No end to learning

Started out reading about the Hotel Nacional in Havana.

In 1933, after Fulgencio Batista’s coup against the transitional government, it was the residence of Sumner Welles, a special envoy sent by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to mediate the crisis, and was the site of a bloody siege that pitted the officers of the Cuban army… against the non-commissioned officers and other ranks of the Cuban army, who supported Batista.

Sumner Welles:

New York Times profile described him at the time he joined the foreign service: “Tall, slender, blond, and always correctly tailored, he concealed a natural shyness under an appearance of dignified firmness. Although intolerant of inefficiency, he brought to bear unusual tact and a self-imposed patience.”

He lived in this mansion, which is now the Cosmos Club:

The Cosmos Club is a private social club, incorporated in Washington, D.C. in 1878 by men distinguished in science, literature and the arts. In June, 1988 the Club voted to welcome women as members.

Since its founding, the Club has elected as members individuals in virtually every profession that has anything to do with scholarship, creative genius or intellectual distinction.

Among its members, over the years, have been three Presidents, two Vice Presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 32 Nobel Prize winners, 56 Pulitzer Prize winners and 45 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

(yes, Carl Sagan is a member of the Cosmos Club)

Let’s not get distracted though.  Sumner Welles went on to be Under Secretary of State from 1937-1943.

And then what happened?

In September 1940, Welles accompanied Roosevelt to the funeral of former Speaker of the HouseWilliam B. Bankhead in Huntsville, Alabama. While returning to Washington by train, Welles solicited sex from two African-American Pullman car porters.

Hard to imagine when he had Mrs. Welles at home:

He resigned.

In 1956, Confidential, a scandal magazine, published a report of the 1940 Pullman incident and linked it to his resignation from the State Department, along with additional instances of inappropriate sexual behavior or drunkenness. Welles’ explained the 1940 incident to his family as nothing more than drunken conversation with the train staff

About that top headline

About Frank Sinatra as Tarzan of the boudoir I have no further info.




And in the morning I took the Bible; and beginning at the New Testament I began seriously to read it,1920.

Illustration for Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.


I can picture it.

10.[Wes Anderson] became close friends with Owen Wilson because Owen Wilson just suddenly started acting as if they were close friends.
Anderson and his frequent leading man and sometime screenwriting collaborator took a playwriting class together at the University of Texas at Austin, but they didn’t hang out or talk. Then one day Wilson came up to Anderson in the corridor of a building in the English department. “We were signing up for classes and he started asking me to help him figure out what he should do, as if we knew each other. As if we had ever spoken before or knew each other’s names. I almost feel like he was taking it for granted that if we didn’t know each other yet, soon we would.”

(from Matt Zoller Seitz roundup of Wes Anderson trivia he learned writing his book.  Huge soft spot for MZS here at Helytimes from back when he was a heroic drum-banger for The New World) 

(photo stolen from this mess)

Now that ain’t right

NSA monitored calls of 35 world leaders after US official handed over contacts


listen to Alec Baldwin interview Jerry Seinfeld on his podcast Here’s The Thing.  FREE on iTunes!

Alec Baldwin:  You don’t have any problems.

Jerry Seinfeld: No. I don’t. But I do relate very deeply to all of those people –

Alec Baldwin: Why? Why?

Jerry Seinfeld: – you describe. In fact, I was watching the Emmys – this is the only part of the Emmys that I like – when they do the comedy writing award and each comedy writing staff puts up funny pictures. And then when the actual staff comes up on the stage and you see these gnome-like cretins just kind of all misshapen, and I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.’

(one of my absolute favorite least cretinous humans I know there third from left.  If you told him to his face he was gnome-like he would laugh heartily and recommend three fantastic indie text games featuring gnome characters, plus a 700 page self-published graphic novel from Taiwan about gnomes)

Or how about this?

Jerry Seinfeld: Jackie Mason. Alec, I was doing comedy about three weeks, three weeks, and I mean stumbling. Nobody three weeks, I’m 19 years old, 20 years old, of going up on stage. It wasn’t even a stage. There was a restaurant where they take a table out and they would take one of the lights, a lamp, and they would take the shade off, and that was the show. He was in the audience – 15 people, right? It was one of these cabaret things on west 44th street. It was called the Golden Lion Pub. He crooks his finger at me and he says, ‘Come over here.’

