Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End-of-Year College Football Post

This has been an annual event the past few years, despite the circumstance that I never actually watch any of the games. Old readers will know that most of these reports include a recap of my favorite team's season, that being (*cough, cough*) the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State University. The scandal there so overshadowed everything else that went on this season that nearly the whole of this year's review will be in reference to it.

As I often note here, I am a native of the state of Pennsylvania and lived there for most of my childhood. Almost all of my extended family, including both parents and siblings, though most of these are estranged from some part of the rest in various ways, still live there, and many of them, as well as numerous other old family friends and other acquaintances, are alumni of the University that Joe Paterno built, most retaining a comparatively high degree of school spirit many decades after graduation. While I did not attend PSU myself, I did apply there, and they actually did accept me. While the place held some appeal to me, deep down I knew I would be eaten alive socially and that this would cause me to be depressed and probably to flunk out of school. Indeed I barely functioned socially at my eventual alma mater, of which a friend of one of my classmate's visiting for the weekend declared while perusing the scene in the cafeteria during Friday night dinner, "I have never seen so many unhip people in my life." But I digress. Even later in life, up to as recently as 6 or 7 years ago, I was given to contemplating the possibility of taking the whole family down there for a couple of years to get some kind of master's degree, the subject of and purpose for which, other than as an excuse to get away from my routine work and home life and be once again, temporarily at least, in an academic environment as a plausible actual participant in the life of the mind, always remaining nebulous, nothing ever came of it.

Nationally the school, which is of course humongous, came in for a scourge of consternation, mostly focused on the culture surrounding the football program and the fecklessness of the administration or anybody else in a position of potential moral authority to stand up to it, but there were certainly plenty of voices suggesting that the whole atmosphere of the place must be infested with spiritual and moral rot. I appreciate that it is easy when one has no previous positive sense for a place to imagine that the whole culture must be awful. I felt something of the sort regarding Virginia Tech after the mass murder there, my reaction being heavily influenced by the extreme distaste I felt for the people and lifestyle in the D.C. suburbs in the northern part of that state during a brief period when I lived there, and which general area I knew the murderer and doubtless many of the people he perceived to be a major cause of his misery to be from. However tenuous and fanciful my emotional ties to Penn State are, I was nonetheless unable to react to the crisis there with the same instinctual repulsion as regarded the place as a whole.

Once the story broke, it reached an extremely high degree of intensity within a few days. Large numbers of people were furious, not merely at all of the parties implicated in abetting the crimes, but at seemingly anyone in the general public who was not sufficiently indignant and unforgiving on every point regarding those above-named, and in some instances the entirety of the university as well. Obviously as a soft person by nature, I felt myself to be implicated among those not responding with proper heat to what I was hearing. This is not simply the result of toadying to Joe Paterno and the football team, of which I am not exactly the most devoted fan--I have never attended a game, or any college game, in person, and I don't think I have watched a full one on televsion since probably the mid-90s--it is more the curse of my havinga mild temperament. I know very well that people who sexually abuse children have to be imprisoned and ostracized and disgraced--but I do not seem to be able to feel the same release or sense of vindication at seeing this comeuppance exacted that others do. A person in shackles is almost always a wretched spectacle, depressing, in most instances emblematic of civilizational failure. I can take no relish or sense of satisfaction in it.

Regarding Joe Paterno's demise as a result of the scandal, unhappily revealed to be necessary the more the story played itself out, there is little I can say. While I had been for the most part ambivalent towards what I took to be his setting a good example for the New America by never retiring even though he was well into his eighties, in hindsight it is clear he probably should have stepped down a decade ago at least; the picture painted of the program and the administration of the university as a whole was sclerotic, hidebound and sheltered in a way not only unbecoming but unsettling; especially in terms of the dynamic, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking ideals which are supposed to govern institutions such as major universities in our time. I do not know that this would have prevented his former assistant coach from committing the crimes alleged against him, though perhaps the university would not have been so intimately entwined in the case as it finds itself now. I know that one of the main thrusts of the public outrage was that no one, including Joe Paterno, called the police immediately upon discovering what was happening, though I have never heard of an instance in any powerful, high-status hierarchical masculine endeavor where someone in any position of prominence turned over to the police a high-ranking associate of long-standing who had demonstrated loyalty and professional competence and been instrumental in any substantial degree to the group's success for any crime not personally directed upon the associate's own persom, and not even always then. Such things are not done in that kind of environment. I must admit, I find the idea myself of turning an ancient friend, or, God forbid, one of my children over to the police and legal system even though I knew them to be committing unacceptable crimes to be highly distasteful. Is there no other means of reform? No, there isn't, I suppose, and I shall have to be on guard as to what my conscience is telling me about the seriousness of what I am privy to in the thankless event that anything of this unpleasant nature ever comes to my direct knowledge.

On the other hand, following my conscience may not do any good either, since I do believe that Joe Paterno had a real blind spot concerning the seriousness of what was going on. The impression I got from his body language and his statements in the aftermath of the breaking of the scandal was, initially, bewilderment, followed by a steadily dawning realization that this was a much bigger deal than it had ever occurred to him. I may be wrong, but I do not have the sense that whatever knowledge he had of the crimes were tormenting him on a regular basis over a period of years, that his mind was constantly uneasy with the fear of being exposed. The whole thing really seemed to catch him somewhat by surprise. I have observed in other instances people of his generation not responding to confirmed reports of child sexual abuse with the horror that it is now expected a respectable adult would feel instinctively. When the Catholic priest abuse scandals first began to break I remember that my late grandparents, who were around Joe Paterno's age, were indeed outraged--at the accusers. I do not know whether they were simply unable to visualize apparently normal-functioning adults, especially ones in respected positions, performing the acts they were accused of, or if their instinct was not to trust the word of an adolescent or much younger person against an adult of proven responsibility, especially when the incidents were alleged to have taken place many years previously. I think we do underestimate how strong this latter instinct was in people of that generation, since we do not hold it very important in our own time.
Having been listening to Joe Paterno speak and watched him coach the team most of my life, while I obviously cannot claim to know him, and have always recognized that like all human beings he obviously has multifarious limitations which previously did not seem overwhelmingly important to dwell upon, I confess that I had always had a generally positive opinion of him, considering him as a football coach, as opposed to followers of other professions, and while I find the end to his career disheartening to say the least, he was I think at his best a genuinely positive force in his field, his sport, his university and his state; certainly he tried to be these things, and succeeded in them to a greater degree than most people are able to do.

My one non-Penn State note in this year's review refers to the first LSU-Alabama game which I saw about a half hour of between either falling asleep or performing one of my endless domestic duties. I am generally anti-SEC in my football sentiments, though in a sporting kind of way, and as the traditional poster child of old-school southern football, Alabama's team has always been especially pernicious to my northern eyes. As I noted previously on the site, I finally went to Alabama for the first time this past summer, and while I admittedly only saw about 20 people, they were decent and well-mannered and presentable enough, and the state-run park and facilities I stayed at were beautiful and well-maintained, so while I still can't abide the football program, I have a more positive impression of the state than I had formerly. All that acknowledged, I have to give some credit to the many Alabama fans and students (the game was in Tuscaloosa) who turned up smartly groomed and dressed, which outside of the Army-Navy game, you almost never see. Almost all of these people I am talking about of course are the kind of white, wealthy southern Republicans that make most of the people I would know reflexively gag, and I would probably think they were evil myself if I actually met most of them, but truly, young people who take some pride in their appearance and dress with some sense of a classic style really look great and stand out as above the crowd whether you like them or not.

This will close the posting year, which was a weak one. There is no direction where this site is concerned, so we will probably continue to go on in 2012 pretty much as we have been.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Post-Mortems

Christopher Hitchens: I used to read him and listen to him on television quite a bit around the time of the buildup to the Iraq war, of which he was of course greatly in favor. Since he was the most forceful and apparently most intelligent advocate among the prominent pro-war government or media figures, as well as the only representative of that type whose enthusiasm was not compromised to my sense by blatant self-interest. My thought at the time was that the whole episode was a great test of the ability of the people, or that significant portion of them who were opposed to George Bush and the agenda of his administration, to resist, not just politically but intellectually, this course of action, in which, needless to add, said people--or at least their ideas concerning right policy--were routed, humiliated and exposed as impotent and insignificant in the current configuration of society. As such I was quite anxious at the time about the outcome of the controversy. Hitchens was very convincing not only that he understood the case thoroughly and that military action was necessary beyond all reasonable doubt, but that anybody who did not arrive at the same conclusion was likely stupid, certainly cowardly, morally bankrupt, obtrusive to the progess of history, had completely missed the important lessons of the whole of western civilization in school, and other imprecations besides which such a hapless reader as myself was hardly going to be able to offer much of a defense against in his own behalf. At one point I actually considered writing him a personal letter in which I would try to explain reasonably the various objections to the war which I seemed constitutionally incapable of overcoming, well aware of the constant drumbeat from half of society, and apparently the more vigorous half, that anybody who had any objections to the main points in the case had something severely wrong with either his mind or his spirit, because for some reason--probably because he had a good literary education and sensibility--I did regard him as the sort of reasonable person who would be able to recognize that surely there were grounds on which another reasonable person could be skeptical of the war. But I got over that idea pretty quickly.

