Thursday, July 30, 2009

Acquisitions, July 25-31

A final little haul of classic novels from Appleton's Half Price Books.

  • Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons (tr. Rosemary Edmonds) (Penguin pb) (Half Price Books)
  • Madame de Lafayette, The Princesse de Cleves (tr. Nancy Mitford/Leonard Tancock) (Penguin pb) (HPB)
  • Andre Gide, The Immoralist (tr. Richard Howard) (Vintage pb) (HPB)
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (Penguin pb) (HPB)
  • Theodore Dreiser, Jennie Gerhardt (Oxford pb) (HPB)

Fun with Mad Men

The folks at AMC have come up with a nifty "create your own Mad Men avatar" utility. Here is mine -- a very fair likeness, I think. I own that exact hat.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


You can, generally, pamper a dog, a cat, or a cockatiel with pleasure, although your vet would warn you against over-feeding them.

To a certain extent and with a degree of care, you can pamper a small child -- but don't overdo it, because that will create problems later on.

Never pamper an adolescent or adult.

If you know an adolescent who demands pampering, re-train them to the extent you are able. You don't want to have a My Super Sweet Sixteen type on your hands.

If you know an adult who demands pampering, run for the high hills; you cannot get far enough away from that person.

If the adult who demands pampering is your spouse or significant other, what were you thinking? You had to know this going in. Take the advice of Paul Simon: "Drop off the key, Lee,/And get yourself free."

If the adult who demands pampering is your boss, as it often unfortunately is, you've really got a problem.

Failure and Discontent

Our era is perverse in passing off the exception as the rule...The likelihood of reaching the pinnacle of capitalist society today is only marginally better than were the chances of being accepted into the French nobility four centuries ago, though at least an aristocratic age was franker, and therefore kinder, about the odds. It did not … cruelly equate an ordinary life with a failed one.

Alain de Botton, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (thanks to John Self of the blog Asylum, in whose review I spotted this quotation)

In America, not least because our media enables it, anything less than spectacular success is accounted as failure -- and, of course, spectacular success itself can be and often is redefined as failure in another way (see: Michael Jackson, Jeffrey Skilling; see even: poor Jennifer Aniston, unlucky in love). As a society we are completely obsessed by failure, and constantly looking for signs for it. Everyone is continually being reviewed and assessed, formally or informally, on their educational, financial, professional, even emotional and sexual attainments (or lack thereof). There is no escape from this for a moment, except to the extent that one can find the "peace within" -- and the general thrust of the outer world we all have to inhabit makes that peace frustratingly difficult to achieve, although definitely worth the pursuit. Take it as axiomatic that no force in society -- marketers are an especially egregious example -- wants you to be happy or content; you would be no use to them that way. Only because you feel yourself a failure will you continue to try to purchase success.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Domestic Migration, Ctd.

Using some U.S. Census data from 2007 that I found online, I've been extrapolating a "rootedness" figure for each state. The two base numbers I use are the percentage of the state's population that is foreign born; and the percentage of the state's population who are native-born Americans who were born in that state. I subtract the first number from 100%, then multiply the result by the second number to get the overall percentage of residents who have roots in the state.

Many states that have a high rate of native-born Americans who were born in the state, and a low rate of domestic in-migration, also have a low rate of foreign in-migration, but not all. New York, Illinois, and California qualify in the first two categories (which may surprise some people), but have very substantial foreign in-migration, especially into their major cities (from which American-born residents are fleeing in droves because of their high cost).

The most rooted state currently is the special case Louisiana, which had an unquestionably odd decade. 79.49% of its residents were born there. But domestic in-migration is picking up there again.

The other most rooted states are in the rust and farm belts: Michigan (75.97%), Pennsylvania (75.11%), Ohio (74.92%), Iowa (72.27%), and my current home state of Wisconsin (71.82%). These states are not popular destinations for native-born Americans or for new immigrants. In the long run, they have little to offer, and they will not develop economically. It is a bizarre but true fact that both North Dakota and South Dakota have lower percentages of residents born in their states than Wisconsin! Over my seven years in this state, I came to realize that no one would want to live here, unless it was the only world they knew. Some of these states would die altogether but for inertia.

