31 08 2008

This is the land of bullshit. If you don’t believe me watch the talking heads on TV or listen to AM talk radio, or open your internal eye and observe the cloaca of advertising dreck that pours into your unconscious every day.

Perhaps it could not be otherwise. Our dreckmeisters are the heirs of P. T. Barnum, ten thousand backwoods evangelists, and the deep vein of celtic blarney that permeates at least the Southern part of our nation. The glib flower in a place that has no inherited culture because it is too new, big, diverse, and greedy to have created one of its own.

Creative writers usually love to tell their stories in beautiful language, but some in the US have believed that there is so little room among the vast piles of bullshit for their gardens of verbal beauty that they have elected instead to go the “just the facts, ma’am” route. James T. Farrell, e. e. cummings, and Earnest Hemingway come to mind.

One such writer of the recent past has been Charles Willeford. In his series of detective novels from the 1980s Miami Blues, New Hope for the Dead , Sideswipe, and The Way We Die Now , he showed what could be done with unadorned language. In these highly successful semi-police procedural novels set in Miami and its environs, Willeford pits his redneck hero Hoke Moseley against some of the most bizarre criminals and situations imaginable.

And he does this in a style that succeeds in Earnest Hemingway’s program of stripping down narrative language better than Hemingway ever did. in Hemingway’s work there is always a sense of the craftsman behind the character, self-consciously paring away language according to his stylistic ideology. Willeford just tells his story in language anyone can follow, period. The result is that most elusive species of novel, the truly inescapable page turner. Literally, you can’t put it down. You are as fully mesmerized by this apparently effortless but impeccably effective flow of narrative as a kid in a frontier hut 200 years ago listening to his uncle the masterful story teller.

The emphasis in these novels is on event and action, and the events and actions are so surprising, yet predictable once the characters are fully known, that hearing them told is deeply satisfying. Little is said about how Hoke Moseley feels about all this as it unfolds, so you’re free to imagine that part. Guess what! You will inevitable have him feel what you would feel in his situation.

And this is why this series of novels works so well. Charles Willeford’s essentially invisible prose seduces you to become another person, one who is as screwed up as you, whose life is as disarrayed as yours, who has as many discreditable desires as you, but who just happens to be much smarter than you, and many times as brave.

Miami Blues
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
The first of the crime novels featuring Hoke Moseley. Willeford’s original title was Kiss Your Ass Good-Bye.

New Hope for the Dead
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
The second Hoke Moseley novel.

New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
The third Hoke Moseley novel.

The Way We Die Now
New York: Random House, 1988.
The fourth Hoke Moseley novel, released just a few days before his death.


21 08 2008

I had a conversation with a lady in the local supermarket the other day. She appeared to be about my age (60). She commented with amazement about the spectacle of “young people, in their 20s” doing exercise running in great numbers in the area around the local university.

That made me think. When I was in my ‘20s, such ostentatious, obsessive, often-solitary exercising was very uncommon among the Young. Men might play sports, but they would seldom be seen exercising grimly alone. This was doubly true of women. Why this great change over the course of a generation? I can see why the old and middle-aged might exercise with such grim intensity: trying to stave off obesity or death! but why would young men and women do so? As a group, they don’t seem terribly concerned about death or ill-health, given that the percentage of them who smoke is higher than that of any other age group. In any case, the Young are famous for feeling immortal and acting accordingly.

A good guess is that the phenomenon has something to do with mating, since that, along with getting started in a profession, has been the primary task of people in their 20s from time immemorial. The desire to be slim in order to attract a man must obviously be a big factor among women, given all we hear today about the great, malign influence of overly-skinny fashion images on young women. And in fact I can testify that there has been a change toward thinner women as the ideal. Some of you may remember Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren, and Gina Lollobrigida.

But I don’t believe that this is the whole story. While mating success is a powerful motivating force, I’m not sure that it can entirely explain the widespread and obsessive nature of current youth exercise.

For all creatures, an even stronger motivating force than sex is survival, and, in the USA, economic survival has become more difficult for many people over the last three decades. We have all read or heard numerous reports on how the various classes have done economically over that period. The most recent one I noticed said the top 10% of Americans, wealth-wise, have made great gains in income, while the middle class and the bottom 10% have essentially stayed the same. These static income levels for the great majority of Americans have persisted despite the well-known growth in the number of two-income families, and of individuals working more than one job. Other interesting statistics show Americans working increasingly long hours and taking shorter vacations. All this in spite of the current historically low level of unemployment, which ought to make it possible for even non-unionized workers to negotiate higher pay and longer hours! Meanwhile, as is generally known, Republicans have been relentlessly chipping away at the “social safety net” for almost thirty years.

