The frauds of the banks I can’t, of course, help. Their infamous suspension has put me to ruinous inconvenience. These, however, are not individuals, but corporations, and corporations, it is very well known, have neither posteriors to be kicked, nor souls to be damned.
“Peter Pendulum, The Business Man” (1840)
(From The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe, Running Press, 1983 Edition)
Actually, “Peter Pendulum” is some sort of double or triple satire, since Poe’s titular narrator is himself a horse’s ass who inadvertently reveals the truth about himself while still being very acute with the truth about the world in general. More and more, my later-in-life reading has led me to the conclusion that, between them, Cooper, Irving and Poe either invented or refined everything American writers have ever been good at. Everything since has just been a refinement of style.
“Haydon also took it for granted that secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious.”
(Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carre, 1974)
Bill Haydon is the Soviet mole smoked out by le Carre’s hero George Smiley at the end of the novel. By then the author has made it clear that Smiley agrees with Haydon in principal and that his betrayal is one of form rather than substance. He even says as much (Smiley, but maybe le Carre too)….you know, because secret police forces are the same everywhere.
Just keep these things in mind next time you wonder what the latest talking head on CNN who used to work for the Swamp State (usually C.I.A) really thinks of you behind that furrowed brow and gentle smile of concern. Remember, everywhere you see a nightmare, they see a dream.
Oh wait, did I forget to wish everyone a Happy Easter?
…The second paragraph following yesterday’s perfect paragraph and proof of how hard it is for even the best writers to get the past just right…See if you can spot the line that’s not exactly “wrong” but just the slightest bit off:
There was something quintessentially American about the Augusta Tourists first-ever opening day, Tuesday, April 26, 1904, which was also Confederate Memorial Day in the South. The first two fans to pay the 10 cent admission fee, said the Chronicle, were “M.J. Murphy, of North Augusta, and Charles Love, colored.” (Murphy, for his dime, got to sit wherever he pleased; Love was limited to the Negro section in right field.) The Catholic school band played “Dixie” for the mostly Protestant crowd and a prominent lawyer named Henry Cohen threw out the first pitch (bouncing the ball three feet in front of home plate, and exiting to good-natured razzing). The president of the Augusta Rooters Club, Mexican-born music teacher Jose Andonegui, was offering $10 in gold to any Tourist hit the ball over the center field fence that day. Even the parking was egalitarian: the city announced that it was putting in “hitching posts for horses, buggies and automobiled,” with a security guard present todiscourage joy riders, a much discussed problem in those days. Just before game time, the sky brightened and the drizzle all but ceased. About 2,000 turned out and during batting practice “got up on their hind legs” to cheer the Tourists and “show that they could be counted on.” Two thousand was a decent crowd even for a midweek major league game in those days, and it certified the Tourists as the most popular attraction in town since a traveling show reenacting scenes from the Boer War had passed through a month earlier. In a matter of months, Con Strouthers would be begging for an umpiring job in a lesser league, and the skipper of the opposing Skyscrapers, Jack Grim, declared legally insane. But for now, hope reigned. Even though it was 3:30 p.m. when the home team finally trotted onto the muddy field, it was morning in Augusta.
(Charles Leerhsen, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, 2015, p. 63)
I’ve never tried to write history, but I have done serious research for historical fiction. It’s tough. You write a sentence, almost any sentence, and immediately ask, but was it really? And off you go to research another arcane subject–didthey have lead pencils in 1863?–often as not to find there is no conclusive answer (though the answer to that one is “yes”).
Which is to say I’m not dogging Leerhsen for missing a subtlety:
“Murphy, for his dime, got to sit wherever he pleased; Love was limited to the Negro section in right field.”
That line should have read:
“Love was limited to the Negro section in right field. Murphy, for his dime, could sit anywhere else.“
Because, believe me, if Murphy had decided that “wherever he pleased” was in right field, in the Negro section, he would have been escorted from the ball park and jailed for disturbing the peace as quickly as any Negro attempting to sit “anywhere else.”
The only reason I know is my mother was born fifteen years later, a hundred and eighty-five miles away–and once tried to sit in the colored section of a bus.
It’s the sort of thing research can’t tell you. (And, no, it doesn’t mean the segregation was equal–“anywhere else” is still a lot more expansive than “right field” and the front is still better than the back unless all the front seats are taken. Plus, a Negro attempting to integrate the white section would probably have been beaten as well as arrested, not to mention visited by Night Riders.)