On the other end of the spectrum is the state I am moving to this Friday for my new job, Nevada, the least rooted state in America -- only 22.97% (you read correctly) of its residents were born there. Close behind are Florida, as you would expect (33.98%), and Arizona (35.62%). Naturally, these states are works-in-progress, but they have an economic vitality that the Midwest will never challenge again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Acquisitions, July 18-24

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Part I (tr. Randall Jarrell) (Penguin pb) (Half Price Books, clearance)
  • Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh (Oxford pb) -- I'm been meaning for quite a while to take a look at the British verse-novels of the 19th century, so I was delighted to find this volume at the Goodwill in Green Bay.
  • Henry James, Washington Square (Oxford pb) (Goodwill/Green Bay)
  • Leon Wolff, In Flanders Fields: The 1917 Campaign (Time Reading Program pb) -- From 1961 to 1966, Time Inc. produced a wonderful series of trade-sized paperbacks with sturdy (and well-designed) covers as the "Time Reading Program." The titles, chosen for their high literary quality by Time magazine's book reviewer Max Gissen, spanned a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, with many "rediscoveries" and less-than-widely-known gems figuring in the mix. I think the series is highly collectible; the volumes are often seen in excellent condition in used bookstores, and are usually very reasonably priced. (Goodwill/Green Bay)
  • Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Reason Why (Time Reading Program pb) -- Another TRP history volume, this one about the Crimean War. (Goodwill/Green Bay)
  • Charlotte Lennox, The Female Quixote (Oxford pb) -- Lennox's 1752 novel was inspired by Don Quixote, and in turn inspired Tabitha Tenney's 1801 novel Female Quixotism, which I read and loved in an early American literature course at Yale.
  • Michael Powell, A Canterbury Tale (Criterion DVD) -- A going-to-Nevada gift from my friends Eric Johnson, Eric Levy, and Tony Dugandzic, along with...
  • Alfred Hitchcock, Waltzes from Vienna -- A dub of the Region 2 DVD of Hitchcock's rarest sound era film.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite and The Grateful Dead

You will never meet anyone who is as warm and as much of a gentleman as Walter Cronkite. He loved music, he loved the Grateful Dead. He collected drums, including one from the drummer of the Grateful Dead. He adopted them and they adopted him; he was totally a fan. There were many sides to Walter.

Sean McManus, President, CBS News and Sports

Who knew?

When I took the class "Television News in America" at Yale -- taught by Tom Brokaw, who was then co-anchor of The Today Show, and who drove up to New Haven one day a week to teach it in the winter and spring of 1979 -- I got to meet Cronkite on our day-long class trip to New York (as well as Dan Rather, John Chancellor, David Halberstam, Jane Pauley -- it was quite the day!). The 15 of us in the class (selected competitively out of over 400 Yale students who applied) spent the morning at NBC, on the set of The Today Show and in a seminar with Halberstam, then split into three small groups to watch the production of the nightly news programs at the three networks, from the mid-afternoon conferences up through the broadcasts. I was in the CBS group and was actually on-set as Cronkite delivered the news that night. I stood next to Rather right behind the camera -- that set was small! It was a thrilling experience. I remember Cronkite being as warm and gentlemanly as everyone is recalling today.

The only downside to the day was that Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau -- Pauley's husband (still) and a Yale grad -- was supposed to join us all for dinner, but didn't (he is famously shy); however, John Chancellor and Brokaw as dinner companions are nothing to sneeze at.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Acquisitions, July 11-17

This will be the last "big" acquisitions week for a while, since I'm starting a new job in a new state on August 15, and won't see a paycheck till September 15. This cross-country move process is wickedly expensive, so I've got to watch my pennies here.

