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July 31, 2005

Spring 1974, Montrose


Or, Why I Don't Miss My Hair.

My parents kept me in a crew cut until college. When I first let it grow, my mother gently suggested that hair can be sold to mattress companies. Funny lady! Even though it was always hot in Houston, even when it was freezing, I had to let my hair grow to no-longer-fashionable length just because I could. The beard here is even worse. I never touch my beard now. I let Alfredo at the Clermont Barbershop trim it nicely every couple of weeks or so.

All this talk about hair is supposed to keep you from asking, "Why is that little girl wearing a head scarf? Or whatever it is." Can Miss G have been an unwitting victim of the Zardoz craze? I fear that it is so, even though the results are more Edith Sitwell than Charlotte Rampling.

July 30, 2005

Not the bad review you'll think this is.


As a treat for her commitment to Team Vacation, I took Kathleen to the movies late yesterday afternoon. I do not, as a rule, go to the movies, partly because I don't like the theatres, partly because showtimes are sporadic, and partly because home video has freed me of the need to sit still for a long period of time. The quasi-religious experience of sitting in a dark room with a crowd of strangers has never had the slightest appeal for me. In addition, movies lack the ingredient that makes concerts and plays so quickening: their subtle interactivity. Any Broadway actor will tell you that the audience is different every night. The same is not, perhaps, true of concert audiences, but there the hum of a pleased audience is the almost audible salute to realized greatness.

But Kathleen wanted to see March of the Penguins, so we went. Now, I was not keen to see a documentary about animals in Antartica, even if its real title was La Marche de l'empereur, but that's what made taking Kathleen to this show a treat. It would not have been a treat to take her to see De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté, which I'd really like to see again even before it comes out on DVD. For there to be a treat, I had to have some resistance. But after a week with filing boxes and old letters, I really didn't care what the movie was going to be about, I just needed an escape.

March of the Penguins documents the reproductive cycle of the Emperor penguin. As you have probably heard by now, these birds, flightless in the air but not in water, retreat seventy-odd miles from the waterfront, their only source of food, every winter, to mate and then to incubate and nourish their chicks. It is perhaps the most inconvenient procedure in the world of vertebrates, involving endless trekking, shivering, and, eventually, regurgitating.

The photography is astonishing. It is close and clear, sharp but calm. But the narrative is arresting. Yes: "But." It's no surprise that Disney has co-produced this extraordinarily anthropomorphizing film. The penguins are not made to talk, but that is about the only dishonesty of which March of the Penguins is not guilty. Don't get me wrong - I was completely wrapped up in the harrowing ordeal to which penguins have adapted. But I was led every step of the way by human calculation. The expert score, the authoritative but easily-grasped narration (by Morgan Freeman), the editing - all of these first-rate devices made a tidy eighty-minute package of a process that takes several months of lousy weather and diminished daylight. They missed not the slightest opportunity of making penguins appear to behave as human beings do. There would be nothing wrong with that if it were not for the human propensity to read human feelings into human-like behavior. What the penguins do every winter is remarkable to us only because our developed consciousness renders us incapable of fully imagining what the penguins go through, of how they endure months of extreme discomfort and uncertainty. In fact, the penguins do not go through anything; they just plod from minute to minute, and soon forget almost everything. What makes us different from other forms of life is our extraordinary memory. We can remember a roller-coaster ride taken decades ago. Mastering history enables us to "remember" things that happened long before we were born. We are distinguished from one another by our unique memories, and it is not too much to say that we are really nothing but our memories. (That is the tragedy of degenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer's.) Without our memories, we might be penguins. But we would not know it.

So movies such as March of the Penguins are unavoidably false. They purport to "introduce" the viewer to bizarre and arduous ways of life that are bizarre and arduous only because that's what they'd be if human beings tried to imitate them. To be faithful to the natural world, one must honor its absolute, repetitive tedium. And one can never be completely faithful, because one can never honor "nature's" obliviousness. When we look at the penguins and see the drama of their winter schedule, we see something that, for them, simply isn't there.

Having said all of this, I'm not sure that I would give March of the Penguins a bad review. It's a sensationally effective movie.

Loose Links

¶ Is nostalgia bad for your brain?

¶ There's a shoelace site.

¶ The iPod flea.

¶ The Faux Faulkner Prize.

July 29, 2005

Team Vacation Collapses


At some point before nine, I crawled into the kitchen and turned on the oven for croissants, but by the time it had heated up I was back in bed, mortally ill with fatigue. Kathleen called on her way home from an appointment with the ophthalmologist, and was kind enough to grant my supplications for coffee and a sweet. At some point, we traded places: I sat up reading The New Yorker while Kathleen stretched out for a nap. The prospect of our leaving the apartment together at any point in the day seemed dim.

But we made it, shortly before one in the afternoon. We dropped off four shopping bags of donations at Cancer Care - bags that had taken up what threatened to be permanent residence in Kathleen's tub. We went to two hardware stores, one for kitcheny things for me - timers, a baking sheet - and one for carpentery things for her - a hacksaw and some G-clamps. This is not the study in role reversal that it seems to be. Kathleen is simply taking her beading hobby onto a new level of seriousness. I don't actually think of what she does as a hobby. She's much too good at it. I think of her as a jeweler. As soon as we learn how to take them, I'll run some photographs.


We had lunch at the Lexington Candy Shop. Since there's nothing visual readily online - a bit of a surprise, considering what a venerable institution this Upper East Side soda fountain is - I captured an image from Three Days of the Condor, in which it plays an interesting part as the hero's unknowing refuge. (Sydney Pollack shot the actual interior, too.) We both had the fantastic, squeezed-before-your-eyes lemonade that keeps us coming back.

When we came home, Kathleen took a conference call while I gathered up the last of materials on the dining table, boxed and labeled them, and stacked them in the blue room. After that, I took the leaves out of the dining table and restored the living room.

We never seriously considered going to the storage unit. I will have to digest what we've decided to keep, if possibly discarding further. There are twelve boxes of letters alone. Kathleen apologized for not having done more, but in truth there wasn't much for her to do. I could have done the whole thing myself, and I feel infantile for not having done so. I needed her company, her commitment to help if necessary, to undertake this important but thoroughly unattractive task. I'll probably need it until the room is empty, and we have relocated our few stored items in something less room-like, and more box-like.

July 28, 2005

Team Vacation Crests


Day Three has been tough. I knew that something would go wrong, and it did, right away. But it was minor. I left the apartment without gathering up the keys that open our treasure cave. This hit me as we pulled up the 68th Street bus stop. We sped back in a taxi and, our virtue having been demonstrated on the bus already, we took another taxi down to 62nd and York. Experience has taught me that it's better to walk up the hill there - an appreciable grade when one is loaded down with junk - than to pull up at the door at the expense of the terrible traffic jams on I 995 - alias Second Avenue. Toll the bridge!

So it wasn't the logistics that got me down. We were back soon enough without further mishaps. Removing the last box from what had been two stacks of twelve was a great relief - we began to envision actually moving out of the attic. But I had forgotten what the boxes must contain. I'd been through letters, and I'd been through bills, and even my own feeble fictions. What remained, therefore, was work.

I have not worked very much in this life of mine.

There were summer jobs all through high school and college, all of them on Wall Street, all of them at a predecessor of the Bank of New York, for the matter of that, until we moved to Houston in 1968 and I varied my experience a bit with gas pipeline dispatching (a command-center sort of job) and a term in haberdashery at Sakowitz. Right out of college, I went to the radio station, KLEF, and I kept that full time job, with ever-increasing responsibilities designed to up my paltry income, for seven years. Then came law school, and, after that, the only two jobs that I've had since, first at the New York Stock Exchange and then at E F Hutton. How many of you remember the catchphrase, "When E F Hutton talks, people listen." Well, Hutton got into trouble over money laundering (let's hear it for "the pizza connection"), and the old satirical annual, The Bawl Street Journal, adjusted the phrase accordingly: "When the Feds speak, E F Hutton listens." Actually, Hutton didn't listen, not until it was far too late. I was in the Legal Department, but we had nothing to do with fixing the problem; that was delegated to outside counsel and, in my opinion, botched to the point of sabotage. Hutton went under, merging with Shearson, which no longer exists either, a few months after I quit/was fired. That is, I was told to look for another job by an unsympathetic general counsel who had been brought in as part of the "cleanup," but no term was set for my sufferance, and indeed the announcement that I would leave on such-and-such a day met with a request to stay on. I did not. All of my colleagues had to apply for their own jobs in the merger. Hutton had been a jolly place to work, until the money-laundering thing. I have to say that I liked the job a lot, I liked the people a lot, and I might even still be there if a bunch of screwups hadn't ruined the party for everyone. In any case, I have not worked in nearly eighteen years.

Going through the five or six boxes of stuff that I'd kept from those two jobs, the vast bulk of which I threw away this afternoon, took me back to a past that, for the most part, I don't miss. It actually frightens me to consider it. I had such wrong-headed values! I was so stupidly dazzled by finally having realized the childhood ambition of living in Manhattan! And I mean, here, to speak of myself as just another kid getting off the bus. I might have been born here, but I didn't grow up here. I might have had a few more resources than kids who really do get off the bus, from places much farther away than Bronxville (which is not in the Bronx), but I was just as unprepared for the glitz as the deepest rube. In fact, I was more prepared to make mistakes.

