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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy Belated Birthday, Lady Randolph Churchill

posted by on January 10 at 10:58 AM


She invented the Manhattan. She was sexually ravenous. She said of her third husband, 23 years her junior: "He has a future and I have a past, so we should be all right."

Yesterday was her birthday.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Electrocuted Elephants Are a Rich Metaphor

posted by on January 4 at 11:51 AM

One hundred and five years ago today, Thomas Edison electrocuted an elephant to try and discredit Westinghouse and Tesla's alternating current.

Edison's aggressive campaign to discredit the new current took the macabre form of a series of animal electrocutions using AC (a killing process he referred to snidely as getting "Westinghoused").
Edison got his big chance, though, when the Luna Park Zoo at Coney Island decided that Topsy, >a cranky female elephant who had squashed three handlers in three years (including one idiot who tried feeding her a lighted cigarette), had to go.

In order to make sure that Topsy emerged from this spectacle more than just singed and angry, she was fed cyanide-laced carrots moments before a 6,600-volt AC charge slammed through her body. Officials needn't have worried. Topsy was killed instantly.

It's a gruesome anniversary, but I'm still excited about last night, and it's hard not to think about it as a good omen.

(Via Wired, Boing Boing, and Mike Daisey, whose new monologue—called How Theater Failed America—is coming soon to CHAC. Everyone buy tickets now.)


From Mike Daisey: "I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the reason Edison killed the elephant was to help bolster his monopoly on DC current, which Tesla was upending with his AC current. I bring this up because the monologue MONOPOLY!, which I'm bringing to CHAC, is actually about this very conflict."

Right you are, sir. I'm so excited for HTFA, I failed to mention the more relevant monologue—MONOPOLY!: Tesla, Edison, Microsoft, Wal•Mart, and the War For Tomorrow, which runs Jan 18 to Feb 3 at CHAC. Buy tickets here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Re: Pearl Harbor Day

posted by on December 7 at 11:57 AM

And tomorrow, Dec. 8, is RIP John Lennon day, which gives me the opportunity to Slog a pet peeve 24 hours in advance.

John Lennon was already dead on Dec. 8, 1980. Reagan had just been elected. The times they were a changin' ... back. I was a precocious kid on that day, and even I understood the grating irony of America's fawning coverage of all those yuppies (a brand new word that year) who had voted for Reagan and were holding candles and shit for Lennon—as if a world leader had just died.

Lennon was not a world leader in 1980. He was nothing in 1980.

And the best song on that album he put out in 1980 was "Kiss Kiss Kiss" by Yoko.

Pearl Harbor Day

posted by on December 7 at 11:23 AM

66 years ago today, Japanese Navy pilots attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 3,000 Americans were killed or injured. Then a few other significant things happened. Pearl Harbor Day. Today. Carry on.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Happy Repeal Day

posted by on December 5 at 11:08 AM

74 years ago today, our great nation finally came to its senses--then promptly got blotto.

On December 5th, 1933, Utah, the final state needed for a three quarters majority, ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition and restoring the American right to a celebratory drink. While the amendment still allowed for state and local levels of Prohibition, by 1966 there were no state laws banning alcohol.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Evel Knievel is Dead

posted by on November 30 at 1:24 PM

R.I.P. Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel, Jr.


October 17, 1938 - November 30, 2007

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Headline or Screenplay?

posted by on November 15 at 8:43 PM

"A Cowlike Dinosaur Comes into Focus."

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Fall of the Dollar

posted by on November 5 at 10:53 AM


Exhibit A: Gisele Bundchen, the world's richest supermodel, who is angling to retain her title by insisting on payment in virtually any currency except the U.S. dollar.

Exhibit B: Jay-Z, the hiphop star and music industry mogul, whose new video finds the international trendsetter of pornographic bling waving around stacks of $500 Euros.

Carry on.

Friday, November 2, 2007

The Original Bloggers

posted by on November 2 at 2:28 PM

Between the fall of 1787 and the spring of 1788, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay published 85 "posts" under the pseudonym "Publius" (as opposed to, say, "Will in Seattle") in New York newspapers arguing that the states should ratify the Constitution. (It was a hell of a cat fight and there's a great recent book about the the internecine political battle that went down to ratify the thing.)

For those who complain that blogging has degraded public debate into recriminations, counter recriminations, and histrionics—please enjoy Alexander Hamilton's 67th post:

No.67: Hamilton

The constitution of the executive department of the proposed government claims next our attention.

There is hardly any part of the system which could have been attended with greater difficulty in the arrangement of it than this; and there is, perhaps, none which has been inveighed against with less candor or criticized with less judgment.

