March 6, 2014
March 4, 2014
In the New York Post, Kyle Smith discusses the comedians of the 1970s and their modern day successors:
As Chevy Chase might have put it on Saturday Night Live, Harold Ramis is still dead. And with him has gone the finest era of comedy: The ’70s kind.
Ramis was as close to the king of comedy as it gets, as a writer, director and occasional sidekick for Animal House, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Back to School, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.
Taking off with the movie M*A*S*H in 1970 — a huge hit that grossed $450 million in today’s dollars — and its spinoff sitcom, ’70s comedy ruled from an anti-throne of contempt for authority in all shapes. College deans, student body presidents, Army sergeants and officers, country-club swells, snooty professors and the EPA: Anyone who made it his life’s work to lord it over others got taken down with wit.
When the smoke bombs cleared and the anarchy died, comedy turned inward and became domesticated. It also became smaller.
The Cosby Show and Jerry Seinfeld didn’t seek to ridicule those in power. Instead they gave us comfy couch comedy — riffs on family and etiquette and people’s odd little habits.
Now, in the Judd Apatow era, comedy is increasingly marked by two worrying trends: One is a knee-jerk belief, held even by many of the most brilliant comedy writers, that coming up with the biggest, most outlandish gross-out gags is their highest calling.
H/T to Kathy Shaidle for the link.
February 10, 2014
January 27, 2014
Montreuil reminded me strongly of something: ah yes, I remember what it was, Eastern Europe in the good old days. It had that same air of inspissated gloom and ontological pointlessness; the architecture would have gladdened the heart (so to speak) of Elena Ceausescu. The bus passed through a wasteland of 1970s modernism, egalitarian doctrine made not so much flesh as concrete. The buildings did not age, they dilapidated; it was architecture that induced immediate thoughts of suicide. (Le Corbusier is still revered in France and treated as a hero, though it should be obvious to anyone who reads any of his voluminous writings that he was a psychopathic architectural delinquent of totalitarian pretensions whose talents belonged more to the field of propaganda than to those of architecture, in which his abilities were all negative.) The bus stops were in places such as Saint-Just, the patron saint of revolutionary terror, and Nouvelle France: new in the same sense that the New Man, so beloved of Mussolini and Che Guevara, was going to be new. Montreuil is, in fact, firmly communist, and it shows, although honesty compels me to admit that I don’t know which came first: the communism or the ugliness of everything. Probably the relationship is what Marxists used to call a dialectical one.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Museum of the Living Dead”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-01-26
January 5, 2014
Okay, it isn’t really (but if you think it is, you’ve probably fallen for the “gullible isn’t in the dictionary” prank as well). In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout discovers that every defining event of the Baby Boom era always comes back to being about the Baby Boomers themselves:
Most “Monty Python” fans are, of course, baby boomers, who have long been a nostalgic lot and are growing more so as they totter toward old age. Witness their tiresomely obsessive fascination with the popular television series of their youth. Likewise their undimmed passion for the rock music of the 1960s and ’70s, which they still love so much that they’ll buy expensive tickets to see wrinkled old codgers play it onstage.
As always with the boomers, this nostalgia contains more than a touch of narcissism. The same narcissism was on display in many of the countless gushy boomer-penned reminiscences occasioned by the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. An indisputably major historical event, to be sure, but there was also something decidedly creepy about the self-centered tone of those suddenly-my-world-changed pieces, which was deftly skewered by this Onion headline: “Area Man Can Remember Exactly Where He Was, What He Was Doing When He Assassinated John F. Kennedy.” Like everything else in the boomers’ world, Kennedy’s death turned out in the end to have been all about them.