Kathleen and I are still married and still in love, however, and that, in the end, is all that matters. And how much it matters! I have been inordinately lucky. But wading through those boxes, I could see just how incredibly lucky I'd been - because I certainly hadn't helped myself along. I almost got fired from the Exchange because of absences (they had a weird, complicated, and very strict policy about sick days), and there were way too many liquid lunches at Hutton. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going - it was always clear that Kathleen would do the going, and indeed she made Wall Street partner the year I left Hutton - and the contents of the document boxes brought the perplexity of it all back into sharp focus. Such sharp focus that I had a hard time holding on to a sense of who I am.

When the last box had been emptied, and the last pile of refuse tipped down the chute, I was getting very hungry. Kathleen said that we should go out, but what I wanted was a big bowl of spaghetti alla carbonara. Kathleen is on record as not caring for this dish, and so I've been making it for myself for years now on nights when she's working late. I had a feeling that she might change her mind about it when I served it, and she did. "I always think that this is going to come in an Alfredo sauce. It is certainly true that many restaurants douse carbonara with cream; it is likely that most cooks use whole eggs. But mine is one of the simplest dishes in the world, and because I keep parsley growing on the balcony, I always have the ingredients: bacon, eggs, spaghetti, parmeggiano. The sauce is ready before the pasta water reaches a boil. Tonight, as a variation, mindful of Kathleen's desire for light food, I used Canadian bacon instead of pancetta - both of which I stock in the freezer but can slice with my meat slicer. The egg yolks, the parsley, and a bit of parmeggiano go into a small processor for blending; the thick slice of bacon is cut into small cubes and browned in butter, and the spaghetti is boiled for eleven minutes. Then everything is tossed together. Spaghetti alla carbonara took the edge off of a very iffy day.

July 27, 2005


Hey, this is Fuckin-A RJ. Ever worry about your juice? Do you have what it takes to be straight? Arduous, man. But, whatever, I myself have been declared Officially Straight. Know how those sweet boys like to say that everybody but everybody is one of them? Well, I have been rejected. I am, according to the authorities, not gay! Ergo, straight! I have the Official Gay Seal of Straight Approval. It is a wonderfulness!

Team Vacation Advances


Day Two of Team Vacation was easier to take in every way. We knew what we were going to do; we did it. We were in and out of Manhattan Mini Storage in half an hour, and that includes the wait for the car that Kathleen called for to take us home. (Both days, we've taken the bus downtown.) And we knew something of what to expect from boxes that hadn't been opened in the past seven years. Some memories are plainly painful, but for the most part the boxes contain lives headed on a different course, lives of a different complexity. Actually, I would say that my life was complicated when I first set up the archival boxing system that I'm undoing now. Now my life is complex. There's a consistency to it, and a clarity of commitment, that was missing fifteen and twenty years ago. The boxes remind me, basically, that I used to be a mess. A functional slob, lurching from one distraction to another, and always worried about boredom. Now I am only worried by my blood pressure.

Back home with our second set of seven large document boxes - the six that we plan to fetch tomorrow will finish this cahpter - we gleefully discovered that several were full of utterly disposal items, such as phone bills from the late Eighties. For a while, Kathleen and I were simply carrying the small boxes out to the rubbish chute and dumping them into the compactor's maw. There were two more boxes of letters, though, and a lot of stuff pertaining to my father's estate - including letters that he wrote several years before he died, chiding me for my ignorance of the tax laws. I was tempted to throw these out, but without reading every letter all the way through several times, I wouldn't have known where the accounting stopped and the attachment began. I did a lot of wincing, but I tried to go through it manfully, and in the end my decision to keep most of it was inspired by the conviction that to dispose of the awkward and disagreeable would be dishonorable. I'm not sure that I'd handle things better now. I like to think that I would, but the point is that I was, as I say, a mess.

By the time we could clear the dining table, we had whittled the contents of fourteen boxes down to the contents of four. These have all been given clear Post-It labels, provisional until we finish the job tomorrow, and stacked in the blue room. Two of the small boxes (should I be talking of "inner" and "outer" boxes here?) contain notebooks that are mostly empty but whose opening pages are sullied by aborted attempts at fiction. To my project list I have added the task of reading these productions, summarizing them, and unleashing the full fury of my critical acid upon them, whereupon the notebooks will vaporize, or at least follow the old phone bills into the compactor. One of the fictions - story or novel, I can't tell, and I probably didn't know at the time - begins with a line about someone named Armand who had imaginary friends when he was a boy. "Write what you know," they say, and all I can say is that I didn't even have imaginary friends when I was a boy. Nor did I ever know anyone named "Armand." Happily, the day eventually dawned when I realized that I lack almost every gift that the writing of fiction, as distinct from the writing of prose, requires. But that is another story.

July 26, 2005

Team Vacation


In late May or early June, I persuaded Kathleen to take a week's vacation and spend it focused on our storage unit at Manhattan Mini-Storage. We have the largest unit available, and it is not cheap. Realizing that I hadn't visited it in about a year, I decided on shock treatment: we would bring its contents home, box by box, and dispose of them as best we could under pressure. Our apartment, like most in Manhattan, is already crammed - that's why the stuff that's in storage is in storage. But within the past year I've experienced a serious personality shift, going from someone who would hold on to anything - anything - "just in case" a need for it might arise to someone who's almost revolted by closet clutter and tightly-packed bookshelves.

The first thing to go, in May, was the sofa-bed, which took us out of the hotel business permanently. It was amazing to see how much more spacious the apartment became with the removal of just one couch, and a love seat at that. It was amazing and inspirational. Kathleen put up no resistance at all to my suggestion that she spend a week away from her daily grind only to wade knee-deep in another. All we did was postpone, several times, the chosen week. Until now. "Vacation" began today.

We didn't spend much time at the locker, because I already had a plan. We would begin by removing document boxes - a no-brainer. Fifteen years ago, I ordered twenty-five such boxes from a catalogue. Each box contained six smaller ones, each capable of holding comfortably a three-inch pile of A4 paper. Some of the small boxes were nearly empty, but others bulged. The orgy of discard was not prolonged. Within an hour, I reduced the contents of seven large document boxes to the contents of nine small ones.

What remained, though, included five smaller boxes of letters. Most of these pre-dated 1977, the year in which I left Houston for law school and very much the before-and-after year of my life. They were in bad-to-impossible shape, having survived some sort of flood in the basement of my father's Houston apartment building. Particularly hard-hit was a sheaf of carbons such as the one above. Many were simply disintegrating along their bottom edges. I knew at once that, for the moment, I could either throw the lot away or throw none away. Triage would have killed me. Perhaps I ought to have hit  the "Eject" button, but my personality hasn't shifted that much.

The letters were not in any order, and all I did was arrange them in neat piles. Just looking at them was wearying. There were a few correspondents, evidently prolific at the time, of whom I could recall absolutely nothing, not even with the help of their letters. There were lots of girls. Girls wrote to me a lot, because I usually wrote back, but they rarely did so disinterestedly, at least when I was a teenager. I was tall and reasonably good-looking and I could dance. I had a sense of humor. The weirdness always took a while to emerge - that and the fact that my mind was very much elsewhere, in a place that I could not seem to find. There were plenty of letters from my parents, including my favorite, the one from my father that consisted a photocopy of my latest bookstore bill, to which Dad appended a paragraph that began, "This is the end of the road for your bookstore credit card." Hey, it could have been booze. He might have preferred that. I also dug up the correspondence that I had with the gentlemen at Blackwell's, including a letter from Basil Blackwell himself. After reading a profile of the famous Oxford bookshop in The New Yorker, I popped off an inquiry and soon had my own, £/s/d, account! I bought some seriously heavyweight titles (for a kid in high school), among which my favorite has always been G. W. Prothero's Select Statutes and Other Constitutional Documents Illustrative of the Reigns of Elizabeth and James I (Oxford, 1894, 1964). Favorite title, that is. It did help me to win a prize.

Upon closer inspection, the carbons appeared to date exclusively from September, October, and November of 1966. I seem to have done nothing but crank out correspondence. I remember taking a lot of ribbing for making carbon copies of my own letters (does everybody out there know what carbon copies were?) and, indeed, I am now blushing at the fatuousness of the exercise. The idea that these scraps could be useful to my biographer (ahem) is truly terrifying! I might as well have preserved a photographic record of the pimples that, mercifully, were never very common upon my phizz. I plan to go through the lot and save the two best and the five worst.

It also seems that M PPOQ, a faithful friend of these pages, had little time for anything but writing letters to me. There are at least fifty and possibly fifty thousand of these, written upon every imaginable variant of his alma mater's stationery. Having done Blackwell's, I wonder if it's too late to take up blackmail. I trust that the letter on exhibit is unreadable, but I promise you that it is not worth trying to decipher. 

