl, is back on top at a whopping 797,000, with Miami a distant 2nd at 382,000, and Tampa still trailing 324,000.

Jacksonville looks like it would be a singularly ugly, boring and depressing place to live, but I know a number of people who retired to that city, the main reason given for which is that it is cheap. The appeal of cheap can never be underestimated, though it frequently is by people like me in the Northeast who are perpetually boggled by how millions of people can endure living in dreary endless apshalt hellholes like Houston or Phoenix or Jacksonville. I suppose I could endure it if I had a steady stream of hot girlfriends drawn from the local pool of Applebee's and Hooters waitresses and for-profit college students, but otherwise...no.

Orlando had only 30,000 people back in 1938 but even now it has only 207,000, not near as big as I thought and is only the 6th largest city in Florida (behind St Petersburg & Hialeah, for the record).

That leaves two states where there has been a different largest city in each of the three years.

Montana. I know nothing about any of these cities, Montana being surely in the handful of the most obscure states in the country. In 1938 the biggest city there was Butte, with around 40,000 people, followed by Great Falls (29,000) and Billings (16,000). In '62 Great Falls (55,000) had taken a slim lead over Billings (52,000) while Butte, now 3rd, had slipped all the way to 27,000. The methodical ascent of Billings has carried into the present, where the population now stands at 99,000 and its position as the main municipality of the state seems to be pretty solid for the foreseeable future. If there is to be a challenger however, the money would like to be on the new runner-up, Missoula, seat of the state university and, it is my impression, an increasingly popular destination for the organic food and natural body hair crowd (a crowd I secretly kind of like, incidentally), which has come out of nowhere to be the home of 63,000 people. Great Falls at 56,000 has remained stagnant now for half a century, and Butte, the one time champion, now dropped to fourth with a count of 34,000 people, has yet to regain the population it had in 1938.

Given the relatively small population figures for these towns, it does not require much of an influx or outflux of people to have an effect on their statuses vis-a-vis each other. However I should do the service of researching a little what has gone on in these places to explain the patterns of growth and decline.

Butte was a copper boomtown that actually reached its peak around 1920 or so. It underwent a major decline in the 1950s.

Great Falls, due in part to the hydroelectric possibilities suggested by its name, became an industrial, transportation and supply center for both the mining and agricultural industries--the town's main landmark until it was demolished in 1983 was an enormous smokestack for a copper smelter. After the 1940s there was also a military base. All of these enterprises declined precipitously in the 1980s.

Billings originated as a railroad town. Even in the beginning, it was known as "The Magic City" because it 'seemed to grow by magic'. Today it is the 'financial, medical, agricultural and cultural center for the Northern Rockies/Great Plains', and the nearest city larger than it is 350 miles away. It must have a good location. The photos of it are pretty, but the surrounding landscape reminds one more of one of the remote cities on the Trans-Siberian railroad than an American city.

Virginia. 1938: 1. Richmond 183,000 2. Norfolk 130,000 3. Roanoke 69,000. 1962: 1. Norfolk 304,000 2. Richmond 219,000 3. Portsmouth 144,000. 2010. 1. Virginia Beach 425,000 2. Norfolk 234,000 3. Chesapeake 199,000.

The geography of Virginia is somewhat difficult to keep up with. Virginia Beach, now officially the largest city in the state, is listed in the 1938 atlas as having 2,000 people, but that municipality was but a small part of the present city called Virginia Beach, which is the result of the consolidation of a good number of formerly separate towns in 1963. Also Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach are all right next to each other and together, with a few other places, make up a significant metropolis of over one and a half million people that most people even in the northern part of the state are barely aware of the existence of. Norfolk seems to still be considered the primary "city" around which this conurbation is oriented, with the other places, even 400,000+ Va Beach being suburbs. Needless to say I have never been down there to try to make some sense of what looks like a mess. And man, there are a lot of people living there. What do they do? Are the girls hot? (I'm running a comparison on Hotornot.com between the women of Billings and the women of Virginia Beach. The Va. Beach team has more depth and overall hotness, but the Billings girls look cleaner and bring a lot less attitude--and when they are hot, they are really hot, and in a manner largely exotic in quality to those of us in the northeast--all this just for the record).