Here the writers against the Constitution seem to have taken pains to signalize their talent of misrepresentation. Calculating upon the aversion of people to monarchy, they have endeavored to enlist all their jealousies and apprehensions in opposition to the intended President of the United States; not merely as the embryo, but as the full-grown progeny of that detested parent. To establish the pretended affinity, they have not scrupled to draw resources even from the regions of fiction. The authorities of a magistrate, in a few instances greater, in some instances less, than those of a governor of New York, have been magnified into more than royal prerogatives. He has been decorated with attributes superior in dignity and splendor to those of a king of Great Britain. He has been shown to us with the diadem sparkling on his brow and the imperial purple flowing in his train. He has been seated on a throne surrounded with minions and mistresses, giving audience to the envoys of foreign potentates in all the supercilious pomp of majesty. The images of Asiatic despotism and voluptuousness have scarcely been wanting to crown the exaggerated scene. We have been almost taught to tremble at the terrific visages of murdering janizaries, and blush at the unveiled mysteries of a future seraglio.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where No Man (or Animal) Had Gone Before

posted by on October 30 at 1:37 PM

50 years ago this Saturday, the Russian mutt 'Laika' became the first animal launched into orbit.


Laika died in-flight. The "official" version of her death was that, after completing her mission, she was fed a last meal of delicious chow and deadly poison. 45 years later, however, the true cause of death came out when

Dimitry Malachenkov, a scientist at the Biomedical Institute of Moscow who worked on the Sputnik 2 mission, revealed that Laika had died from shock and heat exhaustion only hours after liftoff.

Terrified by the roar and the vibration of the engines, the dog lurched desperately to free itself as the rocket took altitude, its heart racing at three times normal speed.

Laika calmed somewhat as the capsule settled into orbit, but the respite was short-lived. A heat shield had been partially ripped off during the separation with the booster, and within a few hours the temperature inside the capsule had risen to 41 degrees Celsius (106 degrees Fahrenheit), rather than 15 C (59 F).

Five hours after takeoff, Laika showed no signs of life.

Her high-tech coffin orbited until August 14, 1958, when it burned up upon reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

Your Ass Is Glass

posted by on October 30 at 10:15 AM

Behold: The Evidence for Ancient Atomic Warfare!

When the first atomic bomb exploded in New Mexico, the desert sand turned to fused green glass. This fact, according to the magazine Free World, has given certain archaeologists a turn. They have been digging in the ancient Euphrates Valley and have uncovered a layer of agrarian culture 8,000 years old, and a layer of herdsman culture much older, and a still older caveman culture. Recently, they reached another layer of fused green glass.

Boom! Boom! (Antique) Boom!


(Thanks to Kevin S.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Comment of the Year

posted by on October 26 at 11:35 AM

Posted by jamier:

In 20 years the Chinese will speak English, Zimbabweans will speak Chinese, and Americans will speak Ndebele.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Christian Disease or, the Black Lion

posted by on October 22 at 12:16 PM

Syphilis isn't funny. But this passage sure is:

The name "syphilis" was coined by the Italian physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro in his epic noted poem, written in Latin, entitled Syphilis sive morbus gallicus (Latin for "Syphilis or The French Disease") in 1530. The protagonist of the poem is a shepherd named Syphilus (perhaps a variant spelling of Sipylus, a character in Ovid's Metamorphoses). Syphilus is presented as the first man to contract the disease, sent by the god Apollo as punishment for the defiance that Syphilus and his followers had showed him. By the addition of the suffix -is to the root of Syphilus, Fracastoro derived a new name for the disease, which he also used in his medical text De Contagionibus ("On Contagious Diseases").

Until that time, as Fracastoro notes, syphilis had been called the "French disease" in Italy and Germany, and the "Italian disease" in France. In addition, the Dutch called it the "Spanish disease," the Russians called it the "Polish disease," the Turks called it the "Christian disease" or "Frank disease" (frengi) and the Tahitians called it the "British disease." It was called "Great pox" in the 16th century to distinguish it from smallpox. In its early stages, the Great pox produced a rash similar to smallpox (also known as variola). However, the name is misleading, as smallpox was a far more deadly disease. The terms "lues" and "Cupid's Disease" have also been used to refer to syphilis. In Scotland, Syphilis was referred to as the Grandgore. Because of the outbreak in the French army, it was first called morbus gallicus, or the French disease. It was also called The Black Lion.

The Soviet Animal

posted by on October 22 at 11:55 AM

A week or so ago, I'm having lunch with Paul Giamatti, his wife, two of their associates, and my associate. We are in Manhattan, in a Chinese restaurant not far from the
General Theological Seminary. Food is on its way and I'm telling Giamatti about the great Soviet biochemist Alexander Oparin, about his important work, about the Oparin ocean, and the materialist origins he developed to fit the ideology of a godless state. Just as I'm about to reach the most profound point of Oparin's theory, Giamatti interrupts: "Does this scientist have anything to do with the Soviet Ape Man?"