But the difference between Leerhsen’s aside–an uncharacteristic attempt to let you know whose side he’s on, as if you might need telling, made all the more jarring by its rarity–and my rewrite does still matter.
The truer telling adds a touch of suffocation to this otherwise bucolic setting.
Suffocation, as opposed to the mere presence of injustice, however insidious, is another layer. For one second there, I wasn’t present at Opening Day.
Which only proves even Yanks aren’t perfect. This is still well on its way to being the best sports bio I’ve ever read (even better than Robert Creamer’s Stengel: His LIfe and Times and Hank Aaron’s I Had a Hammer, which is going some).
Things started off auspiciously for Strouthers in Augusta, where he got an opportunity to exhibit his modest flair for promotion. His “Name the Team” contest, meant to stir interest in the new franchise, which he and his partner, an Augusta railroad manager named Harlan Wingard, had each paid $500 to purchase from the league, would be the high point of his brief tenure in that city of 40,000. What the prize was, beyond the thrill of seeing one’s suggestion immortalized in felt and flannel on the players’ uniforms, is not known, but around April 1, 1904, just before Cobb arrived, Strouthers announced that he had identified the best and worst submissions. The worst was Augusta Grave Diggers, a reference to Magnolia Cemetery, the resting place of many a Confederate solider, just across Third Street from Warren Park. The best suggestion, in Strouthers’s opinion, Tourists, made reference to what was still an important industry in Augusta in those years before Florida tempted the snowbirds further south.
That from page 62 of Charles Leerhsen’s Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty. It’s a lovely invocation of time and place…and change, with a touch of the absurd (of course the contest announcing the new ball team’s name would be Tourists would be settled on April Fool’s–and, of course, Tourists would be chosen over Grave Diggers, which, had it been chosen, would have been the greatest name any team ever had!).
I should add that it’s part of a context Leerhsen has already skillfully woven regarding his subject’s Southern identity being a key factor in his mythos (for better and worse).
Too many biographers take their subject’s importance to the rest of us for granted–they collect every detail possible in respect to the person’s singular existence, find some way to cram every last one of them into the text and leave us with no sense of the world the person lived and breathed in. You won’t come away from this book not knowing where Ty Cobb came from and how it impacted (or not) who he became.
But “felt and flannel” is the best touch.
It’s August. Football starts this weekend…but, without the author drawing the least attention to that phrase, I could feel, see and hear Opening Day…more than a century gone.
This post isn’t about the Continental Op….but all will be explained.
I receive updates from several email feeds that keep me abreast of the new philosophical wine being poured from old political bottles. The one that pours furthest from the Left at the moment is Medium (I have several others that move round the table and blot the mind from various Conservative and Liberal angles).
Here’s one I got this week, although it was published in early June, when Ninth Phase Trump-is-Hitler mantra was swirling around the issue of the Mexican border (I think the Eighth Phase was “Stormy Daniels” but don’t hold me to it–my attention span isn’t what it used to be).
By all means click through and read the whole thing but there are a few things I want to highlight.
First, I know little about the author, Umair Haque. His brief online bio states he is director of a “media lab” and an “influential management thinker.” That sounds like a standard euphemism for bootlicker to me, but your mileage may vary.
In any case, he does show a certain mastery of commissar thinking.
He begins with a headline: “IS AMERICA UNDERGOING A FASCIST COLLAPSE?” (perhaps not composed by him, but, for once, an accurate evocation of what the essay is about–he uses the phrase “fascist collapse” several times).
Of course, the essay answers the headline’s question for those few who didn’t know already–we are in fact in the midst of a fascist collapse!
Next we get this:
Here is the textbook definition of a concentration camp: “a guarded compound for the detention or imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents, etc.”
Note the ready imposition of totalitarian language–the hammer that always lies at the top of the bootlicker’s tool box.
“The textbook” which provides this particular definition (which you may have thought was the proper province of dictionaries but what do you know?) is Dictionary.com which is not a textbook and is neither more nor less authoritative than any number of other dictionaries-not-textbooks. Thus, in the space of “the textbook definition” Haque allows me to go all Continental Op* and count at least three lies (he’s an exemplar of the crowd who insist we not mince words by using soft substitutes like “falsehood”) in the space of three words.