I don't know where this state is going in the future.

Tennessee. I started all this because my boy's book had Nashville listed as the largest city in Tennessee with 511,000 people, surpassing longtime king Memphis, and indeed in 1962 Memphis was home to 497,000, with Nashville logging a distant second at 170,000. Subsequent researches have left me pretty certain that Memphis is in fact still the biggest city there, though not by too much, perhaps 100,000 for so. Nashville has grown much during my lifetime from a respectable but decidedly minor league sized state capital and cultural center to a fairly major city. A lot of formerly modest state capitals have followed in a similar vein, particularly those that are also home to mega-universities. Austin, Texas is the size of Boston now. Madison, Wisconsin it is my impression is more of a big city than the intimate all-American kind of place it was formerly. Columbus of course. Is Sacramento a major city now, or do I just imagine that because they have an NBA team? (ed--est. current pop. 407,000, up from 191,000 in 1960).

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Armies of the Night 4

p.127--"Mailer had then that superimposition of vision which makes descriptions of combat so contradictory when one compares eyewitness reports." Remember the hubbub during the last election about Hilary Clinton's false memory of being fired on by snipers during a trip to Bosnia?

p.138 A Fran Tarkenton reference--we always like those. The arresting marshal is described, when his rage has subsuded, as having "an intelligent, clean-featured American face, not...unlike the pleasant modest appearance of Mr. Fran Tarkenton, quarterback for the New York Giants." I only remember him at the tail end of his career with the Vikings, '76, '77 when he broke his leg late in the season and everybody figured he was finished, and the last year in '78, when the expanded schedule and a number of rule changes seemed to my young eyes to dramatically alter the league almost overnight. The Vikings of that time were very representative of the old league that was being superseded, as they had lots of really old players, an old school but conscipuously intelligent-seeming coach (Bud Grant), they played in a decrepit stadium where it was snowing and below 10 degrees for about half the season, and they were very good but always got upended by some speedier or flashier or just plain better team in the end. Naturally I liked them a great deal.

p. 139--while being transported to jail. This is a good description of how I feel (on the increasingly rare occasions) when I wake up unprompted in an immediate stillness: "...seeing objects now with the kind of filtered vision which sometimes comes to a man on drugs in the bleak hour when he is coming down--a glimpse is had of everyday things in their negative aspect, the truth of the object...stripped of all love, sentiment, or libido."

Mailer reports, after triumphing in an eye-staring contest with a Nazi, that he regularly got into such confrontations "and rarely lost them". Like much else in this writer, the line between silliness and vitality is probably crossed for the worst here. Not that Hemingway or someone else would not have written about this type of encounter, but they would have been able to load its occurrence and outcome with more literary significance than seems worth the while here.

"As the power of communication grew larger, so the responsibility to educate a nation lapped at the feet...a new responsibility...one had become a writer after all to find a warm place where one was safe--responsibility was for the pompous...writers were born to discover wine." The ability to genuinely educate a nation as a writer is a rare ability, and probably one that cannot be consciously cultivated any more than writing about wine or suburban angst in ways that will be meaningful and uplifting to a good cross-section of intelligent people are, to name two other examples of things many people would like to be able to do well, but few succeed in accomplishing. Good books are never, I don't think, the result of someone consciously fulfilling a perceived responsibility to educate or repudiate the mass public. They tend, if anything, to be an expression of their times' most ascendant spirits and characteristics in a form that gives them a relation to the beautiful, the eternal, the true that will crystalize the questions under consideration for a contemporary, and that a reader in a later age will be able to recognize as meaningful at whatever point in history he takes it up. If the masses don't read/relate to the world through reading in this way, I am not sure that beyond introducing the subjects in a reasonable degree during formal schooling that there is any greater responsibility to make them do so.