After a while I stopped reading him regularly because however clever he was, his main interest seemed to me to be to demonstrate on nearly every occasion that he was right on some matter relating either to literary interpretation and world affairs while various other people were wrong, and not merely wrong, but wrong in such a way as to render them stupid or contemptible, usually both; which perhaps they were but I came to find it tiresome after a while.

In spite of a few detractors I have come across who claim to be unimpressed by his literary education, I'm sure he had a pretty good one, certainly by any standard that prevails in the present English-speaking world. While the large range of his reading and the extent of it he committed to memory have been frequently attested to as well as demonstrated, it was his success in incorporating this knowledge into both his professional life as well as his social persona such that it seemed an inherent part of his character that served to inform and enhance it at all times that made the greatest impression, as this effect is something a great many people would like to project themselves, but very few, especially perhaps Americans, ever seem to be able to no matter how many years they devote to reading. Of course the formal education of the Hitchens-like people is perhaps a little broader than the typical American English student, such as to include history, with a strong emphasis on political and military affairs, elocution, probably some philosophy and European belles-lettres, as well as carries a greater expectation that the student will attain a serious proficiency in these areas useful for adult thinking, which is a very rare expectation to be found among American professors...I could go on about what appear to me the myriad glories of Hitchens's social life, especially the carefree and evidently brilliant London set he ran with in his early 70s youth, which included Martin Amis, at that time handsome and irresistible to women of an intellectual bent in a way that seems to have no parallel in our own age (at least that we know of yet), but I have already written more about him than most of his actual friends did.

Vaclav Havel. I had the impression when I was in his country--he was still the president at the time, though that office was considered to be politically largely ceremonial--that most people trusted him and respected him enough to consider whatever he had to say worth listening to even if they disagreed with him. There was not to my knowledge a substantial portion of the population which absolutely hated him on either personal or political grounds, which needless to say would be almost unthinkable for either a politician or a substantial literary figure in this country. At the same time Havel's image in the Western mind, so far as one exists, probably has more of a heroic, and certainly a more romantic, tinge than that which his own countrymen have of him. Being a small nation speaking an obscure language and without even any delusions of grandeur on a global scale, the Czech conception of a hero, if they would even call it that, is a lot more subdued than certainly Americans would be accustomed to thinking of it. His signature qualities as an author were a concern with the manipulation and corruption of language an advanced and particularly subtle sense of the myriad ways in which human existence, when subjected to pointed consideration, does not make any sense (I would have said absurd, but that word in English has connotations of lightness which do not always capture the sense intended). He struck me as having a mind that was not necessarily spectacular and was certainly not bombastic, but was well-organized and uncluttered by the excessive nonsense that has been the intellectual Achilles heel of the English-speaking world probably since the Restoration. Of course the price of that mind was having to grow up under oppressed circumstances, such that he himself would argue it was not worth it, though the writings and other artistic products of the people who had them contributed particular insight and beauty and seriousness to 20th century culture that was absent from their counterparts in the free West which I consider important.

Kim Jong Il. I know these guys are pound for pound maybe the worst people in the world. I of course find their country fascinating, because unlike a place like Afghanistan, where the whole mode of existence is somehow mentally inaccessible, a lot of aspects of North Korean life are superficially similiar to that in Western countries, or Western countries fifty or seventy-five years ago anyway, albeit in a kind of fake way, as if the whole society is a kind of giant model train set. Of course like most people who do not know how to hold bad opinions and still be cool and the object of fascination by women, without which qualities such opinions really are not worth having, I sincerely want the regime to fall and for North Korea to become a regular country with global banks and cell phones and a modern airport and all the rest of it, because I know the people are suffering terribly and unfairly. The more the rest of the world becomes more tied together and alike in its social and economic values however, the more interesting North Korea will continue to become to people who desire a respite from all of this modernity.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas II



One could fill up many posts on the subject of Christmas music--I was just revisiting 'Christmas in Hollis', another blast from my youth that I don't expect I will ever be hearing on a regular basis in these parts--but I have had my eye on this song for this spot for several months, and as it's still working for me, it will stay. This is a good number for them. Their interpretation embodies the spirit of the song.

There is always a danger, not so much in being wrong, but in being facile, to make some comment such as that 1959 was likely one of our sweller Christmases. I am quite certain that by the standards of the people who love the American-style Christmas the most, the 1959 season played out as close to that ideal as any other (in my family either '65 or '66 was the template for the perfect Christmas because it snowed a beautiful powdery snow in Philadelphia, nobody on either side of the family had any significant problems, and my parents were young, beautiful and in love, which must indeed have been something to see). While I have heard some bad words about things individual people did in the year 1959, I have never heard anybody speak poorly of the year itself, and heard many people affirm it was a good year for them. I even once met a guy hiking in the woods in Maine who it turned out had grown up in Concord and graduated from the high school in 1959, which was the same class as my father-in-law, whom of course he knew, and his parents and brother as well, as which revelation my wife turned to me and said, 'didn't you just know he was going to say the class of '59?' to which the man said 'yes, I guess I just have the look about me that says 1959. It was a good year.'

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas I




I have noticed in recent years that the radio stations where I live at least have largely dropped this song, and indeed most of the 80s contributions to the holiday canon. A few years back I noticed when I heard this song around December 21st that it was the first time I had heard it the whole season, and I made a point of looking out for it during subsequent Christmases. The next year it made its appearance early, around the 10th, but last year I went right down to the wire again, not appearing until the 22nd or 23rd, and this year, as of 9:46pm on the 23rd, I have yet to hear it on commercial radio, Rite Aid radio (I spend a lot of time at Rite Aid), other stores. I haven't been to a party in years but they probably aren't playing this at the parties I would be most likely to be invited to either. Yet for some of us d'un certain age, this is as much a part of the fabric of the season as White Christmas and Dick Clark on New Year's Eve. Granted, the scenario in the video of being stuck in a cabin in the mountains with a bunch of 80s yuppies couples, two of which include George Michael and Ridgeley, his erstwhile Wham! bandmate, approaches very close to my worst nightmare not involving prison or homelessness or starvation. In fact, I actually hate it. I don't even really like the song that much, to be honest, but I find I am unable to fully engage with the spirit of the season until I hear it in a public setting, where it must set loose several vital associations with Christmases past that enable me to move forward.

Along with several other Wham! songs--"Careless Whisper", "Everything She Wants"--which describe romantic strife in much more detail than is ordinary in popular music songs, I was at the age of 14 greatly impressed by the sophisticated adult relationships I imagined George Michael and Ridgeley must have. They argue, they cry, they are way beyond expressing any kindness for the other person, she's having his baby even though she doesn't seem to like him and he is openly indifferent about the matter as well. This was heavy stuff to me, who primarily related to the traditional trifecta of boy-meets-girl-boy-asks-girl-out-girl-likes-boy-they-get-married-and-live-happily-ever-after, boys-sees-hot-girl-boy-wants-hot-girl-boy-gets-hot-girl-hot-girl-starts-to-annoy-boy-so-he-shows-her-the-door, and the one I was most partial to, boy-sees-girl-boy-wants-girl-boy-cannot-get-girl-boy-is-wretched. So Wham! seemed to be operating on a totally foreign level. Which ultimately of course they were.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rally Against Hate

I have been debating whether or not to write about this incident which took place in the town where I live around three months ago. It struck me at the time as being revealing about the psychic state of current respectable society; and as that sense has not substantially diminished, I have decided to do a (hopefully) short posting about it.

The backstory: Sometime around the middle of September, some racist and xenophobic graffiti was discovered written on the walls of three houses where families of African refugees were living (Article here). The perpetrator(s) of this deed remain, as far as I know, unidentified to this hour. The ordinarily sedate local professional class immediately rose in impassioned and unified outrage to denounce this action and express to the all immigrants and people of diverse cultures and races in the community, how truly welcome they were, and how much the town had already been, and could expect to continue to be, improved in every conceivable way by the newcomers' presence. The incident was a godsend--no pun intended--for the creatively strained clergy at our family church, providing fodder for over a month's worth of sermons. Area schools held panels on the disturbing event in which such students as might be considered to be most impacted by it were encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and reassured that all of the school and other civic authorities were 100% on their side in opposition to the evil lurking among us. No less than two full blown demonstrations on the state house grounds were organized. The first and more impromptu of the pair, staged in the first flush of heat a couple of days after the story hit the papers, was dubbed the "Rally Against Hate"; while the second, held about a week afterwards, under the influence perhaps of slightly more sober deliberation, went by the sobriquet of "Love Your Neighbor". Among the distinguished speakers at the second event was the Episcopalian Bishop of the state of New Hampshire.