  • William Wycherley, The Country Wife and Other Plays (Oxford pb) (Book Store)
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (Penguin pb) -- I got the trivia question right again at Half Price Books ("What famous writer has several butterflies named after him?" = Vladimir Nabokov). So I used my 15% off to buy a few more books than usual, mainly from the clearance shelves.
  • Bram Stoker, Dracula's Guest & Other Stories (Wordsworth pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast (Narrative Press pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • J. Frank Dobie, Cow People (University of Texas pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • Erwin Panofsky, Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (Icon Editions pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • Colin Jones, Paris: The Biography of a City (Viking hc) -- I've noticed that in recent years, the "city biography" -- Robert Hughes on Barcelona, say -- has become an increasingly popular form. I'm strongly drawn to these books. (HPB, clearance)
  • Josh Pahigian, The Ultimate Minor League Baseball Round Trip (Lyons Press pb) -- I can't resist books about baseball stadiums, either. (HPB)
  • Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (Phaidon Press hc) -- Lovely edition from 1951. (HPB)
  • Tadao Ando/Richard Pare, The Colours of Light (Phaidon Press hc) -- Gorgeous little volume of photographs of the work of a truly great modern architect. The Ando Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the most magical rooms in the world. (HPB, clearance)
  • Les Zazous (EMI/Pathe Marconi, 2 LPs) -- Back in the early Eighties when I worked at the late lamented Doubleday Book Shop at 53rd Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan -- it is prominently featured in the 1970 George Segal/Barbra Streisand film The Owl and the Pussycat -- this was one of my favorite albums to spin in the record department (which I shared with the late Doug Root, Matt Callaway, and Victor Gomez; theater music historian Ethan Mordden frequently hung out with us). The Zazous were a French youth culture of the World War II era (; their swing-based music is sprightly and fun. I was so happy to nab a copy of this hard-to-find album on Ebay!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Al Franken

Thank you, Judge Sotomayor, for sitting here so patiently and for all your thoughtful answers throughout the hearing. Before lunch, our senior senator from Minnesota, Amy Klobuchar, asked you why you became a prosecutor, and you mentioned "Perry Mason." I was a big fan of "Perry Mason." I watched "Perry Mason" every week with my dad and my mom and my brother. And we'd watch the clock. And we knew when it was two minutes to the half-hour that the real murderer would stand up and confess. It was a great show.

And it amazes me that you wanted to become a prosecutor based on that show because, in "Perry Mason," the prosecutor, Burger, lost every week, with one exception that we'll get to later.

But I think that says something about your determination to defy the odds. And while you were watching "Perry Mason" in the South Bronx with your mom and your brother, I was watching "Perry Mason" in suburban Minneapolis with my folks and my brother, and here we are today. And I'm asking you questions because you have been nominated to be a justice of the United States Supreme Court. I think that's pretty cool.

Al Franken, Senate Judiciary Committee, Sonia Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings, July 15, 2009

This was a poetic moment: Senator Franken deftly summoning the lovely image of his family and Judge Sotomayor's family united across the vast spaces of America by watching Perry Mason at the same time. Television often gets a bum rap, including from me, but this is a fine reminder that in the heyday of the three networks, at least, the medium could have that kind of unifying effect.

As it happens, I've been watching Perry Mason episodes lately, and they are enormous fun. This is one instance (Chuck Jones's Roadrunner cartoons are another) where adhering to a strict formula really works -- the fun is in the little variations.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Ramapo Mountain People