I have no idea what Giamatti is talking about.

Paul: "Stalin tried to develop an army of ape men. Did Oparin have anything to do with that?"
Me: "I'm certain he didn't."
Paul (excitement growing on his face): "Do you know about the Soviet Ape Man?"
Me: "I really don't. I'm in the dark about this thing."
Paul: "Read about it and tell me what you think. It's really fascinating." A steaming plate of dumplings is placed between us, and we begin to eat and talk of other things.

Today, I google the Soviet Ape Man and find this story in the Scotsman:

THE Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the creation of Planet of the Apes-style warriors by crossing humans with apes, according to recently uncovered secret documents.

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: "I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat."


Giamatti's head is filled with this type of information, odd information.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Speaking of Race Politics...

posted by on October 19 at 4:22 PM

People were a lot more enlightened in the 1970s ... or at least less uptight.

Remember the whole big deal about the first black coach to win a super bowl thing earlier this year— which I bitched about at the time.

Well, this little history lesson from the 1970s puts all the self-congratulatory, self-conscious (and doth protest too much) Super Bowl '41 hype in perspective. Once upon a time, people didn't feel compelled to posture about this stuff.

Dig me some 1975:

Courtesy, Bullets Forever.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Balls Upon the Brain

posted by on October 15 at 10:32 AM

Even though the "castrato" at last week's screening of Brand Upon the Brain wasn't a real castrato (Dov Houle, the fictional "Manitoba Meadowlark," was lip synching to a woman's voice—a terrible disappointment), that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about castrati all weekend. Here's one, named Alessandro Moreschi:


You can read about them here and here.

It's sad stuff—during the 18th century, poor families dragged their boys to village barbers by the hundreds to be castrated, hoping they'd grow up to be famous, rich stars. Most of them thought the operation produced a great singing voice, not preserved it. (Bumpkins—doing stupid shit since forever.)

Also: The pope was rumored to have kept a castrato for his "private delectation" until 1959.

Also: "As the castrato's body grew, his lack of testosterone meant that his epiphyses (bone-joints) did not harden in the normal manner. Thus the limbs of the castrati often grew unusually long, as did the bones of their ribs. This, combined with intensive training, gave them unrivalled lung-power and breath capacity. Operating through small, child-sized vocal cords, their voices were also extraordinarily flexible, and quite different from the equivalent adult female voice... "

Also: "At the height of his career at the age of 32, Farinelli was invited to Madrid by the Queen of Spain to sing to her husband Philip V who was suffering from what now appear to be schizophrenic episodes. His singing seemed to ameliorate the King's condition—an early example of music therapy—and he became indispensable to the Spanish Royal Family for the following 20 years."

You can hear Alessandro Moreschi, the "last castrato" singing here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fun Facts: October 12, 2007

posted by on October 12 at 10:13 AM

In honor of this momentous occasion, I decided to take a look at significant events and personages who can also claim this day as their own. But man, who knew today was so chock-a-block full of historical events and celebrity birthdays? Certainly not me. Here's just a tip of the proverbial iceberg:
This Day In History:
1492 – Columbus arrives in Bahamas (Columbus Day first celebrated this
day in 1792)
1609 – Children's rhyme "Three Blind Mice" first published in London
1692 – Massachusetts colony discontinues witch trials
1775 – U.S. Navy established
1879 – British Troops capture Kabul Afghanistan
1892 – Pledge of Allegiance first recited in U.S. public schools
1915 – 1 millionth Ford "Model-T" rolls off assembly line
1918 – Boston Children's Hospital begins first use of "iron lung"
1960 – Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pounds shoe at U.N. General Assembly
1964 – Voskhod 1 launched; first 3 man space crew
1971 – "Jesus Christ Superstar" opens at Mark Hellinger Theatre, New York
1973 – Juan Peron elected president of Argentina; Nixon nominates Gerald R. Ford to replace Spiro T. Agnew as Vice President
1978 – Sid Vicious charged in murder of girlfriend Nancy Spungen
1992 – "Howard Stern Radio Show" premieres on Albany, NY station WQBK
2000 – USS Cole bombed in Port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors
2004 – Seattle Storm take WNBA crown in 2-1 series victory over Connecticut Sun
2007 – Slog inmates take over asylum; mayhem ensues.
(Timeline courtesy of
Today's Birthdays:
Luciano Pavarotti, opera tenor,1935
Hugh Jackman, hunky Aussie,1968
Kirk Cameron, banana smoker, 1970
Marion Jones, steroid abuser, 1975
Bode Miller, ski bum, 1977
(Thanks to Celebrity Link.)
So, waddayasay? If you can't find something in all of that to celebrate, you're just not trying very hard.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Good War

posted by on September 27 at 9:18 AM

The point of Ken Burns' The War?
burnswar.jpg A writer at Metro Times put it this way:

America is smack-dab in the middle of The War, both literally and televisionally. However, in this age when our brave young men and women are dying overseas every day for a cause both ill-defined and seemingly without resolution, it's almost inspiring to immerse oneself in a time when America was compelled to engage in "a necessary war."
That there is the idealogical function of the The War documentary. Its goal is to remind us that not all wars are like the one in Iraq. There are wars (World War Two, for example) that are necessary, noble, stand on sound moral foundations. But is this reminder good or bad? It is...bad. If there is one great thing about the war in Iraq it is it failed to hide the truth about war: war is a waste of money, time, lives. This has always been and will always be the case: war is a waste of everything that is human. Iraq tells this truth; Iraq is a butt nekkid war.