I have to confess at the time I found the response a little over the top, and partaking of perhaps a slight--very slight--portion of phoniness, as well as somewhat amusing. As usual my wife put me in my place by asking if I would rather live in a town where people did nothing, which naturally was not how I had been looking at the matter. Of course I do not approve of scrawling anonymous racist messages on the sides of houses and recognize the importance of demonstrating that such acts are unacceptable and will be unambiguously and publicly condemned whenever they occur and all the rest of it. But still. Even though there are apparently no leads as to who the criminal was, one presumes almost automatically that it was a white male of a low social origin and level of education, possibly a kid (meaning roughly anywhere from a teenager up to an especially developmentally arrested 22 year old), possibly a generic 30 to early 40-something failure of a person, but in general somebody whom the class of people making up the bulk of the rally participants (who, as you may have gathered, were educated white professionals) would have found easy enough to despise and feel anger towards.

On the occasion of both rallies I took care to drive by the state house at the time of day when they were in full flower with the intention of observing them up close and attempt to feed off the emotions that had overcome most of our town's leading citizens, but both times once I got to the site the idea made me uncomfortable and I neglected to get out of my car. Partly this was because each time I had my three youngest children with me, aged (at the time) 4 months, 2, and 5, and the prospect of carrying or monitoring them amongst a decent sized crowd brimming with righteous intensity was suddenly daunting in a way it had not seemed to be at home. But partly it was also because I knoew I could not bring myself to really identify with the crowd and the instinctive revulsion that they were tapping into, though at some level I obviously desired to. I had read quotes and, by the time of the second rally, seen pictures from the first in the newspaper, which featured several people I had a passing enough acquaintance with, and several others who seemed to me representative of a type, whose generosity of spirit in the context of day-to-day American society, however sincere their regard for the refugees might have been, and I have no reason other than my own personal prejudices for doubting that it was, I cannot help having some reservations about. So having determined that I was not going to be able to enter the necessary spirit, from whatever angle I would approach it, for engaging with the event, plus having all the children to take care of, I elected to sit it out.

All this said, I still think the response, while perhaps noble after a way, was a bit overwrought. I am convinced that the way people immediately jumped on this was as much an expression of their frustration and dissatisfaction with present political life than outrage at some racist grafitti written in the greatest likelihood by a totally inconsequential lowlife. Present day progressives especially do not know how to effectively combat the business interests and their political representatives on the economic and social justice and environmental issues, among others, that are dear to them. But everyone of any significance knows, and more importantly agrees upon, exactly what to do when an open display of racism, especially one by some hapless individual, rears itself, and they waste no time mobilizing all their available forces for action. I was surprised by how many serious and busy adults well into middle age felt that this incident called for their involvement and leadership in order for it to be gotten through satisfactorily. I am convinced there is some compensation happening here--guilt over not being able to prevent, or even disturb, the war, imposition of the security state, the concentration of wealth and the cavernous disparities of income, the total implosion of the lower third of the population, the decline of education, of culture, etc, etc. A protest against racism--which officially no one condemns or dares to ridicule--takes the form of an assertion of one's own relevance and virtue...

This essay is mostly complete. I was unable to nail the ending, but I have run out of time (self-imposed).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Is New England Dying?

The political leadership in my state has lately embarked on another lame campaign to try to persuade young people, especially recent college graduates, not to leave at the first opportunity. Several of our neighbors have started their own initiatives along these lines, or at least have openly expressed similar concerns about their own rotten demographics, and the ongoing exodus of the best of their young people. Good luck with that. In addition to those referenced in the article above, here are some pertinent numbers: Maine and Rhode Island were both estimated to have declined in absolute population in the year 2009, which given the current low death rate, is generally regarded by demographers as indicative or forboding of catastrophe; the under-18 population during the decade of the 2000s declined in every New England (indeed every northeastern) state, led by Vermont (14% decline), Maine (10%), Rhode Island (9%) and New Hampshire (7%--this is even with my own children figured); Vermont has had the lowest birth rate (around 1.6-1.7 per woman) of any state in the country for most of the last decade, with the rest of the New England states making up most of those right behind it, usually around 1.7-1.8, meaning that barring much more substantial migration/immigration into these states than has already occurred the child population will continue to decline for the foreseeable future. The largest age cohort in all of these places in the recent census was that in the 45-54 range, and the 55-64 range is still the second largest. Even to bring in anecdotal evidence, until about 2 years ago, when I was 39, and had been on staff for 12 years, I was still the 3rd youngest person out of about 20 in my department at work, which included more people over 70 than under 40. This age distribution seems to be pretty typical throughout the organization, with the exception of the excessive number of septuagenarians. My particular city, which has no college or youth-oriented cultural scene to speak of at all and is dominated by sober professionals, seems to suffer especially from a dearth of people between the ages of 23 and 35. Though while this situation is not quite so extreme everywhere, and there are certain towns that appear to be attractive to decent numbers of relatively energetic, if not world-changingly innovative young people (Brattleboro; Portsmouth; Burlington (VT)), most are even worse off than the place I live, which at least has a few possibilities for achieving a modestly prosperous career.

It could be objected, of course, that New England, especially the New England in which the laconic, industrious and resourceful character of the Yankee is the predominate figure, has been pronounced to be dying before, that indeed the sense of imminent death is a permanent feature of the local zeitgeist. The literature has certainly inclined in this direction. Hawthorne's gloomy depictions of a hidebound, mirthless society hounded by doom on all sides were set in the period when Europeans had scarcely been settled in the region for fifty years, in some instances less than 20, come to mind. Though Hawthorne was writing at a distance of two centuries, such specimens of literature as do survive the early colonial era as Michael Wigglesworth's The Day of Doom and Jonathan Edwards's epic sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God reinforce the idea that this was not the most optimistic, life loving and earthly future directed people, though in reality of course they were to some extent. Immigrants poured into Massachusetts and diffused all over the region throughout this era, while the birth rate was around 6-9 children per women over a period of several generations, which is one of the highest credible numbers found anywhere in history. Moving on to the post-Civil War Go-West-Young-Man era, in concert with the ascension of New York to melting pot colossus and one of the handful of most important cities in the world, New England comes to stand in symbolically as a graveyard for the living dead for literary types once again. Does American literature contain a more grim community and landscape than the town, presumably in western Massachusetts, in which Ethan Frome is set? Eugene O'Neill milked these themes to good effect throughout his illustrious career; the stunted sons hopelessly tilling the rocky soil of their overbearing father's farm in Desire Under the Elms and the beautiful but faded and oppressive summer home in Long Day's Journey Into Night being two notable instances of this. In this era immigrants from Ireland and Italy and French Canada streamed into the region in large numbers and the population consistently grew from 10-20% every decade. In the recent (Post World War II) era the New England = death motif in literature and movies has hardly abated, though the sense where it appears has become more of nostalgia for some more refined ideal that possibly existed in the past and to which the vulgarity of modern existence will not permit ascendance. A Separate Peace, the 'haunting' nostalgia films Summer of '42 and its underappreciated sequel Class of '44, even by my reading more highbrow efforts like the poems of Robert Lowell partake heavily of this quality. In my later teens and early 20s when I was living outside the region and confused about where I should tell people where I was from, when I would say Maine/New England the response of my interlocuter would frequently be to express the sense he or (rarely) she had that the region was dead, that they had felt the deadness viscerally on some visit or even collegiate stint there, implying then of course that the future dynamism of the country--this was before everybody had adopted the globalist mindset--both cultural and economic, would come from elsewhere, Texas and California and the southwest and west generally being considered the favorites for this leading role at that time. People are comfortable with the idea.

At bottom of course all of this concern is about the increasing desperation to grow the tax base--especially via the much vaunted entrepreneurship/innovation that a properly educated young workforce is supposed to spawn if congregated in substantial enough numbers--bring consumers into the economy who need to buy houses and furniture and baby clothes and so on, and to subsidize, or at least ease the burden that the needs of the increasingly aging population are threatening to overwhelm the various states with. Anybody who reads the papers knows that all hope for maintaining the living standards that North Americans have become accustomed to is invested in attracting entrepreneurship and innovation to one's community, with the holy grail being any kind of industry that will produce thousands or at this point even a few dozens of middle class jobs. Trends and statistics would seem to indicate that in the current situation (much-maligned) theater graduates have about as good a chance of making a living in their chosen fields as the would be entrepreneur does of seeing his business succeed to the point of providing him with a middle class income for himself over a period of several years, let alone one that will come to the economic rescue of entire regions, yet unlike in almost any other field with a similar rate of professional failure (most estimates seem to agree between 80-90% of new businesses), the leadership of society continually calls for more people, smarter people, harder working people to direct their energies towards innovative and imaginative business creation--as the only possible solution to all our problems.