July 25, 2005

Monday Morning


Although not a man of violence, I'm as mad as Sir Alfred de Carter (above) about municipal footdragging on the public lavatory front. Kathleen proposed having dinner at the Shake Shack, and that seemed like a great idea. No cooking! But I forgot the bathroom situation down there (there isn't one, and if you ask you'll be advised to "sneak" into the McDo across the street). If I'd remembered, I'd have had a martini instead of a mug of tea as we were sitting around before heading downtown. I was never in dire straits, I was never even all that uncomfortable, but the uncertainty was irritating. The last time it happened - the last time I was at the Shake Shack - the Barnes & Noble at Union Square saved the day, but the trick didn't work on Saturday night, because that branch closes at ten, not at eleven, as the one across the street from home does. We ended up at Starbucks. I felt like Crabby Appleton, but Kathleen (who is, I supposed, used to me) insisted that it had been a lovely evening, as, in fact, it was. Sitting beneath the strings of light that stretch from the Shake Shack to the nearby trees was delightful and relaxed in a way that did not say "New York." Thank you, Danny Meyer.

And thank you, Kathleen.

Read more about Rex Harrison's best movie at Good For You.

July 24, 2005

Sous le pont de la Concorde coule la Seine, April, 1993


If Kathleen seems to be frowning (she isn't, actually), that's because she knows I'm going to tell the "Pont Dix" joke when we get home. We are crossing the Seine on the Pont de la Concorde, heading out from our hotel - the Crillon! I won a raffle! (too many Texans) - to the Café de Flore, because it is a Sunday and not much else is open. As I recall, this was the only rainy day of our first trip to Paris.

The Place de la Concorde started out as the Place Louis XV but served as the Place de la Révolution in the 1790's, and was the scene of much guillotining. I have been reading Colin Jones's Paris: The Biography of a City (Viking, 2005), and at the moment, Baron Haussmann is just rolling up his sleeves. But the orderly Paris that is the Second Empire's greatest legacy was framed by great disorders, in 1848 and 1871, and there were plenty of other uprisings earlier in the century. Mr Jones exhibits a two-page woodcut of the tenth anniversary of the Trois Glorieuses, the 1830 revolt that drove out Charles X, the last of the main-line Bourbons. He would be followed by his cousin, Louis-Philippe, who as king in 1840 inaugurated a commemorative column at the Place de la Bastille, but Mr Jones misses the chance to inform the reader that if you want to imagine what the parade was like you have only to turn to Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale, a truly amazing piece of band music, with a chorus at the very end. The dead march that opens the "symphony" is one of the most moving pieces of public music that I have ever heard; the very pace is mortuary. Hopeful motifs, whenever they sound, are invariably crushed by huge chords of grief. It is overwhelming stuff, and I wonder if it has ever been used again. Sorrowfully, France has had many suitable occasions for reviving it.

July 23, 2005

Loose Links

The Poorman soups up the Bayeux Tapestry for Our Times.

¶ Shakespeare ancient and modern: an excerpt from Troilus and Cressida given twice, once with modern English pronunciation and once in a conjectural reconstruction of English as it was spoken in Shakespeare's day. I'm not persuaded; the old is as easily understood as the new. But it does sound gamy and streetwise. (Thanks, Édouard.)

Watch that tip! Someone has launched an audacious, possibly actionable site for the exposure of lousy tippers. It may not still be up when you read this.

Outsource your job! Have techies in Bangalore do your job at a fraction of your price, and spend minutes a day supervising them! Now, that's knowledge! Why is this article appearing in The Times of India?

Metro logos from around the world.

¶ Most blog readers don't know the word "blog."

July 22, 2005

Tom on Marlboro

Baritone Thomas Meglioranza is back at Marlboro for the summer, and he has just posted an eloquent entry that captures what I have always thought the Marlboro Music Festival to be like, and what makes it so special. Let the masses descend upon Tanglewood. At Tomness.


- Did you catch Outer Life yet?

- Hmm.

- Is that a yes or a no?

- What?

- Am I interrupting something?

- Your question again?

- Did you see Outer Life?

- The Ken thing?

- Yeah. I'm beginning to think that he's not going to crack up after all.

- Hmm.

- It reminded me of a guy I saw at a convention at the Greenbrier. My mother had just died, and Dad wanted company, so he took me along. There was this guy who showed up at all the dinners and things in really incredible clothes. One day, he had on a terrific lemon-yellow jacket. Everything that he was wearing either matched the coat or his dark blue slacks, and I guess it all went with his coloring. I don't think a fashion photographer would have dared to use an outfit so completely turned out. I ran into the guy in the men's room and had to tell him that his clothes were great. "It's all my wife," he said, with a brisk smile. As if he had no idea. I didn't buy it. Am I interrupting you?

- Hmm.

- Gawd, what are you looking at?

- Photos from Party Cove

- I guess you're through with the Times, then?  

- Red state fun!

New Yorker Roundup (July 25 Issue)

Since it's the end of the week, and if you haven't read the current issue of The New Yorker, you're probably never going to, let me propose a brief roundup of its interesting collection of nonfiction features. Perhaps you'll change you rmind. (Only one is available online, but there is also an online interview with author William Finnegan.)

First, Anthony Grafton, author of a delightful book on footnotes, assesses, in "Reading Ratzinger," the thinking of the former cardinal, by going through the catalogue of one hundred thirty items written by the Pope held by Princeton's Theological Seminary. As a graduate student, Ratzinger learned how Augustine and Bonaventure both learned important points of orthodoxy in confrontations with heretics. I must say that Mr Grafton seems a bit dazzled. One paragraphs ends with the theologian's conclusion that "The true Church could not be founded on the exclusion of others"; the next reports that Ratzinger has "recently approved the exclusion from the Eucharist of Catholic politicians who defend abortion rights." It may be that the first is an instance of exclusion from the Church, not the Eucharist, but that is a distinction without much of a difference. I came across nothing, in any case, that excited my respect for the Pope's critical thinking. Mr Grafton leaves us with the implicit conclusion that, however brilliant, Benedict XVI is not a genuine intellectual at all. 

As the organ and liturgy drown out the weaker voices of liberal critics, as the searchlight of orthodoxy retrospectively reveals the errors of [liberation theologian] Leonardo Boff and other dissidents, the Pope and the magisterium - the centralized authority of Roman Catholic wisdom - have no need to look outside for enlightenment.

That was my understanding to begin with.

Everyone seems to be thinking that nomination of John G Roberts to take Sandra Day O'Connors seat on the Supreme Court was timed to distract attention from the Rove-Plame simmer. But how about Seymour M Hersh's piece, "Getting Out the Vote," on how we may have poured millions into influencing the Iraqi elections in January? To be sure, this is not one of Mr Hersh's strongest stories, and because it can be argued that "everybody else was doing the same thing" (bringing contra-democratic forces to bear on the voting), any outrage is bound to be anemic. But I think there's enough substance to the report to add one more log to the "we don't practice what we preach" pyre for the eventual immolation of the Bush Administration. Whatever else Mr Hersh's piece leaves you with, you will groan with the fear that our intelligence services have not really curbed their taste for proaction.

As if to compensate for the discouragement of the preceding, be sure to read William Finnegan's review of the New York Police Department's anti-terrorism forces, "The Terrorism Beat." Sounds like the last thing you'd like to read? Well it's not. Even if that honor didn't belong to the next piece, Mr Finnegan's account of the serious and effective-sounding overhaul that the city's approach to terrorism has undergone since Mayor Bloomberg appointed Raymond W Kelly to serve a second term as Police Commissioner. (Mr Kelly served for a year under David Dinkins.) From two dozen officers prior to 9/11, the force has grown to about a thousand, in a Police Force ten times that size. Operating in the vacuum created on the one hand by a CIA and an FBI disgraced by intelligence lapses, and on the other by the disgraceful failure of the federal government to take any meaningful action to protect New York City, the Mayor and his Commissioner took their own initiative. From drawing on the city's large population of immigrants who can speak the languages of the Middle East - or, as it is referred to here, "Western Asia" - to establishing humming control centers that coordinate tireless detective work, to posting officers in key foreign cities - not to help with investigations but to learn from them - to the deployment of Hercules squads at the hint of danger, the city's response to terrorist threat bristles with zeal and, so far, manifest competence.

Endless vigilance, no victory; success means nothing happens.

Every day without an event is its own success. I could not resist gloating at the implications of the following:

Hardening the target: that's the term of art for the overarching goal of local counterterror work. It can help to know what's happening thousands of miles away, but a densely layered system of municipal defense is a terrorism deterrent of a special type. It says, basically, Try another town.

The next, and final article is all about the comeback, in modern medicine, of leeches. Anybody with even a smattering of historical study under her belt knows that leeches were the bane of pre-modern medicine, often making patients worse rather than better. But according to John Colapinto, writing in "Bloodsuckers," ever since the discovery, in 1884, of the first natural anti-coagulant substance ever discovered, in the saliva of Hirudo medicinalis, the leech has enjoyed scientific, if not medical, interest. The medical interest kicked in in 1985, when a Boston surgeon had to cope somehow with a child's outer ear that he had successfully reattached, only to watch it darken with congested blood. A mad and surreptitious scramble for leeches saved the day, and, ever since, leeches have been the handmaidens (and the handymen - they're hermaphroditic) of microsurgery. They bring an incomparable array of complex wonder drugs to the healing of re-connected veins and healing joints. (They may even be approved for the treatment of osteoarthritic knees - just in time for me!)

If there's a word for the little sketches that adorn the texts of articles in The New Yorkers - and I'm not talking about the "drawings" that have only recently been recognized by the magazine as "cartoons," a word shunned under previous régimes - I don't know what it is, but in this week's issue, they're all by the same hand, and they all depict whimsical engines of self-propelled aviation.