Because World War Two is considered to be "a just war," a war that was necessary, it hides the truth about the state of war (a waste of lives, money, and time). World War Two is a war that wore the clothes of an emperor. But some, like Burns, quickly point to German and Japanese aggression, to the extermination of humans, and other evils as good reasons for the war. All wars are preventable. Indeed, prevention is the first victim of a war. Before it can murder people, a war must first murder all of the reasons that are preventing it from happening and replace them with reasons that will expand its state of violence.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Submitted Without Comment

posted by on September 11 at 11:43 AM


1984 ad for the World Trade Center via Copyranter.

From Brzezinski's Mouth

posted by on September 11 at 10:35 AM

Let's leave all emotion at the door and enter this room of consideration with eyes that are not distorted by tears and hearts that are not mushy with family and national feelings. With this clear mind (thought in the hard home of the head and not in the soft home of the heart), let's open and look at an important part of this interview, "Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen: Interview of Zbigniew Brzezinski" (Le Nouvel Observateur, 1998--Brzezinski served as Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981):

About the CIA intervention in Afghanistan

Q: When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against a secret involvement of the United States in Afghanistan, people didn't believe them. However, there was a basis of truth. You don't regret anything today?

B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war. Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Two points.
Most who look at this declaration by Brzezinski at a distance of six years from September 11, 2001, will think, "What an idiot he was." But let's shake away all such feelings and look directly at Brzezinski's argument for one cold moment. Isn't he actually right? The Afghan war did bog down and eventual bring the Soviet war machine to a halt. The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent end of the Cold War, was clearly related to the massive loss of money and lives that it paid for the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Without such loses and the demoralization of its troops, the Cold War would certainly have continued into the 90s.

With this in mind, one can reach the mark of wondering which line of history is worse: one that is driven by the expensive military motor of the Cold War; or one in which threats and dangers to national security are limited to terrorist actions that, for the most part, are poorly funded and rarely spectacular?

The trick of the Bush Administration has been to hide the fact that the world is actually safer and to engage in wars that have no contact with this reality. And because there is no contact between the untruth (the world is as dangerous now as it was during the Cold War), and the truth (the world is actually safer), the world of truth is undone by the world it is not--the world becomes what it wasn't in fact, dangerous: The Iraq war, and not terrorists, have made the world more dangerous). Why are we in Iraq? Because of terrorists? A national war machine is going after poorly funded and rarely successful gangsters? That is the reality--no, the absurdity.

Where Brzezinski might have been wrong is here: "We [had] the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." USSR's war in Afghanistan is less and less looking like USA's war in Vietnam, and more and more like the present war in Iraq. Vietnam did not kill a superpower; Iraq, however, seems to be the one on the historic road to that achievement.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fellow Time Travelers

posted by on September 4 at 2:51 PM

I posted this on Line-Out over the weekend, but I feel like I should have posted it on Slog. A) Line-Out was Bumbershoot crazy this weekend, and so, my 1955 time travel didn't exactly fit in the mix. B) I think most of my fellow 1955 time travelers are on Slog anyway.

There's an amazing splice of rock DNA floating around online: An actual Alan Freed radio broadcast from early 1955 on WINS in NYC.

The show heats up about 30 minutes in when Freed plays some Mickey "Guitar" Baker, Ray Charles, and B.B. King.

The Future of Democracy

posted by on September 4 at 2:08 PM

To begin with, Athenian democracy was made possible by two facts: the war with Persia and the growth of the Athenian navy. Meaning, the extension of political power to all male citizens of Athens corresponded with the emergence of the Athenian Empire, which itself emerged from the Delian League--an association of Greek city-states in the 5th century BC that owed its existence to the presence of Persian military power.

With this in mind, let's turn to Europe's modern period--16th-19th century. From a chapter, "War and Militarism," in Stuart Hall's book Modernity:

[British expenditure between 1695-1820 shows that] state finances were dominated by foreign wars. ...Whether the state was absolutist or constitutional made little difference to the proportion of its expenditure on the military.