By “the” he means “a.”
By “textbook” he means “dictionary.” (Textbook would apply, in this case, to a standard work on concentration camps or perhaps fascism, about which more in a minute.)
By “definition” he means something that would be provided by a dictionary–which Haque used even though he insisted it was a textbook, or, rather “the” textbook–and include the full meaning of the word being defined.
Which brings us to “etc.”
What comes after etc. in the source Haque himself cites is this:
especially any of the camps established by the Nazis prior to and during World War II for the confinement and persecution of prisoners.
Now don’t blame him for cutting it short. He didn’t want you to be led astray by equating the “cages” at the US/Mexican border (shown in a dramatic photo above his essay, which, of course, was taken in 2014), with the Nazis right up front.
That comes later, after he’s tied Nazism to Donald Trump’s current practice at the aforementioned border (since rescinded–the essay is from June–by Trump’s own executive order–because that’s just what Hitler, who, in case you are wondering what the “forcible suppression of opposition” about to be mentioned below looks like, had a hundred and thirty of his chief political opponents, including members of his own party he deemed insufficiently loyal, assassinated [not arrested, assassinated] within days of assuming power, would have done), through reliance on rhetoric instead of fact.
That’s the second tool in the bootlicker’s box.
For fun, here’s a “dictionary” definition of fascism (the real issue):
1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.
That’s from Merriam-Webster, which used to be considered “the” dictionary, if one accepted there could be such a thing.
I wonder why Haque didn’t use that one, even in truncated form? Hmmm…
Trump does exalt the nation, although since it’s the American nation, it is tricky to presume he’s exalting it, or race, “above the individual”–“centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition” being anathema to Americans generally and Trump supporters in fierce particular (follow other lines of reasoning in the Medium universe and you’ll find this cantankerousness to be precisely the problem)–or that the faces whom the world’s “management thinkers” tend to front would really excoriate him for proposing such devices, so long as they were the clear beneficiaries. (And it gets to extremes here: At one point, Haque even suggests we are in an era when the leader is beyond criticism–to suggest Trump is being treated as “beyond criticism” is an order of delusion usually associated with heavy use of psychotic drugs.)
As for the rest: The bulk of Trump’s policies–deregulation, rollback of Obamacare, tax cuts, and, lately, moves to implement prison reform and decriminalize weed–have been almost universally away from centralized government. There are arguments to be made, for and against, any of these policies, but even their fullest implementation hardly constitutes oppression, political or otherwise. The one major exception to this anti-authoritarian strain is immigration, where his sins have amounted to enforcing laws long on the books which previous administrations enforced at whim, when they needed a talking point about being tough. (Remember, all the photos of cages, including the one from Haque’s article, that left so many women in my Twitter feed unable to sleep at night, were from the Obama administration and those who reminded them, however gently, were immediately blocked–not me, incidentally, I know better than to challenge such a precious reality with mere facts.)
There’s a lot more in this vein throughout Haque’s piece before it comes to the point he really wants to make, which is that we never did achieve perfection (who knew?) and were always a fascist country anyway.
After all, the Nazis got all their best ideas, like concentration camps, from us.
I guess he thinks those of us who consumed this idea with our Chomsky and Cheerios in 1983, need reminding. Else a new generation needs grooming.
But, as I always used to ask even then: If we’ve always been fascists anyway, how can we “collapse” into fascism now?
And, oh by the way, when did Fascism ever amount to a collapse?
The two most famous fascist countries (Italy and Germany) rose from collapse.
So did almost every other brutal authoritarian regime or party in the history of the world.
First collapse, then tyranny.
And, of course, we are on the path to collapse. I doubt Donald Trump can do anything about that. But it’s civilizational, not political collapse. The political system is working about as well as it ever did–about as well as any ever has.
And it’s about as close to “fascism” as it ever was–within far shouting distance but no closer.
Donald Trump hasn’t altered that equation either.
I might have more to say about that later–why people are really afraid–and it might even have something to do with the “larger truths” Time magazine had to insist they were pursuing when they put out an issue featuring a cover of a little girl who had been horribly and forcibly separated from her mother, knowing full well that no such separation had occurred, and knowing no one would hold them accountable when the lie (we’re not to call them falsehoods remember) was exposed within forty-eight hours…Now that‘s civilizational collapse on the road to tyranny.
And still nothing new.