July 21, 2005


- This is so weird.

- Hmm.

- This bunch of sites at www.levity.com. Half of them haven't been updated since 1998. One of the authors died years ago, but the site is still up.

- You should be so lucky.

- How did Vito find this? The look and feel of these sites - it's ancient. These buttons and crazy colors and unformatted paragraphs - what were they thinking?

- Haven't you got anything better to do?

- Here's a site that's current. It offers a course on how to read "alchemical texts" for £25.

- You don't have £25.

- I didn't say I wanted it.

- As if that has ever stopped you.

- Look,  John Seabrook. What's he doing in this gang?

- The New Yorker guy?

- Wait. He's not in it anymore. His site has moved. Figures. What has he done lately?

- Always with the questions.

- But this guy whom Vito linked to says that Lubbock is 365 miles southeast of Austin. 365 miles southeast of Austin would be an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. I should write to Vito to tell him that Lubbock is northwest of Austin.

- Vito will be thrilled.

- How did he find this stuff?

- With his Masked Avengers Secret Decoder Ring.

- Do you think they meant to call it levitate-dot-com?

A big little book by Edith Wharton

In 1919, Scribner's published a collection of articles by Edith Wharton that had appeared in various publications, and called it French Ways and Their Meaning. The pieces had been written primarily to introduce American soldiers to the French alongside whom they would soon be serving; our War Department, as it then was, placed the collection in the libraries of all troop ships. It is hard to guess what a young, unsophisticated soldier would have made of Mrs Wharton's knowledgeable idolatry. If I found it an easy read, that's probably because I already share most of its prejudices. I am thinking of writing to Diane Johnson - now that I have her address - and suggesting that she give us an update on the French ways that Mrs Wharton discusses. I'd love to hear Ms Johnson's take on this extract from the Preface:

The French are the most human of the human race, the most completely detached from the lingering spell of the ancient shadowy world in which trees and animals talked to each other, and began the education of the fumbling beast that was to deviate into Man. They have used their longer experience and their keener senses for the joy and enlightenment of the races still agrope for self-expression. The faults of France are the faults inherent in an old and excessively self-contained civilization; her qualities are its qualities; and the most profitable way of trying to interpret French ways and their meaning is to see how this long inheritance may benefit a people which is still, intellectually and artistically, in search of itself.

Well, now that we've settled that!

Continue reading about French Ways and Their Meaning at Portico.

July 20, 2005



Kathleen was in Maine for a long weekend. She came home yesterday with a tub of fresh strawberries from Shipman's Market on Route 302. It was too late, when we finally got round to dinner, to make dinner, much less to whip up some cream for strawberry shortcake (Kathleen brought some biscuits, too), so after our cheese omelettes and English muffins we simply picked the berries out of the bowl. The hulls were minuscule, which was very nice, but the main thing is that the strawberries tasted like strawberries! They were heaven. I have learned that you can simulate the taste of strawberries by macerating supermarket (or even upmarket) berries, the great big things from far away, in Cointreau and a sprinkle of sugar. But it is a simulation, not the real thing at all.

Kathleen also brought home some of the hilarious but frightening questions that her old camp friend Ellen Edersheim, now a Park Ranger in New Hampshire, fields from querulous visitors.

* When do the deer turn into moose?

* How do the moose know where the moose crossings are?

* "Where are the moose? I've been parked at this moose crossing for half an hour! You should take that sign down - it's false advertising!"

July 19, 2005


As we left the Angelika on Saturday, I blithely offered to make Ms NOLA a CD of the pieces that are played - a few of them over and over - in Jacques Audiard's De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté. It didn't cross my mind that I wouldn't have, somewhere, the Bach that Tom Seyr (Romain Duris) tries to master for an audition with his late mother's agent, as part of a larger attempt to save himself from following in his father's sordid footsteps. I remember that, whatever it was, it was "en mi mineur" - E minor. Ms NOLA remembers that it was a toccata. Most toccatas are written for organ, but Bach composed a clutch of them for keyboard, and BWV 914 is in E minor. It doesn't sound familiar. I ought to know what it was - I ought to have recognized it at once, just as I recognized the Debussy (Images I: "Des pas sur la neige") and the Brahms (Rhapsody, Op. 79 No. 2). But I didn't recognize it. I'm not sure that I'd ever heard it before seeing the film. I am making a note of this because no end of Googling and sampling at Tower has cleared up the mystery. Perhaps you can.

Here's another mystery: How will Hewlett-Packard be able to function with 14,500 fewer employees? How can there be so many "extra" workers? Was Compaq never fully digested by HP after the ill-advised 2002 acquisition? I can understand that it took the current president, Mark V Hurd, six months to decide on a plan for rescuing the struggling firm from the slide that was brought on by Carly Fiorina's hubris. And I read that a division of HP, the Customer Solutions Group, will be "dissolved." (Would that "solutions" would be dissolved!) But how can a company employ 150,000 people? How can it function? Well, at the moment, it can't, can it.

There is no way that a group of executives - the fifteen, say, or twenty people at the top - can collectively visualize the activities of so many people, and yet such visualization is all that they've got to go on when making operational decisions. Breaking important decisions down into smaller decisions, made by junior people, simply blurs the picture.

Where did I read of the manufacturing company that aims to keep the number of workers at each plant down to 150? This means lots of plants, but the approach pays off because everybody knows everybody else at any given site. (150 is supposed to be the greatest number of people, roughly, that a person can keep track of from day to day.)

Update: Mr Sun asks some pointed questions about the HP layoffs.

Over There

Good morning! My principal post today is over at Good For You. Here at the DB, I'm only lounging. Which is all that anybody ought to be doing, given our sauna weather.

A new CD arrived this afternoon. It's not new; it's ten years old. Keith Jarrett and Kim Kashkashian playing Bach's viola da gamba sonatas. But it's bedtime, and I can hardly listen. I've sent for a copy of Mr Jarrett's recording of a few of Handel's keyboard suites, to give to Ms NOLA; it was the first recording that ever said TASTE to me. Taste, that great flavor of the ancien régime. 

July 18, 2005

Idle Notes in 3H Weather

Arianna Huffington has discovered la carnétosphère. She appears to have had to go to Europe to do so. (The largest group, by far, of foreign visitors to this site appears to live in France.) But Ms Huffington analyses the phenomenon well.

Because it is too hot and humid to move, even in an air-conditioned apartment, I have been reading Gibbon on the so-called Nika riots that nearly reduced Constantinople to ruins in 532. It is not the most coherent of accounts, possibly because it was cobbled together from Procopius and other principal sources. I have a lot of trouble understanding how the division of a city's population into partisans of the warring "blue" and "green" parties could continue for so many years, and Gibbon is certainly no sociologist. His tone is as stately as opera seria. For Gibbon, manners may change, but human nature is immutable. I reject that distinction. Human nature changes very slowly, but it changes. It would be hard to imagine Yankee fans inflicting violent rapine upon the denizens of Shea stadium. Maybe that's because there was only one stadium at Constantinople! Who knows? Follow the link, though, and you'll read a perspicacious discussion of the difference between Greek and Roman games, and how the latter degenerated, even before the shift in capitals, into deadly mob factions.

The Modern Love guest column in the Times's "Sunday Styles" section was a queasy read this weekend. The column is usually something of a train wreck, bloodied with wounded, self-important ego, and I know that it's no better than Reality TV, but I read it on the off-chance that it might actually turn out to be about modern love. This week's certainly wasn't. Helaine Olen wrote about following her nanny's blog. The nanny made the mistake (since recognized as such) or providing the link, and Ms Olen made the mistake of following it.

When our nanny referred to our house on her blog as work in a seemingly sarcastic fashion, she broke the covenant. The more she posted, the more life in our household deteriorated. It almost seemed that as she created the persona of a do-me feminist with an academic bent, it began to affect her performance. The woman who was loving if a bit strict toward the children became in our view short and impatient, slamming doors and bashing pans when my toddler wouldn't sleep and sighing heavily if asked to run an errand.

Instead of opening a dialogue, I monitored her online life almost obsessively. I would log on upstairs to see if she was simultaneously posting entries below me on her laptop while the baby was napping. Too often she was.

Talk about self-indictment! The entire essay is a study in passive aggression, which we so rarely get to see, as we do here, from the inside. In any case, the Nanny is considering her legal options, not to get the job back - she was so prepared to leave it/lose it that she had a new job lined up within the week - but to punish Ms Olen's slanders, or at any rate to punish the Times for printing them.

Weekend Report

On Friday afternoon, I persuaded Ms NOLA to go to the Guggenheim. She had planned to go home and do responsible things, but I begged, "Aw, c'mon," and when she told her mother about her dilemma, her mother (who is a great lady) said, "What's to decide?," So we met at the Met for lunch, and took a quick run through the Lehman wing, which Ms NOLA never seen and which I always forget to explore. This is where financier Robert Lehman's collection is displayed, in settings that imitate the rooms of his town house, much as they were when Lehman enjoyed them. The Lehman Wing is therefore a museum within the museum. There are lots of terrific pictures: many Italian "primitives," as Lehman might have called them, the Met's great Ingres (La princesse de Broglie), and just enough tacky stuff to heighten the personality. Ms NOLA had a lot of fun with the dollhouse-like Life of Jesus, an amateur sculpture from the eighteenth century that uses a lot of little shells.