I doubt that most young people know these facts and statistics in detail. However, many have probably seen the trends that the numbers represent work themselves out in their families of origin. Likewise, most must be at least dimly aware of the incessant din of layoff news that fills the media. Maybe they even have a parent or other relative who has been “downsized.” In short, they probably have enough evidence of these matters to be concerned about their own futures. The Nightman, if he were young today, would be TERRIFIED about his economic future. Setting aside for a moment the fact that the Nightman is prone to be terrified about just about everything, we can assume that at least some of the Young are simply JOB SCARED.

What do you do if you’re young, strong, and scared? Why, you try to get stronger! Assuming you’re a young person gifted with reasonable emotional and physical health, you are certainly not inclined to run away from the perceived danger. (You could elect to resolve the problem by opposing the thing that scares you, as many young people did in the ‘60s, but not if your media environment has been, as ours has, thoroughly cleansed of “liberal” and rebellious political ideas.) When scared you are naturally drawn to use your youthful energy to try to become better prepared to meet the danger that you see. One way to do this when the danger is economic is to become, literally, HARDER—in every sense of the word. In other words, in order to prepare yourself to better struggle hard for your survival, you might reasonably try to become: 1. tougher in your attitude toward weakness, particularly your own; 2. more intolerant of laziness, in others and in yourself; 3. more disciplined; and, finally, 4. physically stronger in the sense of having more endurance, so that you literally will be able to work harder and longer when you have to.

Even better, why not try to make this overall “hardness” become apparent in your body? If you are successful in getting the right “look,” maybe potential employers will be able to see at a glance that you’re a “lean, mean machine” that can work hard for them. It’s also reassuring to be able to confirm the presence of this appearance of strength and capability by looking in the mirror: Every time you do, if you have kept up your exercises, you will see a being well-equipped to struggle for survival, and your fear of failure will be quieted. And what could be more reassuring, finally, than to see the same HARDBODIED characteristic in members of the opposite sex who are candidates to be your future mate/economic partner? To be drawn to and to bond with such a person will make your survival even more likely!

Thus, two of the greatest of human motivating forces, sex and survival, acting individually, and also these two forces linked, work with current economic conditions to make young persons want to be extra thin and “buff.” How could they resist?

The patriotic reader may rush to rebuttal: “You’re projecting your own feelings onto today’s young people,” they might say. “Those kids aren’t scared. They’re ambitious! The economy is great, and they’re preparing themselves to prosper.” To this I respond, “True, no doubt, of the naturally optimistic, and of those young persons who come from successful families. The children of the affluent have seen economic success modeled for them by their parents all their lives, and also have the business contacts to draw upon to make future success likely for themselves. But what about all the children of working people?”

Most families in our country are still headed by such “working people”—people who historically have just wanted to enter the economy to the extent necessary to make a decent living. People who have had this ethic of “a good day’s work for a good day’s pay” have taken state jobs, university jobs, and jobs in huge companies that used to be loyal to their employees. They have wanted simply to go to work for a reasonable amount of time, be good and reliable workers during that time, and then go home and forget about it! In recent years they have perhaps best been symbolized by the little clusters of ladies who can be seen standing smoking outside office buildings on their brief 15-minute breaks. Their husbands are hard-working, reliable, middle managers, truck drivers, refinery workers, engineers, etc.

They were happy to trade their freedom for a safe paycheck. But today, in the USA, there is no safe paycheck except at the top of the economic ladder. Middle class and lower class people have much to fear in today’s economy, and so do their children.


15 08 2008

“We Are Not an Egalitarian Society”*



And a door as big as the Ritz
Should slam open with a growl of age-old hinges;
Or an orphan thunderbolt out of a cornflower sky
Smash clouds as fluffy as babies’ hair
Into ruptured piñatas of rain.
Or someone could just feed a whiskered face
In a classy restaurant, and act like its owner belongs there,
Or help him to a serving of Gates’ pie,
Or find a soapbox for the scruffy guy to speak from.


* Statement made by a representative of the Urban Institute, on the All Things Considered radio news show of 7/10/00, while explaining why repealing the estate tax was a perfectly fair way of making use of our then budget surpluses, even though doing so would benefit only the wealthiest 2% of American families.