I have already said something of my own memories of Northern Virginia in this general period. It was very slow outside of Monday to Friday working hours, very quiet, little traffic. Government employees, much less numerous in those days then they are now, had a well-deserved reputation for being boring. Even in the 70s the D.C. area had not yet become a place where many young people came looking to do anything besides work--people in search of an exciting lifestyle were heading west in those days, especially to California and Colorado (New York was generally considered a nightmare by bourgeois people when I was a child, and I didn't know anybody who moved there in that period, though now lots of people who were young and cool and survived it consider 70s New York to have been a glorious time. But any time you are young and cool and you actually find other people who you think are young and cool to share your youth and coolness with it is going to seem glorious). My parents had friends who had an apartment somewhere very near in, Alexandria or Arlington maybe, and my parents being quite young none of these people they knew ever had any children and were still into smoking pot and so on, all of which however is quite boring for a four or five year old (there were never any toys at these places and apparently it didn't occur to my parents to bring any of ours with them) so I used to entertain myself by staring out the window of the high apartment building and counting the cars that passed through the traffic light at the intersection below. On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon you could easily count every car that passed through. Maybe it's the same now, but I get a different feeling when I am back there; it was always a depressing and psychically unhealthy place but now there is a lot of bustle and aggression and encouragement of stress whereas before it was just dead and devoid of any sense of community or culture. It was in contrast with today shockingly uncosmopolitan, certainly beneath the highest levels of the governing classes. It is actually much preferable now to what it was before, questions of whether the incredible increase in the size of the government over the last 40 years is desirable or not aside.

It doesn't require much genius these days to lay out a list of reasons why the Vietnam war was bad, as it doubtless won't require much genius 40 years from now to explain why fighting for 9+ years in Iraq and Afghanistan was a poor idea, but at the time it does take a strong amount of moral conviction to even propose that the war should not be carried on, and have anyone take it seriously. I won't lay out Mailer's case against the Vietnam conflict but I thought many of his points very good, fairly and clearly explained.

p. 186--Karl Marx's mind is described as "perhaps the greatest single tool for cerebration Western man had ever produced". Karl Marx was a legitimately interesting writer, and I have no doubt he was a remarkable man who would have made his mark somewhere under almost any circumstances. I don't have a good sense however of where he would exactly rank in the annals of the very greatest thinkers of all time.

Mailer didn't want to plead Nolo Contendere to the charges on which he had been arrested becuase it seemed squishy and defeated the purpose of the gesture but the "Legal Defense Committee" talked him out of it easily enough as he didn't feel like spending more time in jail. The lawyers always want you to plead Nolo Contendere. The right wing moralists are always exhorting people to show some magnanimity and accept full responsibility for their actions, but unfortunately the public has figured out that that just gets you slammed in court, and being squirrelly is the prudent alternative. This actually made me feel better, since Great Men and Women of the past such as Socrates, Jesus, Joan of Arc, Ben Franklin, Samuel Johnson, etc, (as well as many wicked ones such as numerous of the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials), even if, as usually happened, their case went against them, were always able to run mental circles around the professional legal class whenever they had to deal with them and expose them as having the weaker minds. But no layman in modern times that I have found has proven able to swat them down in any substantial manner.
There was a point about the prison wardens re-enacting their poor southern childhoods in their jobs that I thought was interesting. I like psychological analysis as a tool of understanding. There is art and real life in its best insights, which unfortunately most working practitioners don't seem to have the right mental instincts to recognize. I certainly seem to be perpetually re-enacting various aspects of my own childhood, namely my relations with my father and school, in both of which areas my standing was so inferior that I have never proven able to move beyond them into the life of a highly functioning and serious adult.

p 202--in jail: "They spent time idly, pitching pennies to a line in the composition floor." They take all your money from you now.

Mailer really has the habit of describing people according to what their role/type would be in television or pro football. He is more into that than comparable (i.e. other famous literary-approved) writers of his time would be. Thomas Pynchon does things like that, but it always comes across as joking, as pointing out how absurd someone or some aspect of life is.

p. 216 "He wrote of necessity at a rate faster than he had ever written before, as if the accelerating history of the country forbade deliberation." I've tried this in the past (writing quickly and without deliberation) but the results were not good. It must be a wonderful sensation to write thus and have something reasonably pleasurable and intelligent as the result.

That was the end of the "History as a Novel" section, which was the better part of the book. Now we are in the part taking the opposite tack.

p. 233 "Without one such fierce element of the fantastic, middle class life is insupportable. The same may be said of the old Left Wing life." This may be true.

p. 227 "...by no measure can anyone claim that the taxpayer's money is being wasted for extravagant interior decoration in the Pentagon."

