Author Archives: Vance Maverick

October 7, 2009, 4:08 pm

RIP Irving Penn

The photographer has passed, aged 92. I’m suspicious of photography that strays even perceptibly toward the fashion end of the spectrum, but Penn (unlike, say, Avedon) somehow slips in past my Puritanical defenses. Elegant, inventive, technically proficient, various, and whimsical or eccentric enough not to be glib. (more…)

October 5, 2009, 8:00 pm

Who still cares for the American Civil War?

I like Mary Beard’s TLS blog. But this time I fear she has Gone Too Far. Or, perhaps more likely, she’s pulling our collective leg — though I don’t remember her pulling it in quite this manner before. Even out here at the veriest Edge, the cityscape is clotted with victors’ memories of the War of Eastern Aggression. Just yesterday I was out picknicking with fellow parents of future yuppies at the Black Point Battery; and of course the map is full of streets named for Vicksburg, Grant, Lincoln and the Union. (Not to speak of the Confederate general from Big Sur.)

Need we quote Faulkner again?

Image by Flickr user maduarte used under a Creative Commons license.

September 27, 2009, 11:04 pm

“of”, “for”, and “by” the people, sure

In an interview with the Orthodox Jewish paper Hamodia, Justice Scalia says,

More recently we have allowed the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the Texas State Legislature. I think we have been moving back towards what the American Constitution provided.

I am not sure how Orthodox Jews feel about the Establishment Clause, but I assume they do not like driving G-d out of public life.

Steve Benen comments,

How would government staying neutral on matters of faith “drive God out of public life”? Scalia didn’t say.

Actually, I think it’s reasonably clear. Scalia is blurring, deliberately or not, the distinction between the public sphere and the government. Public life and the transactions of the Lege are not to be distinguished.

I’m no scholar of the Constitution, but it seems plain in the Preamble that it and the institutions it lays out are, at least conceptually, ordained and establish…

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August 31, 2009, 8:39 pm

Remorse

On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’
He…

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August 23, 2009, 10:54 am

Sunday morning Alice Neel

alice_neel_cropped

As relief from the grim tone of the page, with no pictures or conversations, here are some links to work by the great Alice Neel (1900-1984). A true Greenwich Village bohemian, she lived a life that (had I the time) would warrant an extensive post. Apparently her work was disparaged during the brief (and macho) hegemony of abstraction; and certainly she suffered for it, living at times on welfare. In 1934, her companion Kenneth Doolittle destroyed hundreds of her paintings “in a rage”. And yet she made an extraordinary body of work, from the 1920s into the 1980s. Her specialty was the portrait, but there are striking cityscapes and still lifes as well. Looking at the pictures, I’m perpetually surprised at how much variety she achieved with seemingly simple means — and in particular, what variety of expression and personality she could convey in the faces of her sitters.

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August 22, 2009, 5:07 pm

Civility as bubble

Atrios points us to this Times article, by Jennifer Steinhauer, on the foreclosure crisis in Moreno Valley, out by Redlands in the Inland Empire. It’s inhibited by conventions of the genre, and the interviews seem only to have gone so far, but it’s suggestive — it sketches a picture of the community that took root on one street during the boom years, and the strains that were put on it by the bust.

The neighborly virtues of mutual consideration and assistance seem, in this telling, to go hand in hand with wealth, or with the exclusion of those whose wealth isn’t above a certain bar. For the established residents, moving into this neighborhood, ten years ago, was a move up, and a move away from rougher neighborhoods (El Monte, for example). And as foreclosure pushes some of them out, and the prices of the vacated houses fall to 1989 levels, they seem to fear that rough neighbors like…

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August 18, 2009, 11:01 am

nostalgia for the possibility of nostalgia

Coates writes,

I was thinking about … Richmond yesterday, and The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” For those who are unfamiliar, the song is a mournful ballad about the fall of Richmond and Petersburg. I’m told that it’s a great song, and I don’t so much doubt this, as I doubt my own magnanimity.

I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect him to be that magnanimous. I love the song, myself, or have loved it — but I’ve always kept my fingers crossed, as it were, rather than take in the text fully. As if nostalgia for the Lost Cause could be simply a lyrical attitude, a costume to put on and then take off. But I don’t think that’s tenable. True, the song doesn’t go as far into that mythology as the radically (and deliberately) offensive “Brown Sugar”; but I think I’ve passed the point where I can forget that the Cause has a bearing on current life.