Then we went to see "Robert Mapplethorpe and the Classical Tradition: Photographs and Mannerist Prints." Occupying three circuits of the ramp, the show is a gimmick - as you may suspect from the museum's page. The superficial similarities pound home the wholly antagonistic aesthetics of Mapplethorpe on the one hand and the Mannerists on the other. Mannerist nudes are cluttered and almost violently wound up. The mood is one of hysteria and anxiety. It's easy to see why this might be so: the Mannerist period coincided with the systematic anatomization of the human body. Artists knew muscle groups but, given the lack of gyms and so forth, rarely saw them fully developed, so they used their imaginations, and came up with the wildly hypertrophic and sexually unappealing nudes that characterize the period. Their work has a documentary feel, and is almost academic.

Mapplethorpe, in contrast, is a cool classicist, sleek, understated, and calm - even when his subjects are not. His aesthetic is art moderne: regulated, calibrated, beautifully lighted. It is about beauty and the dangers to beauty. The show's selection of photographs was almost coy, given Mapplethorpe's reputation and total output. Genitalia could be seen here and there, but never in sexualized circumstances. The busyness and unpleasantness of leather and chains, ironically, would have brought his work closer to the Mannerist prints, but it was clear that the museum didn't want to open that can of worms. Mapplethorpe's mildly naughty but not "indecent" photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger makes it plain as day that even today's most overbuilt men do not have the bodies that Mannerist artists imagined, and that the contours of skin covering developed muscles is not sharp but sheer. This show is clever, certainly, but it is empty, too.

Unsatisfied, I wanted something more when we left Frank Lloyd Wright's peculiar and hip-paining structure. The National Academy of Design was right there, just half a block up Fifth. The NAD's current exhibit is devoted to paintings by Jean Hélion (1904-1987). Hélion started out with very agreeable abstractions in color combinations that I found fetching. Then he took up figurative painting, at just about the time that Abstract Expressionism was taking off. His apostasy cost him his reputation among the Clement Greenbergs of this world, which is why you may not have heard of him, even though he was married for a while to Peggy Guggenheim's daughter. The figurative work is always jolly and at times agreeably surreal. There are a few pictures that suggest Magritte gone wild. The catalogue cost $50; non, merci. But here is a Web page from which you can learn a thing or two about Hélion before and after 1947.

On Saturday, I met Ms NOLA at the Angelika Film Center for the 3:15 show of The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté). It was beyond brilliant. "Brilliant" for me usually connotes "clever," but this is not a clever picture. It's an intensely emotional one, working inward from intense sensations. Because any synopsis would either be open to wild misinterpretation or else spill the beans on a very suspenseful story, I will saying nothing more than this remake of James Toback's Fingers (1974) features an Oscar-worthy performance by Romain Duris as a tightly-wound young man who has to decide between the allure of vice and the ardor of beauty. When it comes out on DVD, I shall have more to say. 

Not having been to a cinema in over a year, and having grown quite comfortable with my little LED screen, viewed across a room, I found the opening of The Beat That My Heart Skipped really unpleasant, physically. The scene wasn't violent, but menacing, and it was hard to follow visually. My heart was racing - not good. It's not quite two hours long, but, frankly, I couldn't have taken much more of its intense was its drama, and Ms NOLA and I agreed afterward that we were never happier to see a film end when and where it did.

Afterward, we strolled down Broadway. Zut, what crowds! I felt that I'd come out for the Luxury Brand Shopping Day Parade, an event taking place on SoHo's exiguous sidewalks. Especially fetching was a clot of Indian glamour girls from New Jersey, discussing what to do next and not looking happy about it. Oblivious to la circulation, of course. When we passed by the downtown branch of Bloomingdale's, I saw, with mild, it's-about-time surprise, that the mannequins were grouped as gay couples. At first, I wished that I had my camera, but then I thought better of diffusing such an image on the Internet, where it might be seen out of context - that is, by people who might find such a window display offensive, and who might use the picture to fuel their outrage &c. I don't regard this as self-censorship - but I'm curious as to why I don't.

At Canal Street, we parted ways to our respective subway lines.

July 17, 2005

Portland Head, c. 1995


D'you, I don't remember when I took this photograph. It would be somewhere in the neighborhood of ten years ago, when we still had our second vacation place - the one that we ought to have bought first and last - on Thomas Pond, just outside Windham, Maine. Hugging Kathleen is our great old friend, Barry, and in the background is the Portland Head Light.

When Kathleen and I were married, Barry was the best man. He was the oldest friend that Kathleen and I had in common. We had all met at Notre Dame just a few years before. Barry was pursuing a doctorate in government, while Kathleen and I were law students. We were all Pay-Caf regulars.

Kathleen flew into Portland this morning, to join some chums from Sebago Wohelo, a summer camp that for many years was a lot more than that for Kathleen. I forget what the occasion is, but Kathleen will be staying at the home of a friend, on another part of Sebago, and not at the camp itself, for the perfectly good reason that the camp is fully occupied by current campers.

July 16, 2005

Loose Links

¶ Whether or not it is general for Young Republicans to prefer to support the war effort on the home front, Operation Yellow Elephant, a new collaborative blog dedicated to exploring this issue, recently penetrated a Young Republicans convention, and captured this amusing snatch of cognitive dissonance.

¶ We all like to get wet in the summer, but it's not always easy to get to the beach. And besides, at the beach you have to play nice. A water-gun assassination tournament - now might be the ticket.

¶ And, finally, Forty Things That Happen Only In the Movies

July 15, 2005

News You Can Use?

The other day, I came across yet another great link at Towleroad. (Thanks, Andy.) It took me to a powerfully stark video that raised a serious question. Unlike so many questions bouncing about the body politic, this one doesn't involve natural or impersonal forces that are beyond my control, and I find that to be a refreshing change. While I worry about that we may have wrecked the environment in some catastrophic way - the Gulf Stream does appear to be in real danger of breaking down - there's not much that I can do about it, and as I'm already one of the relatively few Americans (if one of the many New Yorkers) who doesn't have anything to do with cars that aren't taxis, I give myself a pass on the matter, and wait for the rest of the world to catch up. And as for worrying about what's going on in Washington - ! The video to which I am about to refer you, however, is different. It is all up to you. 

Watch the video. Then come back.

¶ In 2014, will The New York Times go offline in protest?

Let's assume that, as a reader of the Daily Blague, you're going to be an elderly or elite consumer of newsprint in 2014, with all that that entails about your critical judgment and deep perspective you're cool. But are you safe? Will you be functionally elite, in a "democracy" that swarms with ill-informed bigots who know very little about what lies beyond their everyday experience? No, you won't. You'll be marginalized at best, persecuted at worst. I myself doubt that a carefully-calibrated government of checks and balances can operate in a world where most people believe that, because democracy means that nobody can make you do what you don't want to do, it's perfectly all right to do anything that you do want to do.

It has always been understood that democracy requires an educated citizenry. But the idea of education, like every other idea, changes over time. I don't think that we know what general education means nowadays. EPIC 2014 suggests that we'd better find out, and fast.

July 14, 2005

Le quatorze juillet


Although I am conflicted about La révolution - something had to happen, but did that have to happen? - I am untroubled by Bastille Day itself, and I wish the Fifth Republic a thousand years. Liberté, égalité, fraternité! (Thanks, Édouard.)

An Impromptu Concoction

Two months, ago, perhaps, I took an avocado that had just reached the peak of ripeness and built a salad for it. I made up the recipe and I didn't take notes. I've improvised a few sequels, and last night's version was so good that I think it's time to write things down. The menu was simple: a broiled sirloin steak that had been powdered with Agata & Valentina's Italian Rub and steeped in the refrigerator for a few days, and the salad. I was sure that I had made far too much salad for four people, but there really wasn't much left.

Yorkville Salad

Prepare a green-onion vinaigrette by combining 2/3 cup of oil, 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt and pepper with the white parts of a bunch of green onions in a small food processor. Emulsify the ingredients. Spoon a tablespoon or so of the dressing into a large salad bowl. Decant the rest a small bottle and set it aside. 

Sauté the kernels of one or two ears of corn in a combined tablespoon of butter and oil for a few minutes. Scrape the corn into a large salad - tossing - bowl. Peel a seedless (hydroponically-grown) cucumber, chop off the tips, and, using a mandoline set for thin slicing, slice it into the bowl. Quarter one or two dozen cherry tomatoes, depending on their size, and add them to the salad bowl. Toss the salad gently with sprinkles of crumbled feta cheese as you add a handful or two of sliced red onion rings and a cubed red or yellow Bell pepper. Add more dressing as desired. At the last minute, peel and chop to ripe avocadoes and toss them in the salad bowl, and transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Top with more feta and serve.

Kathleen believes that the addition of a boiled egg or two would make this a complete meal. Mushrooms are a possible addition, but as the combination of avocados and mushrooms is always intensely earthy, they may not be suitable for every menu. I'm thinking about cubed roast beets and, possibly, cubed ham. 

Please let me know if you've been making a better version of this for years and can barely restrain from giggling at the fatuity of my naming this impromptu concoction after my own neighborhood.