Alec Baldwin:  

Jerry Seinfeld: He takes me over to the bar. He says, ‘You have it.’ He says, ‘You are going to be so big.’ He says, ‘It makes me sick to even think of it, how successful you’re gonna be.‘ And I was just starting.

Jerry Seinfeld: Because of the precision wordplay. They were – see that’s where they went beyond – there was Laurel and Hardy, and then Martin and Lewis, but Abbott and Costello has this precision. ‘Who’s on First?’ –

Alec Baldwin: Sure.

Jerry Seinfeld: – is a piece of – it’s like that museum in Spain, the –

Alec Baldwin: The Prado?

Jerry Seinfeld: No. The other one, that what’s his name did?

Alec Baldwin: That Gehry did?

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah.

Alec Baldwin: Right.

Jerry Seinfeld: Whose real name is Goldberg, by the way.

Alec Baldwin: Is it really?

Jerry Seinfeld: Yes, it is.

Alec Baldwin: Is it really?

Jerry Seinfeld: He changed it in college.

Alec Baldwin: Frank Gehry’s real name is –

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah. What’s the name of that museum in northern Spain?

Big hat tip to cuz.  Transcript available here.

(cant find a credit on that top photo, I found it here)

Cudjoe Lewis


Excitement about how terrific John Jeremiah Sullivan is reached me long ago but it took me awhile to get to this book and believe it for myself.  Now I’m a JJS belieber.

Enjoyed the book on a plane, a fine setting in all regards but one:

after you’ve finished reading the essay “Unknown Bards” – about certain mysterious bluesmen whose lives are vanished to history except for one recording – you have no way of listening to any of the songs mentioned, let alone the entire album Pre-War Revenants.

The collection’s only delimiting criteria would be that nothing biographical could be known regarding any of the artists involved, and that every recording must be phenomenal, in a sense almost strict: something that happened once in front of a microphone and can never be imitated, merely reexperienced.

On return to California a listening party was organized (thanks to Chennai office).

While listening to this amazing thing the question came up of: whether any people were alive in the American South at the time of these recordings (1910-1940, let’s say) who were born in Africa and brought over to the United States as slaves.

My expensive education paid off because I knew that the Atlantic slave trade was abolished in 1808, the first year that the U. S. Constitution allowed it to be abolished.   (Never hurts to remind your strict constructionists how much of what ‘the framers intended’ was “being allowed to own people.”  See Article 1, Section 9).

BUT the story’s more interesting.


Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, or Cudjo Lewis (ca. 1840 – 1935), is considered the last person born on African soil to have been enslaved in the United States when slavery was still lawful.

Together with more than a hundred other captured Africans, he was brought on the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States in 1860 during an illegal slave-trading venture.

Cudjoe was the longest-lived survivor of all those who were brought aboard the Clotilde. He was believed to be the last slave born in Africa and brought to the United States by the transatlantic slave trade. Before he died, he gave several interviews on his experiences, including one to the writer Zora Neale Hurston. During that interview in 1928, Hurston made a short film of Cudjoe, the only moving image that exists in the Western hemisphere of an African transported through the transatlantic slave trade.

Hurston named the last eight of the Clothilde’s survivors as: “Abache (Clara Turner), Monachee (Kitty Cooper), Shamber, Kanko (who married Jim Dennison), Zooma (of Togo Tribe), Polute, Cudjo, and Orsey, or Orsta Keeby. Cudjo is the only one alive at present, a dignified, lovable, intelligent man.”

He died in 1935 at the age of 94, in Plateau (Africa Town), Alabama.

Could explore this forever.  Was he named after this man?*

The Library of Congress has audio recordings of slave interviews.

* alert reader “DS” calls my attention to a more likely explanation: Lewis was born on a Monday


Jane Austen died a virgin.

(so says John Sutherland in The Lives Of The Novelists.  Portrait of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra).