With regard to myself, after finishing high school I too left the region for about 8-9 years, and returned when I was 27. Looking back, I should have made a greater effort to spend another couple of years overseas; even though I was out of money and was not having much luck getting jobs, it's something I should have forced myself to do, as it might have had the effect of shaking me out of my lethargy and enabled me to join one of the energetic and interesting segments of society. There was certainly no reason to rush back and grasp hold of a lowly position in the regular workforce that could not have been put off for a few more years. Anyway I came to New Hampshire for romance--my wife is from here--and because at the time I was not in an immediate position to find any better arrangement in the US. Plus I did retain a general affection for the area as I had lived in Maine, and entertained some idea at the time, as I have noted before, of eventually settling there. I was still technically one of these young graduates that are always supposedly so much in demand, though not an entrepreneur, and without any verifiable job skills. Still, I thought must be intelligent enough to eventually figure out the game of the professions, or make a positive impression on somebody who would be in a position to "set me up" somehow (this is one of the drawbacks of reading too many novels--characters in them are always getting "set up" by people they have made an impression on). Also it must be remembered that I was still expecting at the time to finish writing my book within a couple of years, and for the book to be both good and recognized as such. I suppose I ought to be embarrassed to have actually ever thought this now, and to offer a different and more reasonable explanation for what I expected to happen with my life, but I don't see what it matters. Of such conventional careers as might have been realistically open to me, I still cannot think of any that I have any great desire to have now.

But I have gotten a little off track. The object was to examine what a state like New Hampshire offers to an enterprising young person. My answer, even though I personally seem to have stagnated in many ways, is still, I think, quite a lot. Of course there are a lot of careers that it would be impossible to pursue here to any great height, or even at all, but there is enough proven substantial brainpower deposited around the state to demonstrate that one is not dooming oneself to a life devoid of meaningful accomplishment in many fields by staying here. The overall quality of life is very high, especially once you get past your early thirties--every time I go to visit any of my other old haunts in the Mid-Atlantic I am reminded how many extra years of life I have managed to preserve by not having to spend several hours in traffic jams every day--and largely accessible. The last time I checked the statistics, which was within the last 5 years, New Hampshire had the lowest income inequality of any state in the country. While this might sound distasteful to super-achievers, this is mostly due I think to the comparatively low numbers of absolute wastrels in the state compared to almost everywhere else. There is certainly a healthy population of rich people, though evidently they are not quite as rich as rich people are in other states, or else they leave the state, which is not hard to do, to indulge in any extreme high-end consumption; for I am not aware of any restaurants or stores or leisure activities anywhere in New Hampshire, or the southern half of Vermont for that matter, that it would be completely impossible for me to contemplate going to even once due to their expense (I'm sure some probably exist, but I do not as yet know about them). The unemployment rate is much lower than elsewhere in the country--officially 5%, maybe double that in reality. That number is deceptive though, I think, because a lot of people do leave the state because the job situation is limited, and the economy being on such a small scale it is easy to perceive when that is the case. If you live in a town of 15,000 people surrounded by woods and the largest employer in it closes down, it doesn't require the acumen of John Kenneth Galbreath to see that waiting around for things to pick up again is probably not a smart idea, as might be the case in a place like California or Florida. There is a notable influx of professional people who come back in their mid-30s after having failed to make it really big/burned out on the super-competitive lifestyle in Boston and New York, especially if they have children. One of my children's friends' father spent his youth trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood (he is an energetic and active Republican in the comminty now). They still want to impress upon each other that they played and achieved no small success in the game of life though.

The population of New Hampshire it should be noted did increase by 6% during the last decade even though the child population declined substantially. We seem to be becoming a popular retirement/late career destination for baby boomers fleeing the oppressive taxes, and, some assert, the diversity that have overwhelmed their native haunts to the south. There is also a libertarian movement called the Free State Project whose goal is to get libertarians to settle in the state in large enough numbers to be able to begin getting elected to office, which has apparently attracted a few people...

This essay is garbage and it is incomplete but it has been 8 days, my kid won't go to sleep and I have to get ready for an appointment, so I am letting it go now.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

So Unfocused I Can't Even Come Up With a Credible Title

Still not up to writing much lately. I seem to be going through some further life transition, which seems unfortunately to be steering me even further away from mental activity of any passable quality than I was before. What is the nature of these afflictions which beset me? The usual busyness. Anxiety and mild depression. Sentimentality--despite still having 2 babies and a 5-year old, I find myself of late missing the years when my oldest two boys were little. At the time of course I was doubtless as anxious and I was certainly quite a bit poorer than I am at the moment at least, but the past, being safely gotten through, is easily remembered as a happier time. And in fact, I was younger, and there was more time and less housework with 2 than there is with 5, and I still perceived myself to be able to write halfway decently, which, while almost certainly a deception, did still inject a joy and sense of purpose into my private mental life that I have had trouble accessing the past few years. I am unable to find pleasure in many of the things I formerly found pleasure in, and while I think my children are likely to be worthy human beings who would be capable of being contributors to a worthy society where they will feel themselves to belong, I have grown overly pessimistic that they will ever inhabit such a society, not for any long term. And also before they were in school we used, it seemed, to go so many places. All over New England, Montreal once a year, the Mid-Atlantic three times or more. Gas was much cheaper. I still have one of the cars I had then. It cost $16 to fill the gas tank at that time. It's around $35-40 now.

This used to be the time of year--from October through New Year's Day--in which I formerly took the most pleasure. Lately I scarcely notice it in passing, such is my general distraction. I am lucky if I manage to spend three days in the whole of these months in the observance of some ritual of the season--but enough of this weak-headed lamenting. I would like to be able to have some more time to appreciate the spirit of the seasons though, especially around Christmas. I haven't got all that many left anymore.

This post was originally going to be, not an insistence on, but a defense or attempted justification of going to college in certain circumstances, even of liberal arts coursework, in response to the ever-growing ranks of those who think almost anything would be a more constructive use of a capable young person's time and money, let alone an incapable one's. My main problem of course in attempting this task is that all the doubters as to the virtues I would be espousing would have to buy into the idea that I am, in the heart of midlife, an acceptably developed or educated man by the most minimum standards denoted by those words, who could be demonstrably shown to have acquired any knowledge or experience in the course of my education that I carry with me through life that is even roughly equivalent to the expense which Somebody incurred to have it imparted to me; and my impression is that this is exceedingly unlikely to happen. I am not merely in most people's eyes, including, frequently, my own, a poor advertisement for expensive 'humanistic' schooling, but the very portrait of the fate people congratulate themselves as avoiding when they choose to concentrate in other fields. At the same time I do know a few people who studied the same course and received the same degree as I did who do strike me as excellent advertisements for this same (though this does not seem to cut any ice with the naysayers). And even with regard to myself I still have a hard time convincing myself that I would have been any better off, or significantly happier, forgoing the course I did take, for the army, or the pursuit of a trade, or entrepreneurship, or what would have been a likely futile course of study in the hard sciences or engineering or even computers, for which I had no significant preparation up to that age. My essential problems are deeper set in the way I relate to the world, my general level of comfort in it, etc, which have always been uncertain and confused, and have always been largely impervious to attempts at improvement. I have never been very much in any harmony with my surroundings--the things I write about most on the blog are those where I feel closest to attaining this sense.

I think the defenders of humanism should drop the "it teaches you how to think" meme for a while, since non-believers don't seem to be buying it, and anyway if it were true and people were honest with themselves it should be largely manifest when you met such a person. I am coming around to Ruskin's view on this matter, that genuinely intelligent people think as naturally as they breathe. I do not think at this point particularly well, though I during and for a few years after school my studies and the generally higher caliber of everyday discourse and interactions did inculcate some stronger habits of thought, attentiveness, attunedness to environment, etc, than I was wont to have formerly. Now however I have been removed from higher intensity mental environments for so many years that I seem to have regressed back to that more confused and sluggish method of thinking and perceiving.

So if humanistic studies don't teach you how to think in some superior way, what good are they for exactly? First of all, they may well teach you to think in some way highly prized by the better classes of society--I just don't think people should insist upon it where it is not evident in itself. Done reasonably well of course, they should give you a strong foundation of general knowledge, not merely practical facts, but a better awareness of what kinds of things (smart/smarter) people think about, and the way that they think or came to think about them. I think for introverts of a high academic intelligence quotient it has a social value that seems to be woefully underappreciated. Yes, people do a lot of drinking and wasting time in school, but above a certain threshold of intelligence social and intellectual life are not really capable of being separate entities. To be brief, it is important for smart people to be predominantly around other smart people sometimes. Of course there is much examination of and guidance on the nature of existence as a whole, how to approach life, to become attuned to and become somewhat at home in all the various part's of one's mental and aesthetic world, one's language, physical environment, sense of proportion, and justice, perhaps it enables one to discover and understand strengths within himself, though this never quite happened for me. Unfortunately emphasis on mastering demonstrable skills--in languages, composition, rhetoric/public speaking, music, as well as those areas of math and science in which a general competence is well within the capacity of the intelligent non-specialist--before the degree is awarded has never been strong in this country, so this realm of learning as a whole has come to be seen as less difficult and therefore the province of less substantial men and women than the hard sciences especially.

