May 18, 2011
Times Square Armed Forces Recruiting Station. When Bush went to war with Iraq in 2003, more people signed up here than any other recruiting station in the United States – they say somewhere just over 10,000. The neighborhood nickname is “Crossroads of the World,” but normally Times Square is where you go after the war, not before – like after WWII, when soldiers came back and pumped the Deuce with a new slang and the girls in town with about half the Baby Boom generation. Here, Dan Choi was the first openly gay man to enlist after the government revoked “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” On New Year’s Eve, the Army Corps of Engineers seals it up in blast-proof metal like Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Times Squared, Ken Jacobs, Nervous Magic Lantern. Ken Jacobs is a veteran downtown experimental moviemaker, and this week staged his Nervous Magic Lantern at Anthology Film Archives. Ken and his Lantern:
After the screening, Ken Jacobs stood before the crowd to solicit comments and questions which he was all too eager to shoot down. Campus Whits was the first to chime in, that as a tour guide who works Times Square five days a week, the movie was a perfect abstraction of the flagrant neural catastrophe Times Square inspires. Jacobs commented on my job as a tour guide, “Wouldn’t you rather just steal money?” I didn’t get the chance to advise him, that’s what tips are for.
Ken claimed there was no story in Times Squared, and that movies are too concerned with the next and the next and the next. But the movie does have a story, which a British woman in the audience pointed out. Ken sort of concurred, but was quick to exit stage, “Thanks, good night.” The continuum of visual effects, blobular and cragged movements of light and color and nonrepresentational dimension, is played in tandem with a raw street recording of Ken taking the subway, where the machine talks to its passengers, making his way into Times Square, where a steel-drum subway musician plays a doting and ripping “My Way.” The sounds are the hypnogogic reality of a routine. At the close of the movie, Ken trudges back to his walk-up loft, huffing and puffing up the steps, where his wife greets him, “How was Times Square?” Ken says, “Fabulous.”
The Nervous Magic Lantern is the mechanism of the “Theater District,” and the imagery which fans forth the lantern in back of the theater sparks the plasm of the city, a place to where the central nervous system of millions of people are drawn. The magic of the nervous lantern reveals the unreadable yet not unintelligible chamber of codes, and afterwards your eyes are sore.
Bathroom at Mars Bar. This place is closing soon, on 1st St. and 2nd Ave, surely to be replaced by a Connecticut Muffin.
Time gives the appearance of being infinite, since time will always be there, but people are always asking each other where it went. To invest your time with meaning, you take time as finite. And carve up time because you gotta get this thing done now, like Jack Bauer on 24. But at Mars Bar, you binge time.
Anthropologist Morris Freilich, who spent time with Mohawk steelworkers in the Little Caughnawaga neighborhood in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, lays the groundwork for ethnographic study with first the conception of Time, and whether the community under scrutiny perceives reality as the Past, Present, or Future. While in Eastern Trinidad, Freilich studied East Indians, whom he says are a Future people, and local Creoles, who are “the Now” people. East Indians associate with family, but Creoles are free to make friends. Freilich charts the “Sanction” of East Indians as “Supernatural,” and Creoles as “Fatalism (“Cultural Models and Land Holdings,” Freilich, M., Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 33, No. 4, Caribbean Issue (Oct., 1960), pp. 188-197, GW Univ. Institute for Ethnographic Research):
Campus Whits enjoyed three movies last year above all others seen:
The Fighter was a movie-within a movie that used the setting of small-time 1990s boxing as a vehicle for a way of viewing stories of the world.
In Dogtooth, the fiercely imaginative and adaptable realities of childhood behavior are run through the pantomime of a psychic prison. The children are taught to fear the cat and so revel when it is slaughtered. They understand that to lick the body of another is to expect a gift in return for the act. “Bruce!” the youngest daughter calls to her nameless sister, “Bruce! Bruce!”
Hot Tub Time Machine crafts the metaphor of time-travel as a way for screwed-up dudes in their forties to understand each other. “Your bullshit’s my bullshit,” cries John Cusack to his old friend, Lou (Rob Corddry). It is not an easy promise to make, especially when its supposed to be 2010 and you’re in 1986 because you got naked and drunk with your buddies in a hot tub.