In December 1802, Austen received her only known proposal of marriage. She and her sister visited Alethea and Catherine Bigg, old friends who lived near Basingstoke. Their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither, had recently finished his education at Oxford and was also at home. Bigg-Wither proposed and Austen accepted. As described by Caroline Austen, Jane’s niece, and Reginald Bigg-Wither, a descendant, Harris was not attractive — he was a large, plain-looking man who spoke little, stuttered when he did speak, was aggressive in conversation, and almost completely tactless. However, Austen had known him since both were young and the marriage offered many practical advantages to Austen and her family. He was the heir to extensive family estates located in the area where the sisters had grown up. With these resources, Austen could provide her parents a comfortable old age, give Cassandra a permanent home and, perhaps, assist her brothers in their careers. By the next morning, Austen realised she had made a mistake and withdrew her acceptance. No contemporary letters or diaries describe how Austen felt about this proposal.

“Four Centuries Of Pueblo Pottery”

Man, if you go see an exhibit called “Four Centuries of Pueblo Pottery” at the Southwest Museum  legally all your property is forfeit to KCRW but I do like this picture.

Like most things involving the site, the show is fraught with uncertainty and controversy, none of it having to do with the artistry and cultural history on display.

Putzi Hanfstaengl

Found this in The Wise Men: Six Friends and The World They Made by Walter Isaacson & Evan Thomas:

McCloy was also responsible for the construction of The Pentagon, which became known as “McCloy’s Folly.”  One of his greatest difficulties was getting the plans approved by Roosevelt, who fancied himself an amateur architect.  He finally resorted to extortion.  The President had gotten himself in a bind involving an old Harvard classmate, Putzi Hanfstaengl, a German refugee who had returned to his native country and acted for a while as a court jester for Hitler.  Thinking he could pump useful information out of Hanfstaengl, Roosevelt had hims ent to the U. S. from England, where he was being held prisoner.  Hansfstaengl, however, turned out to be a fool, and Roosevelt wanted to get rid of him.  McCloy told a White House staffer he would find a safe sinecure for Hansfstaengl at an army base in Texas if FDR would approve the Pentagon blueprints.  It worked.  At a Cabinet meeting the following week, Roosevelt turned to McCloy and growled, “You blackmailer!”

This raises more questions than it answers and sent me to Putzi’s wikipedia page.

Hanfstaengl was so fascinated by Hitler that he soon became one of his most intimate followers, although he did not formally join the Nazi Party until 1931. “What Hitler was able to do to a crowd in 2½ hours will never be repeated in 10,000 years,” Hanfstaengl said. “Because of his miraculous throat construction, he was able to create a rhapsody of hysteria. In time, he became the living unknown soldier of Germany.”

Throat construction.  You can also read there the somewhat confusing story of a “prank” played on Hansfstaengl that led him to think he was about to get killed.

In 1944, Hanfstaengl was handed back to the British, who repatriated him to Germany at the end of the war. William Shirer, a CBS journalist who resided in Nazi Germany until 1940 and was in frequent contact with Hanfstaengl, described him as an “eccentric, gangling man, whose sardonic wit somewhat compensated for his shallow mind.”

Looks like a charmer.

In 1974, Hanfstaengl attended his 65th Harvard Reunion, where he regaled theHarvard University Band about the authors of various Harvard fight songs. His relationship to Hitler went unmentioned.

Anyway, this is a bit of a bummer post so here is a photo of sunny Florida:


Janet Yellen: Philatelist

This will be insurance to most Helytimes readers, but: Janet Yellen apparently has a stamp collection, inherited from her mother, worth $15,000-$50,000.

Previous Helytimes coverage of the philatelic arts can be found here.

(photo from John Cassidy’s New Yorker blog, credited to Charles Dharapak/AP.)

I found the world’s most boring website.

I mean it.

I am proud of this discovery.

In every way: content, style, it is perfectly, wonderfully flavorless.

I think if you pitched on boring websites for a long time you would not do better than this.

I’m building it up like this because I’m confident in it, in its boring beauty.

