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.