Article about young writers in New York--seems something like the kind of scene I would have liked to have found at that age, though they seem a little too nice and devoid of edge to make much of a literary impression. As usual in modern literary circles, vital male heterosexual energy seems to be lacking, as well as any sign of a genuinely unconventional take on life, and usually where these are absent, there is not much hope of compelling work being produced. Still, it is hard not to think that if I had been able to achieve success in my chosen career, these are the types of girls who would likely hold me in high esteem and even awe now, and those thoughts are pleasing to me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Good Was the Economy in 1965?

I was doing some light researches into how the sudden collapse in the season referenced above of the New York Yankee baseball dynasty that had dominated the sport for the previous 45 years was perceived at the time, which has always seemed to me a more interesting event in sports history than I have found to be reflected in the existing literature regarding it, when I came upon this Sports Illustrated article of June 21, 1965. The issue featured a weary-looking Mickey Mantle on the cover with the pulsating headline "New York Yankees End of an Era". Mid-June is fairly early in the season to be writing the post-mortem on a team that had won the pennant 14 of the last 16 years, including the most recent 5 in a row, which indicates that they must have looked really spent, though a few of the baseball people interviewed for the piece were still wary of their making a run for the pennant, "if their (aging, in some instances washed-up) stars got healthy" (this did not happen). The article is pretty pedestrian. It identifies the team's obvious problem, namely that their remaining longtime superstars were suddenly in decline, and, for the first time in the modern era, they did not have any young players of comparable talent to replace them. The speculations on the reasons and social forces behind why this had happened appear wild and ridiculous when reading about them now, but there are various inadvertent commentaries in them about the economic and social world that Americans, particularly men, lived in, or perceived themselves to be living in, at the time, which caught my interest and formed the germ of this posting.

To get a couple of asides out of the way first, it is remarkable how well the economy functioned in the 1960s, given that none of the grown men involved in this article, including the writer and the ownership and management of professional baseball teams, seemed to possess what we could consider a sophisticated understanding of economics. Related to this, the way baseball organizations were run in the 1960s were laughably amateurish by our standards, when single-A minor league teams have full time marketing departments and corporate strategies in tandem with the cities they play in. Among the odder circumstances which emerges from the various scouts and general managers interviewed for the article is the seeming conviction that there was in 1965 a shortage of available talent...i.e., the Yankees couldn't replace their star players because unlike in 1938 there weren't dozens of Yankee-caliber prospects emerging from the sandlots and cornfields every year to replenish the farm system. This is ironic in part of course because in 2011 our society is supposedly in dire condition due to severe talent shortages in numerous areas, math and science most famously, but also entrepreneurship, diplomacy, the mechanical trades, even to a certain extent in cultural areas. One area in which we perceive ourselves to be far superior to the past however is in the development of athletes, apart from a few exceptions like boxing that have extreme lower class connontations and have lost popularity with the social classes and institutions that have resources to pour into athletic training. In most sports no one believes that the top competitors or teams in 1965 would stand a chance against their contemporary counterparts--indeed, even I believe that, albeit grudgingly. Baseball's management class in the 1960s appeared to have no idea where they might reasonably find or encourage the development of baseball players if they did not emerge organically from the soil of middle America. Though the sport had integrated in the 1940s and the tapping of the immense talent pool of Latin America was underway to a small degree at this time (60s), as was the case in the other major sports it was simply assumed that having more than 5 or 6 black or foreign players on a team was not commercially viable; hence the primary source of talent by necessity, as was perceived to be the case in most areas of national life at the time, had to be the white American male population. And although no one in baseball at least seemed to be thinking all the way through the ramifications of it yet, there was a growing sense, though not consciously perceived as such, that this group on its own was not up to the task any longer to the extent that the age required.

I must get on with the quotations however. First here is Johnny Johnson, the (evidently inept) director of the farm system, after declaring in the previous sentence that Roger Repoz was going to be the team's next superstar*, "...we don't have the quality of player we used to have. But neither does anyone else, because it just isn't there anymore...kids are getting married younger, some of them at 18. They give baseball a year or two shot, and if they haven't made the big leagues by then they want to quit; their wives are putting pressure on them to make more money...They find out there's better money in industry. They all want security, or their wives do."

Next. a despairing Joe E Brown, GM of the Pirates--who, unlike now, were actually a pretty good team through most of this decade--chimed in with "These days everybody is security-conscious. A boy takes a job and his first question is, what is your pension plan?"

Looking back to the apex of Yankee organizational supremacy, 1938, when their top two farm teams were stacked with major league level talent, the author writes that while in those days "Minor league pay was a pittance...it beat the CCC camps and it was easier to swing a bat than an ax," after the war "the G.I. Bill of Rights began to convert second basemen into certified public accountants". That is rather horrible to contemplate.

I don't know how much of this would hold up to close scrutiny--I suspect very little, especially on the baseball side of things, (i.e., I doubt many major league-caliber 18 year old talents were really passing up chances at baseball careers to become accountants)--but the perception of the possibilities open to ordinary, unspectacularly educated 18-20 year old American boys at the time from the vantage of 2011 is to be thrust back into a different world from that we have known in our time. To be honest, it starts to seem almost incredible that such a state of society could ever have existed, so conditioned are we to suppose that the economy that exists now is somehow more natural and even more just than the affluent society of the postwar era.

Mickey Mantle played four more seasons, '65-'68, after the collapse of the Yankee dynasty, finally retiring because, as he put it, "I just can't hit anymore", and indeed, especially looked at with the naked eye, these seasons were a significant decline from his standards up to that point. However, in the context of the league at the time, which saw offense drop to levels unseen since the deadball era of the 1910s, he was still a well above average hitter, and certainly the best on his own team in most of those seasons. He was limited by injuries to 122 and 108 games in '65 and '66. In '66 he hit .288/.389/.538 with 23 home runs in 2/3 of a season. In '67 and '68--the depths of the neo-deadball era--he moved to 1st base, which enabled him to play 144 games, during which he walked 107 and 106 times respectively, numbers more appreciated now then they were then. While his batting averages of .245 and .237 in these years looked weak, though they were still higher than the league averages (and the '68 Yankees as a team hit .214, which I am pretty sure is the lowest team batting average in any season since 1920), his on-base percentages were .391 and .385, which were the 5th and 3rd highest (respectively) numbers in the league in those seasons. He also finished 10th and 9th in the league in OPS in those years, which though obviously a decline from his peak, when he finished 1st or 2nd in that category 9 times, shows that he was still a very skilled offensive player even on his last legs. His 22 home runs in '67 were 8th in the league. His runs scored and RBI totals were in the 55-63 range in these seasons, doubtless limited by playing in one of the weakest offensive lineups in one of the weakest offensive eras of all time. I'm not arguing that these were great seasons, but I do think they are underappreciated, as the perception I have from what I have read about this decline phase is that it was painful to watch him play out his career when in fact he was still the best offensive player on the team when he retired.

*Roger Repoz was traded early in the 1966 season to Kansas City after amassing 63 hits, including 12 home runs, in his 127 game career with the Yankees. He went on to play 9 seasons in the big leagues, admittedly in a pitching-dominated era, in which he compiled a .224 batting average, 480 hits, 82 home runs, and for the modern stat-hound, an OPS+ of 105. His best season was probably with the Angels in 1970, hitting .238 18 47 in 137 games, with 41 extra base hits. He did lead the American League in sacrifice flies in 1968, with 8.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

More Music Videos--Whether You Want Them or Not

Rediscovering some of the hits of my early childhood, from the viewpoint of a half-lifetime of experience.

("Without You"--Harry Nilsson--I am writing in the titles for the benefit of any future scholars who do not come to the page until after all the videos have been removed).



My response to this even now is that it is the sensibility of the time distilled to about as fine a point, while remaining somewhat tasteful, as could be reached. I don't say it was an especially deep or intelligent one, but I immediately recognize the feelings and emotions at work, and even though they still make me uncomfortable, they nonetheless make sense on some level which most contemporary manifestations of emotion do not.

This song was featured to striking dramatic effect in a suicide scene in the nihilist college movie The Rules of Attraction, which is where I was reminded of it recently. Here is that video. It is rather grim, and a lot of people don't like it, or the entire movie for that matter, which runs in much the same vein. I have to admit, I didn't hate it, even though it is probably pointless and there is much that is disgusting in it. Nonetheless it hits at several of my weak spots, being about rich, good-looking and cruel people who are more verbally adept and probably smarter than I am, though this last is evinced more in the style in which they speak than the content. So I have a hard time taking it seriously when unspeakably awful things take place in the movie, because the characters still seem to me better than I am in all the most important ways. The movie also has a stylish flair to it--at times and in certain scenes--that I found attractive (the scene where one insouciant asshole type recounts his year in Europe meeting women and unapologetically spending tens of thousands of dollars of his parents' money is everything I fantasize about my triumphant enemies brought into thrilling clarity). The girl who killed herself should have gone to St John's. Not that such things are important of course, but she would have been considered practically a beauty there. She would have fit in better anyway. I found it amusing that even though the film appears to be set in the 2000s (I realize that the book was set in the 80s) no one uses cell phones, or computers/the internet, except for the purpose of accessing porn.