William Carlos Williams is often on my mind, since I grew up in Passaic, New Jersey, across the river from Rutherford where he was a practicing pediatrician. The oft-quoted Williams poem "To Elsie" that begins with the famous line "The pure products of America go crazy" is partly about an isolated group in the Ramapo Mountains of northern New Jersey and New York, known unkindly as the "Jackson Whites" and more respectfully as the "Ramapo Mountain People." They are what some anthropologists call a "tri-racial isolate," a mixture of white, black, and Indian. Although in this case the preponderance of the ancestry is African-American, starting with free blacks in the 17th and 18th centuries (some of whom partnered with white Dutch), and the Native American element if present is not genealogically traceable, the People themselves insist that they have no black ancestry and are mostly Indian, despite the fact that they look more mulatto than anything else. As with some other isolate groups, there has been in-breeding over the years, with the expected resultant higher incidence of polydactylism (extra fingers and toes), syndactylism (webbing between fingers and toes), and albinism. Where I grew up, 25 miles away, the People were considered "hillbillies" and were feared (for no especially good reason except their "strangeness"). They did tend to keep apart. David Steven Cohen's 1974 book about them, The Ramapo Mountain People, is fascinating but was controversial with the People themselves, because it properly insists upon their easily provable black ancestry. As least as of the Seventies, the People expressed both racism against blacks, whom they utterly refused to identify with, and also "skin tone racism," favoring the lighter-skinned among their own group.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Commonplace Book: Scotland

As my knowledge of Scottish History is v. small I find it difficult to follow who murdered whom, or why – the general trend of Scots history.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Immediate Impression of Wilkie Collins

Oddly for such an enthusiast of the British novel, I had never read a novel by Wilkie Collins, but one of the points of my reading projects, including the 19th century British fiction project, is to fill in these unconscionable gaps. A true pleasure it is to do so, too. A quarter-way into Collins's most famous (along with The Moonstone) novel, The Woman in White, my impression is that Dickens's friend Wilkie has it all going on; those 150 pages demonstrate extravagant gifts in narrative drive and deftness, in characterization and dialogue, in descriptive prose, and in the cunning art of the set-up. Collins was a prolific novelist, and the received wisdom is that his work went into a steep decline after a one-decade heyday in the 1860s --but I'm going to want to test that for myself. At this point, he has me on trust.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Wardrobe: Straw Boater

This summer, I have been getting a lot of wearing pleasure from my vintage Brooks Brothers straw boater. It takes cojones to wear a boater these days, because the sartorial associations are so definite and so historical; would that I could take every "Great Gatsby" comment to the bank! But people seem to enjoy the gesture a lot, so while I used to wear this hat once or twice a summer, now I'm encouraged to wear it once or twice a week. Gotta give the public what they want.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Acquisitions, July 4-10

Very light acquisitions week. I'm watching my money because of my upcoming move. But at least I know that I'll have an income!

  • Joseph Conrad, The Shadow-Line (Oxford pb) (Half Price Books)
  • Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands (Oxford pb) (Book Store)

Birthday: Thomas Gomez

[Born July 10, 1905; died June 18, 1971. A poster at The Blackboard commented on Gomez's fine performance as John Garfield's older brother in Force of Evil.]

Gomez was wonderful in that part. He was a great actor who deserved more than the one Supporting Actor Oscar nomination he got (for Ride the Pink Horse). He was a pioneer as a Latino actor who essayed complex, non-stereotypical roles. Come to think of it, he would have made a compelling Nero Wolfe.

Interestingly, he learned his craft as part of the Alfred Lunt/Lynn Fontanne theatrical troupe in the Twenties and Thirties. Now that's training!

Birthday: Craig Stevens

[A poster at The Blackboard commented on Craig Stevens's July 8, 1918 birthday (he died on May 10, 2000), and on all the smoking in Peter Gunn.]

I'm no fan of smoking, but Stevens was one of the very best at handling cigarettes as a masculine prop. Watch for it. He is, as noted, a darned handsome fellow, smooth as all get-out, and (with the help of wardrobe coordinator Sydney LaVine) a terrific dresser who is one of my sartorial inspirations. He is often seen in the now exceedingly rare button-down French cuff shirts. (Raymond Burr can also be seen wearing them in Perry Mason, made at the same time.)

