Oh, By The Way (1): Leo Marx Was (Is) No Dummy

Posted September 29, 2014 by Tom
Categories: good books, What I'm Reading Now

Tags: ,

I just joined the public beta of the Ello, which seems to be a wannabe hipster alternative to Facebook.  Seeing as I never got Facebook, and despite my utter lack of hipster-tude (now and forever, amen), I thought I’d see if it made any sense to me.  It doesn’t, at least not yet, but I thought I’d try it out as a kind of public commonplace book.  So here goes: the first of what might be just one — or who knows how many — brief notes on things that I encounter on my way to doing (or avoiding) the work I ought to be accomplishing.

Giving that a try (again, and let me hammer this point, with no promises of consistency) here’s something. I’ve just started in on a book that’s been on the periphery of my “hot could you not have read this” list for a long time, Leo Marx’s classic, The Machine in the Garden. (Oxford University Press, 1964, 2000)

Turner,_J._M._W._-_The_Fighting_Téméraire_tugged_to_her_last_Berth_to_be_broken

Very early — first half dozen of pages or so in, he starts to draw the distinction between the mass-culture version of the pastoral ideal and the one expressed in foundational works of American literature.
Marx was writing (as he notes in an afterward) out of an biography that included a Harvard education in the last class to graduate before the US entry into World War II, and service in the US Navy that ended a few months after the bombs landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Marx’s trajectory from ’37-’45 exactly matches that of my father, by the way; Marx and dad were friends, which is an odd the-world-is-much-smaller-than-it-appears grace note to all this.  There’s a story there, or actually more than one, that Marx told me the one time we’ve met.  Perhaps for another post..)

Ideas about the tricky relationship between the facts of the unbelievably rapid technological transformation of American life from independence, and the dream (fantasy?) or vision of life within unspoiled nature take on particular force in the wake of the bomb and the lived memory of industrialized war.  It’s no wonder, it seems to me, that Marx as a literary and cultural scholar would wish to “describe and evaluate the uses of the pastoral ideal in the interpretation of American experience.”

What did stop me in my tracks, though, as I read my way through his first chapter — “Sleepy Hollow, 1844″ — is the degree that his account of the cynical, for-popular-consumption use of the pastoral ideal maps directly onto our political landscape, right here and now, more than half a century after Marx published the book.  Just check out this passage:

“The first, or sentimental kind [of pastoralism] is difficult to define or even locate because it is an expression less of thought than of feeling.  It is widely diffused n our culture, insinuating itself into many kinds of behavior…An inchoate longing for a more “natural” environment enters into the contemptuous attitude that many Americans adopt toward urban life (with the result that we neglect our cities and desert them for the suburbs).  Wherever people turn away from the hard social and technological realities this obscure sentiment is likely to be at work. We see it in our politics, in the “localism” invoked to oppose an adequate national system of education, in the power of the farm bloc in Congress, in the special economic favor shown to “farming” through government subsidies, and in the state electoral systems that allow the rural population to retain a share of political power grossly out of proportion to its size….”  (p. 5)

There’s a hint of datedness to that passage.  But if Marx’s concern about the ’50s growth of the suburbs doesn’t quite track with the issues central to the urban-exurban divide today, still, look at how well he captures the basic shape of American politics today.  We’re  five weeks out from an election in a country that in many ways is utterly transformed since he wrote that passage.  And in just as many, we’re still stuck in the same damn cycle of stupid.  The point being, of course, that old power, like an old habit, hangs on with the grim viciousness of a nicotine jones.  Which, in our current predicament, is depressing as hell.

Image:  J. M. W. Turner, The Fighting Téméraire tugged to her last Berth to be broken1839.

Lysistrata Was A Documentary…

Posted September 25, 2014 by Tom
Categories: random humor

Tags: , ,

…Or so it could be, in John Scalzi’s retelling.  [h/t PZ Myers]

I want to drink in that bar.