Later in the chapter:

Over time it was the increasing scale of war, and particularly its growing reliance on technology change, industrialization, and specialization which, in combination with the growth of commercial, legal, and diplomatic interaction among states, gave the modern centralized nation-state its distinctive edge over other state forms. States that could mobilize and sustain armies and/or navies gained a war-making-advantage.

The conclusion of that chapter:

It is argued by some scholars that the more military superiority depended on the ability of a state to mobilize large numbers of soldiers, particularly of lightly-armed foot soldiers, the greater have been the prospects for representation or popular government... the soldier has often become, and struggled to become, a citizen-soldier.

Put poetically: Democracy has an ugly relative, and that relative is called imperialism. Stable and durable state expansion, the military, and democracy are interconnected: A state's imperial designs needs a large army; a large army needs lots of bodies; and a citizen will more likely trade his body if the return is a larger role in the rule of the state. Any consideration of democracy and its place in the future will be inadequate if this historical relationship between democracy, militarism, and the state is ignored. (Another example: British democracy--the series of parliamentary reforms between 1840 and 1870--increased as the size and pressures of the British Empire increased.)

National politics today: With the American public rejecting the imperialist war in Iraq, what then is the use of democracy for capital? If the people will not fight, why give them the right to vote? Capital wants war; people want democracy. Capital will soon, if it hasn't already, resolve this contradiction: war without the people. The future of politics is in the hands of capital if the people continue to rely on a form of democracy that has as its substance a statist-imperialist agenda. The end of the statist democracy would mark the transformation of the people into the multitude. War in its state form is not possible if the governing polyarchy (rather than democracy--the rule of the people by the people) emerges from the noise of the multitude.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The War

posted by on August 28 at 10:52 AM

I didn't mean to almost wade through all those aggravating comments in Jonah/Josh's Baird post, but I almost did nonetheless. And I'm going to bust a gut if I don't say this.

We will not win this war.

We will not lose this war.

Period. We can't win or lose because the "enemy" switched midway through from Saddam and the Ba'ath Party to an amorphous new set of bad guys, composed of at least two groups with mutually incompatible aims. This is not a zero sum game. The United States accomplished one objective--removing Saddam Hussein--but it failed to imagine another, arguably more important objective: filling the power vacuum and establishing a workable state. So shut up, everyone, with your stupid reductive notion of wars that countries win or lose. Bush seemed determined to end that era for good when he declared war on the extragovernmental tactic of terrorism.

I have no idea whether Baird is sincere or not, but I was against the invasion and I still think immediate or premature withdrawal is the most idiotic idea on the table. I'm completely sincere, and I don't have any conservative constituents to woo. So it's possible.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Oh, My Aching Effie!

posted by on August 23 at 11:28 AM

Agents at the border or something have intercepted "chatter" or whatever containing the following disturbing video segment. It was sent in an email from known hillarrorist Grady West (code name: Dina Martina) and addressed to persons unknown. Behold, and for Christ's sake, brace yourself:

And no, you weren't just having a stroke, and yes, that really just happened, and yes, Marla Gibbs seems to be wearing the skin of a gutted space lizard. And for ruining/making the rest of my life, thank you, Mr. West. Thank you, indeed!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Re: Some Meditations by Charles Mudede

posted by on August 14 at 2:16 PM

I don't know much about guns, and so when I was out drinking with some gun nut friends the other night, I asked for a primer on hand guns and machine guns.

At the end of the primer—to show them that I understood (mostly their enthusiastic lecture obsessed over the difference between the AK-47 and the M16)—I said: So, the AK-47 is the Molotov cocktail of the second half of the 20th Century.

My gun nut friends ordered me to share that on Slog.

Mudede and the IDF gave me the opportunity to do so.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Overheard in the Office

posted by on August 13 at 6:49 PM

Jonah Spangenthal-Lee to me:

"Who's Cheryl Tiegs?"



Sunday, August 12, 2007

Correcting the Record

posted by on August 12 at 2:45 PM

God damn The New York Times is strapping today: A long overdue front-page article on the failures in Afghanistan; a major editorial on America's inadequate health care system; a titillating NYT Magazine cover story "Can This Marriage Be Saved? A Year in the life of a couples-therapy group"; a lead book review on Harry Potter by Christopher Hitchens?!; and the Arts&Leisure section kicks off with an essay on my favorite movie ever Bonnie & Clyde.

However, it's actually an article from yesterday's New York Times that got clipped out and put on my fridge. Rock and Roll historian Peter Guralnick weighs in with: "How Did Elvis Ever Get Turned Into a Racist?"

I'm a big fan of the Rock & Roll era—late 40s "Race Records" right up through Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly—but man, I've never dug Elvis. Mostly because he seemed schmaltzy and pre-fab and mainstream. And yes, because I associated Elvis Presley with cultural thievery. I think I've relayed this story on Slog before, but back when I was a super odd-ball, I used to write the word 'racist' on those Elvis stamps that came out in the early 90s (?) before mailing letters.