One aspect of the series that I love, and that was daring for its day, is that Gunn and Edie Hart (Lola Albright) are clearly involved in a torrid, ongoing, unmarried sexual/romantic relationship. They are more connected than many married people, and a pleasure to watch together. It is cool to see a 1950s television series strongly sanctioning an "unorthodox" and mutually satisfying arrangement.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Domestic Migration

I've been looking at some fascinating statistics on domestic migration between U.S. states (rather than immigration from other countries) for the years 2000-2007. What the stats tell us boils down to three facts:

  1. Americans migrate from colder, cloudier states to warmer, sunnier states.
  2. Americans migrate from more expensive states -- states with higher costs of living and tax and regulatory burdens -- to less expensive states.
  3. American migrate to states with expansive economic development and job opportunities. To a large extent, this is a corollary of (1) and (2) -- once people start migrating into a state, that tends to create jobs and economic development, which then attract more migration, so the process becomes self-fueling.
I am about to move to northern Nevada from northeast Wisconsin after a successful search (finally!) for a teaching job. I don't suppose it's any surprise that the two states from which I had serious inquiries -- Nevada and Arizona -- are by far the two states with the highest rates of domestic in-migration from 2000 to 2007 (2.4% and 1.7%, respectively) as well as the highest rates of overall population growth including immigration (27.1% and 22.7%).

Regionally, the patterns are very clear:

  1. The West is growing except for two very expensive states in rapid population decline -- California and Hawaii -- and one cold state -- Alaska.
  2. The South is growing, but some parts more than others. The Atlantic coast states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have been highly attractive. Florida's growth, strong for many years, has been tapering considerably as the cost of living there skyrockets. Louisiana and Mississippi had a period of substantial out-migration owing to hurricanes, but are bouncing back. Texas, with a low cost of living, decent job opportunities, and no personal income tax, has a growing rate of in-migration; Tennessee is also doing quite well.
  3. The Midwest is shrinking, predictably; but perhaps surprisingly, Illinois leads the way -- its recent levels of out-migration are higher than those of Michigan or Ohio. This is probably due to the high cost of living in Chicago, which was a pretty affordable city 20 years ago but is now unenviably rated America's "most overpriced city" by Forbes Magazine. The Midwest really has no strong spots. Even Minnesota, often touted as an economic development success story, had overall out-migration for 2000-2007; it's just too cold there.
  4. The Northeast is troubled because of its ridiculous cost of living. The three states with the highest rates of out-migration from 2000-2007 (leaving special case Louisiana aside) are New York (1.1%), New Jersey (0.7%), and Massachusetts (0.7%). The situation in Connecticut and Rhode Island has been substantially worsening as well.
Since none of the trends underlying these figures yield much to ameliorative effort -- certainly not climate! -- I'm forced to conclude that economic development efforts are largely a waste of time (and I say that as someone who has been substantially involved with them in northeast Wisconsin). You can't market or incentivize your way out of brute facts. People like warm weather, they like sunshine, they like affordability, they like availability of jobs. How can you persuade them otherwise? There is no way.

I notice that my own moves throughout my adult life illustrate all three of the patterns I enumerated:

  1. New Jersey to California, 1985 -- Move to better climate and (at that time) better economic opportunity.
  2. California to Illinois, 1989 -- The Bay Area was getting phenomenally expensive, and Chicago was still affordable. So this was an economy-based move, but I went backwards on climate -- and I have to say, I always regretted it.
  3. Illinois to Wisconsin, 2002 -- Now Chicago was getting phenomenally expensive; Wisconsin was way more affordable (and has remained so).
  4. Wisconsin to Nevada, 2009 -- The trifecta: moving for better economic opportunity, better affordability (since Nevada has no state income tax, and Wisconsin has a high one), and better climate.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

There Is Hope

When you have a U.S. president who is an enthusiast for Urdu poetry, you have officially reached one of the outer limits of cool.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Commonplace Book: Governors

People, what is going on with governors in this country? Are we doomed to see them go bonkers one by one, state by state?

Gail Collins, New York Times, re Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford, Rod Blagojevich, Eliot Spitzer, James McGreevey, and probably some others I'm forgetting

Phil Karlson and Samuel Fuller

[A poster at The Blackboard wondered why Phil Karlson didn't have a reputation similar to that of the much-celebrated Samuel Fuller.]

