Saturday, September 30, 2006

Wagstaff's lumber room #1

Samuel Johnson on Reading, from James Boswell's Life of Johnson:

He [Johnson] said, that for general improvement, a man should read whatever his immediate inclination prompts him to; though, to be sure, if a man has a science to learn, he must regularly and resolutely advance. He added, "what we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read." He told us, he read Fielding's Amelia through without stopping. He said, "if a man begins to read in the middle of a book, and feels an inclination to go on, let him not quit it, to go to the beginning. He may, perhaps, not feel again the inclination."

Monday, September 25, 2006

Two worthwhile reads

The latest Lee Harris piece on the substance of the Pope's recent speech and Joseph Epstein's bittersweet essay on Friendship Among the Intellectuals.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Farewell Koizumi

Since 2001, Junichiro Koizumi has been a strong prime minister for Japan, when the Japanese direly needed a strong leader. He's also been a steadfast American ally. He started Japan on the long road of economic reforms and the even longer road of modernizing Japan's national security stance to reflect current realities. Hopefully his replacement, Shintaro Abe, will be able to continue the work that Koizumi has started. Regardless, Koizumi's presence will be missed.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Some pieces are coming together….

When the NYTimes ran an article about one of Bob Dylan’s sources of material for Modern Times, it immediately reminded me of Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga. In much the same way as Confederate poet Henry Timrod worked his words into Dylan’s lyrics, so too did Junichi Saga find several Yakuza lines in Love and Theft. Both stories had a refreshing episode: upon hearing about the borrowing of Timrod’s phrases biographer Walter Cisco was delighted at the nod and the recognition it would earn the poet. Likewise, when Junichi Saga heard about Dylan’s use of his material, he was flattered. Meanwhile, Dylan pretty much never flinched or felt a need to explain. Why would he? After all, as he described himself in Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home, he’s a 'musical expeditionary.' Perhaps the best phrase to describe him. As such, he’s free from any rules the bind the rest of us. Not that his last transgressions were offenses. But it wouldn’t matter if it was, because it is Dylan.

However, the connections between Timrod and Modern Times don’t stop with lines from poems. I’m not sure who actually suggested the idea, but there apparently floats a notion that the title of Modern Times is a rearranging of the letters that spell Henry Timrod. Now before you spit your drink out in a fine mist of surprise at the absurdity of it all….before you notice that the title and the name are hardly a match in letters – consider that the six letters (three in each) that do not have counterparts spell the telling word shymer eshmyr rhymes. That’s right! Just what was Dylan thinking? What clues does this offer to those trying to break the Dylaninci Code?

Perhaps two poems from Timrod will offer more clues into the bottomless mystery of Bob Dylan, and, if not, perhaps they will provide a glimpse from the poet himself:

At Magnolia Cemetery (Charlston, 1967)
SLEEP sweetly in your humble graves,
Sleep, martyrs of a fallen cause;
Though yet no marble column craves
The pilgrim here to pause.

In seeds of laurel in the earth
The blossom of your fame is blown,
And somewhere, waiting for its birth,
The shaft is in the stone!

Meanwhile, behalf the tardy years
Which keep in trust your storied tombs,
Behold! your sisters bring their tears,
And these memorial blooms.

Small tributes! but your shades will smile
More proudly on these wreaths to-day,
Than when some cannon-moulded pile
Shall overlook this bay.

Stoop, angels, hither from the skies!
There is no holier spot of ground
Than where defeated valor lies,
By mourning beauty crowned.

Poet! If on a Lasting Fame Be Bent
Poet! if on a lasting fame be bent
Thy unperturbing hopes, thou will not roam
Too far from thine own happy heart and home;
Cling to the lowly earth, and be content!
So shall thy name be dear to many a heart;
So shall the noblest truths by thee be taught;
The flower and fruit of wholesome human thought
Bless the sweet labors of thy gentle art.
The brightest stars are nearest to the earth,
And we may track the mighty sun above,
Even by the shadow of a slender flower.
Always, O bard, humility is power!
And thou mayst draw from matters of the hearth
Truths wide as nations, and as deep as love.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Finknottle’s yarn continues