Barking_Up_the_Wrong_Tree_by_Francis_William_Edmonds_-_BMA

All of which makes this a give Rush Limbaugh a feminazi sad kind of post.

Image: Francis William Edmonds Barking up the Wrong Treebetween 1850 and 1855.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Republican: Economic Stewardship edition

Posted September 9, 2014 by Tom
Categories: economics, Obama, Republican follies

Tags: , ,

From Forbes (sic!) this analysis of President Obama’s economic record as compared with Saint Ronaldus of Reagan:

Economically, President Obama’s administration has outperformed President Reagan’s in all commonly watched categories.

Preston_Dickinson_-_Factory_(c._1920)

Simultaneously the current administration has reduced the deficit, which skyrocketed under Reagan.  Additionally, Obama has reduced federal employment, which grew under Reagan (especially when including military personnel,) and truly delivered a “smaller government.”  Additionally, the current administration has kept inflation low, even during extreme international upheaval, failure of foreign economies (Greece) and a dramatic slowdown in the European economy.

That’s from Forbes contributor Adam Hartung, a business development and consultant kind of guy — i.e., no raging, card-carrying taker.  The whole piece is worth a look.

When you’ve lost Forbes…*

*which they haven’t, really — one drive by piece doth not an editorial campaign make.

Preston Dickinson, Factoryc. 1920

Start The Week With The Lord God Bird

Posted September 8, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Art, Art and science, Cool Images

Tags: , ,

66_Ivory-billed_Woodpecker_(Duke_of_Portland_Audubon_edition)

A nice start to what might be a tolerable week* comes in the form of a message from Harvard’s rare books collection, the Houghton Library.  Its collection of 114 early J.J. Audubon drawings is now online in high resolution.  Among the treats, a depiction of two Ivory Billed Woodpeckers, the “lord god bird,” having their way with a tree.

According to the announcement, these early drawings are rare/of heightened interest because of Audubon’s practice of destroying sketches and alternate versions after selecting what he saw as the best of any subject.  The earliest images in this collection date back to when Audubon was 18, and, says Harvard, they probably survived Audubon’s rolling erasure of his tracks in the hands of one of his patrons.  In any event, the images are gorgeous, and there for the gazing.

That said, the image above is a later Audubon not from the Houghton collection, as Harvard requires permission from the curator before reusing their images. I’m asking for same; if I get it, I’ll add one from this trove.

*Hah! Who am I kidding.  There are still Republicans with actual power!

Image:  John James Audubon, Plate 66 of Birds of America, depiction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, 1838.

Oooh Baby, You Are So Talented!…

Posted September 5, 2014 by Tom
Categories: MSM nonsense, Republican follies, ridicule, Stupidity

Tags:

And they are so dumb.

“They” in this case refers to the mouthpiece for he whom Charles Pierce indelibly dubbed the C-plus Augustus, one Dana Perino, who complained that in some photographs of President Obama’s visit to Stonehenge, ” he’s standing alone.”

Ma_Yuan_Walking_on_Path_in_Spring

Why is  this a problem for the former White House Press Secretary, who, in that job, got to watch her boss amble past a global financial melt down?  It’s obvious!

I don’t think that’s a good optic. [via TPM]

You know what’s scariest about this latest Fox News craptasm?  Perino was actually the least insane voice in the conversation.  The other two hacktaculars on air with her were upset that Obama had the effrontery to stop by the monument at all, where as Perino, at least, thought it OK for a President to get a few minutes at the site.

But dear FSM, give me strength.  I take a couple of messages from this bit of foolishness.

First, again, Peak Wingnut lies in Cantor territory:*  it infinitely retreats, to be approached but never reached.  Second, last time I looked there were actual problems in the world, here at home and abroad as well.  Just one or two.  Our society formally locates the process of addressing such problems in our political system.  It would help if those who interpret politics for the public actually connected their analysis to anything real.