Fuller and Karlson are about even through 1960. But from that point on, Fuller burnished his resume with eccentric masterpieces such as Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, and White Dog, while Karlson worked mainly on indifferent commercial assignments such as The Young Doctors, Ben (the sequel to the "rat horror" film Willard), Kid Galahad with Elvis Presley, and a couple of Matt Helm films with Dean Martin. His most celebrated later film is Walking Tall, which tends to hit liberal viewers as well-done right-wing action fascism -- the same criticism that Don Siegel's Dirty Harry and Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs took a long time to recover from.

So Karlson did his reputation no favors by his seeming indifference to the shape of his filmography. Fuller kept it personal, which rightly endears him to historians, critics, and buffs.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Acquisitions, June 27-July 3

  • John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi and Other Plays (Oxford pb) -- Beefing up my collection of Shakespeare's contemporaries; the Elizabethan drama "team" is unusually deep. (Book Store)
  • Russell Hill, Robbie's Wife (Hard Case Crime pb) -- Hard Case Crime is having a $2.00 on ten of the titles in the series that I don't have, so I ordered all ten. Now there are only three of the 50+ volumes that I'm still looking for; those should be easy to add.
  • Cornell Woolrich, Fright (HCC pb)
  • Mickey Spillane, Dead Street (HCC pb)
  • Max Allan Collins, Deadly Beloved (HCC pb)
  • George Axelrod, Blackmailer (HCC pb)
  • David Goodis, The Wounded and the Slain (HCC pb)
  • Richard Aleas, Songs of Innocence (HCC pb)
  • Gil Brewer, The Vengeful Virgin (HCC pb)
  • Robert Terrall, Kill Now, Pay Later (HCC pb)
  • Ken Bruen/Jason Starr, Slide (HCC pb)
  • Anthony Trollope, Cousin Henry (Oxford pb) -- Today's trivia question at Half Price Books was "What is the longest-running network television series?" Once I determined that they did not necessarily mean a prime-time or a fictive series, I came up with Meet the Press, which was correct (it debuted on NBC on November 6, 1947). So I got 15 % off my larger-than-usual purchase.
  • Thomas Hardy, Two on a Tower (Everyman pb) -- I now have copies of all of Hardy's novels but two: Desperate Remedies and The Hand of Ethelberta. Ethelberta, you cannot evade me for long! (HPB)
  • Ann Radcliffe, A Sicilian Romance (Oxford pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • Christa Faust, Money Shot (Hard Case Crime pb) -- Happy to discover that HPB had one of the three Hard Case Crime titles I was lacking. I had driven to the Oshkosh outlet mall yesterday to check out the Hard Case shelf at the remainder store Renaissance Books, since I was pretty sure that they had one or two of the three, only to discover that the store had closed for good. A lot of that going around!
  • Simon Winchester, A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 (Harper Collins pb) (HPB, clearance)
  • Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods (Houghton Mifflin hc) -- O'Brien is the author of the celebrated Vietnam novel Going After Cacciato, a National Book Award winner. I read his first novel Northern Lights many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost (Riverhead Books hc) -- One of a fairly sizable number of super-lengthy post-modern neo-traditional quasi-historical novels that have been popular in recent years, such as Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, A.S. Byatt's Possession, and Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White. All more bought than read, I suspect (but come to think of it, that's true of most books). (HPB, clearance)
  • Robert Utley, Encyclopedia of the American West (Wings Books hc) (HPB, clearance)
  • Ben Jonson, The Alchemist and Other Plays (Oxford pb) -- Another of Shakespeare's contemporaries; this volume is in the same series as the Webster, above. I've known that it was at the Appleton Goodwill for a while, but they always have a half-off sale going on a certain color of tag and they rotate the colors, so I waited for "purple" to go on sale to grab this book.
  • Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (University of Texas pb) -- Another purple-tag item at Goodwill; meaty academic history of an offbeat subject.
  • Emile Zola, Germinal (Oxford pb) (HPB)