May 16, 2011
(from the dispatch desk of city room nerve-wracker, Mac Jasper)
Listen to Jasper’s broadcast here:
Veg BBQ III
‘Tis the sesquicentennial of the War of Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the War for Southern Independence, the War Between the States, Johnny Reb v. Billy Yank … but friend it’s all the American Civil War to you and me, if you’ve heard of it. How grand to see that the Big Apple has done its part, having embraced the cause of Southern cuisine today as it did the slave trade back then. Don’t get me wrong. Jasper loves spicy cornbread and catfish, but not on every other g’damn block. Back in the slave days, New York merchants made a fine dime off the Southern economic paradigm, and the Big Apple rioted against its prodigious black population when Lincoln called up the draft. As the nativist gangs of Civil War New York persecuted free blacks, so too bacon doughnuts suppress civilized life, and ravage the constitution, self-control and self-respect of bourgey BBQ burpers. Today, you might say, trendy traders in fried foodie fat now abuse the rights of the digestive system of Gotham’s hock-hungry.
Reports from the food field note that our favorite Burmese place, and that Vietnamese place down the steps in Chinatown, and Schaffer’s oyster bar off Fifth, they’ve shuttered for good and good luck finding another. But no prob for any new place to chow cheeks and smoked lamb face, with a side of lard ‘taters….
Well, maybe the analogue don’t really hold up. But when the crowd for Grant’s Tomb is deeper than the breadline for Barnard College-grad Martha Stewart’s Shake Shack, I might zip it. After all its only food. Only its food, after all. But the bacon-ated bourgeiose are staking flags in sacred ground. Behold, that cured-piggie cookoffs are giving first prize to Bacon Bourbon Ice Cream. As far it goes, this reporter believes that Pappy van Winkle would not be pleased to share his nectar with a hog’s ass served in Ben & Jerry’s. And that’s the squib.
May 10, 2011
In the world of Landlord/Tenant law, at least in NYC, there is a saying, “the worst landlords are tenants.” When a tenant sublets their apartment, the opportunity has proven ripe to act like a desperate know-it-all dumbass. In the L/T law office where Campus Whits has labored, we have had some obnoxious cases. In one instance, a friend of the landlord’s young daughter was given a sweet deal on an apartment in the West Village, only to abuse the favor by then secretly subletting the place at a much higher rent. It wasn’t secret for long, the woman was a total spoiled knucklehead, and matters settled in Housing Court, where she flirted with attorneys. Anyhow, the first crime committed was that of the landlord’s unctuous nepotism… In another case, a deadbeat tenant was living in his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. The ex had since moved overseas and abandoned the place. Our office moved to evict the deadbeat, who was advised of the date when the eviction would occur. The city marshal showed up and found a new tenant just moved in. It turned out that the deadbeat had sublet the place and hightailed it out of there before the eviction date. The new tenant was clueless and flipped-out, but at least now has a great New York story to tell friends and family.
Campus Whits has lived in many NYC apartments over the last 14 years, and can vouch the basic human law that sublets usually end ugly. Sometimes, as a doubledecker bus tour guide, dealing with tenants who think they are landlords is like dealing with passengers who think they are tour guides. An example is this past Sunday. On the Uptown Loop, which bowls through the Upper West and East Sides and Harlem betwixt, a Cuban family boarded the bus. I didn’t know the family was Cuban until later, but would not have otherwise altered the schpiel.
On the corner of 125th St. and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. stands Hotel Theresa, a commanding white-bricked building designed in 1913 by architects trained in Paris, as was the trend in those pre-WWI years, and which proof is Grand Central Terminal, the New York Public Library, and the James Farley Post Office on 33rd and 8th Ave. As the Uptown Loop turns the corner, I tell the story of when Fidel Castro stayed at Hotel Theresa with his Cuban delegation in 1960, and how the story goes Castro was rejected from hotels in midtown because his entourage included 20 concubines and 50 live chickens. Castro was paranoid his meals might be poisoned, and so traveled with live cluckers to trust his food. “And we can only guess why the concubines, aha ha ha….”
When the Cuban family disembarked the bus, the father turned tour guide. He was a striking guy, in casual clothes, a hairless head, stocky like a deep-sea diver, and looked liked he could be one of The Expendables. Without a buck in the tip box, he gave another tip, that I had my facts wrong. His voice was booming and swift. He thought it was disrespectful to portray Castro as one who kept concubines and chickens as luggage, and the real story was that the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel originally rejected the delegation because its members included Cuban blacks. As a result, Castro was invited to Harlem. I tried to tell the guy that I knew the point was that the newspapers invented the story, but he only repeated his own schpiel, with utmost lack of humor, while his composed teenage son tried to pull him away, like any kid embarrassed by dad going off. The family headed out in the direction of F.A.O Schwartz before I could inform the patriarch I wanted to take his tour of Havana when next I was in town.