July 13, 2005

Memo To Self

Memo to self: don't leave your little French pieces at the top of a page. Ahem. Please refrain from conveying the impression that this is a French-language site.

Yesterday's French lesson went well. My mind was slightly elsewhere until, in the last half hour, I had the bright idea of regaling my prof with the Paris restaurant stories that I'd struggled to convey at our first meetings eighteen months ago (when I hadn't even found out that he is a retired restaurateur). Like the one about the Lab pup at Apicius (now in the VIIIe) who got away from his mistress and made a tour of the other tables, which made everybody giggle except the oblivious owner. And the one about the little bishop, decked out in scarlet and fringe for lunch with his parents at La Grande Cascade, who was so impatient for a taxi that the management finally had a kitchen boy drive him away in a beat-up old hatchback, or the really divine bavarois au poivron that Kathleen had at the now-shuttered Vivarois. These tales were all much easier to put over yesterday, thanks to all that my prof has taught me - and to his truly remarkable patience.

Lettre à un ami (extrait)

Après que j’aie posté un commentaire au sujet de la plus récente de vos photographies, je fus saisi, sans que l’on sache pourquoi, par la crainte que le mot « photographie » est du genre masculin, pas du féminin. La force de cette certitude m’a rendu autant ridicule que mon courage s’affaiblit, et je ne pouvais pas chercher le mot dans le dico jusqu’après le déjeuner. Quoique j’eusse raison – le mot est au féminin - j’ai du mal à le croire.

Je disais autrefois, « Dieu soit loué, je suis né anglophone ; car de toutes les langues du monde, l’anglais est la plus difficile à apprendre. A cette époque, je ne connaissais que du français peu utile de la salle de classe. Je ne crois plus que le français est plus facile à apprendre que l’anglais. La différence, a mon avis, c’est que la plupart des anglophone ne parlent pas très bien leur langue, alors que la plupart des français me paraissent compétents.

Si vous voulez bien, je vais faire traduire ce courriel, en tant que ma dissertation hebdomadaire. Est-ce que je vous ai dit que mon professeur, restaurateur retraité, m’a flatté avec l’assurance que je ne commets que les erreurs fait par tout les français. Heureusement, je ne le crois pas.

Amicalement, &c

[NB: j'ai traduit tout cela sans l'aide de Babelfish]

Dave Brubeck and John Pizzarelli at Carnegie Hall

As noted at the time, I thought I would wait to write up the JVC Jazz Festival 2005 Dave Brubeck/John Pizzarelli at Carnegie Hall ON 24 June until I'd had a chance to listen to related CDs. There were, after all, no programs, and I'm not enough of a journalist to write down announcements from the stage. The CDs were in my hands within days, and I lost no time playing Mr Pizzarelli's, Knowing You, and not just to hear him sing "Quality Time" with his wife, Jessica Molaskey - possibly the high moment of the concert for me, not least because Ms Molaskey is a knockout. But I took my time about listening to Mr Brubeck's London Sharp, London Flat, and now that I'm listening to it, the title song is the only one that sounds familiar.

Continue reading about Jazz at Carnegie at Portico.

July 12, 2005

Holy Hotcakes!

What the blazes is this doing in Newsweek?

So if you think your nutritional concerns can be rightfully addressed with food alone, think again. When the real-life requirements of the eight sacred metabolizers are not met, the body withers and weakens, loses integrity, and invites disease upon itself, calling forth whatever symptoms are necessary to alert us to the soul lesson that is hungering for nourishment and attention. We can no longer look exclusively in the biological realm to solve health problems that are but downstream effects of the affairs and tides of the soul.


Frances Langford

Frances Langford died yesterday at the age of ninety-two. If know who Frances Langford is, you're seriously into old pop culture. Ms Langford, a Floridian, was a vaudeville singer who made it big, trouping with Bob Hope during the war and pairing with Don Ameche for The Bickersons, a popular radio show whose title conveys an idea of its tone. She appeared on an episode of The Honeymooners, improbably dressed to the nines - I seem to recall a mink stole. And she appeared quite gloriously, alongside Eleanor Powell, Una Merkel, and Virginia Bruce, in Born To Dance (1936). Did I forget Jimmy Stewart?

According to the obituary, Ms Langford's second husband was Ralph Evinrude - yes, that Evinrude - and after their marriage she became more interested in boats that in singing. But she did have a great voice. Here's a novelty number that I suspect was actually recorded in Hawai'i - sounds like Alfred Apaka in the background. Listen to In Waikiki

Business Corrupts

From David Carr's lighthanded denunciation of Time Inc.'s editor in chief, Norman Pearlstine"

Those looking for the heavy hand of a corporate overseer in Time's decision are making a mistake. Mr. Pearlstine is independent, and while he may have sought input from elsewhere in Time Warner, he made the decision alone.

Real businessmen need no process, endless e-mail messages or even so much as a make-it-so nod. No one had to lean on Mr. Pearlstine. He leaned on himself.

It has been a very long time since I glanced at once-proud Time. I'm not sure that I would read it now even if were as good as it used to be; I've gotten hooked on The Economist, which, for all its faults - not least of which is a desultory design scheme that seems intended to repel interest - has always been a great deal more serious. But Time was once an important source of centrist judgment that was capable of enlightening readers too busy to keep up in depth. Now it appears to be nothing more than a highbrow People, if such a monstrosity can really be conceived.

Perhaps one blessing to come from the jailing of reporter Judith Miller will be a cleaving of genuine news outlets from their entertainment-oriented simulacra. But I do ask myself what catastrophes will be required to awaken American citizens to their formidable duties as (however temporary) high stewards of the earth.

July 11, 2005


This is not going to be about the book that I've been re-reading, Aldous Huxley's The Devils of Loudun. I'm still in the middle of it, or just past. The Devils of Loudun is a book that all clever undergraduates read when I was in college. Huxley takes a shocking but minor historical event - the burning of a priest convicted of witchcraft in seventeenth-century France - and uses it as a point of departure for expatiations about ESP, transcendence, "the Spirit," and whatnot. A lot of what he has to say is pure twaddle, but his retelling of the ordeal of Urbain Grandier makes for great reading, and his analysis of the political background is chillingly apt. We will get to all of this when I finish re-reading the book. What I want to write about now is "the subconscious."

In 1953, when The Devils of Loudun was published, all educated anglophones knew what the subconscious was. Just as all Gaul was divided into three parts by Caesar, so Freud divided the mind of man. The ego was the self, embattled by a superego that told it what to do and made it feel awful about its shortcomings - what we usually call a "conscience" - and a subconscious that swarmed with illicit impulses, a sort of muddy mirror image of the superego. Actually, the terminology is not Freud's at all, but that of his English translator, James Strachey. If Strachey had been more faithful to his texts, which spoke of Ich, Über-ich, and Es, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

That's because when I came upon the word "subconscious" in Huxley's book the other night, it struck me that this familiar term has become very rusty. It's still in general use, of course, but it's impossible to take seriously. I don't mean to suggest that there isn't some neural system in the brain that codes "forbidden" thoughts and keeps them well out of conscious awareness. But with the invention of "subconscious," Strachey institutionalized a very rickety idea about the mind, to wit, that its higher functions are conscious. Our reason and our speech - these are conscious faculties, surely? 

If you want to know what it is like to be conscious of producing speech, try learning a foreign language. That's consciousness, believe me, and it gets maddeningly in the way. If you have to think about what words you're going to use - something quite different from thinking about what you want to say, what idea you want to express - the bogged-down effort of it all may easily defeat you. If you have to evaluate every sentence on a page for truth values, you will never finish the book. The fact is, our minds are wired to burden our consciousness with as little as possible. (I've been given to understand that the problem of autism is in large part a matter of too much information; instead of seeing a field of daisies, an autistic person counts them.) The more fluent and practiced at anything that you become, the deeper the elements of your expertise sink into unconsciousness. The weasel term that "saves" these processes for dignified human rationality is "second nature," but they would be much better denoted by "subconscious," a term that is, thanks to James Strachey, no longer available for the purpose.

When you speak, you are aware that you are speaking, but not of choosing your words. If you pause to find the right word, you know that you're looking for the right word, but you don't know what the right word is until it presents itself, as if by a miracle. Anything that you do well, you do without thinking. You're a (partly) rational animal, but you don't have to know it, and lots of perfectly rational people don't.

July 10, 2005



I still dress like this, although I tuck my shirt in now. The only other difference, style-wise, is that I dress like this all year round.

This undated snapshot was taken, I deduce, at Liberal, Kansas in 1962. Liberal, where the company that my father worked for had extensive operations (I say that because I can't remember what the hell it was), was the second stop in a fantastic cross-country business trip that we were taken on. We started out at Kansas City, then flew (on small company propeller planes) to Liberal, and from Liberal to Santa Fe. From Santa Fe we took the AT&SF - which, at least by that time, no longer passed through Sante Fe itself - to Los Angeles. We had drawing rooms with convertible sofas. I could hardly sleep for the excitement, though. The train snaked through the Rockies at speed! From Los Angeles we flew to San Francisco, in a prop jet - I think that the model's name was "Electra." From San Francisco, well, I forget how we got to Clinton, Iowa, which, as I mentioned last week, was my father's birthplace. On a plane through Chicago, doubtless. But I remember Chicago as coming after Clinton, and perhaps that's the mistake. At Clinton, an elderly barber who remembered my father from long back, and who had no idea that I was adopted, assured me that I would never go bald.