Anyway, I liked being set straight by yesterday's editorial which was published in honor of the 30th anniversary of Elvis's death (this Thursday, August 16.)

Here's some of Guralnick's piece:

It was what he believed, it was what his music had stood for from the start: the breakdown of barriers, both musical and racial. This is not, unfortunately, how it is always perceived 30 years after his death, the anniversary of which is on Thursday. When the singer Mary J. Blige expressed her reservations about performing one of his signature songs, she only gave voice to a view common in the African-American community. “I prayed about it,” she said, “because I know Elvis was a racist.”

And yet, as the legendary Billboard editor Paul Ackerman, a devotee of English Romantic poetry as well as rock ’n’ roll, never tired of pointing out, the music represented not just an amalgam of America’s folk traditions (blues, gospel, country) but a bold restatement of an egalitarian ideal. “In one aspect of America’s cultural life,” Ackerman wrote in 1958, “integration has already taken place.”

It was due to rock ’n’ roll, he emphasized, that groundbreaking artists like Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, who would only recently have been confined to the “race” market, had acquired a broad-based pop following, while the music itself blossomed neither as a regional nor a racial phenomenon but as a joyful new synthesis “rich with Negro and hillbilly lore.”

No one could have embraced Paul Ackerman’s formulation more forcefully (or more fully) than Elvis Presley.

Asked to characterize his singing style when he first presented himself for an audition at the Sun recording studio in Memphis, Elvis said that he sang all kinds of music — “I don’t sound like nobody.” This, as it turned out, was far more than the bravado of an 18-year-old who had never sung in public before. It was in fact as succinct a definition as one might get of the democratic vision that fueled his music, a vision that denied distinctions of race, of class, of category, that embraced every kind of music equally, from the highest up to the lowest down.

It was, of course, in his embrace of black music that Elvis came in for his fiercest criticism. On one day alone, Ackerman wrote, he received calls from two Nashville music executives demanding in the strongest possible terms that Billboard stop listing Elvis’s records on the best-selling country chart because he played black music. He was simply seen as too low class, or perhaps just too no-class, in his refusal to deny recognition to a segment of society that had been rendered invisible by the cultural mainstream.

“Down in Tupelo, Mississippi,” Elvis told a white reporter for The Charlotte Observer in 1956, he used to listen to Arthur Crudup, the blues singer who originated “That’s All Right,” Elvis’s first record. Crudup, he said, used to “bang his box the way I do now, and I said if I ever got to the place where I could feel all old Arthur felt, I’d be a music man like nobody ever saw.”

It was statements like these that caused Elvis to be seen as something of a hero in the black community in those early years. In Memphis the two African-American newspapers, The Memphis World and The Tri-State Defender, hailed him as a “race man” — not just for his music but also for his indifference to the usual social distinctions. In the summer of 1956, The World reported, “the rock ’n’ roll phenomenon cracked Memphis’s segregation laws” by attending the Memphis Fairgrounds amusement park “during what is designated as ‘colored night.’”

An Elvis footnote from Seattle also came to light this week.

Friday, August 10, 2007

"We Have Never had a Rock and Roll Riot in Seattle Before, and I Think it Would Really be Fun."

posted by on August 10 at 4:07 PM

In the City Council's internal newsletter, Legis-Letter, clerk staff archivist Julie Kerssen regularly writes a "Who Knew? Archives Find of the Month" column.

This month, in what seems like a dig at Mayor Nickels's nightlife crackdown, Kerssen rerports on the pending Rock and Roll Riot.

Who Knew? Archives Find of the Month

Several Clerk Files from 1957 contain letters from teenagers (all girls) protesting the city’s refusal to allow Elvis Presley the use of the Civic Auditorium, apparently over concern about potential unruly behavior by youth attending the concert. The arguments took several tacks, with some following the fairness angle. One girl wrote, “What did we teen-agers ever do to deserve this? Nothing!…Why have we teenagers of Seattle been refused when teen-agers all over the U.S. have not?” Many contended that Seattle’s youth were being condemned based on what those in other cities had done. An Elvis Fan Club member asked, “Are we the kids in the other towns? No we are not…Then why are you afraid we’ll start something?” Another girl attempted to reassure the Council that “so many kids want a chance to see him, that they wouldn’t let a riot start.”

Others defended the music itself. A girl from Renton argued, “The reason some people don’t like him is usually because he has a different way of singing, and people don’t like anything that’s different.” A Seattle teen wrote, “Elvis has a good ‘beat’ to his music. It’s different. It isn’t this drawn out mushy slow music.” Another argued, “Think of when the Charleston was the craze and the teen-agers were crazy over Sinatra!”