It wasn’t the Waldorf where Castro was rebuffed but the Hotel Shelburne. The Shelburne might have been racist. It was 1960 and much blood would be splattered before blacks could vote in the South without rednecks with bats and guns guarding the polls. According to The Secret Fidel Castro, by Servando González, the Hotel Theresa was a strategic locale for Castro, who sought to cast his cause as an incendiary kinship with black nationalism. Down the street “was Lewis Michaux’s African Memorial Book Store, the biggest black nationalist book store in the country. Around the corner was the Harlem Labor Center, a black militant organization.” The Cubans claimed the Hotel Shelburne was shaking them down for prohibitive hotel rates, like the way the Mafia exploits capitalism. Read about it here and here.
The story about the chickens and concubines was concocted by squibby journalists to humiliate Castro, or maybe to welcome the communist revolutionary to the vainglorious roil of the New York press. When Campus Whits makes it in the New York Post, it can only be hoped the story is extravagant bullshit. Wrong facts make a right tour – they are the scotched and blitzed ectoplasm of good stories. One cannot please everybody. Two years ago, a passenger from Alabama similarly questioned my historical accuracy. After I pointed out Grant’s Tomb as the resting place of the Northern general who won the Civil War, the Alabama man, in vintage twang, told me I got it all wrong. “The South didn’t lose the Civil War.”
Like Castro, my success as a leader, of people two hours on a tour bus ahem, relies on provocation and new ideas. Just the CIA never tried to poison my cigars so that my beard falls off.
May 7, 2011
“He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it – namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
- Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer, chap. 2, “The Glorious Whitewasher.”
The City Council is considering a bill that would criminalize the purchase of knockoff handbags with an $11,000 fine and maybe a year in jail. Read the city’s news release here. The city is desperate for money, and millions of people come to town to buy fake crap, so naturally the City Council sees potential for some quick cabbages. As Bloomberg lures tourists to NYC, the city seeks to revoke the only cheap resource tourists have, besides tipping their doubledecker bus tour guide a buck for two hours of unsurpassed entertainment and knowledge.
While the bill will unlikely pass, it serves to raise the profile of Bloomberg’s crackdown on fake $30 Rolex watches. Councilwoman Margaret S. Chin, in whose district the black market thrives, sounds like a patsy for the elitist fashion industry: “What happened to the traditional value of saving up for something you really want that’s valuable?” asks Ms. Chin. “If you really like it, save money to buy the real thing.” What Ms. Chin does not realize, is that, to cash-strapped daytrippers, these $25 Louis Vuittons are the real thing.
Such justification is as reasonable as the law which mutes tour guides for creating street noise in high-traffic residential neighborhoods. Does the City truly rely on taxes off $1,800 Gucci purses? The handbag bill is akin to the recording industry going after illegal downloaders. A new paradigm is among us, and the practice is unwieldy and unstoppable, people want cheap shit that looks good, I think it was Darwin that said it. The industry of infrastructure behind fashion and music is no different than TicketMaster, which, like munching pests, charges fees for essentially that which was never there. As a reward for all the hitting-up tourists endure coming to the Big Apple, they should be free to buy sunglasses whose provenance is no less an illusion than Jersey Boys. No audience member ever stood up at the August Wilson Theater and shouted, “Hey, that ain’t the real Joe Pesci!”
“Major Labels” are anchored by the primacy of envy, where hard-earned money must migrate to self-anointed “tastemakers,” and it ends up that Yankee tickets are $500 to go to the old ball game, and TV-watchers sublimate the squawkings of Kelly Ripa as gospel. The extravagant classism ingrained in the DNA of New York best reveals itself in the terminology of the housing market. When a rent-control apartment is “de-controlled” and the rent is raised, landlords must qualify the move as “luxury de-controlled,” to indicate that, though you are going to now pay out the wazoo, at least you can be snobby about it.
April 27, 2011
Campus Whits went to a screening at MOMA last week. Canadian cinemaster Guy Maddin introduced a series of shorts made by Dziga Vertov, a 1920s avant-garde filmmaker who crafted collages of Worker and Peasant life after the Russian Revolution. In Kino-Pravda No.22, a throng of Peasants lines up to spectate Vladimir Lenin’s Tomb, allowed into royal chambers which previously were the exclusive spaces of the Monarchy.
The Worker is an intellectual armed with the knowledge to farm and build machines. The Worker is a speech-stumper, a friend to zoo animals, and often a smoker.
Instead of baptism, the Workers “Octoberize” their children, and instead of Jesus, they raise Lenin from the dead.