Not surprisingly, my parents’ generation did everything they could to make life easier for their own children. Was that good for us? I wonder. It certainly didn’t do us any good from a cultural point of view. I’m struck by how few boomers have embraced adult culture in middle age. My impression is that they’d much rather watch sitcoms than read novels, go to the opera or listen to jazz. In large part they’re a cohort of Peter Pans, determined not to grow up any more than they can help. Indeed, not a few of them seem to take a perverse kind of pride in their adolescent enthusiasms. I read the other day that a “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” lunch box from 1973 now sells for $1,200 — and that the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History owns one. I’m not quite sure which of those facts makes me sadder.
If I live long enough, I’ll enjoy finding out how the millennials remember the world of their youth a quarter-century from now. Since they’re having a much harder time earning a living than did their baby-boom parents, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if their attitude ends up being much more like that of the wised-up kids of the Great Depression, especially as regards cultural matters. While I don’t know whether they’ll go in for late Beethoven by the time they reach their 50s, somehow I doubt that watching an ancient episode of “30 Rock” will cause them to recall with fondness the good old bad old days when they were living in crummy studio apartments — or their parents’ basements.
October 22, 2013
Back in the bad old days, before Pierre Trudeau saved Canada from the horrors of fiscal solvency and smallish government, school children, mostly girls, were taught something called home economics. The theory, terrible quaint though it sounds, is that since most women would become homemakers they should be prepared for that role. Some, no doubt, came from good homes where dutiful mothers ensured that their daughters knew how to cook, sew and deal with troublesome infants. Some did not come from good homes. Part of the point of public education was to make sure that all girls knew how to cook nutritious food for their families. More broadly it was to ensure that all children acquired life skills along with whatever algebra and Shakespeare they could pick up.
That was one of the goals of public education. Educating a self reliant, sober and decent citizenry. Not rationalizing every vice and undermining the founding tenets of Canadian society. There was plenty of propaganda, but it was mostly propagating positive values. A tad parochial and silly by our standards, but not without its merits. It was not a platform for allowing anti-capitalist and anti-industrial zealots like David Suzuki to pontificate.
If there is a problem with “food insecurity” it’s because many Canadians, especially among the lower classes, lack basic life skills. That, not incidentally, is why most are in the lower class. If the Pakistani cab driver with a scant English vocabulary can feed and cloth his family with some decency, what does that say about the Mackenzies who have been here since Simcoe? Some of the poor are poor because they’re physically or mentally incapable of fending for themselves. In an advanced society they comprises only a small fraction of the working age population. Much of the poor in Canada are poor because they exhibit poor behaviour.
Most of the long-term poor, this excludes those who are simply suffering from temporary misfortune, think in a much different way than those in the middle class. The long-term poor are short-range in their thinking. Their savings rate is close to non-existent. They can’t resist instant gratification, like junk food or gambling. This also extends to their sexual lives. They exhibit a strong tendency toward highly unstable short-term relationships based on fleeting desire. The notion of a long-term, emotionally stable relationship is either alien or absurd.
Richard Anderson, “Thinking of the Children”, Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2013-10-21
October 8, 2013
Rolling Stone digs deep into the video archives to come up with some particularly interesting (for certain values of “interesting”) Rush videos:
Geddy Lee is the first to admit that Rush do not have a great track record when it comes to making music videos, and their track record of picking stylish haircuts and outfits also leaves a bit to be desired. A few weeks ago, he sat down with Rolling Stone to discuss Rush’s new live DVD and their future plans. Towards the end, we took out an iPad and showed him 10 Rush videos on YouTube. Sometimes, he looked a little horrified at his videos and haircuts, but he had a lot to say about all of them. Click through to see the videos and hear Geddy’s memories. At the end, we also showed him a couple of Rush tribute videos by some super-fans.
The first video is a performance of “Working Man” in St. Catharines from 1974 … with their original drummer (John Rutsey) who was replaced by Neil Peart shortly afterwards:
“I haven’t seen this, ever. It’s not a bad recording, either. John was very much a mod, very much in the Paul Weller school of dressing. Alex and I were just long-hairs pretending that we were groovy.”