However, one girl conveyed a different message than she intended when she wrote, “I want Elvis Presley to come to Seattle because we have never had a Rock and Roll riot in Seattle before, and I think it would really be fun.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

If Today is Your 33rd Birthday, You've Got Serious Karma

posted by on August 9 at 9:59 AM


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Another Report from the 1920s

posted by on August 7 at 4:25 PM

I'm still reading that book about the 1920s (written in 1931!)

By 1925, it seems, the revolutionary kids had lost their way, turning from substantive issues of economics and power to distracting, selfish debates about the culture wars.

The bright young college graduate who in 1915 would have risked disinheritance to march in a Socialist parade yawned at Socialism in 1925, called it old stuff, and cared not at all whether the employees of the Steel Corporation were underpaid or overpaid. Fashions had changed: now the young insurgent enraged his father by arguing against monogamy ...

Phooey on 1925. We long for the authentic, good old days rebels of 1915!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Were They Right?

posted by on August 2 at 9:22 AM

In 1993, AT&T tried to predict/sell the future with its "You Will" ads.

I hated those commercials at the time, and I used to drive my friends crazy by announcing (every time one came one) things like: "Have you ever tried to end history by resolving into self consciousness? You will."

Anyway, the commercials aren't as annoying to watch today. Even kind of interesting:


Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RIP Tom Snyder

posted by on July 31 at 8:18 PM

I don't know how I missed this, but Tom Snyder, the ghost in the machine of late night 70s TV (a weird universe) died on Sunday. He was 71. Here's the NYT obit.

I couldn't find his Spiro Agnew interview on YouTube (and I'm sure Dan is the only other one on staff who feels some kind of pang at the news), but Snyder deserves a shout out on Slog.

I mostly associate Snyder with cranky political interviews, but here's what I could find: Snyder in 1980 interviewing John Lydon and also Kiss in 1979.

Monday, July 30, 2007


posted by on July 30 at 4:12 PM

Yes, this came out a long time ago (back off, haterz) but it's new to me so I'm sharing it with you. There are two versions with a YouTube battle raging over which is better. I'll let you decide.


(thanks, Wilky)

Two Things about Google

posted by on July 30 at 10:21 AM

1) Google was a well known word back in the 1920s: Barney Google was a popular comic strip. *

2) It works on my cell phone's predictive text without any futzing and editing. It just comes right up.

* I am reading a great history book about the 1920s called Only Yesterday (recommended to me by my friend Martian Face Jenny.)

The book was written in 1931 by a sarcastic, casually intellectual Harvard grad named Frederick Lewis Allen. (He was a staffer at the Atlantic Monthly and editor in chief at Harper's.)

President Warren G. Harding was the original G.W. Bush. Allen trashes the aww-gee-shucks Harding for his habit of butchering the English language ("Normalcy" is the most famous example, but there's also "brigadier generalcy," "non-involvment" in European affairs, "adhesion" to a treaty, and "betrothment" for betrothal).

More noteworthy are Harding's endless, nearly incomprehensible string of corruption scandals: Secret, no-bid government oil contracts for pay offs to Harding's GOP etc.

And my God, check this (eerily familiar) passage on Harding's corrupt AG, Harry Daugherty:

Could there be more deliberate implication that Harding's Attorney General could not tell the truth for fear of blackening the reputation of [the President.] Call Daugherty's silence, if you wish, the silence of loyalty.

Allen's sophisticated account (he knowingly condemns the plagues of racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, and the Red Scare's attack on the First Amendment as if he were a 1990s grad student ), makes it clear that our modern world (mass culture; fashion as a commodity; aggressive advertising; chain stores; buying on credit; abstract Wall Street capitalism; tabloid sex scandals; prepared food; do-me feminism; teenagers; sexual liberation; movie stars; pop psychology; car culture; and reactionary moralism) emerged in the 1920s in an unprecedented jump cut from the previous, provincial and comparatively static decades of U.S. history.

I used to think contemporary culture began in the mid-1960s, but the radio is the Internet and the 1920s are the template where we still live like mice.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Notes on Religion: Moses, Jesus, Muhammad.

posted by on July 27 at 1:59 PM

For Moses, it's splitting the waters and walking on the bottom of the sea; for Jesus, it's walking on water; for Muhammad, it's flying through the sky to Jerusalem. Each miracle represents, according to the logic of Islam, a step in a movement that it completes.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Bedbugs Be Gone

posted by on July 24 at 11:45 AM

This fragment is from one of the most important apocryphal apostolic Acts, Acts of John.

Now on the first day we arrived at a deserted inn, and when we were at a loss for a bed for John, we saw a droll matter. There was one bedstead lying somewhere there without coverings, whereon we spread the cloaks which we were wearing, and we prayed him to lie down upon it and rest, while the rest of us all slept upon the floor. But he when he lay down was troubled by the bugs, and as they continued to become yet more troublesome to him, when it was now about the middle of the night, in the hearing of us all he said to them: I say unto you, O bugs, behave yourselves, one and all, and leave your abode for this night and remain quiet in one place, and keep your distance from the servants of God. And as we laughed, and went on talking for some time, John addressed himself to sleep; and we, talking low, gave him no disturbance (or, thanks to him we were not disturbed).