In 1969, Civil Rights activist and organizer James Forman issued the “Black Manifesto.” Forman interrupted a church service at Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan and fired off the text of the Manifesto. Riverside Church is an ecumenical house of worship built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the late 1920s, just when Jr. was signing the lease on the land in midtown for Rockefeller Center. Riverside Church claims to be the tallest in America, and in the belfry hangs what is said to be the largest tuned bell in the world. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War at Riverside a year before his assassination. The Church is right down the block from Grant’s Tomb, where lay the General who won the War of Rebellion in 1865, ending slavery in the United States. In 2011, at the 150th anniversary of the War’s inception, the promenade before Grant’s Tomb serves as a meeting place for weekend unicyclers, whereas 100 years ago the bustling crowds equaled the magnitude of those in Red Square for Vertov’s Kino-Pravda.
The Black Manifesto called for Christian churches and Jewish synagogues nationwide to pay $500 million in reparations for slavery. Forman, with wry militancy, estimates the cost at “15 dollars per nigger.” Black Americans, disenfranchised since 1619 at Jamestown, VA., “have helped to build the most industrial country in the world.” Backed by the National Black Economic Development Conference, Forman indicts the Judeo-Christian complex as culpable agents in the suppression of blacks in Africa and America. Forman details a budget plan for the money, including a Southern land bank, a publishing and printing firm, and a National Black Labor Strike and Defense Fund.
In Kino-Pravda No.22, the Worker is sublimated as the educator of the Peasant.
Likewise, the Black Manifesto will form training centers in research and “futuristic” audio/visual communications skills, and calls “upon all our brothers and sisters” who can teach subjects like engineering, electronics, physics and military science. Hope and faith lie in the brain and the hands. Nonviolence is asked of the churches and synagogues, but Forman asserts “we have been dying too long for this country,” and that “the new black man… must not… merely believe in self-defense.”
Read the full text of the Black Manifesto at the New York Review of Books, where it was published July 10, 1969, the Summer of Love.
There is something disingenuous about Vertov’s lionization of Vlad Lenin. Marxist ideology promotes the group over the individual. All the Workers and Peasants are bewhiskered and dress in dark wool, and uniformed officers are shown to step in time before the Kremlin. It would seem, to keep with the program of mass consciousness, that Lenin should be read, quoted, put into action, rather than exhibited as if in The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, MI.
Vertov shows the iron pail Lenin used to cook with while in hiding, like any presidential Americana artifact.
Contents of Abe Lincoln’s pockets at Ford’s Theater:
In James Forman’s 500-plus page memoir, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman describes his work as executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which agitated for the voting rights of black communities in the South persecuted by white vigilantes, like Public Safety warlord “Bull” Connor in Birmingham, AL. Forman stresses that all his acts support the group, otherwise the Movement fails, and he criticizes the NAACP and SCLC as victims of self-aggrandizement and pandering to the Justice Department. “We were not spokesmen, interpreters, or philosophers. We existed to serve the field.” Forman’s memoir is layered with oral histories, sworn Affidavits, prison journals, unpublished manuscripts, and many more textual voices of fellow actors in the Movement. A similar palimpsest of text is found in the FBI file on Forman, where memos, literary excerpts, informant summaries and redacted medical records are assembled and indexed to portray the individual. The FBI opened a file on the Black Economic Development Conference, and cast the BEDC’s demand for slavery reparations as a crime of extortion against religious groups.
In 1832, a congregation of black Protestants incorporated St. Peter’s Church in Brooklyn Heights. At the time, five years after New York State abolished slavery, oppressed free blacks could use “the legal commonplace of a certificate of incorporation” to claim “the rights of citizenship regardless of race” and assert “equal rights under the law.” Read a revealing article by Larry Weimer, project archivist at the Brooklyn Historical Society, on the early leap in civil rights which incorporation laws afforded blacks in Brooklyn, one year after Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion in Virginia.
The MOMA screening opened with a short movie by Guy Maddin, The Heart of the World, which dramatizes the creation myth of cinema as a cataclysmic sci-fi newsreel romance… watch its whipcracking six minutes here.
April 19, 2011
I went to a book sale last week in NJ run by the College Women’s Club of Montclair, which raises money for ladies in need of it to go to college. The elder ladies who staff the sale are commanding and chatty and niggling, and some are the type who scabrous vaudeville curmudgeon W.C. Fields made a career of lampooning, and who Ralph Kramden wanted to bang-zoom to the moon. I’ve visited the sale these last few years, and cleaned up, and tho this year it was a bit thinner than others, I picked up a few things.
A crime novel from the 1980s about dirty real estate deals in Jersey City. J.W. Rider is apparently a pseudonym of crime writer Shane Stevens.
… with a blurb by a trusted Jersey Tomato…
The art of the library check-out stamp.