Instead, we get a Stonehengegazi.**

When future historians wonder just how it was we were able to trigger the afterburners in the power dive of our republic, the transcript of this little snippet will give them a clue.

*Georg, not Eric.

**Saw that in a tweet. Wish I’d thought of it myself. Actually, no I don’t.

Image:  Ma Yuan, Walking on a Path in Springbefore roughly 1225.

He Could Have Been A Contender

Posted September 5, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Republican follies, ridicule, Stupidity

Tags:

Well, no, he couldn’t, not really.

I’m talking about Bobbie Jindal, and I’m of the opinion that there never was any there, there.  But up until his never-to-be-forgotten impression of Kenneth the Page the usual suspects spent a lot of bytes talking up this New Republican™ epitome of competence, intelligence and non-old-white-maleness.

Not anymore, of course, for an over-rich list of reasons, not the least of which is that after spending several years in close proximity, those who know him best, his constituents, have come to loathe him.

Still, give the man credit.  He’s hit bottom, but does he give up?  No! Not Bobby Jindal. Now’s the time he grabs a shovel.

His latest?  This [via Think Progress, a few days ago, actually,* h/t Brad Delong]:

Louisiana’s state school superintendent John White supports Common Core, an effort to foster interstate consistency in education standards. So does the state board of education. So does the state legislature, for that matter, which passed a law in 2012 enabling the state to opt in to Common Core standards. Indeed, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) actively pushed for this 2012 law, which he signed. Recently, however, Jindal decided that he actually opposes Common Core…**

 So Jindal has turned to what has become the lastrefuge for conservative officials and activists who can’t get what they want through a legitimate lawmaking process. He’s suing the Obama Administration in federal court. [links in the original]

OK, so far, not impressive.  This is garden variety stuff:   the ability to forget in an instant any previous held position is part of any ambitious Republican’s mental toolkit.

Laughing jester

But Jindal, famously (once) one of the “smart” ones*** goes for All-Star goofery with the reasoning underpinning his suit:

The crux of Jindal’s lawsuit, however, is that the grant programs that reward participation in Common Core somehow violate the Constitution and federal law because they force Louisiana to enter into an entirely voluntary program that it did, in fact, enter into voluntarily. 

Yup. That’s it.  Bobbie Jindal haz a sad ’cause that nasty Kenyan Socialist Mooslim™ allowed him to choose to do — or not do — something he once thought he wanted to do, but doesn’t anymore.

Now that’s professional-grade horse shit — and that, my friends, is a once seriously considered contender for the GOP invite to the big dance in 2016.

*So I’m slow.  Sue me.  Use Bobbie J.’s lawyer.

**I’m not even remotely convinced by the common core, myself (I guess I read too much Diane Ravitch).  But that’s not the point, is it.  I didn’t go haring after federal cash to implement in my living room, no did I?

***self-selectedly so, too.

Image: Anonymous, Netherlands The Laughing Jester, 15th C.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong? Border Cosplay Edition

Posted August 31, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Guns, Stupidity, Who thought that was a good idea?

Tags: ,

Via TPM:

A border patrol agent fired several shots at an armed militia member while chasing a group of immigrants Friday near Brownsville, Texas…

the man was wearing camouflage and was carrying either a rifle or shotgun.

Claude_Monet_-_Jean_Monet_on_his_Hobby_Horse

 

The self appointed guardian of the galaxy was lucky — the border patrol officer (like most people) was no Dead-eye Dick, and our last line of defense from the Ebola-carrying and Mooslim terrorist hordes of twelve year olds crossing our southern border was unhurt.  But, as we say in the portending business, It’s Only A Matter Of Time.

The shorter:

The sheriff said militias really aren’t needed at the Texas-Mexico border given the number of law enforcement agencies already working to secure the area.

“It just creates a problem from my point of view, because we don’t know who they are,” Lucio told the AP.

This has been another episode of Listen To The Man.

Image:  Claude Monet, Jean Monet on his Hobby Horse1872.


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