(Albert Hammond--"It Never Rains in Southern California")



All right, kind of a run of the mill early 70s hit with a run of the mill look and performance video, but, I find it a pretty catchy song, and there is something in it that encapsulates a number of phenomena that at the time seemed like they would go on forever. Such as the idea that a substantial portion of the coolest young people would naturally flock to California above all other places to frolic together in the sunshine into the foreseeable future. Granted, I don't have a lot of contacts among cool people, but one doesn't seem to hear of anyone going out there to just be part of a scene, without a specific economic or professional purpose, anymore. I even know cool people who grew up in California and have moved away, which would have been unthinkable in 1973. What else? The centrality of popular music in the culture? The preeminence of the fairly conventional straight white middle-class male singer-songwriter type? (I know they are still trying, but they don't seem to be breaking through at a comparable rate to the past). For that matter the similarly-oriented, homogenous audience for the same. The socio-cultural fragmentation of the former mass middle class, which one admittedly looked forward to and despaired of any possibility of its happening in the 1970s and early 80s, is one of the more significant developments of my lifetime, and whatever boat I needed to be on when this iceberg began to break apart, I seem to have missed. I thought it would have worked out better for me.

(Abba--"Waterloo")



Nice video.

(Kiss--"Beth")



From 1976. This song, along with Player's "Baby Come Back", from '77, and maybe a few other numbers from the same period, strike me as reflecting in some sense the high tide of the entire rock and roll worldview. Not the peak in terms of artistry by any means, but the mentality that the rock song was the dominant mode of musical expression such that no other form could be imagined. I was only 6-7 years old at this time, but my sense was that the rock ethos was solidly entrenched in the culture. The idea that the medium as it was known in the mid-70s would be effectively dead within 20 years I think would been shocking to people. I find it shocking still. I thought Rock would rule at least for the duration of my lifetime, and at the very least I did not think it would be replaced, as far as the mainstream goes, with effectively nothing.

Lennon Sisters Interlude. The Lennon Sisters were on TV every week for 13 or 14 years. There is a lot of footage of them to work through, and it's looking more and more like I am going to work through a substantial portion of it. I don't know if there is another musical act whose fortune stands to gain more from the ascendance of internet video than the Lennon Sisters. No one, including me, was ever going to sit through years of episodes of the Lawrence Welk show in order to rediscover them, and while they released records throughout the 50s and 60s, none of their singles ever attained radio immortality in any form (though their brilliant version of My Favorite Things was featured on the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas soundtrack). They were destined, under the old media model, for ever-increasing oblivion. But when you can come upon them in 3 and 4 minute video clips, their appeal, especially in the current environment where their type is not especially well represented either in the popular culture or society at large--though plenty of people sure would like it to be--is direct, and striking. To some people, anyway.

For this edition we are going to have a couple of solo efforts from the two elder sisters, both at age 19. First is Dianne's rendition of "Our Love is Here to Stay", which among other thoughts, encourages the idea that taking a vacation to 1959 once in a while might not be such a terrible burden after all.



Peggy doing "Oh Johnny!" in 1960. A excellent singing performance, probably too precious and adorable to be acceptable to enlightened modern audiences, of which I however do not constitute a part, so I can appreciate it fully.


"Melodie d'Amour"--1964. A reprise, as they also sang this song on the air in '58. In '64 their age range would have been 18-24, so they are pretty close to peek group beauty here. While the 60s in general were an all-time great decade for female beauty, '64 seems to have been a high point among high points, with regard to hair and clothing styles and the general zeitgeist, all of which went off the rails at various junctures during that turbulent period.



Dianne gives a peppy little introduction to the song here, in what appears to be her comeback performance after having had to go off the air for several years in the early 60s after getting married (when Peggy became engaged around this time and it finally dawned on Lawrence Welk that he was on the verge of losing his most popular act entirely, Dianne was abruptly called out of retirement to save the show). In case you haven't figured it out, there is someone in this group of ladies I am kind of in love with, and that somebody is Dianne. There is very little that is more attractive, character-wise, in a person than discovering that they are smarter and have more fortitude of spirit than they let on they are aware of having. Such people seem, unfortunately, to be exceedingly rare, especially nowadays, when the importance of presenting one's self as highly intelligent is so great. Anyway, Dianne Lennon strikes me as one of these affable but subtly strong and exacting people. Of course I know nothing about her but the impression is a powerful one. The sisters made an appearance on "Family Feud" sometime around 1983-84 (on which they chirpily but methodically took apart Sister Sledge--it was music week), at which time they would have been in their late 30s, early 40s, their golden years behind them, matronly in some instances, and the effect of the whole group is that they were still these delightful women--Richard Dawson was practically in raptures--but Dianne still stood forth as the leader, the smartest, the most aware of what was going on, not forcing any of this on the observer but just being completely comfortable with who she was and steering what I was anticipating would be an embarrassing appearance by a bunch of washed-up old singers desperate to get back on television by any means into a rather effervescent display of womanhood where if you watched the show everyday you'd have been sad that they were going away again so soon.

Edie Gorme--"Button Up Your Overcoat"



Edie Gorme is another favorite old singer of mine, at least for certain numbers, such as this one. I had kind of forgotten about her for a while until a few weeks ago, hence her appearance here. She was a real nightclub/lounge singer for the most part, so there are not a lot of filmed performances of her up on Youtube.

The Beatles--"You Won't See Me"


Holding the position of my current favorite Beatles song. It was one of the last of the songs-I-knew-but-didn't-realize-it-was-a-Beatle-song in my youth. I'm pretty certain that the real peak Beatles was in '65, the Help!/Yesterday and Today/Rubber Soul period. These records, already perfect after a fashion, are yet still better than they announce themselves to be, which is largely impossible with everything that comes after them; and as such, one's pleasure attains a level that he can never reach with the later albums.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The 1988 Time Capsule

The companion post to the 1987 time capsule I put up back in June (I like to have a lot of different unfinished series going on at a time), based on the important catch phrases of the year according to my high school's yearbook staff. A cursory glance indicates that this list is even lamer than that of '87, and that I am not going to have much to say about most of the subjects on it. However I feel compelled to go through with the exercise.

White Snake Isn't it Whitesnake, just one word? Long-haired, pop metal group whose videos were ubiquitous on MTV that year. The singer had formerly been in another band which I had never heard of but seemed to have great respect in the hard rock community. They did nothing for me at all.

Fawn and Rob I presume this is Fawn of Iran-Contra fame. I don't know who Rob would be (A search for "Fawn and Rob 1988/7" turns up very little. Perhaps refers to Robert MacFarlane, National Security Advisor?). Overlapping episode from '87. I really had no interest in this or sense of what the big deal was at the time.

Winter Olympics Calgary. The Olympics of the inept ski jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards and Commie glamourpuss Katarina Witt. The eastern bloc countries, especially the USSR and East Germany, were dominant. The U.S. did so humiliatingly bad (and looking at the medal standings it was even worth than I thought--a grand total of 6 medals, 2 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze) that shortly thereafter the I.O.C. began declaring recreations such as snowboarding and double-cross X to be Olympic sports in a shameless ploy to pump up the U.S. medal total and protect their television fees. I remember it as kind of a fun Olympics, obviously the last winter games featuring the communist sports machines, though the severe beatdown at the hands of our mortal enemies at the time, who then appeared as driven to make a mockery of our entire way of life via athletic dominance as the Chinese do now by standardized tests, was wince-inducing, at the very least. To reiterate, the tally in total medals was, USSR & East Germany, 54, the US of A, 6. Restricting it simply to gold, the Commies had the advantage 20-2. Woe!

Platoon Also on the '87 list (Did they even check it?). Oscar-winning Vietnam film that seems to me to have been downgraded in stature in the years since.

Iran Contra hearings Zzzzz.

Godspell Must have been the school play that year. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was. I didn't really pay attention to the student productions, either in high school or college. I'm sure I didn't miss that much artistically, but it wouldn't have killed me either. Plus it seems like would have been an easier way to meet girls than attempting unsuccessfully to play sports.