Here's a closeup:


Would you wish being fourteen on anybody?

July 09, 2005

Loose Links

¶ The Blogosphere is abuzz with pages devoted to the new date of infamy: 7/7. The most interesting may turn out to be the Wikipedia entry that is already under construction. I wonder if Tony Blair will garner the same warm feelings that were directed at our fearless leader almost four years ago.

¶ Although I didn't think that Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece about torture at Gitmo needed flogging by me, Amy, at The Biscuit Report - whose site is indeed named in reference to the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, or BSCTs - has linked to to a Q&A at the magazine's Web site in which Ms Mayer speaks somewhat more frankly to Amy Davidson. (Thanks, Amy)

¶ To cheer yourself up, visit La coquette. It's author has put anonymity behind her, and even provided a charming portrait photograph.

¶ Department of Don't Know Whether To Laugh Or To Cry: Ian Frazier rips the Democratic Party, in The New Yorker.

¶ And, finally, could Jeff Bezos be the new John Wanamaker? Would customer service explain why he's still there?

July 08, 2005


The other day, I wrote an entry that contained the following sentence:

Even now that I am confident and relatively easy-going, I doubt that any soldier and I would have much to talk about, in the way of common interests.

I ought to have given more care to expressing myself, and made it clear that I was not insinuating that the interests of American soldiers in Iraq are inferior to mine. I didn't say that they were, but the inference was drawn by several friends. All I meant was that, on every indication, few young soldiers - I wasn't talking about officers, and ought to have made that clear - would regard passing time at any of my sites as anything but a penance, while I would not want to participate in talk of bands, cars and sports, which appears to make up a trio of recreational topics. Most soldiers, I'm sure, would find me hopelessly stuck up, no matter how affable I was. I'd do better, in fact, by being stern and remote. They would understand that in an older man.

Even now, I'm not doing a very good job of getting my thought across. It's one of those cases where the more you try to extricate the more stuck you get. So I am very grateful to my old friend George Henderson, who continued to discuss the entry even after commenting on it, eventually presenting me with the following.

What I would want from you in a piece like your "Independence Day" post is to convey that genuine interest and sense of value through prose that though likely it would never be read by soldiers in Iraq, and if it were, they would know immediately that you were not like them, but the prose would show them instantly that you indeed care deeply about their sacrifices and deaths which you regard as needless.  And, even though you view their sacrifices and deaths as needless that in no way diminishes the respect you have for their honorable service.

That is exactly what I would like to write. As you can see for yourself, the other day's entry followed the sentence that I've quoted with a negative litany, denouncing the fools who have put our troops in the sandbox. Well, that's not how to express any kind of solidarity. So let me say that I respect the willingness of American soldiers in Iraq to discharge their orders and to put their futures at risk in defense of their homeland. I admire their courage, even when it fails, and I try hard to imagine their sacrifices. I hope that every one of them comes home safe and sound, but I am proud of the sense of honor that makes their doing so so uncertain. And I urge them and all of us to bear in mind that, history books to the contrary notwithstanding, the meaning of a military engagement is not bound up with victory or defeat. Ultimate victory, ultimate defeat - these are the sum totals of countless individual victories and defeats, and it is in those small but brave acts that the true meaning of warfare lies. Soldiers are not at liberty to judge whether wars make sense, but they must be assured that the meaning of their sacrifices does not drop to zero if and when their leaders determine that the bravest course of action is to withdraw from fighting.

July 07, 2005


The news from London has wrenched what was going to be a peaceful day into shards. My sympathies to everyone in London, victims and others alike, for having to live with the awful uncertainty that terrorism leaves in its wake.

It's ironic that the bombings occurred during the G8 summit in Scotland. Tony Blair says that the timing was intentional, and perhaps he's right - but that would not be ironic. What's ironic is that the time for G8 meetings has passed. It is time to start serious talks with Islamic leaders, serious open talks, so that all of us, we helpless playthings of the powerful, can see for ourselves what demands can and cannot be met.

Why do leaders who speak of refusing to capitulate to terrorism believe and expect that proud people will capitulate to foreign occupation? What are they thinking?

Decline and Fall

Today's entry, about Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, begins over at Good For You. When it was ready to post, I sat down to watch a movie. That's not something that I ordinarily do doing daylight, but here's what happened. On Saturday, my dear Kathleen went to the Video Room, to pick up a movie. She found one, and then she found another, and when Kathleen is about to rent two movies, she remembers that the VR has a deal that lets you borrow a fourth movie for free if you rent three. This sounds great, but especially on a holiday weekend we don't watch that many movies in three days.

The rental expired last night, but we forgot to call for pickup, meaning that in addition to wasting money we were going to be charged even more. We had watched two of the four videos, Spellbound (not the Hitchcock but the one about the spelling bee) and My Brilliant Career, which, we realized the other day, neither of us had ever seen. Kathleen also hadn't seen Miss Firecracker, but I wasn't in the mood. And In July turned out to be Im Juli, a German film made by Fatih Akin. I thought that, as long as we were paying today's rental, I might as well give it a try. Because I still haven't seen Run, Lola, Run, I hadn't seen Moritz Bleibtreu before. Herr Bleibtrau has been in front of cameras since he was six, and it just may take an actor with as much experience to play the hapless and recessive Daniel Bannier, a teacher-in-training who has always run from adventure. But he runs into Juli, a vagabond beauty (Christiane Paul) and, the next thing you know, he's on his way to Istanbul - which is why Kathleen rented the movie - and to self-discovery. Im Juli has moments of magic realism, and is unembarrassed about unlikely coincidences, but the story has such an optimistic pull that we somehow know that Daniel is always going to survive the latest disaster. I recommend it to anyone whose eyes aren't tired (the subtitles are in a garish yellow) and who's up for a gamine romp. 

July 06, 2005


It's too good to be true! The 2012 Olympic Games will not be played in Gotham!

I won't bore you with the details of what a nightmare, in logistics and expense, our hosting the Olympic Games would have been. Let's just say that New York City has already got enough going on. We don't need special events in Manhattan. People who live here go away when they want something "different." Or they walk through Times Square for a taste of the incessant spectacle that domestic tourists are kind enough to perform.

(It's true: European tourists look just like New Yorkers - they just don't speak English. American tourists do not look like New Yorkers. They shoot video footage of buildings and form clots in the middle of busy sidewalks.)

But what am I saying? The West Side stadium kibosh, which pushed Mayor Bloomberg into an almost indecently hasty embrace of the Shea Stadium remake, meant that Manhattan would have been spared the Olympic hustle anyway, at least during the day.

My heartiest congratulations to London. What a golden opportunity to recycle the Millennium Dome!

Getting to Independence


It has been our custom for some years to ask friends to have a picnic with us on Independence Day and then to take them upstairs to the roof, from which the fireworks can be seen more or less satisfactorily. The small crowd of people that usually shows up contributes a party atmosphere that does something to make up for the distance, the intervening buildings, and, this year, a greasy black cloud that hung between us and the spectacle for ten minutes. Can't think what it was. Smoke from the fireworks drifted steadily over midtown, where it gradually robed the Empire State Building completely.

This year, Kathleen did something that she has never done in our life together. She invited a few people without discussing the matter with me first. She is still apologizing for having done this, but I was never angry with her, although I did have moments of wishing that things were otherwise. I knew that I wasn't going to feel my best on the eve of an overdue Remicade infusion, but what I really didn't see was how on earth I was going to cook for a party that might be as large as twelve (in the event, we had four guests) and deal with the balcony, which because of questions of realty (currently resolved) we had stayed away from in recent weeks. First, the spring was too cold. Then it was too hot. The daylilies were coming up anemically, in bad need of fertilizer. Two large houseplants, taken outside for the summer, seemed to be doing all right, but the other pots on the florist's étagère held nothing but the straw of last year's very dead impatiens, geraniums, and other annuals. The winter had not deposited a lot of debris, compared to past seasons, but making the space pleasant was going to take more than just turning over the cushions. Oy.

And all I really wanted to do was to read and write.

I never gave ten seconds' thought to begging off. I wasn't feeling that bad. And I'm trying to be conscientious about not letting this site take over my life; having some friends over, something that had gotten to be a bit rare, would do me good. So, as I have learned to do, lately, I made a plan. On Saturday, Kathleen and I would tackle the balcony and see how far we got. On Sunday, I would shop for the party and tidy up the rooms (a weekly routine). On Monday, I would do the cooking. I would serve corn on the cob, potato salad, cole slaw, fried chicken, broiled chicken, and grilled sirloin. These are all easy, forgiving picnic foods. Everything but the steak and the fried chicken could be prepared well in advance.

And that's exactly what happened. What's more, the weather, which was still a little stuffy on Saturday morning, got better and better as the day went on, and held fair right through last night. Which is undoubtedly how I got through it. But everyone was sent packing at eleven-thirty, before the noise of everybody's good spirits reduced me to sobs. Kathleen helped to load the dishwasher, and then we sat for a while on the now quiet balcony in the now quiet city.

For dessert, I made an angel-food cake that came out really well, and served it with raspberry and blueberry coulis. Red, white, and blue. 