Meanwhile, Fascism might or might not be the form of tyranny that follows the collapse.
But when the real collapse comes–the one management thinkers at Medium, Time and elsewhere are always thirsting for in the name of “resistance” because it will gift us with the opportunity to reform–there will be some form of tyranny.
Which is why I view “management thinkers,” whatever their professed ideology, with a jaundiced eye.
They are always pointing at some big, shiny ball above your head, so that you’ll be less mindful of the soft, tiny, relentless erosions beneath your feet.
When the chaos comes, after all, there will be an awful lot of managing to do.
These thinkers see themselves charging a pretty penny to rescue us from ourselves then.
And they are a class supremely confident in their ability to find the right boot to lick in order to get paid.
That’s because not one of them has ever been in the room with the Devil.
Else they’d know better.
Remind ’em Eddie….
*From Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op story, “Golden Horseshoe.”
“I was reading a sign high on the wall behind the bar:
ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN AND BRITISH WHISKEYS SERVED HERE
I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more…..”
My formula for happiness: Read more Hammett. He may have been a communist, but he was no management thinker.
I’ve never felt as strongly about the local pronunciation of Appalachia as Sharyn McCrumb, the great Appalachian novelist who traces her ancestry (early 1790s) to almost exactly the date I do, expresses here…
…But, having been corrected more than a time or two myself, I understand where she’s coming from. Having a quarter-millennia’s worth of forebears who might have taught you a thing or two cuts no ice with those (all good people) who long to “correct” you.
I’ve never argued with anyone about it. No sense in that. Everyone knows what they know and everyone knows that what they know is right.
“My people were the ones who named the place, they oughta know how to pronounce it!” is of no value whatsoever.
It might be the principal reason that, when we’re forced to choose, we all run back the tribes. Because, deep down, we all know the better world waiting won’t be found here, no matter how many times we’re promised that, if we just vote the right way a few more times, we won’t be forced to choose because, pretty soon, well all get along….or else….
You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books, You’re very well read it’s well known Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?
(Bob Dylan, “Ballad of a Thin Man”)
In the process of becoming very well read, I’m finally getting around to Tender is the Night, the Fitzgerald novel most likely to be cited by contrarians (including the author himself) as superior to The Great Gatsby. I’m only about a fifth of the way in, and already convinced that when I finish this and The Beautiful and Damned (the other Fitzgerald I haven’t read), I will know something is happening but I still won’t know what it is. Prospects are good, though, for it being a fine novel. Fitzgerald could turn a phrase with anyone, and it has passages like this, where his ex-pats are visiting the ruins of a Great War battlefield:
He went along the trench, and found the others waiting for him in the next traverse. He was full of excitement and he wanted to communicate it to them, to make them understand about this, though actually Abe North had seen battle service and he (Dick Diver) had not.
“This land here cost twenty lives a foot that summer,” he said to Rosemary. She looked out obediently at the rather bare green plain with its low trees of six years’ growth. If Dick had added that they were now being shelled she would have believed him that afternoon. Her love had reached a point where now at last she was beginning to be unhappy, to be desperate, She didn’t know what to do–she wanted to talk to her mother.
“There are lots of people dead since and we’ll all be dead soon,” said Abe consolingly.
Rosemary waited tensely for Dick to continue.
“See that little stream–we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month. to walk to it–a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”
“Why, they’ve only just quit over in Turkey,” said Abe. “And in Morocco–“
“That’s different. This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancee, and little cafes in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.”
“This western-front business couldn’t be done again….”
I imagine that was the kind of sentiment that left everyone scoffing in 1934 (when few saw it as prescient). No doubt they went right on scoffing up until May of 1940, when the Germans crushed the “western-front” Dick Diver said could never hold in a month, despite being outnumbered by two million troops.
One of the reasons Western Euros stay freaked about Russia-Russia-Russia these days is that if Putin ever decides to imitate Rommel, coming from a thousand miles further away, it won’t take him anything like a month.
And exactly no one will care to risk their life taking it back.
Somebody else’s life maybe. But not their own.
I mean, why would they?
Couldn’t we just nuke Moscow? Maybe trade it for London and Paris?
I guess we (and the Euros) better hope he thinks so.
Good thing I already know all this stuff. Otherwise, I’d be mightily depressed.
First, an excerpt from the opening pages of the rock and roll detective novel I just started shopping around:
“Somebody must have died,” Robbie said.