I almost forgot that Liverputty has an advice columnist, or that he, in turn, has an assistant. The odors from Finknottle’s work space have all but subsided, so what is there to remind me? His presence? Recent posts? About the only notice that we receive which proves that Finknottle was once around the office is the occasional subpoena that somebody is trying to serve him. His assistant has continued the ridiculous story.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Few Modest Proposals -or- Muscle Lads of the Near East

by Escutcheon Blot

Having recently been bee-bopping around the globe(or at least to four different countries), I have had an opportunity to view customs and immigration from several different angles. The Czechs were friendly and laid-back. Of course, we were leaving. They may well have simply been happy to see us go. The Germans seem always to be fairly low-intensity, and all of them(although I don't need this service anymore) appear to be able to speak fluent English. The Poles are somewhat intimidating, and speak only limited English and German(this was the German-Polish border). The Poles did however, as far as I could tell, all speak their own language .

This is, sadly, not always the case at the Port Authority Customs and Immigration Brouhaha (PACIB) at JFK. There are, to start with, several people-pushers who, as I have noticed on several separate occasions, cannot speak English. Oh they try, but it comes out as a garbled pidgin, with heaping doses of whatever language it is they do in fact speak. I had to inform one diminutive blonde lady(who appeared to be of Nordic extraction--lest any of you think this is racially motivated) what the English for fifteen and sixteen where...Respectively, of course.

Then the immigration officers themselves are, almost to a person, rude, arrogant, overbearing, and arrantly unprofessional. I have heard from European friends of several different countries, all of them allies in our much-hyped (and make no mistake--existentially important) War on Terror, that they are even worse--to the point of being abusive--over on the non-citizens' side of the entry hall. I would like to request that Homeland Security make sure all employees at points of entry at least speak English. I have no expectation of any other language being learned. Indeed, there is no other language which approaches the universality of English. And politeness is probably a lost art anyway, although these customs officers should at least familiarize themselves with the names of our allies, and treat their citizens accordingly. I confidently expect this request to be profoundly ignored.

Secondly, I have noted over the summer, having changed to a gym with a large proportion of its clientele of Turkish--and presumably Muslim--persuasion, that the muscle-lads of the Near East, when showering down after a work-out, or relaxing their muscles in the sauna or steam bath, are usually clothed in underwear or a bathing suit(both of which are forbidden articles in German saunas and steam baths--I don't quite know why).

At first I put this down to a charming(ish) flashback to 7th grade gym class, until I was reminded of something I think I once knew anyway: namely, no Muslim man, from a fundamentalist viewpoint, may show anyone his business. Nor, of course, may a Muslim woman...Although I think most everyone had already guessed that.

In one blindingly brilliant(and somewhat prurient) stroke, I saw the answer both to airborne terrorism and in-flight boredom. Simply forbid clothing on board all flights, domestic and international. While this may cause some visual discomfort at first (a disappointingly small portion of our population resembles members of the Swedish Ski Team), it would certainly put the kibosh on Islamist Terrorism in the Air. And perhaps the perpetual public exposure would get some more people onto sensible dietary paths--not to preach. And the damned planes would have to be kept a little warmer over the North Atlantic.

Yours, tanned, rested, and ready...if a bit irked,

Escutcheon Blot

Monday, September 11, 2006

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mildred Pierce Walks Among Us

by Charlie Parsley

Joan Crawford stomps over the bridge with brazen self-determination. Her linebacker silhouette cuts through the thick, swirling fog. Vapors rise from the briny depths around her hardened conical head. Her outstretched claws grasp at the air. Her big glassy eyes stare up into the lights. Her big mouth gasps for breath as she staggers through the mists of the marine layer.

Something is amiss in the manner she carries her glittering rhinestone brooch. It is not the agent of her charm and radiance as it should be. There is something else going on here, something weird. Her lipstick masks but does not conceal her agony and torment. Mildred clutches the wet handrail with her cold, clammy fishpaws and looks skyward. With high heels, she clambers up onto the metal bars and she is about to jump until a policeman sees her and stops her. She was about to get in the water.

Meanwhile there are guys on a boat with sonar equipment who are already looking for her. The policeman has diverted Mildred away from the bridge. The farther away she is from the ocean, the more distressed and pitiul her croaking becomes. She ambles up the alley. A man drinking in a bar taps on a windowpane as she nears. Mildred's sonar hearing picks it up and she moves in.