Some items I pulled from the James Forman Library, QC Special Collections.
Sal Vizzini, on the right, was a Federal agent who went undercover and made friends with Lucky Luciano.
April 14, 2011
My last vacation was October 2006, when I visited my brother in Redondo Beach, CA for a month. It was my first time in Los Angeles, the Internal Combustion City, and I was totally into it and can’t wait to go back next time I get a month off.
A couple of nights before I left for back home, I spoke on the phone to my friend, Marty Reisman, a veteran table tennis champion and ping-pong hustler who spent his youth honing his skills in the pool halls of old Broadway.
Watch Marty break a cigarette in half with a sizzling forehand here.
Marty suggested that I contact his friend, Dexter Gray, who lives in the Hollywood Hills. I waffled, stupidly, but took Marty up on the introduction, and Dexter was thrilled to have us. Dexter is a virtuoso pianist, who played a legendary concert on the Great Wall of China.
We scheduled a time to come by Dexter’s place. Turned out we also promised a friend we would get him at the airport around the same time. “So, before we head to your mom’s, we’re gonna stop at my friend Marty’s friend Dexter’s place, okay?”
Dexter greeted us at the door in track pants and a leather jacket. His hoary blond hair fitfully swept to his shoulders, weathered by a life of music wrought and blast of his hands and mind.
Dexter lived in a Spanish revival house set lordly on the lower slope of Laurel Canyon. Dexter calls it the Holly Mont Castle, with a sign outside. The firebrand actress Barbara Stanwyck lived there in the 1930s, unhappily, with her first husband, Frank Fay. Ghost-hunters have visited Holly Mont looking for spirits. In the 60s the house was a scene for psych head bands like Buffalo Springfield.
Dexter showed us around.
A famous, unplayable piano.
Dexter had arranged a cozy viewing nook for Jesus. The pianist explained that he wasn’t particularly religious, but one day when he ends up at the gates of Almighty, he can show the angels that he did his part.
He let us try on the jackets once worn by Liberace.
Dexter posed at the Marty Reisman shrine.
Dexter described to us the rejuvenation that possessed him after a recent near-death experience. Before we left, Dexter repeated what seemed to be his mantra: “The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object!” It was the first time I’d heard the phrase, and apparently its a saying. Among others, The Joker says it to Batman at the end of the movie The Dark Knight. It’s catchy. No other than a binary universe. Forces at odds make life. Human history is the story of self-awareness, and the rights which may or not be given, are fought for. The brain negotiates truth against the powers who kill over power. Those who cannot control themselves naturally move to control others.
In the 1960s, FBI agents visited the sites of protest and violence in the Deep South, but did not intervene, and instead took notes to record an account of the actions of individuals and groups getting their heads bashed in by rednecks. James Forman, a revolutionary, and other veterans of the Civil Rights movement have published their own accounts, as counteragents of memory to the history told by the Justice Department. As the FBI created private files on figures in the Movement, it also investigated sicko members of the Ku Klux Klan. J. Edgar Hoover believed he existed at some realizable point between the unstoppable force and the immovable object.
Watch a vintage example of James Forman on the soapbox here.
Norman Mailer took the quip as his pontificate’s pose each time he addressed the public when running for Mayor of New York City in 1969, as when Mailer & running mate Jimmy Breslin roiled the campus of Queens College.
March 30, 2011
My work with the James Forman Library is ongoing, and involves a term new to my vocabulary, “bio-bibliography,” which is the study of a person by way of their book reading, and the traces of their life’s work that can be found in the books they left, beginning with jottings, underlines, inscriptions, bookmarks, to get happy on the trust that these aims are true, painted from memory.
I have found several things so far that support the living interpretation of the collection, as in a signed copy of Toward Soviet America (1932) by William Z. Foster, a Communist leader in the 1920s who ran for President in the Jazz Age; and a copy of River of No Return, by Cleveland Sellers, a memoir of SNCC, and lengthily inscribed to Forman.
My focus is Forman’s collection of FBI reports – giant stacks of manila-backed papers compiled by J. Edgar Hoover’s crew-cut knights on SNCC, James Forman himself, and mid-20th century mob bosses like Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Forman was a prolific chronicler of his own times, and studied the FBI reports as alternative, authoritarian versions of history – on which versions Forman called bluff.