10 08 2008

Time for a bit ‘o fun, featuring


It is a cool but sunny February afternoon in downtown Baton Rouge, Louisiana. At the door of his old shotgun house stands The Hermit, gazing outward from darkness. To his immediate left, no more than ten feet away, he sees his cat lying on her stomach on the hood of his parked car with her right paw curled up near her face. Kitty (She’s a free-range cat, so he gave her only a generic name.) has her head turned toward The Hermit and her eyes closed peacefully.

On Kitty’s back, half lying and half perched alertly, is another cat, whose eyes are wide open. This neighborhood character, who looks enough like the tapioca-colored Kitty to be her sibling, fidgets restrainedly as The Hermit watches. Kitty ignores him.

Also watching this tableau are two other cats, including one burly newcomer whom the Hermit has never seen around the neighborhood before. He is a little larger than the average outdoor cat, and has dark gray fur with black stripes. If he were a man his nickname would be “Bear.” He is sitting on the ground off to the right of the back of the car, near the sidewalk. Watching events from a spot on the grass in front of the car is another stranger—an extremely handsome, but slightly-built young fellow with startlingly blue eyes. The Hermit decides he must be a “teenager,” hoping to be the beneficiary of a miracle today, and meanwhile studying how to conduct himself in future proceedings of this sort.

The feline audience members appear absorbed in the so-far non-events on the car hood. The Hermit is less absorbed, but curious. He thinks idly that all of the watchers would look perfectly natural with cigarettes hanging from their lips.

Finally, the cat lying on Kitty’s back jogs the “elbow” of her front right leg. It is a very gentle jog. He hesitates and then tries the same move twice more. Kitty fidgets briefly, then explodes! In an instant she has scrambled out from under Sibling and is retreating backward up the windshield, hissing. Sibling follows, and, as they find themselves momentarily together on the top of the car, Kitty yowls and bats at him with her left paw!. Sibling backs off as Kitty scrambles down the rear window of the car to the trunk, then to the ground. He does not venture to follow here off the trunk.

These creatures have moved so fast through this series of actions that The Hermit can only recall it as a kind of tapioca-colored ribbon of movement that still seems to cling, loosely but smoothly, to the hood, windshield, roof, and trunk of his old brown car, as if the whole were a just-unwrapped package lying forever under some timeless celebratory tree.

The next events happen more slowly. Kitty stalks a short distance away from the car, onto the sidewalk, and sits down facing us. At first she sits quietly. Within a minute, though, she has become restless, and soon she stands up and begins turning like a dog starting to chase his tale. Suddenly she flops onto her back and begins to twist her body around even more, her lower body doing most of the writhing. Then she gives that up and instead starts to lick her genital area, soon zeroing in on her feline Bower of Bliss. This rain ain’t doin’ Kitty’s motor good, apparently, though, because she goes back to side-to-side writhing, then returns to licking herself again, only faster. The audience starts moving forward. Teenager runs up first, then Sibling jumps down from the car. Sibling is the first to make it to Kitty’s side, until Bear bestirs himself and stalks up beside her, whereupon both Sibling and Teenager back off slightly.

Now the mercurial Kitty changes the scene again. Suddenly rolling over, she jumps to her feet, and streaks away down the sidewalk stage left. All the guys—Sibling, Teenager, Bear—give chase, with Teenager in the lead. As the whole group runs out the Hermit’s sight behind an azalea, however, he doubts that it will be Teenager who wins the prize. Having seen Bear and Kitty eating companionably together on his porch the day before, The Hermit is betting on Bear. And, although he can’t hope to follow the group quickly enough to see for sure how the race turns out, as a male, he’d like to believe that at least one of the tomcats caught Kitty and they consummated their lust together. It’s late in Kitty’s cycle, though, he realizes. She may have run away just because she is thoroughly sick of this sex thing and wants to ditch all the guys. The Hermit will never know.


6 08 2008


The question seems a bit off the beam, since Magibon is a woman, not a thing. But her videos are also a major phenomenon on YouTube, so “What” fits the phenomenon, if not the girl. Go to her channel, here, and see the phenomenal numbers of views her videos have gotten:

Magi’s Channel

What does she do to get all this interest? If you’re thinking talk sexy or shake her booty, you’re wrong. Booty shaking is rife on YouTube, as exemplified here:

and here:

And these sites and many others like them have only moderate numbers of views at best.