Mildred beguiles him with her drunken ways. In a telling move which reveals her inner predilections, Mildred throws a drink in the face of one of the men. Soon they arrive near bedrooms. Then another man shows up. Two men fight over Mildred. Shots ring out. The men run out onto the deck of the boat. They discover that it is a woman firing the gun.

The men stir among themselves and take the gun from her. They are shocked at the realization: the gun is in a man's ownership, but a woman's possession. It is a man's tool in a woman's hands. They reassert their authority with the brazen hussy and then quarrel amongst themselves over her nice figure. Is the woman the cause or the effect of the conflict among the men? Are the men the cause or the effect of Mildred's manipulating ways? Did Mildred fire the gun? Or is some other Creature involved?

Mildred runs away. Where has she been? She isn't where she was supposed to be. What is she scared of? Is she hiding something? There are no good answers, but plenty of spurious clues. Consider Exhibit A: Profile of Creature is strikingly similar to that of Mildred.

Exhibit B: There are bills to be paid.

Esquire Haberdashery. One dozen monogrammed shirts: 215.25. Yet, this is a men's clothing store, "Outfitters for the Sterner Sex" reads the statement. Why has she bought a dozen shirts for a man? What does she get out of it? You can see she has also been shopping in Pasadena. The madness does not stop there. She racked up a bill at a horse saddlery. Riding Saddle and Stirrups $700.00. Mildred is clearly an egotistical monster. Her obsessive manipulation affects every aspect of her existence, right down to the last penny in her personal checking account in Burbank.

Scuba gear is required to enable a descent into the Freudian subconscious. Two men enter the water with the one woman. They descend deep into another world and momentarily lose sight of each other. They are alone in their self-realization. Each of them, lost in this new world, become a creature as they swim through dark, unexplored territory in swimming pools. They breathe through mechanical gills, transforming themselves themselves into woman-obsessed gill-man sea-creatures.

And so the Creature appears. The two men struggle with internal conflicts, thrashing amid the churning release of their egos and breathing apparatus. Leaving the waters of the unconscious and returning to the boat of reality, they discover that the woman is not there. She is still in the water, unconcious, with the Creature.

The men return to the subconcious and find her floating helplessly. Through various acrobatic ballet moves, the woman had transformed into a sea-creature. This transformation removed clothing and swimming apparatus from the woman revealing an inner Sea Goddess archetype. Hers is a classic metamorphosis: a young curvaceous human undergoing a violent lupine-like physical transformation resulting in lost clothing and excessive fatigue upon returning from the transformed state.

In a display of submission and weakness, the woman arches her back, heaving her breasts forward towards a nearly nude trunks-clad man pumping his legs furiously beneath her, pushing her up to the surface, wrapping his restricting arms around her. He takes a plug out of his mouth and puts it into hers. He moves this breathing scuba apparatus tube from his mouth to hers and back again, sharing a kiss of breath and becoming one 'mating' creature as they drift with love bubbles from the unconscious.

Mildred rushes about to do what she can to make everyone happy, yet her results cause confusion, disruption, anger, frustration, high mortgage costs, arguments and business loans. No one is happy. Mildred is the center of attention. Mildred is the cause of concern, the source of the conflict among the men, among the family, among the public eager to have a look at her. Is she aware of this power, or is it unconscious? By what means does she demand this self-confirming obsession? Her transformation from sea to land, or, from marriage to divorce is taxing to her transformed visceral systems. She is in a new world different from us. If only we could capture her and examine her. Warrants go out and she is brought in. The question "What happened?" is asked. She is examined. The men discover a transformative Creature with means for taking in oxygen with a dual set of organs both lungs and gills. That evening, the men on board once again fight over the sea-woman. Their struggle is eternal.

Man has struggled for centuries to understand the mystery of the woman animal. Her primal powers bewitch him, and his entire life is lived in an eternal, unyielding conquest to discover and understand her through sexual mating. Yet this conquest of the sexual monster of the subconscious is ultimately doomed to fail. The female of the species is more deadly than the male.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Dylan hotter than Jessica Simpson?

He sure as hell is! He's got his first #1 album since Desire, which, incidentally, was also a masterpiece as well as his biggest selling album. He beat out Jessica Simpson and that other singer with the blonde hair for sales last week. Kudos, Dylan!

Thanks to Ed Copeland for sharing the news with me.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006