But when the day was now dawning I arose first, and with me Verus and Andronicus, and we saw at the door of the house which we had taken a great number of bugs standing, and while we wondered at the great sight of them, and all the brethren were roused up because of them, John continued sleeping. And when he was awaked we declared to him what we had seen. And he sat up on the bed and looked at them and said: Since ye have well behaved yourselves in hearkening to my rebuke, come unto your place. And when he had said this, and risen from the bed, the bugs running from the door hasted to the bed and climbed up by the legs thereof and disappeared into the joints.

What's great about this story is not that John has the power to expel the bedbugs from the bed, but he has the power to make them return.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Speaking of the Worldwide Jewish Conspiracy

posted by on July 23 at 5:33 PM

I learned the other day that Ahmet Ertegun (Atlantic Records/whitey falling in love with Afro-American music in the mid-20th century/Rolling Stones history of the world etc...) was not Jewish.

I assumed he was Jewish because of his first name, and because of the legacy on that score by guys like Leonard Chess, Art Rupe, and Ertegun's colleague Jerry Wexler.

Ertegun was raised Muslim and is, duh, Turkish —which, despite the recent news, solidifies Turkey as ground zero for the excellent secularist revolution that changed the 20th century and put us on a collision course with Al Qaeda.

Turkish Prime Minister Kemal Ataturk, of course, is the early 20th century figure who brought an indigenous secularism to the Islamic world that ultimately sparked a reactionary backlash with things like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist writings of Sayyid Qutb.

Ertegun sparked things like the music of Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Get to Know Your Doomed Sidekicks

posted by on July 18 at 11:50 AM


Name: LTJG Nick Bradshaw

Nickname: "Goose"

Occupation: F-14 RIO (Radar Intercept Officer).

Hobbies: Piano playing/singing.

Significant Other(s): Carole Bradshaw (wife); LT Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (other)

Notable Quip: "No, boys. There's two 'O's in Goose."

Dialogue Doubling as Ominous Prediction: "The defense department regrets to inform you that your sons are dead because they were stupid."

Cause of Utterly Predictable Yet Untimely Death: Ejection from F-14 trapped in horizontal (or "flat") spin; cracked coconut on canopy. (See video, below.)

Immediate Effects of Untimely Death Upon Star Lead: Moody reflection, struggles with self-doubt, unconscionable spurning of Kelly McGillis sexual advances.

Remedy for Effects of Untimely Death Upon Star Lead: Man-up speech delivered by respected higher-ranking officer, blasting of commies back to the Stone Age.

Overall Doomed Sidekick Rating Based on 1-10 Scale: 8.


Friday, July 13, 2007

'Damn, That's Really Good Wine'

posted by on July 13 at 1:06 PM

A cut-n-pastiche from the Guardian and the Seattle Times:

The last guests at the barbecue in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of Washington were savouring the remains of a very fine bottle of Chateau Malescot St Exupery when a robber appeared in their midst, and held a gun to the head of a teenage girl.

"He said: 'Everyone give me your money or I am going to start shooting. I am very serious about this'," Michael Rabdau, the girl's father, told the Guardian.
After what seemed an eternity, another guest offered the robber a sip of the bordeaux they were drinking. "He tasted the wine, and said: 'Damn, that's really good wine.' And it really was," Mr Rabdau said. The guests offered him a glass, and then the entire bottle. The would-be robber helped then himself to a piece of camembert.
"I think I may have come to the wrong house," he said, looking around the patio.

"I'm sorry," he told the group. "That's really good wine," the man said, taking another sip. "Can we have a group hug?" The five adults surrounded him, arms out.

With that, the man walked out with a crystal wine glass in hand, filled with Château Malescot.

In the alley behind the home, investigators found the intruder's empty glass on the ground, unbroken.

"When asked what wines he liked to drink he replied, 'That which belongs to another.'" — Diogenes Laertius writing about Diogenes the Cynic, the first philosophical clown.

The Cynic was also a forger and a thief and, obviously, the D.C. wine-robber's hero.

Another story Diogenes L wrote about Diogenes C:

Plato defined man thus: "Man is a two-footed, featherless animal;" and was much praised for the definition; so Diogenes plucked a cock and brought it into his school, and said, "This is Plato's man." On which account this addition was made to the definition, "With broad flat nails."

Plato hated clowns.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Money in History Part One

posted by on July 12 at 4:24 PM

The people of Yap Island once made money from stone.
The coins in the picture are called Rai and were carried by two strong men.