And commenting on a later video:
You can see the time period in everyone’s haircuts. . . Véronique Béliveau, the French singer, was awesome. . . This was bad, but it wasn’t my worst hairdo. My worst one was the coonskin hat period. That’s when I had my hair in a ponytail and this big poufy thing on the top. That was late 1980s/ early 1990s.
September 17, 2013
Tyler Cowen wraps up the rise and fall of “right” and “left” economics in the US since the 1960s:
Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front. Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues. The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.
Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism. After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.
Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.
I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth. I suspect they didn’t.
Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read. (What exactly turned them around?) In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking. The right loses track of what its issues ought to be. There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.
September 15, 2013
All I can assume is that my RSS reader needs a good, swift kick every now and again because this post from Labour Day just showed up in my reader now …
I needed a job, bad, in LA, 1980-ish. I moved there with next to no money and no plan. I was only old enough to drink because they hadn’t changed the law yet. I’d had a dozen jobs or more already. No one was hiring nobody for nothing nohow. If I see another person compare today’s economy to the Depression I’m going to show them a picture of 1979. When a mortgage on a house reaches 17%, unemployment is right around 30% in the construction industry, and inflation looks like it’s going to touch 20, you get back to me. Car companies did more than just talk about going bankrupt back then.
I was sleeping on the couch in an apartment shared by two girls, neither of which I knew then or know now. You can distill painful shyness into a kind of brazenness if you try real hard.
The only job opening I could find was a classified for a welder. I had welded under a microscope before, so I was prepared to say I was qualified. A ship in a bottle is still a ship, right?
I drove 66 miles dead east from LA to get there. Outside the place looked like Ingsoc owned it, and inside it looked like Beelzebub was renting it. Medieval. A metal corrugated roof in the desert. The concrete block walls could just barely hold in the amount of crazy required to be a welder in there.
It was a terrible job and the pay was about the same as begging in Calcutta or maybe a dental assistant in England. There were — I remember because they told me — 135 people there that day applying for the job. There was a person sitting on every horizontal surface you could see making out an application. I was the only one wearing a suit and holding a resume. They took me out of the scrum, up the stairs, gave me the man what are you doing here act.
I lied. I lied like a politician. I lied like an infomercial. I lied like four hundred sermons played backwards. You bet I can weld your thermocouples. They sent 135 people away that very minute.
(to be continued)
I switched the Sippican Cottage RSS feed to NewsBlur instead and this story really does continue…
You couldn’t get an apartment in LA without a bank account and a job. You couldn’t get a bank account without a fixed address. I couldn’t get a job without an apartment. I can’t remember who was governor of California at the time. It might have been Jerry Brown or maybe George Deukmejian. At any rate, Franz Kafka was actually running the place. I picked a day, and simultaneously told the apartment landlady I had the job, told the bank I had the apartment, and told the job I could TIG weld thermocouples all the live-long day, baby. The Million Pound Bank Note is just a short story to you; it’s an instruction manual to me. You guys should read less Rand and more Twain if you want to get on in this world. By “less Rand,” I mean “no Rand,” and “all Twain,” actually.
August 5, 2013
Elizabeth sent me this link, saying “this video kind of gives a feel to the whole experience”. I asked her to write a bit about her trip on the Pushkin:
I’ve never visited a communist country but I got a real feel for it while travelling on this ship. I was twenty-two and going to live in England for a year.
Before embarking, I was given labels to put on my baggage. Cabin luggage was to be marked “Cabin” and other stuff was to be marked “Storage”. As I already had my storage stuff delivered earlier in a steamer trunk, the only luggage I had was marked “Cabin”. Imagine my surprise to find no luggage in my cabin. A tiny cabin with a small toilet/shower and handbasin with a porthole blocked by a ruddy great North American car. I went down to the Purser’s Office to enquire on where my luggage was. A grim looking pair were managing the booth and after checking the records the conversation went thus:
Them: “Your luggage is in hold”
Me: “But I had it marked ‘Cabin’”
Them: “No, it marked ‘Storage’”
Me: Can I have it delivered to my cabin?”