Here is a page from Forman’s FBI Report, 1967, where Forman is introduced in terms of Hoover’s informant:
Here the G-Man assesses Forman’s psycho-political predicament:
Forman’s actions are cast in the mold of a master spy:
The FBI moves forward to make their subject an inFormant:
To study the “marginalia” of a reader’s book collection, one can never be sure whose marginalia it is. Avid bookbuyers often get the bug for the musty majesty of used bookstores, which are cheap and bountiful. A working survey of James Forman’s library, written last semester by QC bibliographist David Gary, finds that “most of the books were acquired second hand by Forman at used bookshops in Detroit, New York, Ithaca, and Washington,” and that he “also bought books that were sold by public libraries after weeding.” To authenticate the notations, one might get familiar with the subject’s reading, writing, thinking habits. Otherwise you could hire someone like Joe Nickell, an investigator of mysteries. Judging by several books in the personal collection of Campus Whits which have previous owners’ markings, it seems most readers stop underlining by page 20, especially if the volume was once assigned on the syllabus.
I worked at a used and rare book shop for five years in downtown Manhattan – the type of place James Forman might buy books. But in the used book market, marked-up copies lessen the value of the “piece.” When our shop bought the library of historian and fervent diarist Edward Ellis, alot of good books were sold cheaply because Ellis had a habit of highlighting passages with a yellow fluorescent pen. If anything, it would tell the bio-bibliographer how Ellis compiled his research, how and what information he valued as writer of history and as a prodigious jotter of his own times – and also that Ellis had little aesthetic for marginalia, since a yellow highlighter is about the most offputting of penscript.
One time, the shop had a copy of a rare Timothy Leary book, published in the heyday, which a curious browser was interested in but only because he liked how its former owner marked it up, with doodlings induced by a state of mind brightly bewizened by the brown acid. But we priced-up the book, at a bookdealer’s number, and the curious browser put it back. If it was five bucks we would have had a sale, but the book’s rarity outweighed any doodle depreciation. In both these cases, with the books of Edward Ellis and Timothy Leary, the value and lack of value of each book had equally nothing to do with its contents.
The writer Edmund Wilson, in 1926 (The American Earthquake: A Documentary of the Twenties and Thirties), takes bookdealers to task for what he sees as their exsanguination of books. They are “the most blighting influence on the book shops,” who “traffic in first editions and other rarities.” Wilson is acrimonious in recognizing that “there are book galleries just as there are art galleries,” which are staffed by “old gentlemen with eyeglasses and ragged mustaches, who seem to live in a state of morose trepidation for fear somebody will ask them for a copy of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
If the biobibliographer of the year 2111 found my copy of Gaming: The Future’s Language (1974, Richard D. Duke), they might have been turned on to the hermeneutics of finding this clipping I recently found stuck in the pages of the book, for some reason:
As a NYC tour guide for Gray Line Bus Tours, I like to tell passengers that the city is not just the Big Apple, but also The Big Book, since while you’re here you get a story. So it was encouraging to find this Gray Line brochure from 2001, which trademarks the sentiment:
This book I found in the QC Special Collections room, which allows a peer into the third eye of design by which the QC campus has come to life:
March 24, 2011
Every six months my mother visits a neurologist in Livingston, New Jersey. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. There are lesions on her spine and brain. She doesn’t walk too well and has problems remembering things sometimes – though whether Bonnie’s memory is a direct result of MS is uncertain. In fact, pretty much everything regarding MS is uncertain, especially what causes it and how to abate its symptoms. Montel Williams, the fervent talk show host, and Teri Garr, the actress, are two celebrities who have it. Montel spoke at my brother’s graduation ceremony at Lehigh University in 2000, and shouted across the vast football stadium: “Mountain!” And then very softly, “Get out my way.” Teri Garr was a personal early cream dream of 80s screwball comedy, Tootsie and Mr. Mom fame. Captain Beefheart, the gonzo psychedelic honkytronic bandmaster, who died last year, was diagnosed with MS, but you don’t exactly “die” from the disease, like cancer – but it is degenerative and debilitating.
Doctors do not like to be put in positions which exhibit their ignorance – too long they went to school and too much money they make. My mother’s neurologist, Dr. Joseph Herbert, must be renowned, since he has appeared on Montel Williams (there are pictures of him as a guest on the show hanging around his office), and has co-authored numerous articles and papers in abstruse diagnostic medicalese. But when I visited the other day, I wish I had Montel with me, since Dr. Herbert didn’t want to talk much, and comported his answers as if to discourage more questions. This void of dialogue, coupled with the limited social worker who talked to my mom like a teenager, and who was quick to suggest Xanax as the solution to anxiety, acted against my departure from the doctor’s office with hope for the profession. My mom has a positive attitude all around, and that is all I can go by – but couldn’t this guy translate some of the complex crap into layman’s terms?