Andy Warhol I think he died that year. I don't remember its being much of an event at school. The listmakers of '88 were much more enthralled with national and world events at the expense of local trends than their predecessors in '87. As to my general impression of Andy Warhol, I find his art to be amusing. He obviously had a good instinct for what would sell, catch the eye, what have you, and there is a lot of cleverness in it--a lot of the things he does seem simple or obvious, only no one else would have thought of them, or thought to execute them, in just the way that he gets right, as far as it goes. Whether any of it means anything substantial in world-historical terms I have no idea.

illegal aliens There was a controversial amnesty around that time, which primarily effected California, I believe. The issue wasn't a pressing day-to-day concern in Portland in the late 80s. In the last decade there has been a decent inflow of immigrants into the city, particularly from Somalia (I am always tempted to make a joke about the wisdom of settling Somali refugees right on the ocean like this, but that's the kind of thing that the people I need to try to be friends with don't think is funny). Given that they are designated as refugees, I presume that they are legal. Our school appears to have about a 10% nonwhite population now, which still seems pretty low, though the school district at a whole is around 21% (which suggests that most of the immigrants attend the other, more 'inner city' high school in town). Of course these figures are up from essentially zero in the 80s/early 90s, so it is not an insubstantial change. I don't really have a point in all this--obviously, the standard line coming from everybody respectable is that the schools and everything else in town is better as a result of this modest diversity than they were before--I find demographic studies of all kinds to be interesting, especially of course when they involve places with which I am familiar. I read the book Outcasts United, which is about a soccer team of refugee kids from a lot of different countries in a suburb just outside Atlanta, not long ago. It's a journalistic read, though it was engaging enough that there was no doubt that I was rooting for the refugees when they played the team of evil blond kids with $300 shoes and aggressively Blackberrying parents (even though my children are mostly blond, they couldn't make it onto that team either). It does provoke a lot of interesting questions about the future of America, given that very poor immigrant children whose parents have quite low levels of education such as these make up a substantial portion of this next generation. If the children of ordinary married college-educated parents--and less than 20% of American children under 18 currently live in such a household--have, as we are often told, little hope of leading productive and fulfilling public lives unless they step it up in a big way, how are we supposed to be optimistic about the prospects of kids like this? Something has to give here. Sorry to go off on that digression. A lot of thoughts on these kinds of things strike me and I have a hard time putting them all together.

divine Possibly a slang word? I don't remember it. Perhaps it refers to the grotesque movie actress from the films of John Waters, who I see died in 1988. I still have never seen any of the immortal pictures featuring this icon. This list isn't resonating with me. I didn't hang out with the yearbook kids, obviously.

John Huston He also would have died during that school year, though again I didn't notice that his work cast much of an influence over the personality of our school. I have written about him elsewhere. I think he even has his own category on the sidebar.

Aids Aids was big news in 1988 even in Maine, which I think had around 2 confirmed cases at that time. Nonetheless, since getting it seemed to involve doing naughty stuff with exceptionally naughty people around 99.8% of the time, no one I knew figured there was much of a realistic threat of their contracting it. Even the depraved people in Maine are modest about the extent of their depravity compared to what they surmise goes on out in the great world.

Presidential elections They would still have been sorting out the primaries when the book went to press. I did vote in '88 in the general election, though I certainly would have had no idea on what basis I was voting, other than that I vaguely sensed even at that age that Republicans seemed to be hostile to people like me--my idea of a desirable life at that time was the avoidance of business and the adoration of money to the greatest extent possible--so I figured I would not be doing myself any favors by voting for them, which assessment was probably correct, as far as it went.

Dirty Dancing The great hit of the season of course, whose legend has only grown stronger in the years since. Never a favorite of mine, naturally. My sensitive feelings were hurt right in the beginning when Swayze sneaks the girl out of the lame, parent-sanctioned party and they go to the real party, with rock and roll, black people, drugs, and, you know, dirty dancing. Which crowd do you think I identified with?

SuperQuest I have no idea what this was. (It looks like it's some kind of computer competition. The first one was in 1988. I could not have been more out to lunch as far as computers were concerned during the entirety of my youth. I had no interest in them whatsoever).

Wok In...crawl out The real expression was "Wok in...Fuck out!" This place was open until 2 or 3 in the morning, which made it besides Denny's the only place in town open after 10 o'clock or so. This meant that from around 11pm to midnight on weekend nights it was swarmed with obnoxious teenagers such as myself, many of whom were inebriated to some degree. The night manager's English was limited, so when he had to dispatch of an especially unruly patron, not being able to summon up the entire expression "Get the fuck out!", shortened it to "You! Fuck out!" Looking back from the vantage of Police State America 2011, it's remarkable how much was tolerated at this restaurant. To begin with, the dining room would be utterly trashed, not necessarily on purpose but as an effect, after this nightly rush, with chairs and condiments and trays and dishes moved all around the room and left as they were when people were finished with them. Especially during the winter the floor was about as filthy as you can imagine with everyone tracking in snow and sand and mud and then moving constantly around the room the whole time they were there. Sometimes fights would break out, usually in the parking lot. The police certainly made a point of stopping in on their rounds most days and if there was a substantial crowd lingering outside they would order everybody to leave. I don't recall anybody ever getting arrested for doing anything that was not blatantly provocative however.

The Wok-Inn is still in business, and apparently as successful as ever. I stopped in a couple of years ago when I was in town. I used to go over to Portland a couple of times a year when I first moved back up this way, but lately I've only been making it every 2 or 3 years. I also always used to make a point of stopping in whenever I was passing through on the way to somewhere else, which I still do a few times a year, but lately I've stopped doing that too. It still has some meaning to me but it has ceased to be in any way a place I could claim to belong to for a long time now. I used to entertain sometimes the idea of moving back there too but my wife, not having the same connection to the city that I do, never developed much enthusiasm for it and in time I suppose I have come around to looking at it more through her eyes and less through those of my 16 or 17 year old self. So it is more like a lost love that has long moved on and left me behind now rather than an organism with which I maintain any sort of active engagement.

California Raisins You've got to be kidding.

"This is drugs, this is your brain on drugs" My personal favorite anti-drug ad was the Jon Bon Jovi spot which began "I've partied with the best of them. But drugs were never a part of my scene." Please.

Jim and Tammy Not interested in them.

Donna Rice Not much interested in her either, though she is admittedly still in the front rank in looks of political mistresses (post-Kennedy era) all these years later.

Vacations in Florida I didn't go to Florida at that time, but I have acquired the habit since and come to respect the power of the ritual for New Englanders.

Jesse Jackson Active in the primary campaign that year. Reputedly came to my wife's high school in New Hampshire, which may have been even more extremely lily-hued than mine was, that year, and had the progressive part of the student body anyway whipped into a frenzy to go out and demand retribution from the power structure for its many sins.

mini skirts I do remember mini skirts being a trend, especially denim ones. This may be because a girl that I imagine to possibly have liked me is wearing one front and center in her class picture in the yearbook. In other words, I imagine I could actually have been immersed to some extent in the very fine details of this fleeting fad, if I had been a little more alert and ready to spring into action during the brief two week period when this window of opportunity may have been open. Probably not though.

"I don't remember saying that."--R.R. More Iran-Contra stuff. Somebody on the staff was really into this. By '88 it was widely accepted I thought that Reagan was in cognitive free-fall and was in no way actively participating in the running of the country's affairs.

Colors L.A. gang and drug movie starring Sean Penn and featuring the dramatic Ice-T title song (from the same era as his sublime "Girls Let's Get Buck Naked and Fuck Tonight"). This was big at the time. I haven't seen it referred to in some time. I have two memories associated with this film. The first is during one of the drug busts in the film a woman was arrested, handcuffed and taken into the police station completely naked, which is absurd. The second is of a guy who used to sing the song all the time as a kind of nervous tic. He was one of the most socially hopeless people I have ever known in my life, who actually tried. Everything was just not working though. Brillo pad hair. An exceptionally weak chin area. Thick glasses, a doughy body, mouth always appeared agape. Not very smart. Just a disaster. He latched on to this other guy who was in contrast almost preternaturally winning; square jaw, fiercely chiseled body, irreverent, shoulder length hair and mustache, but in a handsome way. One weekend the handsome guy took care of business with a girl who, according to this sidekick, "could have been in Playboy", which was doubtless the highest compliment he could think of. When the stud came into school on Monday he had put the episode behind him, but his chinless friend had not yet recovered from the contemplation of his master's deeds, because when saw him in the hallway he literally began to foam and pulsate with the second hand excitement. "That's what I'm talking about! That's what I'm talking about! That's what I'm talking about!!! My boy got paid! My boy got paid! My...boy...got...paid!!!" It was truly one of the most bizarre, as well as funniest displays of behavior I have ever seen in my life.

Broadcast News Another movie? Never saw it.

Stress I was not very stressed myself, at least not about attaining a dominant GPA and succeeding in the college sweepstakes, which I'm sure is the stress being referred to here. I suppose I should have been more stressed, but I was bizarrely in love with what I perceived to be my abilities at this time, and was sure that wherever I ended up going to college that my teachers would love me and my fellow students look up to me as a genius and everything in my life would magically take off. In general I have had a very stress free life, though a woefully uneventful one.

Oprah Winfrey Her show was just starting to take off. She never meant anything much in my life.

puffetts I don't have the slightest idea. Are they the puffy sleeves that adorned certain articles of girls' clothing? I liked that look all right.