Them: “Is impossible”
Them: “Hold cannot be opened when ship is sailing”
Me: “All my clothes are in there”
Me: “What am I going to wear?”
Them: (more shrugs, waves me off)
I spent nine days wearing two sets of clothing and three pairs of underwear. Luckily, a kind young lady at the same dining table lent me a sweater and spare underwear and even more luckily I had a washroom in my cabin to handwash through the clothes I had just worn (most cabins didn’t have attached washrooms).
The ship was full of students going to Europe to study. The crew of the France had gone on strike and had forced many of the students to take the Pushkin instead. The crew hated us. We were a ship full of under-thirties who drank, played cards and liked rock’n'roll music — everything the Russian crew were not allowed to do. Three days out on a nine-day journey, the booze ran out. As the students were not real heavy drinkers and still getting their sea legs (the smell of vomit on the lower decks was awful), I suspect the crew or the senior officers had absconded with the alcohol.
We had a “talent” night where we had to listen to the crew perform Russian dances and folk songs. When it was the students turn, four or five had brought their guitars with them and started playing rock music. The audience was getting right into it singing along, clapping and dancing to the music when the Russians stomped onto the stage with “enough!”, “no more music”, and shut the performance down.
While playing pinochle one day, I met a young Scotsman from Long Niddry. He had just spent the last five years in the lumber camps of B.C. and to prove to his father that he wasn’t a layabout, he was bringing his car back to Scotland as a trophy of his success. Yes, it was his huge North American car strapped to the deck outside my porthole. How he proposed to drive it around the streets of Edinburgh, I have no idea.
And so, we spent nine dreary November days going from Montreal to L’Havre and then to the Tilbury docks in London. If the students had had rotten fruit they would have thrown it because on docking at L’Havre we were berthed alongside the France. The boos and catcalls were loud and I’m sure the people on the pier were wondering what the problem was.
This is my personal recollection of sailing on the Alexandr Pushkin. So much for the “queen of the Russian cruise ships”.
July 11, 2013
An editorial in New Scientist (which I can’t quote from due to copyright concerns) claims that using a new “measurement” called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), human progress peaked in 1978 and it’s all been downhill since then. Anyone who actually lived through 1978 might struggle to recall just what — if anything — was better about 1978 than following years, but the NS editors do point out that the GDP measurement generally used to compare national economies doesn’t capture all the relevant details, while GPI includes what they refer to as social factors and economic costs, making it a better measuring tool for certain comparisons.
I can only assume that most of the economists who believe that 1978 was a peak year for the environment hadn’t been born at that time: pollution was a much more visible issue in North America and western Europe than at almost any time afterwards (and eastern Europe was far worse). Industry and government were taking steps to cut back some of the worst pollutants, but that process was really only just in its early stages: it took several years for the effects to start to show.
In the late 1970s, the world was a much dirtier, poorer, less egalitarian place than even a decade later: China and India were both much more authoritarian and had still not mastered the art of ensuring that there was enough food to feed everyone. Behind the Iron Curtain, Soviets and citizens of their client states in Europe were falling further and further behind the material well-being of westerners (and becoming much more aware of the deficit).
No matter how much emphasis you put on nebulous “social factors”, the fact that the world poverty rate — regardless of how you measure it — has been cut in half over the last twenty years, lifting literally billions of people out of near-starvation makes an incredibly strong case that the world is doing better now than at any time since 1978. You can prattle on all you like about “rising inequality”, but for my money it’s a better world where the risk of people literally starving to death is that much closer to being eliminated. Give me an “unequal” world where even the poorest have enough food and clean water over an egalitarian world where billions starve, thanks very much.