Doctors, like lawyers, are information controllers. If one gets to0 close to perhaps understanding the nuance of legal jargon without a law degree, most lawyers will start to either play mind games, try to distract you, or just whine. Sure, some lawyers and doctors do great things, like perform life-saving surgery, and win big cases that convict corrupt corporations or vindicate the falsely accused. My mother has benefited greatly from medical attention in the past, so I can’t get too worked up. But I cannot relate the same for my father, who, when he was fatally ill in the late 1990s, was uninsured, and treated accordingly by medical professionals like the CIA treats inmates at Gitmo.
It’s not like I was trying to get all up in the Doc’s knowledge. I listened. Sometimes silence intimidates more than noise. I definitely must have made the social worker nervous – she stammered and awkwardly called me “sir.”
… Between the Radiolab podcast I mentioned in last week’s post, and a series of articles by Errol Morris in the New York Times regarding Anosognosia (a brain condition where one is not conscious of one’s own medical predicament, whether paralysis of the limbs, or maybe just one’s own stupidity), the topic of self-deception now pops up in varied places. I thought of it this weekend. I am now back giving doubledecker bus tours – this past weekend was my inaugural return to Gray Line after the “layoff.” It was a vibrant weekend, the people tipped well and were fun, and my tour was, ahem, on fire. Usually one needs a short grace period to get the momentum and style back. I needed about five minutes. Times Square, inexplicably apt, was jampacked with sightseers – it made me think of self-deception. If the billboards are big enough, the marquees bright enough, and the crowds of epic size, one can gain comfort in the realistical moment that our country is supposed to be in a recession. Times Square has no purpose but to delude an otherwise unknowing public who is hungry for no purpose. Like the old songster George M. Cohan once told a young Regis Philbin, who was back then still a bootblack for card sharks and press buzzards, “Give it a break, kiddo – this is showbiz.”
March 22, 2011
“They’re only words… unless they’re true.”
- Speed-the-Plow, David Mamet (1988).
Last week, the American Society of News Editors hosted the celebration of “Sunshine Week,” which promotes government accountability and transparency. Going back to ancient history – the 2008 presidential elections – transparency was a big issue championed by Obama, in some ways a reaction to the snide secrecy of the Bush Administration, which deliberately mis-archived presidential emails and coined the phrase “unknown unknowns.” The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, blogs about Sunshine Week here, and touts the Open Government Initiative. It seems fitting that during “Sunshine Week,” the U.S. and its allies would attack Libya with a military airstrike called Operation Odyssey Dawn… “Sunshine Week” sounds like a flyer from the days of the Green Tambourine and nights at Millbrook house with Dr. Timothy Leary, who encouraged students to take the journey out of your mind.
Recently, WikiLeaks put the administration’s platform in a thorny position, and just recently the president defended the conditions under which Pvt. Bradley Manning is incarcerated at Quantico stockade. Pvt. Manning has become a pariah of transparency, but he is a soldier, not a civilian, and is subject to war laws. He was turned in by Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker, and since hackers are sort of pro-transparency – in their activist, reactionary role - in a strange twist of irony Lamo made haste to expose Manning as the Whiki-blower. The true secret right now is how Obama will mobilize the forces which mounted his first run in order to win in 2012.
Sunshine Week did not cast in shadow old St. Patrick’s Day, when revelers begin to imbibe verdant booze at the crack of dawn in open containers. Listen to an old Irish tune here, What Ho! She Bumps! And the Library of Congress has duly nodded to the wearin’ o the green.
Transparency is the closest the government can allow itself to recognize a sense of honesty, without having to say it is being honest. That’s fine. The bigger an institution, the bigger the inclination to fool. There are loads of government documents online that are open access and unclassified that are just as interesting as anything “secret.” But “unclassified” is the fat-free ice milk to “secret’s” triple scoop banana split…. Another question is whether the Bush tactic or the Obama tactic more respects the public – to flagrantly admit you are full of it, like Bush; or make overtures of disambiguation, like Obama’s “Good Government,” while upholding illegal wiretapping surveillance.
Individuals are different. A recent podcast on Radiolab is devoted to the subject of “deception,” and one of the guests, Paul Ekman, a security guard at JFK Airport, invented a machine, the Facial Action Coding System, which he claims can detect the various combinations of each muscle movement in the human face – Ekman concludes that there are about 3,000 “micro facial expressions.” But Ekman says that there is not a single combination that indicates without a doubt that the person is lying.