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Further Thoughts on Recent Subjects

The bit from Norman Mailer about John Kennedy's presidency having, for a brief time anyway, inspired Americans to dress better made a big impression on me. Are there any political leaders nowadays who actually cause multitudes of people to earnestly seek self-improvement in small ways by mimicking certain aspects, or perceived aspects, of the leader's behavior? There was obviously some hope that Obama was going to be this way, perhaps especially among blacks and other minority groups, but as yet I have not seen any such response. Plenty of people loved Reagan's attitudes towards taxes and Communism, and many set to reiterating these in a spirit of great faithfulness, but I have noticed many people actually aping the man himself wholly separate from his ideologies however. Kennedy on the other hand, along with the sartorial example set off a speedreading fad among a certain segment of the public when it became public that he possessed and frequently resorted to this skill, as well as convinced many young boys especially (such as Bill Clinton and my father) that being a student of history and showing respect at least towards important figures in the arts could be cool (and not be a hindrance in skirt-chasing either, if you must go there. Kennedy's famous book, or the book that was published in his name, Profiles in Courage, which seems to have been shrewdly modeled after the vigorous but still cultivated works of admired fellow patrician-politicians such as Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt, was still selling well and had a pretty wide readership even into my childhood in the 70s. Of course armies of scholars and ideological enemies have been diligently at work over the last 30 years exposing Kennedy as a fraud--who doesn't know by now that he preferred Ian Fleming's james Bond books to those of the Nobel Laureates and legendary poets he was fond of entertaining at the White House? This is still largely beside the point, however. He exuded a certain degree of real urbanity and idealism, wherever or however he picked it up or packaged it, to which a great many ordinary people were attracted and aspired to emulate. I don't think this was such a bad thing. John Kerry (whom I voted for, but didn't particularly like) by many accounts is in his private life a genuinely cultivated man after a fashion, but politically he had no sense of how to turn this to any advantage with the public, and obviously in George Bush's America regarded it as something to be hidden from view at all cost. This very trait was the genius of most of the great political figures in American history however--making the people believe that fundamentally you really are one of them, in fact are just a somewhat more perfectly realized version of themselves.

One thing I left out in my account of my visit to Tennessee was how cheerful many people--and native-born Americans at that--were in working at what would appear to be very unpleasant and poorly-paying jobs in the service industry, the kind that in the Northeast, if they are not held by immigrants or the very young, are usually the provenance of, if not surly, decidedly unenthusiastic people indeed. I know I am working from a very small sample but the contrast was immediately large enough to make an impression. Obviously many of these workers, mostly women, but there were a few men, have children and all the usual expenses, they put forth a real conscientious effort both to do a good job and remain upbeat--I wish I could always say the same for myself--which contributes substantially to the quality of life, which by a cursory glance at the socio-economic statistics would appear to be rather low, in that area. I think they deserve a better deal, though maybe that will be their destruction, as the too easy life has (it is asserted) been the destruction of both the moral and intellectual vitality of modern Europe.

My understanding of both politics and economics is apparently so weak that even 'weak' as an adjective would give too strong an impression of it, but after some point doesn't the continued high unemployment rate, lack of job creation, etc, need to be addressed as a immediate political problem separate from a classical economics problem? The capitalists have done a very good job persuading important people as well as the general public that Franklin Roosevelt's policies exacerbated and extended rather than helped the recovery from the Great Depression, which would have come about sooner if the business cycles had been allowed to run their course. Why the general wage-earning public should trust the capitalists' interpretation of anything as far as it regards themselves, I don't know, but if the market determines that 20% or so real unemployment is inevitable for 5-10 years, or even more permanently, I certainly hope the government has some kind of plan for coping sensibly with a society living on these terms, which I don't think they do.

Another thing I don't get is the obsession right-wingers have with poor people not paying any, or even very little income tax. I suppose there is an argument that everybody with an income should have to pay something on principle, as a reminder of their having a stake in society, etc (which of course everyone does with regard to Social Security and so on). I would imagine however that classic economic analysis and number crunching would have determined that the sums acquired from taxing peole making $25,000 or so a year would not outweigh the increased burdens, services, etc that would result from the individuals' loss of that income...this last is just dashed off as I have to go. I will think it through more at another time.