His brother was a preacher.
Red kicked the block in place before he looked up.
“Well, if it’s your sister, at least you won’t catch any more hell about all them babies you killed in Nam.”
Robbie brushed his dirty blonde mustache with the back of his forefinger.
“Damn straight. And if it’s the kid, I won’t have to hear any more about Iggy and the goddam Stooges either.”
Even without context, you can probably judge that my detective, Robbie Boone, and his drug-smuggling partner, Red Coombs: a) have a sardonic view of life and death, b) that Robbie has a testy relationship with his siblings, and c) anything his radical sister may have said to him about his time in Nam has nothing to do with anything that actually happened and doesn’t annoy him near as much as having a little brother who prefers the Stooges to Creedence or an older brother who wants to save his soul.
Still, if I’m published and my novel becomes the stone cold classic it deserves to be, I can expect to find myself chastised for perpetuating a myth–in this case, that Viet Nam vets were routinely subjected to humiliation by lefty war protesters which included being spat upon, denied sex by beautiful women and just generally being made to feel bad for things they never did.
Or maybe even harangued by their sisters.
I mention all this because Ken Burns’Vietnam (why we use one word when the Vietnamese themselves use two, I’ve always been too slow to understand–gee, I hope it’s not the old Ignorance/Arrogance thing) has just started. I can’t watch it in real time because there’s a tree branch growing in front of my satellite dish and there’s not much point paying the bill until I can afford a service to come and remove the impediment.
But it’s already stirring up discussion and the discussion is already forming around predictable patterns with Myth and Counter-Myth being put through one more spin cycle and everybody pretending that if one or the other finally prevailed we would “heal” (a word the dread Burns–still living off the Civil War series that is the only half-good thing he ever did–has apparently used in interviews), or, in other words, finally walk away from 1968.
Hell, even my novel won’t help us do that. The best it might do–that anything might do–is hammer out a warning to a future we will not live to see.
I am comforted, however, in knowing that when the Thought Police come for me in the much nearer future, it will be in the name of Nuance and a Better Understanding….Same as when they implant the microchip that will help me finally become the Better Person I will then be convinced I always dreamed of being.
York Square must never have had a youth; it’s little formal tapestry of a private park, its grizzled guardian corners of little castles, each with its watchful tower, surely looked old and out of place and time even when the masons laid down their trowels. And what York Square was in stone, Robert York was in the flesh. Imagine him a child if you could, and still you saw only a dwindled Robert York as he stood, in black homburg and iron-gray, with a gray cravat above an antique waistcoat (and spats before May 15th), the unrimmed glasses making him eyeless in the morning sun on his drum-skin face. Compelling Robert York to live in one of York Square’s four castles was like compelling a man to be a biped; commanding that he uphold the York tradition was like commanding that the grass in the little park grow green. They were all alike–he, the park, the castles, York Square–punctilious, outmoded, predictable. Neatly Walt worked on the grassy borders of the plaque as, neatly and to the dot, Robert York took his morning stroll about the park.
(The Player on the Other Side, Ellery Queen, 1963)
If I threw that paragraph up there out as an unsourced abstract and asked who might have written it, sensible assumptions might include Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene. I only mention it because, as late as 1963, it was possible to encounter–maybe even expect–that level of writing even in popular detective novels written by committee.
These days, a single paragraph of that quality would get you consigned to the slush pile and the word would be passed that the writer is to be avoided at all costs.
Believe me, I know.
To make the comparison of eras a little more interesting, you can spend some time contemplating what combination of Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee (the cousins who were responsible for most of the “Queen” output), plus Theodore Sturgeon (the sci-fi writer who was called in as a hired gun on this one to relieve them of their five-year case of writer’s block and/or feuding partnership) was responsible for this, or any other element of the novel. Just know, neither individuals or committees are allowed this sort of thing nowadays. Realism belongs to the post-modernists who write way longer. Pop writing reaches for a much lower common denominator.
And, time and again, finds it.
(FYI: I’m revisiting The Player on the Other Side because, of all the Agatha Christies and Ellery Queens and Rex Stouts and Legion of Others I read in my voracious youth, it left the strongest impression. I haven’t read it since, but so far it’s holding up nicely. Of course all the writing isn’t up to the descriptive passage above–it is a popular entertainment first and foremost–but neither are such passages uncommon.)