Fatal Attraction End it with the movies already. I never saw this either.

Exchange students There were four at our school that year, a boy and a girl from Spain, a girl from Germany and a boy from Austria. They were all of well-above average hotness and social graces for us, which was unusual among exchange students. The Spanish girl fell in with the haughty artsy clique and didn't have much to do with people outside of that, but the Austrian propelled our soccer team from the middle of the pack to the #1 seed in the state tournament (though we were upset there), as well as took a number of American girls to bed, the Spanish guy smoked a lot of weed and enjoyed no insignificant amount of feminine companionship himself, and the German girl came to all the parties and school activities and glared upon everyone with a contemptuous scowl; she was highly attractive in doing so, however, which inclined most of the weaker people to forgive her.

No "Appetite for Destruction?" Yes, the exchange students were the end of the list. How out of touch were our DHS elite not to have noticed that Guns and Roses breakthrough record was the album of the year in 1987-88? I swear to God I did not go anywhere that whole year where this did not get put on at some point. Portland was seriously loving G n' R. Major omission. Throws the credibility of the whole list into disrepute.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Blog Wind-Down

I am not planning this. It is happening organically. I don't seem to be able to write much anymore, or rather, I should say, think anymore. Certain mental processes which I formerly took some pleasure in are no longer available. I have lost confidence in them, without being able to replace them with another mode of thought that produces an equivalent satisfaction. The wise and knowing nod in unison. It is the course of life. The weaker minds, constitutions, et al, falter increasingly with every passing year, until finally the point is reached when their owners themselves realize they are pretty much tapped out, and then they collapse altogether. This is where I seem to be at the moment. We have reached Peak Bourgeois Surrender, and may even have entered the Death Spiral, out of which very few minds have ever managed to pull themselves.

Is it impossible at this point for us all to pick up and move to Park Slope? Is there anywhere else like that? Am I even at all really like these people? I need to find some community of adults somewhat like myself. I have already established that I am literally losing my mind. Maybe it won't help.

I have to give up trying to make sense of economics and economic theory with the intention of justifying my continued existence in the society. I wonder if this fixation will someday be regarded as the folly of our age. It's causing me to become peevish, at the very least, as I increasingly find myself unable to argue the intention stated above.

But how about a little light-hearted fun:

Hot Women of the OWS--Link Here

Almost makes you want to be there. You always have to pick a favorite, so I am going to take Miss Occupy Maine (aka #4), because even though I am plotting my move to Park Slope I obviously still have a soft spot for those elusive, though not so extraordinarily rare creatures, women of New England (and especially the 3 northern states of that region, whose ladies are frequently maligned, unfortunately not always without cause, as being less generally beautiful than their counterparts elsewhere) who are actually pleasant looking. I like to show support for anyone credibly representing the home team in this regard whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Part of my increased peevishness stems from the circumstance that I know the culture is awash in foolish arguments which the real aristocracy of the intelligent obviously would never treat as serious amongst themselves but which they choose not to prevent from circulating endlessly among the masses, the effects of which I cannot prevent myself from being absorbed into nor can effectively slaughter. It is infuriating.

I am not sure how to convince young people that they cannot harbor ambitions separated from a serious consideration of money reality; nor am I sure that it is really desirable to do so in spite of everything. Life should be taken fairly seriously, moreso perhaps in many regards than it is, but it is also brief and evidently insignificant. Most of my real regrets in life involve not pursuing more adventures, not living in more exciting places, not pushing harder at figuring out how to eke out a living doing something I am interested in, as well as not being a better student when I had the chance, though it isn't clear that I really have the mental/psychological makeup to be a successful professional in any event. Likely none of those things would have worked out economically in any event, but those are still the things that I think about. Much conventional wisdom seems to be that this mindset in a man is indicative of a failed upbringing. Obviously the likelihood that this is true weighs on me more and more as the years go by.

The common riposte whenever someone suggests that taxes could be higher that if the suggester wishes to pay more taxes nothing is preventing him from writing the government a check is officially tiresome. Anyone who thinks this is what anybody means is willfully missing the point. I am probably guilty of willfully missing the point on various of my more treasured topics, but that does not make it any less annoying to have to deal with such people.

Is there anything I can practically do to make my children become serious capitalists, financiers, engineers, scientists? I don't know that I can even properly inculcate the necessary work ethic, since I do not really understand what it consists of myself. And then there are legions of people who work hard but are too stupid to make anything of themselves in a competitive field, so they are essentially worthless too. Obviously one of my major goals for my children is that they believe they are not worthless, that they are able to contibute to the common weal in a way that is commensurate with their abilities, gives them dignity and merits respect from their fellows. But being serious about anything real smart or knowing people would consider worthwhile, really seems to be an impassible barrier to me. I don't understand how one breaks through to experiencing work, study, life, etc, on that plane.

Try as I might to disdain the whole ethos, I did not evidently, as I remarked earlier, have a strong upbringing, and so I probably am a socialist in my heart of hearts, though even I find the concept of forcible 're-distribution' less than desirable, if not distasteful. Unfortunately I find the direction which large sections of formerly middle and working class society are heading, if they are not already there--a world increasingly devoid of strong institutions (apart from the police and debt collection agencies) that actually have any interest in them, a basic sense of how to organize life, even such educational and career/income opportunities as used to be considered mediocre but at least passable for getting through life with some dignity--to be even more distasteful, so I am more concerned with shoring up or re-organizing what has collapsed for much of the bulk of society than I am in preserving the legitimacy of individual fortunes, if no less obtrusive means can be found.

Also, I always had the impression, growing up--perhaps I misunderstood--that one of the pillars of American society was the belief that there must be limits on the political power any individual is allowed to have. Given the close, and seemingly growing ever closer, relation between the two, I do not see why it cannot be discussed whether the public has an interest in placing limits on the ability of individuals to accumulate massive quantities of wealth as well. Again, maybe outright taxation/confiscation is not the best ends to achieve this, but surely there must be a way to introduce regulations of some kind to prevent the kinds of systems generating fortunes wholly incommensurate with the scale on which any other level of society operates. I know people like to bang on about how Wall Street and the financial industry for example pretty much carry the entire tax burden of New York, but does that sound like a healthy way for a city of 8 million people to be organized anyway? The Wall Street champions repeat this information as if they resent it, even though it would indicate that they are the only sector of the entire economy of the city that is thriving at all.

I tried to express something of my opinion on this on Facebook, of all places, in response to an article I had linked to. It was naturally found lacking, one of the commenters going on about how taxing capital gains (I cannot recall how the dialogue was steered towards them), the wondrous virtues of which relative to the economy at large it is probably obvious I have no understanding of, would cripple any hope of recovery for the immediate future. This commenter also demanded I name precise figures for how I thought income should be distributed, which question he claimed to have asked of dozens of liberals, and surprise, surprise, no one had ever been able to give him an answer. I spent about two hours trying to compose a response and finally gave it up. In honesty I find this demand for an exact figure to be rather stupid and beside the point, but I don't know how to convey that in a way that will have any effect on the kinds of people who look at things in such a way. My basic answer is something like this: I think the distribution of income which prevailed generally in the Western world from the late 1950s to early 1970s was preferable to that which we have now, so that could be a starting point, at least. If there are benefits from this concentration of wealth in terms of research/development, extreme high end educational improvements and the like, the positive effects of them on the mass of the population seem outweighed by the negative ones, such as widespread aimlessness, lack of purpose, pessimism about one's future prospects, such as I increasingly see all around me, and even in myself, because one can sense the proximity to so much in life that contributes to its value growing ever more inaccessible and remote because the costs of those things seem to be primarily driven by the capacity the top people have to pay for them. Of course we must try to improve ourselves, draw on our inner resources, define value for ourselves and not allow other people or the market to do it for us. But if one senses through constant experience that he is no match in any arena for those who have better credentials, resources and so on, and likely never will be unless as it were he can discover the mental secret which is the key to their power, it is going to be difficult for him to willfully shut himself off from consideration of these sorts of matters.

On a reading note, on November 3, I finished the last of the books in the 2nd of the 6 tests in the 1994 GRE test guide that has been the basis of my reading list. I am now on pace to finish this program in 2045, when I will be 75 years old, which is a three year improvement on my pace when I finished the first test. I began the list November 20, 1994 (the 1st book was Wuthering Heights, by the way) and finished the 1st test February 2, 2004. I suspect that my pace will continue to accelerate rapidly, as, one, many of the books that appear in the questions henceforward are ones I have now already read, and two, there don't appear to be very many of the extremely long books left such as Plutarch, Proust, Powell, The Bible and so on that take several months to read. There also don't appear to be very many new novels left to read--there is apparently a hard core of novels that everyone is expected to read and the questions just keep referring back to them. What I have mainly going forward are more short stories, a lot of poetry, a lot of criticism, essays and general 'letters'.