It keeps giving, all the way to the end, like a well-crafted work of art.

Here it is.


Reading this interview with Mark Normand, comedian I had not heard of, on Splitsider.

This got my attention:

It’s often said when starting in comedy, you’re doing someone else’s act. What was your style when you first started?

I hate to say it, I was Seinfeld all the way.

“What’s the deal?”

Not really “what’s the deal,” but like, rhythm, and that weird voice thing. I’d have jokes like, “Adult books? Get the movie!” It was so bad that I remember one time I walked on stage in New York and one guy went [Seinfeldbaseline], and it crushed me. It was like a stab in the heart, and after that I was like, “I have to change my ways!” It killed me.

How long did it take, then, to find the voice that you use now?

Phew, a while. It took a meltdown. I had a meltdown in New York at some open mic because I was bombing and bombing for like a year, and eventually I was like, “Fuck you, I can’t take this anymore!” It broke me. But it took that meltdown. And I was fighting against it in my head, like, “Just keep it together buddy, keep it together,” when something had to get out. Then I was finally myself, and that’s what did it.

What was the crowd’s reaction like when you had your meltdown? Were you just like, “Fuck you all?”

Yeah, yeah. I was like, “I’m fucking funny, I hate all of you.” And then they started laughing, like, “All right, this is the real you.” Because crowds don’t want the polish. They want a comic who’s the same guy on and off. That’s the best comics – like, Louis C.K., walking on the stage, doesn’t go, “All right, pick it up, here it comes.” He’s just the same. Even if you see a comic bombing, and he goes, “Well, this is awful,” that gets a laugh. Because that’s the first real thing he’s said.

That last line.  In my experience watching amateur/bad standup this is super true.  In all the best comedy interviews they eventually get to the weird paradox of how hard it is to be honest, how uncomfortable and painful and terrifying it is to find your actual honest self and present it.  The drunkest, dumbest audience in the world can distinguish fakery/honesty in about two seconds.

Cruel twists:

  • the you that you want to be or think you are probably isn’t the you that you are.  Learning that must be crushing/terrifying/impossibly frustrating.
  • if you’re doing standup comedy in the first place, you at the very least have some unresolved tension between the “you” you’re living with and the “you” the world perceives
  • being on stage is so weird and unnatural that achieving the comfort to project your best “you” while standing there will require agonizing failures that will hurt and rattle you and could possibly turn you back on yourself in a way that’ll make you worse at being the best you, in a wrenching spiral!

A long process of reconciling various yous, amazing when achieved.

That painting of commedia dell’Arte is by Karel Dujardin.  Here’s his self-portrait:

 He gets it.

 the young Dujardin went to Italy, and joined the Bentvueghels group of painters in Rome, among whom he was known as “Barba di Becco”, “goat-beard”, or Bokkebaart. Here he encountered his first artistic successes.

(Mark Normand photo from his twitter)

Don’t forget that the ocean is full of monsters


That guy is an ocean sunfish, photographed by the blogger off Great Point, Nantucket.  I was hunting for these guys:


That is a little tunny.  Cap’n didn’t think we’d enjoy eating it because “it has too much blood in its body.”  (? pseudosciene?  I dunno, look at my pants).  Wikipedia counters:

There are many ways to eat the Little Tunny, such as Tuna Salad. To do this, the fillets are first baked, then chilled and flaked, then mixed in with the salad. Removing the dark strips of meats that extend the length of each fillet helps to reduce the naturally fishy flavor.  Another way to prepare the Little Tunny is first to bleed it, barbecue it in foil, remove the meat from the bone, and then let it chill overnight. Various seasonings can be used to enhance the flavor. Fresh steaks can be quite good if seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon, and thinly sliced tunny makes good sashimi. It is commonly eaten as such in Japan.

Anyway, this guy lived to fight another day.

Here is another picture of an ocean sunfish, caught off Catalina Island right here in California by the famed big game hunter of East Africa, W. N. McMillan.  Photo is courtesy the Library of Congress.  Want to go see that photo in person?  You can’t because of the shutdown!

Curious about the character on the bottom right of the photograph.  A child or a little adult?