Thank you, my dear Kathleen. It was no problem after all.

July 05, 2005

Even better than Independence Day

Infusion Day! Rather preoccupied by the idea of feeling much better, je vous propose a little essay on the germ of perhaps the greatest of American musicals.

July 04, 2005

Independence Day

The other day in The New Yorker, George Packer had something to say about Web logs. Distinguishing our Iraqi misadventure from other military engagements, he wrote,

It was the first blogged war, and the characteristic features of the form - instant response, ad-hominem attack, remoteness from life, the echo chamber of friends and enemies - helped define the tone of the debate about Iraq. 

If Mr Packer is right, then I am wasting my time here, no? But I'm probably not. While I know perfectly well how poisonous some blogs can be, and how readily blogging technology brings aid and comfort to the wounded narcissist, Web logs are no more condemned to exhibit the "characteristic features" than old-fashioned letters in envelopes are bound by the cut-and-paste conventions of blackmail. As always, vice is easy and virtue is hard. This will become clearer as bloggers and their readers inevitably mature.

When I was young, my greatest fear was that I would have to serve in the Army - or in any branch of the military. It was an instinctive dread of masculinity that I couldn't articulate at the time but understand very well now that I am getting positively old. Suffice it to say that I find the first half of Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket more compelling than any Greek tragedy. Even now that I am confident and relatively easy-going, I doubt that any soldier and I would have much to talk about, in the way of common interests. But my aversion to military values - how much happier the human race would be without them! - has not stood in the way of admiration for our beleaguered troops in Iraq. Condemned by an ignorant president and his vicious enablers to risk their lives in a campaign of empty calories, these men and women are learning the hard way what it means to be an American, and some of them are not surviving the lesson. I would offer this Independence Day as a second Memorial, to the memory of those who have died to make this country free no more than to those who are helplessly dying to make this country hated.

Do read read Mr Packer's essay, in which the grief of a father for his dead son, felled by shrapnel in Iraq, encapsulates a capital denunciation of the Bush Administration's ways of doing things. I hope to come back to it later in the week. But not on a holiday.

July 03, 2005

Bowling Green, The Museum of the American Indian, Battery Park, Early 1980s.


In 1933, my grandfather, William John Keefe, a lawyer and Democratic Party operative in Clinton, Iowa, was appointed to the bench of the U.S. Customs Court. Since it is not an "Article III" court - see our Constitution - Congressional approval is not required, making the Customs Court a perfect reward for political favors such as the one that my grandfather worked for FDR at the 1932 convention. The Court, its predecessor and it successor (the United States Court of International Trade) sits in New York City, and the the building that currently houses the Museum of the American Indian was built to be the Alexander Hamilton Custom House between 1899 and 1907. The building was designed by Cass Gilbert, and the imposing sculptures were wrought by Daniel Chester French. It's typical of my youthful solipsism that I never made absolutely certain (by asking my father) that "the Judge," as my grandfather was known to everyone after his promotion, actually held court in this building, but I can't think where else he would have done so. Taking the position, in any case, required him to move, with his wife and two sons, to the New York area. My father never forgot arriving via the recently-complete George Washington Bridge.

The building was unoccupied when the picture was taken, and would remain so for some time. The Court moved to the World Trade Center when it was built. After 9/11, it found home at 1 Federal Plaza, near the other courthouses in Manhattan. Presumably it will stay there, whatever is put up on the devastated site.

A new design for the Freedom Tower, the flagship of current redevelopment plans of the World Trade Center site, was unveiled this week. It is simpler than Daniel Libeskind's first design, and it sits on a fortified pedestal. It looks more likely to stand up than its predecessor, and more imposing than the dim-witted Twin Towers, which I sincerely hope will be rebuilt verbatim, so to speak, in Dallas, Texas, where they always belonged. But even though I actually like the new plan, I'm joining the growing body of people who believe that nothing (aside from the memorials) ought to be built on the site for the foreseeable future. Construction makes no economic sense; the one building to be replaced, 7 World Trade Center, is said to have no tenants lined up for its fall opening - an extraordinarily strange situation. Beyond that, I see the site as a wound that must be allowed to heal naturally, at the hands of people who weren't alive on that terrible day. Until then, we ought to content ourselves with the stewardship of a park. Build an office complex in Long Island City and give it to Larry Silverstein - but leave Ground Zero alone. Let's put something beside square footage first. 

July 02, 2005


Mindful that not everybody in the world is celebrating the anniversary of American Independence this weekend, I persevere, with two links of particular interest to Blogosphereans.

¶ The short and stormy life of Suck, a rogue Web site set up at Wired Magazine in 1995 by engineers who were sure that the suits didn't understand how to exploit the Web at all. I remember reading about the site at the time, but the name was off-putting (genug schon) and I was not looking for ways to spend more time at the computer. Ha. So I never even tried to figure out how to access it. But Matt Sharkey's detailed account of developments and personalities, "The Big Fish," is well worth the (long) read. Ten years ago, in WWW history, takes in everything but the big bang.

¶ Want compensation for the things that you shill from your blog? Tickets, goodies, just plain cash? But you don't want the clutter of ads? Well, invisible advertising can be arranged, right in your entries! An icky business.

I daresay it's healthy to suspect everyone of doing this. I don't do it. I've never been asked to do it, and I won't do it when and if I am. I haven't even hooked up with Amazon's associate program, even though I often link straight to their sales pages. I'm fully devoted to visitor support. Not that that has yielded anything, either.

July 01, 2005


Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, announced today, ought to be a clarion call to everyone uncomfortable with the patriarchal nostalgia that drives extreme conservatism in the United States. (It is also a time to learn how our system of courts actually works - too many people don't know much about that.) That would include me, simply because I believe that the attempt to emulate traditional ideas of masculinity in this country are as limiting and inhumane as Chinese foot-binding.

It is time to work for a disciplined, unified challenge to patriarchal nostalgia - a term that I suppose I had better define, just in case.

Patriarchal nostalgia is, first of all, just that: a wishful dream of a rosier past, in this case ("patriarchal') a world of industrious dads, stay-at-home moms, and obedient but amusing children. If the picture looks pretty to you, if you can't see how unattainable it is by the vast majority of Americans, how crippling it is both to men and women by enforcing Freud's ghastly dictum about anatomy and destiny, then re-education is in order. This dream-world is firmly mounted on a complex of notions about male sexuality that can only be palpated, never discussed. That's what makes it all so insidious: no traditionalist will ever acknowledge - may not be able to acknowledge - that sex works for him only if there are no questions to ask before pursuing the carnal. No questions for him to ask, and no objections for his wife to make. This is sexuality rescued from the shame of consciousness (and choice). It is a fortiori sexuality that is rigidly protected from the transposal in which a man might suddenly find himself in a woman's place, hoping to be longed for. It is, finally, a sexuality that precludes dissidence; dissidents are deviants. And nobody has a say in any of it, not even the men themselves. That's patriarchal nostalgia. It can never be attained, but the pursuit of it can wreck lives as easily as a disease.

PS: Don't be distracted by completely misleading chatter about "Christianity." That's a front and a feint.

Small Town

Although they have worked across the street for quite a few years - the street in question being Lower Broadway - Kathleen and Ms G have never bumped into each other in their workday precincts. Ms G's office is in one of the twin Gothic revival buildings just north of Trinity Churchyard, alluringly photographed in The Great Gatsby (1974). You can get into one of them, but not both, I think, from the Wall Street IRT station itself; I keep forgetting to ask Ms G which one she's in. Or forgetting the answer (more likely). Kathleen's office is at 2 Wall, looking down on the spire of the church. That's why Kathleen and Ms G get off at opposite ends of the station. But for some reason or other, they ran into each other on the train today. They had a chat about my coming Remicade infusion (Tuesday; pant, pant) and about "when are we supposed to be getting together? This week or next week? I'll ask Dad." The week after next, I suggested to Ms G, in a pre-emptive call. Stepmother and stepdaughter smiling and laughing, as they usually are together. It may be a small world, but it's pretty neat.

After the Night and the Music

Ben Brantley didn't like it, but we thought it was great: Elaine May's After the Night and the Music. So did the rest of the audience, apparently. Perhaps it's generational. The title refers, I think, to the aftermath of the famous song, "You and the Night and the Music." What happens when all the goodies promised by Howard Dietz's lyrics have been worn out, washed out, or smashed up? This is not, perhaps, a show for younger audiences - and, of course, it didn't have one last night. After the Night and the Music is directed by Daniel Sullivan, with sets by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Michael Krass, and lighting by Peter Kaczorowski. It's produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, at MTC's Biltmore Theatre on West 47th Street, the dandiest house on Broadway.

There were moments here and there that I might have snipped, but they never bogged down and were forgotten at once (except for the purpose of writing this page). Great cast, great production, great choreography. (I'll get to that.) To Mr Brantley, After the Night and the Music was no more than an assemblage of skits. While I see his point, I don't take it. Billed as "Three New Plays in Two Acts," After the Night and the Music is actually a one-act play preceded by a curtain raiser, a quartet of interlaced monologues, and an intermission. The curtain raiser might be considered a skit if it were merely funny or satirical, but in fact it's about generosity rewarded.

Continue reading about After the Night and the Music at Portico.