Still, what a…

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August 7, 2009, 10:13 am

Freedom of Speech

Paul Krugman writes,

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

I don’t think a look at the painting bears Krugman out. The expressions are patient, true, but beyond that, neutral. The face we see best, the wrinkled one to the left (the speaker’s right), might even be smiling. (A couple of the more obscured faces seem to be gazing heavenward with an abstract rapture like the speaker’s own.)

In any case the “town halls” that have been disrupted lately are a bit different. In these literal town hall meetings of idealized memory, the town gathered to conduct its business, making…

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July 29, 2009, 5:09 pm

Department of Over-Broad Generalizations

Dwight Garner reviews Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. (The Times seems to go in for this sort of alarmism lately.) Garner concludes:

It is hard to argue with his ultimate observation about Europe today: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture” (Europe’s) “meets a culture that is anchored, confident, and strengthened by common doctrines” (Islam’s), “it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter.”

Hard to argue with, because no specific examples are provided. But is there any “culture” more “insecure, malleable, relativistic” than that of the United States? Surely our success in reducing any immigrant strain to three-day weekends and Taco Bell should be grounds for optimism in this regard.

June 22, 2009, 4:20 pm

on solidarity

I came to political awareness (well, relatively speaking) in the late 1970s, so one of the first foreign “uprisings” I can remember following was the Danzig shipyard strike, culminating Aug. 31, 1980, in the official recognition formation of the trade union Solidarity (Solidarność). It was tremendously stirring to follow from abroad, not least because of good graphic design — in the Polish tradition, starting with the beautiful, “casual” but unmistakable Solidarity logo itself, by Jerzy (Jurek) Janiszewszki. As several have lately commented, the struggle there and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc had a certain polarity with respect to the United States: the regime(s) were broadly anti-American, the popular movements were to some degree philo-American, etc. Yet even then, vicarious participation at the level possible to me in Los Angeles seemed practically pointless.

How much more so to…

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June 17, 2009, 6:44 pm

automated linking gone mad

What attracted me to this image was the glamorous name of this Miss Seattle — Peggins Madieux. But the more I look at it, the more questions it raises. Does the cow over Miss Seattle’s head imply that the cans are of milk (e.g. sweetened condensed, to mellow the harsh of the coffee from that urn)? Would the number over her customer’s head have raised an eyebrow in 1927 (the year of my father’s birth)? But most of all, what value did UW think was added by links, on the descriptive text, to search queries for the likes of “U” and “S” (on the honorific of U.S. Senator Warren Magnuson, to whom she was briefly married)?

June 11, 2009, 11:28 am

eloquence in graphic design

Logging Haida Gwaii

I’ve been reading John Vaillant’s The Golden Spruce, about the strange eco-vandalism incident in 1997 on Haida Gwaii (aka the Queen Charlotte Islands), northern British Columbia. (If you’re interested, the New Yorker article he distilled from it is a better read.) Mostly I’m indulging a mild obsession with a remote corner of the map — now even more tantalizingly quasi-accessible, of course, via Google Earth and such. But in browsing around, I encountered what might be the most beautiful map I’ve ever seen on the Internet, and certainly one of the most effective in conveying its message.

The map shows the extent of logging, both historical and geographical, on the islands since 1900.  It was produced by the Gowgaia Institute, of Queen Charlotte on the islands. Definitely click through for larger versions (without the superposed town names).

Updated to restrain some overheated…

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April 5, 2009, 9:39 pm

Briefly noted

America is too exceptional; and American soldiers are people too.

Updated: here’s Obama’s ‘exceptionalism’ answer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDuBpEYKCSA&hl=en&fs=1

In one sense, of course, it’s nearly vacuous. But in “threading the needle”, as someone put it, in building a principled frame within which cake may be both eaten and had, it resembles the lightning-strikes of insight familiar from psychotherapy or religion.

April 1, 2009, 12:38 pm

muralismo

Entrance to Balmy Alley

In lieu of a real post (and in celebration of moving back to the Mission): tour San Francisco’s Balmy Alley.

Photo by Flickr user dogwelder used under a Creative Commons license.

Updated: of course, with bonus Sendak.

March 6, 2009, 4:17 pm

Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome

A couple of links:

  • The building housing the archives of the city of Cologne has collapsed. “Two or three” people may have been killed; the material destroyed includes the “minutes of all town council meetings held since 1376″ and the papers of Heinrich Böll.
  • And a fresh episode of horror in Zimbabwe….