No, Magibon offers us something different. I suggest that you go look at a few of her videos and then come back and I will try to explain her popularity. Luckily I am Old and so have nothing better to do than try to get to the bottom of cultural phenomena like this.

…time allotted for perusal of some Magibon videos…

Magibon is a cute American girl of 22 with immense eyes. You could get lost in them. And although in most of her videos she just stares at the camera and speaks in Japanese (her main intended audience) while various pleasant expressions flit across her pretty face, it is hard not to keep watching. Why?

Well, for me and some other guys I’ve talked to, experiencing a Magibon video is like coming home after a day spent up to your elbows in shit and leaping into a cool blue pool. She is the place where sweetness negates the sourness of everyday life; apparent attention to you and your feelings negates the world’s indifference; and fantasy involvement with the spirit of a gentle woman negates the grinding utilitarianism of the American economic world.

What man could resist? Or, rather, what OLDER man could resist? We Oldies can love her right away because she answers to a type in the back of our minds that has never died. The Young, on the other hand, may have more trouble.

I’ve known for years through online discussions that many American men want Asian wives, even to the extent, in the case of some old, affluent guys, of going to, say, the Philippines to get one. And I’ve always thought that of course we would! And Magibon, though she is not Asian, exemplifies the precise reason why.

Today in the US media women are generally portrayed as attractive or sexy in a “formidable” way — physically beautiful, desirable, highly competent in whatever she is portrayed as doing, but a bit unreal and distant, seldom displaying anything that could possibly be called “sweetness”. I think this situation has arisen because the industrial manufacturers of our popular culture decided to support the womens’ liberation program some years ago, and, being incapable of subtlety, they have done so by just giving us countless images of beautiful women being tough like men. (Query: How many women of a degree of beauty that you know damn well would never be found in a police station have you seen portraying cops on TV?) Our standard of beauty has become founded in this slightly Gorgonesque type.

But I would bet anything that it is natural to many, perhaps most, men to be drawn to someone who looks and is gentle and sweet instead! I know I am. And I know that way back in the 1960s that was what most men wanted for sure.

I think this disconnect between current American culture and the natural preference of most men is why Magibon is so popular here. No one else on YouTube comes across as that gentle and vulnerable! (At least no-one who is an adult and has limpid eyes you could get lost in!)

But, interestingly, many young American men who comment on her videos are furious at her. I believe that is because they have come to expect formidable women in the real world and in-your-face-sexy women on YouTube, and they “know” that that’s what they prefer. Then they find Magibon and they can’t stop watching her videos because she is giving them something they’ve always wanted but didn’t know they wanted.

Every new medium creates the opportunity for new kinds of art within it, and by creating such a new kind of video Magibon has illuminated a chasm in the public culture of the USA that the mainstream media are probably blind to and, even if they are not, would never mention or manifest on their channels because to do so would highlight their manipulativeness.


PS: Here’s a great interview with Magibon. I learned a lot from it!


2 08 2008

I come from a poor family, so much of the doings of the business world are a mystery to me–high finance especially. You too? Maybe your background, or even just a lack of time, leaves you painfully aware that you just don’t know the score on this.

For me the doings of financiers or even just modest stock investors continued to be a completely closed book until I came into a little money in the 1980s. Something had to be done with it, and so I at last became unable to bear my vast ignorance in the economic area any more.

I studied basic economics on my own for a year (having not taken any courses on it in college), invested my little windfall in the stock market, and went on to study investing regularly for another two years. I read several books on the subject, and followed the markets religiously for two years via Barron’s and other publications.

I became proud of my increasing financial sophistication.

Then one day (It happened to be the day after the famous “Black Monday” of October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrials plunged 508 points in a single day.) I woke up to the sound of a lot of my gelt clanking as it walked out the door.

“My poor friend”, I said, after I’d mourned my dollars’ departure, “you’re like a pygmy trying to learn auto mechanics. Daddy never told stories about wheeling and dealing at the dinner table, nor mommy either. You lack the gift our parents give us as babes when they routinely model being successful at something for us. Pack it in buddy!”

So I did, until now.

Now I’ve found a website where someone brought up rich, or close to it, and who worked as a financier over the last two decades, tells her story. There’s lots to learn from Mrs. Catherine Austin Fitts, here:

Dillon, Read and Company Inc. and the Aristocracy of Stock Profits

I wonder if you’ll find her world as strange and intriguing as I did.