July 6, 2013
The St. Paul Pioneer Press raided the National Archives to find this clip of President Nixon talking to his attorney general about the outrageous NFL TV blackout policy:
Football populist Richard Nixon was furious at the NFL and wanted to flex his political muscle to end television blackouts.
At 2:06 p.m. on Dec. 18, 1972, Nixon met with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst at the Executive Office Building and railed against the league’s policy that prevented fans from watching their team’s home playoff games on TV.
The 37th president of the United States wanted to intervene because the Washington Redskins-Green Bay Packers postseason game at RFK Stadium on Christmas Eve was going to be blacked out in Washington, D.C., even though it already was sold out.
In a conversation secretly recorded by the White House bugging system that helped doom his presidency, Nixon threatened to sue the league if it did not lift blackouts for the playoffs. The devout Redskins fan ordered Kleindienst to “get busy with your lawyers” and take the fight to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Redskins owner Edward Bennett Williams.
June 15, 2013
In Maclean’s, Stephen Skratt talks about a new book on prog rock:
Let the hating begin. ELP are often cited as the reason punk had to happen. After the Beatles and before the Sex Pistols, they, along with Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, sold millions of records, topped critics’ polls and ushered in a golden era of prog rock. There were capes, songs about supernatural anaesthetists, a trilogy of albums about a “radio gnome,” and King Arthur on ice — literally, with skating pantomime horses (courtesy of a Rick Wakeman show). Prog virtuosos fused rock, classical, folk, jazz and Renaissance music, and took little from blues. The music couldn’t get more white — or more unfashionable. Twenty-minute songs performed by earnest young men trying to sound like an orchestra, hopping from one instrument to another, or playing several at once: this was large-scale, ambitious music meant to accompany grand lyrics and stage spectacles. Gone was sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, replaced by Kubrickian space-outs, Eastern philosophy and walls of synthesizers — or guitars trying to sound like synthesizers.
[. . .]
Now the music is crawling out from under its toadstool in Yes Is The Answer, edited by Tyson Cornell and Marc Weingarten. Cornell, founder of L.A.-based Rare Bird Books and a musician himself, admits the idea of having respectable writers challenge the accepted gospel about prog was far-fetched. “When Marc and I started doing this,” he says, “everybody we talked about it with was just laughing at us. But then people started to tell their stories, and it just unfolded.”
[. . .]
The book — a tribute to what Weingarten identifies in the introduction as “prog rock’s grandeur, its mushy mysticism, its blissed-out mystery” — is a high point in a renaissance that’s been building: a reverential 2009 BBC documentary (Prog Britannia), a magazine (Classic Prog), and a growing number of festivals, including Prog Angeles, organized by Cornell and featuring members of Weezer and others. Tastemaking online music journal Pitchfork drops the P-word on an almost weekly basis in describing some impossibly cool band’s music, from metal monsters Mastodon to French electronic duo Justice — an admission, finally, that someone was listening. And there is the full-on revival of the band responsible for a concept album about hemispheres of the brain: Rush. As Nirvana’s Dave Grohl said in his speech inducting Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, “There’s one mystery that eclipses them all: when the f–k did Rush become cool?”
For all this, it’s unlikely prog will get the reappraisal its supporters feel it’s due. The biggest strike against the genre has long been that it’s bloated, corporate, the antithesis of punk — even though in spirit prog may not have been all that far off from punk. They shared a broad political ideology. Henry Cow and the other bands make up “rock in opposition,” a popular subgenre of prog, which, aside from influencing avant-garde jazz musicians over the years, make the Clash look like weekend protesters. King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man opens with the snarl of, “Nothing he’s got he really needs.” Prog explored dystopian worlds of environmental apocalypse and corporate greed, occasionally with more subtlety and whimsy than punk. And prog rockers were as committed to their outlandish musical vision as punk was to its three chords; far from all being pampered middle-class kids, they too struggled for an audience and money during their formative years. The average punk band just imploded within a few years of forming — they never stuck around long enough to be derided as “dinosaurs.”