In good card games, the game is premised on the best combination of cards which will yield opportunities for skill, challenge and luck. Cribbage, invented in the seventeenth century by the rakish soldier-poet Sir John Suckling, is based on possible combinations of 15 and 31. Like Ekman’s micro-facial expressions, the game is finite but a mystery. The human face is provoked by emotion and circumstance as a cribbage game is by the deal and the rules. It has been determined that the highest possible points to peg in a single round is 61. Campus Whits has played cribbage for over 10 years and never once been dealt this extravagant happenstance – described in 1773 by Henry Proctor in The Sportsman’s Sure Guide, or Gamester’s Vade-Mecum.
John Scarne, the legendary lexicographer of card games, notes that cribbage is deceptively simple, and “although memory counts for little in the strategy of the game, there are many real possibilities for skillful play.” Watch Scarne demonstrate the prestidigitation of card sharks here.
Card games may also rely on a player’s bluff, where the opponent cannot read the player’s cards, but can read their face and movements. In the movie House of Games (1987), written and directed by David Mamet, a seasoned con man explains some of the tricks of his trade. In a poker game, the con man watches his opponent for a “tell,” which is a gesture or indication made by the cardplayer which exhibits that he is bluffing. The tell is an unconsious act of communication which the con man uses to his advantage. In one scene, a poker player played by the master sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay (who also runs a consulting business called Deceptive Practices,”arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis”) involuntarily fiddles with his ring every time he holds a bad hand. This is his tell. Of course, as played out in the movie, the con man’s explanation of “the tell” is part of a bigger con, and true or not was told to gain the confidence of both the character and the audience.
Paul Ekman, the JFK security guard, says that for a lie to be genuine, a true lie, it must be unexpected by the person being lied to. Poker players expect each other to bluff, it is part of the rules. A police interrogation is likewise. When basketball star Kobe Bryant was interrogated by Colorado cops on rape charges, Eagle County sheriff’s investigators Doug Winters and Dan Loya seek the truth from Kobe, but comport their questioning to expect that he will lie (read the transcript here). The way to get Kobe to talk honestly is to give him the impression that the investigators are also being truthful . So Detective Loya starts off with what are essentially true remarks: “I mean we’d like to find out your side of the story, we’ll get into the details of it, we’ll explain what’s going on. Um, but that’s all we want to do, Kobe.” But is that all they want to do? They ask Kobe if he and the victim hugged and kissed, and Kobe says no, but they know he is lying, so they follow up with what seems like a question already answered: “Did you have sexual intercourse with her?” One can assume that if they had sex, then they hugged and kissed. Kobe denies it again, and Det. Winters says “OK, but you know, I’m giving you an opportunity to tell the truth if something did happen, because I’m going to tell you now, um, we’re going to find out.” Kobe admits they had sex. The interrogators played Kobe like a winning high-stakes hand.
There is much written about scientists taking a statistical crack at surmounting the element of chance in gambling. In Big Julie of Vegas (1974), a Runyonesque biography of a “self-confessed ‘degenerate craps player,’” the author tells a side story about Murray Friedman, a scientist “in charge of space development” with a hankering for blackjack:
“As a scientist, he knows that blackjack can be beaten. As a scientist, he knows he has the kind of mind to do it. Never mind that he has been going to Las Vegas for fifteen years and hasn’t beaten the game yet.”
Ekman says that “we don’t have a Pinocchio’s nose.” There is no scientific way to determine if a person’s micro-facial expression indicates they are bullshitting. Ekman’s theories find a parallel with certain bygone linguists, who have disavowed that similarities between words in different languages can be linked to a common archetypal pattern. In a study of Indian languages in old Brooklyn - Indian Place-Names on Long Island (1911) by William Wallace Tooker – the author, listed on the title page as an “Algonkinist,” describes “an example of erroneous interpretation” in the work of a rival linguist:
“Marechkawick (1637), the Indian name of Brooklyn, cannot possibly be derived from Mereca, the South American name for a wild duck, now applied to the species classified scientifically, which had not been done in the early seventeenth century. Nor can Moriches be derived from the name of a South American palm, Moriche palmata; or Canarsie be made the equivalent of an East Indian Canarese. The Algonkian origin of these three names is beyond doubt, their resemblances to words in other languages being simply chance.”
Tooker corroborates his ideas with a quote from “Major J. W. Powell, the eminent ethnologist,” that “such accidental resemblances are often found, and… such adventitious similarities are discovered in all departments of human activities, and have no value for comparative purposes.’”
Tooker discredits his rival philologist on the basis of Tooker’s discovery that the man, an authority in the field, has self-deceived himself without expecting to…. So it should be that Tooker might not indict the value of comparative purposes presented by Campus Whits, which openly hoodwinks itself. To quote a poem, “Against Fruition,” by Sir John Suckling: